No Irish Need Apply by John F. Poole, 1862, sung by Brendan Nolan .
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Journal of Social History 36.2 (2002) 405-429

"No Irish Need Apply":
A Myth of Victimization

Richard Jensen

Retired Professor of History, University of Illinois, Chicago

write the author at
slightly revised version 12-22-2004


Irish Catholics in America have a vibrant memory of humiliating job discrimination, which featured omnipresent signs proclaiming "Help Wanted--No Irish Need Apply!" No one has ever seen one of these NINA signs because they were extremely rare or nonexistent. The market for female household workers occasionally specified religion or nationality. Newspaper ads for women sometimes did include NINA, but Irish women nevertheless dominated the market for domestics because they provided a reliable supply of an essential service. Newspaper ads for men with NINA were exceedingly rare. The slogan was commonplace in upper class London by 1820; in 1862 in London there was a song, "No Irish Need Apply," purportedly by a maid looking for work. The song reached America and was modified to depict a man recently arrived in America who sees a NINA ad and confronts and beats up the culprit. The song was an immediate hit, and is the source of the myth. Evidence from the job market shows no significant discrimination against the Irish--on the contrary, employers eagerly sought them out. Some Americans feared the Irish because of their religion, their use of violence, and their threat to democratic elections. By the Civil War these fears had subsided and there were no efforts to exclude Irish immigrants. The Irish worked in gangs in job sites they could control by force. The NINA slogan told them they had to stick together against the Protestant Enemy, in terms of jobs and politics. The NINA myth justified physical assaults, and persisted because it aided ethnic solidarity. After 1940 the solidarity faded away, yet NINA remained as a powerful memory.


The Irish American community harbors a deeply held belief that it was the victim of systematic job discrimination in America, and that the discrimination was done publicly in highly humiliating fashion through signs that announced "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply." This "NINA" slogan could have been a metaphor for their troubles—akin to tales that America was a "golden mountain" or had "streets paved with gold." But the Irish insist that the signs really existed and prove the existence of widespread discrimination and prejudice. 1

The fact that Irish vividly "remember" NINA signs is a curious historical puzzle. There are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location. No particular business enterprise is named as a culprit. No historian, 2 archivist, or museum curator has ever located one 3 ; no photograph or drawing exists. 4 No other ethnic group complained about being singled out by comparable signs. Only Irish Catholics have reported seeing the sign in America—no Protestant, no Jew, no non-Irish Catholic has reported seeing one. This is especially strange since signs were primarily directed toward these others: the signs said that employment was available here and invited Yankees, French-Canadians, Italians and any other non-Irish to come inside and apply. The business literature, both published and unpublished, never mentions NINA or any policy remotely like it. The newspapers and magazines are silent. The courts are silent. There is no record of an angry youth tossing a brick through the window that held such a sign. Have we not discovered all of the signs of an urban legend?

The NINA slogan seems to have originated in England, probably after the 1798 Irish rebellion. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries it was used by English to indicate their distrust of the Irish, both Catholic and Protestant. For example the Anglican bishop of London used the phrase to say he did not want any Irish Anglican ministers in his diocese. By the 1820s it was a cliché in upper and upper middle class London that some fussy housewives refused to hire Irish and had even posted NINA signs in their windows. It is possible that handwritten NINA signs regarding maids did appear in a few American windows, though no one ever reported one. We DO have actual newspaper want ads for women workers that specifies Irish are not wanted; they will be discussed below. In the entire file of the New York Times from 1851 to 1923, there are two NINA ads for men, one of which is for a teenager. Computer searches of classified help wanted ads in the daily editions of other online newspapers before 1923 such as the Booklyn Eagle, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune show that NINA ads for men were extremely rare--fewer than two per decade. The complete absence of evidence suggests that probably zero such signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories, stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters etc. anywhere in America, at any time. NINA signs and newspaper ads for apartments to let did exist in England and Northern Ireland, but historians have not discovered reports of any in the United States, Canada or Australia. The myth focuses on public NINA signs which deliberately marginalized and humiliated Irish male job applicants. The overwhelming evidence is that such signs never existed.

Irish Americans all have heard about them—and remember elderly relatives insisting they existed. The myth had "legs": people still believe it, even scholars. The late Tip O'Neill remembered the signs from his youth in Boston in 1920s; Senator Ted Kennedy reported the most recent sighting, telling the Senate during a civil rights debate that he saw them when growing up 5 Historically, [End Page 405] physical NINA signs could have flourished only in intensely anti-Catholic or anti-Irish eras, especially the 1830—1870 period. Thus reports of sightings in the 1920s or 1930s suggest the myth had become so deeply rooted in Irish-American folk mythology that it was impervious to evidence. Perhaps the Irish had constructed an Evil Other out of stereotypes of outsiders—a demon that could frighten children like the young Ted Kennedy and adults as well. The challenge for the historian is to explain the origins and especially the durability of the myth. Did the demon exist outside the Irish imagination—and if not how did it get there? This paper will explain how the myth originated and will explore its long-lasting value to the Irish community as a protective device. It was an enhancement of political solidarity against a hostile Other; and a way to insulate a preindustrial non-individualistic group-oriented work culture from the individualism rampant in American culture.

