The Diary of Mary McKeon, an Irish American Domestic Servant in Nineteenth Century America
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What did young, single, unaccompanied Irish women experience when immigrating to the United States in the late nineteenth century? In this final project, I will explore primary and secondary sources that address their experiences, focusing on a diary written in 1883 by a young Irish domestic servant working in New Haven, Connecticut. Mary McKeon, a sixteen-year-old girl from County Leitrim, Ireland, recorded her experiences as a domestic servant for two different families, as well as her own personal thoughts. Mary wrote down her personal experiences, providing a glimpse of what her life was like both inside and outside of her employer’s home. Though much of my research will show that many young women like Mary would be subjected to prejudice and discrimination due to their lack of understanding middle-class American values, which would give rise to the “Bridget” stereotype of a brutish, ill-mannered and incompetent domestic servant, not all Irish women experienced that discrimination and prejudice. Mary is one example of a domestic servant that was treated kindly by her employers and her story documents a more positive and supportive environment for this newly arrived young, single immigrant. Her diary also reveals her to be a young woman who worked to improve her language skills and her situation. And, through her diary, we get a glimpse of her strategies for ensuring an active social life, including access to courtship and marriage. By analyzing Mary’s diary and sharing my results in this final project, I hope to provide a more comprehensive view into the lives of these young women.
DepartmentGraduate Liberal Studies
CitationPawlak, Patricia (2016). The Diary of Mary McKeon, an Irish American Domestic Servant in Nineteenth Century America. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12714.
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Rights for Collection: Graduate Liberal Studies