March 18, 2003
No Irish Need Apply

There's an interesting discussion going on in the comments to this post about St. Patrick's Day. Reader alkali pointed out this article (warning: page includes music) by historian Richard Jensen, which claims that the legendary "No Irish Need Apply" signs from the 19th century were in fact mostly legends. I tend to agree with Michael, who responded that a lack of such signs does not mean no discrimination. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2003 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

To be clear, I don't really have a view on whether and to what extent there was anti-Irish discrimination. The Jensen article is a little tendentious which suggests to me that he overstates his case somewhat, but that's just my intuition speaking. I tend to agree that there was probably some discrimination, but at the same time I think it's quite plausible that the "No Irish Need Apply" sign is something of an urban legend, particularly with respect to the mid-20th century.

Posted by: alkali on March 18, 2003 11:38 AM

I agree. To the extent that N.I.N.A. existed, the evidence for it in the US is in the sphere of domestic jobs in the early 19th century rather than commercial jobs in the mid-20th.

It's certainly the case that vastly inaccurate historical myths can influence attitudes, popular culture, and even legislation. Ginger read (but didn't review!) Alain Boureau's The Lord's First Night: The Myth of the Droit De Cuissage. It's a fascinating book about how the myth has been politically useful for the last 700 years.

Posted by: Michael on March 18, 2003 2:29 PM

I agree that's a plausible explanation.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2003 2:29 PM

fwiw, my grandma grew up in what is now Alphabet City, but was until the General Slocum went down an Irish neighborhood, and she talked about seeing them.

Posted by: julia on March 18, 2003 11:01 PM