We must first ask if the 19th century American environment contained enough fear or hatred of the Irish community to support the existence of the NINA sentiment? Did the Irish-American community constitute an "Other" that was reviled and discriminated against? Did more modern Americans recoil in disgust at the premodern Irish immigrants? The evidence suggests that all the criticism of the Irish was connected to one of three factors, their "premodern" behavior, their Catholicism, and their political relationship to the ideals of republicanism. If the Irish had enemies they never tried to restrict the flow of Irish immigration. 6 Much louder was the complaint that the Irish were responsible for public disorder and poverty, and above all the fears that the Irish were undermining republicanism. These fears indeed stimulated efforts to insert long delays into the citizenship process, as attempted by the Federalists in 1798 and the Know Nothings in the 1850s. Those efforts failed. As proof of their citizenship the Irish largely supported the Civil War in its critical first year. 7 Furthermore they took the lead in the 1860s in bringing into citizenship thousands of new immigrants even before the technicalities of residence requirements had been met. 8 The Irish claimed to be better republicans than the Yankees because they had fled into exile from aristocratic oppression and because they hated the British so much. 9

The use of systematic violence to achieve Irish communal goals might be considered a "premodern" trait; it angered many people and three bloody episodes proved it would not work in conflict with American republicanism. In 1863 the Irish rioted against the draft in New York City; Lincoln moved in combat troops who used cannon to regain control of the streets and resume the draft. In 1871 the Irish Catholics demanded the Protestant Irish not be allowed an Orange parade in New York City, but the Democratic governor sent five armed regiments of state militia to support the 700 city police protecting the one hundred marchers. The Catholics attacked anyway, and were shot down by the hundreds. In the 1860s and 1870s the Molly Maguires used midnight assassination squads to terrorize the anthracite mining camps in Pennsylvania. The railroad brought in Pinkertons to infiltrate the Mollys, twenty of whom were hung. In every instance Irish Catholics law enforcement officials played a major role in upholding the modern forms of republicanism that emphasized constitutional political processes rather than clandestine courts or mob action. In each instance the Irish leaders of the Catholic Church supported modern republicanism. 10 After the [End Page 406] 1870s the Irish achieved a modern voice through legitimate means, especially through politics and law enforcement. Further enhancing their status as full citizens making a valuable contribution to the community, the Catholics built monumental churches (which were immediately and widely praised), as well as a massive network of schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable institutions. 11

Regardless of their growing status, something intensely real was stimulating the Irish Catholics and only them. The NINA myth fostered among the Irish a misperception or gross exaggeration that other Americans were prejudiced against them, and were deliberately holding back their economic progress. Hence the "chip on the shoulder" mentality that many observers and historians have noted. 12 As for the question of anti-Irish prejudice: it existed but it was basically anti-Catholic or anti-anti-republican. There have been no documented instances of job discrimination against Irish men. 13 Was there any systematic job discrimination against the Catholic Irish in the US: possibly, but direct evidence is very hard to come by. On the other hand Protestant businessmen vigorously raised money for mills, factories and construction projects they knew would mostly employ Irishmen, 14 while the great majority of middle class Protestant households in the major cities employed Irish maids. The earliest unquestioned usage found comes from the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, using the phrase in Pendennis, a novel of growing up in London in the 1820s. The context suggests that the NINA slogan was a slightly ridiculous and old-fashioned bit of prejudice 15 Other ethnic groups also had a strong recollection of discrimination but never reported such signs. The Protestant (Orange) Irish do not recall "NINA signs. 16 Were the signs used only against Irish targets?

An electronic search of all the text of the several hundred thousand pages of magazines and books online at Library of Congress, Cornell University Library and the University of Michigan Library, and complete runs of The New York Times and The Nation, turned up about a dozen uses of NINA. 17 The complete text of New York Times is searchable from 1851 through 1923. Although the optical character recognition is not perfect (some microfilmed pages are blurry), it captures most of the text. A search of seventy years of the daily paper revealed only two classified ads with NINA—one posted by a Brooklyn harness shop that wanted a boy who could write, and a request for a couple to take charge of a cottage upstate. 18 Unlike the employment market for men, the market for female servants included a small submarket in which religion or ethnicity was specified. Thus newspaper ads for nannies, cooks, maids, nurses and companions sometimes specified "Protestant Only." "I can't imagine, Carrie, why you object so strongly to a Roman Catholic," protests the husband in an 1854 short story. "Why, Edward, they are so ignorant, filthy, and superstitious. It would never do to trust the children alone with one, for there is no telling what they might learn." 19 Intimate household relationships were delicate matters for some families, but the great majority of maids in large cities were Irish women, so the submarket that refused to hire them could not have been more than ten percent. 20

The first American usage was a printed song-sheet, dated Philadelphia, 1862. It is a reprint of a British song sheet. The narrator is a maid looking for a job in London who reads an ad in London Times and sings about Irish pride. The last verse was clearly added in America. 21 [End Page 407]

Written and sung by Miss KATHLEEN O'NEIL.

WANTED.—A smart active girl to do the general housework of a large family, one who can cook, clean plates, and get up fine linen, preferred. N. B.—No Irish need apply

—London Times Newspaper, Feb. 1862.

I'm a simple Irish girl, and I'm looking for a place, I've felt the grip of poverty, but sure that's no disgrace, 'Twill be long before I get one, tho' indeed it's hard I try, For I read in each advertisement, "No Irish need apply."
Alas! for my poor country, which I never will deny, How they insult us when they write, "No Irish need apply." Now I wonder what's the reason that the fortune-favored few, Should throw on us that dirty slur, and treat us as they do, Sure they all know Paddy's heart is warm, and willing is his hand, They rule us, yet we may not earn a living in their land,
. . . .
Ah! but now I'm in the land of the "Glorious and Free," And proud I am to own it, a country dear to me, I can see by your kind faces, that you will not deny, A place in your hearts for Kathleen, where "All Irish may apply." Then long may the Union flourish, and ever may it be, A pattern to the world, and the "Home of Liberty!"

In 1862 or 1863 at the latest John Poole wrote the basic NINA song that became immensely popular within a matter of months. 22


Written by JOHN F. POOLE, and sung, with immense success, by the great Comic-Vocalist of the age, TONY PASTOR.

I'm a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.
I saw a place advartised. It's the thing for me, says I;
But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish need apply.
Whoo! says I; but that's an insult—though to get the place I'll try.
So, I wint to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply.
I started off to find the house, I got it mighty soon;
There I found the ould chap saited: he was reading the TRIBUNE.
I tould him what I came for, whin he in a rage did fly:
No! says he, you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply!
Thin I felt my dandher rising, and I'd like to black his eye—
To tell an Irish Gintleman: No Irish need apply!
I couldn't stand it longer: so, a hoult of him I took,
And I gave him such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook.
He hollered: Millia murther! and to get away did try,
And swore he'd never write again: No Irish need apply.
He made a big apology; I bid him thin good-bye,
Saying: Whin next you want a bating, add: No Irish need apply! [End Page 408]

Sure, I've heard that in America it always is the plan
That an Irishman is just as good as any other man;
A home and hospitality they never will deny
The stranger here, or ever say: No Irish need apply.
But some black sheep are in the flock: a dirty lot, say I;
A dacint man will never write: No Irish need apply!
Sure, Paddy's heart is in his hand, as all the world does know,
His praties and his whiskey he will share with friend or foe;
His door is always open to the stranger passing by;
He never thinks of saying: None but Irish may apply.
And, in Columbia's history, his name is ranking high;
Thin, the Divil take the knaves that write: No Irish need apply!
Ould Ireland on the battle-field a lasting fame has made;
We all have heard of Meagher's men, and Corcoran's brigade. 23
Though fools may flout and bigots rave, and fanatics may cry,
Yet when they want good fighting-men, the Irish may apply,
And when for freedom and the right they raise the battle-cry,
Then the Rebel ranks begin to think: No Irish need apply

After a few rounds of singing and drinking, you could easily read the sign. Note that in the New York City version, Poole changed the London maid to a newly arrived country boy; the maid lamented, but the lad fights back vigorously. This is a song to encourage bullies. The lad starts his job search by scanning the want ads in the city's leading Republican newspaper, the New York Tribune, which seems an unlikely resource for a new arrival from a remote village. In the draft riots of 1863 the Tribune was a special target of Irish mobs. 24

Did the Irish feel discriminated against before the NINA slogan became current? First note the last stanza of the 1862 London song shown above. If the NINA slogan had been current in America surely the songwriter would not have included the line "you will not deny, A place in your hearts for Kathleen, where 'All Irish may apply."' The second evidence comes from the Confederacy in 1863. The Rebels hailed and incited Irish unrest in the North. A major editorial in the Richmond Enquirer May 29, 1863 enumerated multiple reasons for the Irish to hate the Yankees, such as convent attacks and church burnings. The catalog of grievances focused on anti-Catholicism and did not mention job discrimination or NINA—probably because the Poole song had not yet reached Richmond. 25

We can now summarize our explanation of where the NINA myth comes from. There probably were occasional handwritten signs in London homes in the 1820s seeking non-Irish maids. The slogan became a cliché in Britain for hostility to the Irish. Tens of thousands of middle-class English migrated to America, and it is possible a few used the same sort of handwritten sign in the 1830—1850 period; the old British cliché was probably known in America. There is no evidence for any printed NINA signs in America or for their display at places of employment other than private homes. Poole's song of 1862 popularized the phrase. The key change that made the second version such a hit was gender reversal—the London song lamented the maid's troubles, the New York City version called for Irishmen to assert their manhood in defiance of a cowardly [End Page 409] enemy. By 1863 every Irishman knew and resented the slogan—and it perhaps helped foment the draft riots that year. The stimulus was not visual but rather aural—a song about NINA sung only by the Irish. There was indeed such a song, and it became quite popular during the 1863 crisis of the draft riots of the Civil War; it still circulates. The song was a war cry that encouraged Irish gangs to beat up suspicious strangers and it warned Irish jobseekers against breaking with the group and going to work for The Enemy.

Recollection is a group phenomenon—especially in a community so well known for its conviviality and story telling. Congressman Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts grew up hearing horror stories of how the terrible Protestants burned down a nearby convent school run by the Catholic Ursuline nuns. When O'Neill went to college he was astonished to read in a history book that it happened a century earlier in 1834—he had assumed it was a recent event. 26 It is most unlikely that businesses in Boston routinely displayed NINA signs in the 20th century and yet left no trace whatever in the records. People who "remember" the signs in the 20th century only remember the urban legend. 27

Political mobilization against the Irish was never successful. The most important effort was the Know Nothing movement, which swept the Northeast and South in 1854—56. It was a poorly led grass roots movement that generated no significant or permanent anti-Catholic or anti-Irish legislation. There was no known employment discrimination. Know-Nothing employers, for example, were never accused of firing their Irish employees. The Know-Nothings were primarily a purification movement. They believed that all politicians were corrupt, that the Democrats were the worst, and that Irish support for Democrats, plus their growing numbers, made them highly suspect. The party lasted longer in the South where it was the anti-Democratic party but only slightly anti-Catholic. Ray Billington concludes "The almost complete failure of the Know-Nothings to carry into effect the doctrines of anti-Catholic and anti-foreign propagandists contributed to the rapid decline of this nativistic party." 28 Likewise there were few visible effects of the APA movement of the 1890s, or the KKK in the 1920s. The conclusion is that, despite occasional temptations, Americans considered their "equal rights" republicanism to be incompatible with systematic economic or political discrimination against the Irish. Given the overlap of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice how can historians tell the difference? In both cases, the anti's would attack on political grounds—elections, candidates, appointments, bosses, machines, election frauds, registration laws, civil service reform. 29 Anti-Catholics would focus on certain issues, especially saints and Mariolatry, parochial schools, sacramentalism, convents, missions to the Indians, and Bible-reading in schools. 30 They also were intensely alert to activities of the Papacy, and the political power of priests and bishops. The Vatican certainly controlled ecclesiastical affairs, but it carefully avoided American political issues. 31 By 1865 politicians realized that bishops and priests largely avoided even informal electoral endorsements of any kind—they were far less active than pietistic Protestants, as the annals of temperance and anti-slavery demonstrate. 32

Were Irish men the victims of job discrimination in reality? That was possible without any signs of course. The evidence is exceedingly thin—the Irish started poor and worked their way up slowly, all along believing that the Protestant world [End Page 410] hated them and blocked their every move. Contemporary observers commented that the Protestant Irish were doing well in America, but that preindustrial work habits were blocking progress for the Catholics. As Thernstrom has shown, Irish had one of the lowest rates of upward mobility. 33

A likely explanation is the strong group ethos that encouraged Irish to always work together, and resist individualistic attempts to break away. (The slogan tells them that trying to make it in the Yankee world is impossible anyway.) No other European Catholic group seems to have shared that chip on the shoulder (not the Germans or Italians—not even anti-Irish groups such as the French Canadians). Historians agree the political hostility against the Irish Democrats in the Civil War Era was real enough. Critics complained that the Irish had poor morals and a weak work ethic (and hence low status). Much more serious was the allegation that they were politically corrupt and priest-controlled, and therefore violated true republican values. The Irish could shoot back that The Enemy did not practice equal rights. The Irish community used the allegation of job discrimination on the part of the Other to reinforce political solidarity among (male) voters, which in any case was very high indeed—probably he highest for any political group in American history before the 1960s.

It is easy to identify job discrimination in the 19th century against blacks and Chinese (the latter indeed led by the Irish in California). Discrimination against the Irish was invisible to the non-Irish. 34 That is perhaps why this urban legend did not die out naturally. Benign Protestant factory owners could not soften the tensions by removing signs that never existed. When Protestants denied NINA that perhaps just reinforced the Irish sense of conspiracy against them (even today people who deny NINA are suspected of prejudice.) The slogan served both to explain their poverty 35 and to identify a villain against whom it was all right retaliate on sight—a donnybrook for the foes of St. Patrick. 36 The myth justified bullying strangers and helped sour relations between Irish and everyone else. 37 The sense of victimhood perhaps blinded some Irish to the discrimination suffered by other groups. 38

Perhaps the slogan has reemerged in recent years as the Irish feel the political need to be bona-fide victims. The Potato Famine of course had all the ingredients to make them victims, 39 but it will not do to have the villains overseas: there must be American villains. 40 If we conclude the Irish were systematically deluding themselves over a period of a century or more about their primary symbol of job discrimination, the next question to ask is, was it all imaginary or was there a real basis for the grievances about the economic hostility of Protestants to Irish aspirations? Historians need to be critical. Because a group truly believes it was a victim, does not make it so. On the other hand, the Irish chip-on-the-shoulder attitude may have generated a high level of group solidarity in both politics and the job market, which could have had a significant impact on the on the occupational experience of the Irish.

How successful were the Irish in the job market? Observers noticed that the Irish tended to work in equalitarian collective situations, such as labor gangs, longshoremen crews, construction crews, or with strong labor unions, usually in units dominated numerically and politically by Irishmen. Wage rates were often heavily influenced by collective activity, such as boycotts, strikes and [End Page 411] union contracts, or by the political pressures that could be exerted on behalf of employees in government jobs, or working for contractors holding city contracts, or for regulated utilities such as street railways and subways.

The first arrivals formed all-Irish work crews for construction companies in the building of railroads in the 1830s. 41 Sometimes the Irish managed to monopolize a specific labor market sector—they comprised 95% of the canal workers by 1840, and 95% of the New York City longshoremen by 1900. 42 The monopoly of course facilitated group action, and once a crossing point was reached it was possible to exclude virtually all Others. Solidarity (with or without formal union organization) made for excellent bargaining power, augmented as needed by the use of intimidation, strikes, arson, terrorism and destructive violence to settle any grievances they may have had with their employers, not to mention internal feuds linked to historic feuds back in Ireland. Direct evidence that employers did not want Irish workers is absent. By the early 20th century major corporations had personnel offices and written procedures. If the Irish had a reputation for being unsatisfactory, the personnel managers never commented upon it. Job discrimination against blacks and Asians continued, and was quite visible in the corporate records and the media. Discrimination against newer immigrant groups can be identified as late as 1941 (when it was banned for government contract holders). No trace of anti-Irish hostility has turned up in the corporate records of the literature of personnel management. Can we prove there was no job discrimination against the Irish? Zero is too hard to "prove"—though no historian has found any evidence of any actual discrimination by any business or factory. 43 The main "evidence" referenced in the historical literature is three fold:

First, the NINA myth was so convincing that the Irish saw no need to investigate further, or to document the discrimination, or to set up a protective organization. (They of course organized extensively, in both Ireland and America, to protest maltreatment back in Ireland.) 44

Second, historians point to contemporaries who commented unfavorably on the Irish, generalizing from a handful of cases to create a stereotype of the dominant views of all of American society. Now indeed the 19th century literature is filled with eyewitness and statistical descriptions of Irish drunkenness, crime, violence, poverty, extortion, insanity, ignorance, political corruption and lawless behavior. The reports come from many cities, from Catholics and non-Catholics, social scientists and journalists, Irish and non-Irish. 45 The question is not whether the Irish were admired. (They were not.) The argument that the dominant popular stereotypes of the Irish were especially nasty does not hold up under careful examination. There is no evidence that more than one in a thousand Americans considered the Irish as racially inferior, non-white or ape-like. 46

Third, as noted, historians point to statistical evidence that the Irish had lower rates of upward social mobility than average, in the 1850—1880 period. The Irish must have been held back by something: but was it internal or external, or just random historical luck? Given the 20th century success story of the Irish—they are among the wealthiest groups today—the disability or discrimination ended somewhere along the line. [End Page 412]

Many different models can explain the Irish condition: First there was lack of financial and human capital. The Irish who arrived in the 1840s and 1850s came with few useful industrial or agricultural skills, while the British and Germans who came at the same time brought cash and much more human capital. Thus the distribution of human capital can be said to have allocated Irish to unskilled jobs, and other immigrants to more skilled opportunities. After 1890 the Irish had acquired some schooling and skills, while the current newcomers were primarily unskilled peasants from southern and eastern Europe. The latter groups moved into the unskilled jobs while the Irish moved up. In the coal fields, with very few job opportunities above the level of unskilled miner, the arrival of new competitors led to significant tensions and violence. In some cases the new competitors were more skilled than the Irish; thus the Swedes who came to Worcester in the late 19th century displaced the less skilled Irish in the metals factories.

The Irish did invest heavily in human capital, through their system of parochial schools and colleges. The impact of such investment was necessarily long-term, and seems to have become visible by 1900. To a considerable extent the goal was preservation and protection of traditional religious values, and the creation of a social system that would discourage intermarriage. However the schools did follow a standardized curriculum that inculcated literacy and learning skills. Negative investment in human capital involved internal self-defeating factors, such as heavy alcoholism, weak motivation, poor work habits, and disorganized family life. This was widely commented on regarding 19th century Irish, but not much reported in 20th century. 47 Rather few Irish became entrepreneurs; the community did not generate pools of financial capital. Perhaps more important was a low communal value on the individualistic businessman. Construction contracting seems to have been the only business in which they had any significant ownership role, and that depended on control of labor and access to government contracts rather than financial capital. The Irish did operate many saloons, but they were financed by the German brewers and generated little new capital for the community. 48

Comparing rates of social mobility assumes that the Irish were seeking that goal to the same extent as the Yankees. Perhaps their ambitions looked more toward non-individualistic goals (such as building impressive churches), or non-career family advancement strategies focused on political leadership or home ownership, or (in the case of nuns and priests) honorific careers that involved a vow of poverty. A strikingly high proportion of talented Irish youth went into very low paying, very high prestige religious careers. The community more often honored priests and bishops than business entrepreneurs.

Social mobility depends upon strong family structures. Weak ties in a group would indicate fathers and uncles did not assist their kin. The Irish had a reputation for the opposite traits (clannishness and nepotism), but also had reportedly high rates of internal family discord. 49 On the other hand kinship ties could be too strong and impede upward mobility. Parents might demand more child labor, valuing family collective goals over the child's individualistic career potential. Did the Irish tend to remove their children from schools to put them to work early? This would produce ready funds for home ownership, but less long-run human capital. Census data indicate high rates of school attendance, at least to [End Page 413] age 14. 50 Special family needs, especially sending funds to Ireland for subsistence and bringing over more relatives, might have drained the capital needed for upward mobility through small business. This indeed was a major factor among the Irish down to the 1880s.

Perhaps the Irish ethic placed more stress on equality and communal sharing of wealth. Different customs can have this effect—for example extensive charity (tithing), or heavy gambling that redistributes earned income in random fashion. Irish levels of charity were moderately high (especially donations to the church); observers did not comment on heavy gambling. In some cultures, when a man gets money he must share it widely with relatives, thus diffusing it and slowing accumulation in entrepreneurial hands. Observers did not report this trait as especially characteristic of the Irish community. In the context of social mobility, "clannishness" can refer to a collective ethic whereby the goal is for the group as a whole moves ahead, with individual initiative discouraged. 51 Bad historical luck could lock a group into the wrong skills or geography, causing retarded growth and structural unemployment. A group could cling too long to old-fashioned skills that were dead-end or slow growth, or be attached to businesses or geographical areas that grew very slowly. This may have happened to the Germans, and certainly did happen in the 20th century to coal miners. The Irish however, were noted for their willingness to change jobs, move to new neighborhoods or cities, and abandon trades. However, the quest for political patronage probably locked Irish men into overpaid but dead-end blue-collar jobs, and channeled talent into public administration rather than private entrepreneurship. 52

Perhaps businessmen figured Irish were unacceptable and decided not to hire any? There is little evidence for, and vast evidence against, this hypothesis. Beginning with Samuel Slater, New England entrepreneurs built hundreds of textile mills in the ante-bellum period. Although the Yankee owners were at first eager to use Yankee workers like themselves (the famous "Lowell Girls") they soon switched to Irish and French Canadian Catholics. Pleased with this new labor supply, they built more mills, often in small towns that had previously been entirely Yankee. They counted on a steady inflow of Catholic workers, borrowing millions of dollars to create these jobs. Once the Irish did have mill jobs they were four times more likely to put their children to work in the same mill than Yankees—rather odd behavior if they were mistreated so badly. 53 Perhaps foremen and superintendents hired Irish for low level jobs but deliberately held them back or promote them very slowly? Major research projects by Tamara Hareven (dealing with Amoskeag, the largest textile mill in the world), and Walter Licht, dealing with internal promotion system in railroads, finds no evidence of this. Business historians and biographers have turned up no instances of systematic anti-Irish discrimination by any employer in the US, at any time. 54

NINA originated with women domestic servants, and we need to rethink their position. No one has suggested the Irish women used violence, boycotts or threats to achieve dominance in this industry. "Bridget" had a reputation for mediocre quality work, but this liability was offset by communal assets that made them attractive employees. They spoke English. Along with African Americans and Swedes, they had a strong commitment to service jobs and were available in large numbers. Because of late marriages and spinsterhood, they spent years in service, accumulating experience and maturity that made them more attractive [End Page 414] than inexperienced teenagers. Off the job the Irish had a well-developed support network that provided friendship, entertainment, advice, and connections to find new employers. These support networks established informal job standards regarding working hours, housing, food, perquisites and pay scales. The standards were enforced by the maid immediately quitting if the employer violated the standards, with knowledge her friends would be supportive and would help her find a new position. Despite scare stories in the anti-Catholic pamphlets, the Irish servants did not proselytize or interfere with household religious activity. Given the dominance of Irish women among maids in the large cities, and the constant turnover of servants, we can estimate that the large majority (perhaps 80 or 90 percent) of middle class families, regardless of their own ethnic or religious affiliations, routinely hired Irish women. 55

The economic theory of discrimination focuses on the tastes of the employers, coworkers and customers, and the costs to each (in terms of profits, wages and prices) of having a distaste for a category of workers. If there is underemployment of a target group in a competitive market, then some entrepreneur can make a bigger profit by seeking out and hiring that group. Coworkers who have a strong distaste for working alongside the target can react by boycotting that employer, forcing up his other costs. By looking at wage rates in workplaces with different mixes of groups, economists hope to estimate the "distaste" factor: that is, workers will have to be paid more to work alongside a target group (and will accept lower pay if there are no coworkers from that group.) Estimates of the distaste factor come from a historical study dealing with Michigan furniture workers in the 1890s. It found that in general all groups have a preference for their own kind as coworkers (and were willing to take a 5—10% wage cut for the privilege of working alongside their own kind.) People who were willing to work with outsiders were paid more. "Distaste" for Irish measured out about the same as for other groups. Overall discrimination was small—combined with language skills and the myriad of other unmeasured factors it was less than 5% of the average wage. Doubtless there was a tendency for owners of small shops to hire only their own ethnicity. While this would have the effect of excluding Irish from certain jobs, it cannot be called "anti-Irish" in motivation. Probably the Irish practiced closed hiring as much as or more than any group. 56

We know from the experience of African Americans and Chinese that the most powerful form of job discrimination came from workers who vowed to boycott or shut down any employer who hired the excluded class. Employers who were personally willing to hire Chinese or blacks were forced to submit to the threats. 57 There were no reports of mobs attacking Irish employment, even during sporadic episodes of attacks on Catholic church facilities in 1830s and 1840s. No one has reported claims that co-workers refused to work alongside Irish; this powerful form of discrimination probably did not affect the Irish in significant ways. On the other hand the Irish repeatedly attacked employers who hired African Americans or Chinese. If a group is systematically discriminated against in a major way by most employers, it will be segregated into a small niche. This segregation should be visible in the census statistics of occupation, when comparing it to other groups, especially to British Protestant immigrants who were not reputedly subject to discrimination. The most useful analysis of any large city for the 19th century is the "Philadelphia Social History Project" [End Page 415] which computerized hundreds of thousands of census entries. The Irish comprised 15—30% of the labor force there. How segregated were they, and how did the segregation decline over time? Table 1 shows an index of how different the Irish and others were from native Americans. (Philadelphia was one of the few cities with a large native American working class.) The data show the Irish were about in the same position as German immigrants, and much less liable to being boxed into a job niche than blacks, Italians, Poles or Jews. The Irish had about the same score in 1930 as the British, which is consistent with very little discrimination by employers. The index is about the same for Irish of the first and second generation (1880) and later Irish (1930) indicating that the level of anti-Irish discrimination did not change much over time; it can be seen as equally low in both 1880 and 1930. [End Page 416]

Assuming the Irish relied somewhat less on individual skills or market forces, and more on collective action and political prowess for their job security and pay rates, we must ask how successful were they? By the early twentieth century their pay scales were probably at least average. Peter Baskerville has discovered the Irish Catholics in urban Canada in 1901 were about average in terms of both family incomes and standards of living.

Table 1: 1880 Index of Job Segregation , Philadelphia (100=max)58

Old Stock




Irish Immigrants


Sons of Irish immigrants


German Immigrants


Sons of German immigrants


1930 Index of Job Segregation, Philadelphia

White, US born parents
















My analysis of Iowa data in 1915 in Table 2 shows the Irish Catholics had slightly above average incomes, but that additional years of schooling helped them less than other groups. This suggests that group solidarity was a powerful force for uplift, but it improved the status of the group as a unit rather than as an average of separate individuals. Autobiographies of overly ambitious youth relate how they were harassed by their classmates and warned against the sin of pride by the priest and nuns. 60

 Table 2: Lifetime Earnings and return to additional schooling Iowa
Non-Farm Men, 1915

Group                    N       $Lifetime   Return ALL
                             909      100       10.6%

OLD STOCK                    499       97        9.7%
   No Religion               243       93        9.1%
   Methodist                 164       95        9.7%

ETHNICS                      410      100       10.6%
  German                     147      109       12.2%
  Lutheran                    34       95        9.5%
  Catholic                    46      106       13.9%
  Scandinavian                87      103       12.2%
  British                     58      114       14.7%
  Irish Catholic              57      104        8.4% 
Pete Hamill explained how the collective spirit affected him, growing up in Brooklyn in 1940s: 61
This was part of the most sickening aspect of Irish-American life in those days: the assumption that if you rose above an acceptable level of mediocrity, you were guilty of the sin of pride. You were to accept your place and stay in it for the rest of your life; the true rewards would be given to you in heaven, after you were dead. There was ferocious pressure to conform, to avoid breaking out of the pack; self-denial was the supreme was arrogant, a sin of pride, to conceive of a life beyond the certainties, rhythms, and traditions of the Neighborhood. Sometimes the attitude was expressed directlyMore often, it was implied. But the Neighborhood view of the world had fierce power. Who did I think I was?

When the Irish grumbled about "No Irish Need Apply," they perhaps were really warning each other against taking jobs which were controlled by the Other and immune from the political pressures that group solidarity could exert. There was method to the myth, which is why it persisted so long. Individual upward mobility was a priority for individualistic strivers imbued with the "Protestant Ethic." There is no reason to assume it motivated the Irish. Their individual upward mobility rates were modest. 62

If the Irish turned both politics and the job market into a group struggle, then we might expect different outcomes when comparing the three situations where the Irish were too weak to make much difference, where they had the "right amount" of leverage, and where they were too numerous. Statistical studies of social mobility in the 1850—1920 era suggest that the Irish did best in the Midwest (where they had just the right amount of strength), and not nearly as well in the Northeast, where they were too numerous to be advantaged by zero-sum power maneuvering. 63 Why the difference? Both Midwest and Northeast regions were doing very well, industrializing rapidly at that time. Let's examine the model of collective solidarity of the Irish in the labor market. It was a technique to facilitate the group as a whole moving rather than individuals. It had zero-sum properties (what one group gained, other groups lost). Their technique would work much better when the Irish were 10—30% of the population, and not nearly as well when they were in a majority. (If their numbers went above 50%, then it was dysfunctional, for most gains would come at the expense of other Irish.) The Irish did have a numerical dominance in Boston and other northeastern [End Page 417] cities, such as Troy. There were fewer rivals to elbow out of the way, and their technique was therefore much less successful there. The Irish approach discouraged entrepreneurship (which is positive-sum). It encouraged government work, and jobs (such as canal or railroad construction, longshoremen, transit) where government contacts or franchises were involved (thus allowing them to use their political muscle). In order to expand their preferred job base the Irish supported expansion of government spending and government regulation—what John Buenker has called "urban liberalism." Successors to the Al Smith tradition of urban liberalism, such as Speakers John McCormack and Tip O'Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy could well boast of their achievements in expanding government (or preventing its contraction) during and after the New Deal era. 64

After 1860 fears that the Irish were a threat to republicanism rapidly disappeared. The most decisive event came in spring 1861; when the War broke out the Irish rallied to the American flag, and joined the army. Although they strenuously opposed the draft and emancipation, they never supported the Confederacy (unlike some old-line Democratic leaders who took Confederate money.) Irish veterans were welcomed into the GAR, whose camaraderie validated their republicanism. The worst forms of poverty and destitution eventually disappeared, and a solid class of property owners and civil servants emerged to anchor the Irish in their communities. The Catholic Church, controlled by the Irish, vigorously supported law and order, and effectively suppressed the premodern urge to use violence for political goals. The Pope never dictated politics, and the bishops and priests never became active in domestic politics. They focused on building schools, colleges, hospitals, asylums and the stunningly beautiful churches. Many critics—throughout the 19th and 20th centuries—were alarmed that parochial schools threatened the public school system, which they insisted was the only guarantee of republican values. The Catholics vehemently rejected this allegation, and over the years gained surprising allies, as other denominations started their own parochial schools, including the German Lutherans, Dutch Calvinists, Orthodox Jews, and evangelicals. Lingering anti-Catholicism reappeared in debates over prohibition, and especially over the nomination of Catholics to the presidency, but it is notable that politicians were never attacked for their Irish heritage. 65

Irish collective solidarity seems to have broken down after World War Two, as New Deal work relief ended, the big city machines collapsed, unions entered an era of slow, steady decline, and the Catholic school system generated high school and college graduates well-equipped to make their way in the white collar world entirely as individuals, with minimal need for group support. By the 1960s the Irish had moved from the bottom to near the top of the ladder, with an economic status that surpassed their old Yankee antagonists. With the election of John Kennedy in 1960, Irish political solidarity climaxed. The Last Hurrah came in 1964, when Irish Catholics voted 78 percent for Lyndon Johnson. They abandoned Humphrey in 1968; since then they have split evenly between the parties and no longer comprise a bloc vote. 66

Did the Irish come to America in the face of intense hostility, symbolized by the omnipresent sign, "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply"? The hard evidence suggests that on the whole Irish immigrants as employees were welcomed by employers; their entry was never restricted; and no one proposed they be excluded [End Page 418] like the Chinese, let alone sent back. Instead of firing Catholics to make way for Protestant workers, most employers did exactly the opposite. That is, the dominant culture actively moved to create new jobs specifically for the unskilled Irish workers. As soon as the Irish acquired education and skills they moved up the social status ladder, reaching near the top by the 1960s. For a while political questions were raised about the devotion of the Irish to America's republican ideals, but these doubts largely faded away during the 1860s. The Irish rarely if ever had to confront an avowedly "anti-Irish" politician of national or statewide reputation—itself powerful evidence for the absence of deep-rooted anti-Irish sentiment. By the late 19th century the Irish were fully accepted politically and economically. However, reality and perception diverged. After the song appeared in 1862 the Irish themselves "saw" the NINA signs everywhere, seeing in them ugly discrimination that was forcing them downward into the worst jobs. It was deliberate humiliation by arrogant Protestant Yankees. The myth was undeniable—anyone inside the group would be called a traitor for suggesting that internal weaknesses inside the Irish community caused its problems; anyone outside would be called a prejudiced bigot. 67 But what if there were no such signs? The NINA slogan was in the mind's eye, conjured by an enormously popular song from 1862. Job discrimination by the Other was too well known to the Irish to need evidence beyond NINA, or the "recent" burning of the Ursuline convent. Historians engaging in cultural studies must beware the trap that privileges evidence derived from the protests of self-proclaimed victims. Practically every ethnoreligious group in America cherishes its martyrs and warns its members that outsiders "discriminate" against them, or would if they had the opportunity. The NINA slogan had the effect of reinforcing political, social and religious solidarity. It had a major economic role as well, strengthening the politicized work-gang outlook of Irish workers who had to stick together at all times. It warned the Irish against looking for jobs outside their community, and it explained away their low individual rates of upward social mobility. The slogan identified an enemy to blame, and justified bully behavior on the city streets. NINA signs never faded away, even as the Irish prospered and discrimination vanished—they remained a myth about origins that could not be abandoned.


Bow, NH 03304


This essay grew out of discussions on several email lists, including H-ETHNIC, H-HIGH-S, Irish-Diaspora, and Wild Geese. Special thanks to all the participants; I appreciate the advice from John Allswang, Tyler Anbinder, Peter Baskerville, Colin B. Burke, Leo Casey, Robert Cherny, Terry Clark, Heather Cronrath, Maura Doherty, Jay Dolan, Elizabeth Ellis and the staff at the Museum of the City of New York, Joe Gannon, Larry Giantomas, Victor Greene, Susan Ikenberry, Rob Kennedy, Kevin Kenny, Lawrence Kohl, Bill Leckie, Dale Light, Sean Lyons, Dennis J. McCann, Martha Mayo, Brad McKay, Lawrence J. McCaffrey, John McClymer, John Morello, Gerald A. Regan, Joel Schwartz, Patrick O'Sullivan, Gene Sessions, and Stephan Thernstrom. [End Page 419]

1. Even historians have believed the myth; for example, the leading scholar of the Irish migration claims, "Unskilled workers and servants, especially, encountered the ubiquitous 'No Irish Need Apply' notices when they searched for jobs in Boston, New York, and other major cities." Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles (1985), 323. Kevin Kenny, The American Irish: A History (2000) demonstrates how central the sense of discrimination was.

2. Stephan Thernstrom (email of March 27, 2001 to author) notes he saw no discriminatory ads, or complaints of job discrimination, in the four decades of issues of Newburyport Daily Herald that he examined. Martha Mayo (email of June 24, 2001 to author) likewise has found no references in her exhaustive search of Lowell newspapers. Oscar Handlin did not report seeing a NINA, but he did reference a handful of editorials in Irish Catholic newspapers that vigorously condemned NINA in want ads for household workers. Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 1790—1880 (1959), p. 62.

3. A major exhibit, Gaelic Gotham, from the Museum of the City of New York, see did not have any NINA signs, but did reprint the text of a newspaper ad for maids.

4. Of course sells these signs. But they are all modern fakes, made by novelty sign makers for the Irish market. See for example Scholars can get fooled too, as shown by

5. Kennedy said, "I remember 'Help Wanted' signs in stores when I was growing up saying 'No Irish Need Apply ."' Congressional Record Senate Sept 9, 1996 page S10054. He was born to a rich family in 1932, about the same time as the Lindbergh baby, and grew up in very well protected upper class circumstances that seldom brought him to the factory districts. No other Irishman hius age reports seeing a sign.

6. Immigration restriction movements originated in the 1890s, at a time when Irish immigration had declined to a trickle, and did not target the Irish. Indeed, the most powerful force behind restriction was the American Federation of Labor—half of whose leaders were Irish Catholic.

7. On motivation see Randall M. Miller, "Catholic Religion, Irish Ethnicity, and the Civil War," in Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson, eds. Religion and the American Civil War (1998), 261—96. Edward K. Spann, "Union Green: The Irish Community and the Civil War," in Ron Bayor and Timothy Meagher, eds. The New York Irish (1996), 193—209. There were no allegations of Irishmen going South to join the Confederacy. In the war with Mexico, however, a hundred Irish Americans deserted from the US army, organized two San Patricio battalions, and fought alongside the Mexicans. Many were captured and hung by General Winfield Scott. Pam Nordstrom, "San Patricio Battalion," Handbook of Texas (1996)

8. Steven P. Erie, Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840—1985 (1988), ch 2. After the war the leading veteran's organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, welcomed Irish Catholic members. Since it was the mainstay of the Republican party in many small towns, the GAR provided an opportunity for Democratic Irishmen to mingle on friendly and equal terms with Protestants of the same age, and softened the tensions created by the temperance movement. See Michel J. Martin, "'A Class of Persons Whose Presence is a Constant Danger': Progress, Prohibition, and 'Public Disorderliness' in Burlington, 1860—1880," Vermont History (1994) 62: 148—165; and Gene Sessions, "'Years of Struggle': The Irish in the Village of Northfield, 1845—1900," Vermont History (1987) 55: 69—95. [End Page 420]

9. John Belchem "Nationalism, Republicanism and Exile: Irish Emigrants and the Revolutions of 1848," Past & Present (Feb 1995) 146: 103—35. They also considered themselves superior Christians in vivid contrast to the heretical Protestants, who were most likely damned to hell.

10. One might add the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866, which failed totally; the Pope excommunicated the Fenians.

11. Generally see Michael Glazier, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America (1999); for details, Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (1990); Michael A. Gordon, The Orange Riots: Irish Political Violence in New York City, 1870 and 1871 (1993); Edward B. Freeland, "The Great Riot," Continental Monthly (Sept 1863) v4#2 pp. 302—312 online at On the Molly Maguires, see Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., The Molly Maguires (1964) and Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (1998); see also online sources at and Joel Tyler, Headley, The Great Riots of New York, 1712 to 1873, including a full and complete account of the Four Days' Draft Riot of 1863 (1873), online at

12. Lawrence J. McCaffrey, The Irish Diaspora in America (1976), p. 66, suggests ghetto life exaggerated stereotypes and nurtured Irish failure "by cultivating the paranoia, defeatism, and feelings of inferiority planted by the past." See also Thomas H. O'Connor, The Boston Irish: A Political History (1995), 94.

13. The Irish tended to equate themselves with Catholicism, interpreting anti- Catholicism as anti-Irish prejudice. Other Catholics groups, especially the Germans, French Canadians, and Poles, resented this proprietary attitude.

14. Brian C. Mitchell, The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821—61 (1988), shows how the mill owners replaced the Yankee "Lowell Girls" with Irish and French Catholics. Wealthy Protestants who summered in Maine brought their servants along and asked the bishop to help arrange for Catholic services for them. James O'Toole, Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1859—1944 (1992), 42. On the decline of anti-Catholicism at the local level, see Luisa Spencer Finberg, "The Press and the Pulpit: Nativist Voices in Burlington and Middlebury, 1853—1860," Vermont History (1993) 61: 156—175.

15. The history of Pendennis. His fortunes and misfortunes, his friends and his greatest enemy (1848) p. 102. The character was referring to Protestant Irish.

16. On relations between the two Irish groups, see David Montgomery, "The Shuttle and the Cross: Weavers and Artisans in the Kensington Riots of 1844." Journal of Social History (1972) 5: 411—446. In addition to religion, Irish regionalism led to internecine fighting over jobs, which further gave the Irish community a "fighting" reputation.

17. It is now easy to search through hundreds of thousands of pages of 19th century magazines and books, using the Making of America online software at Cornell ( or Michigan. (see For the Times, see and for The Nation,

18. See the ad in The New York Times of March 25, 1854 shown below--this is the only NINA ad for men anyone has ever found; also see Sept. 21, 1859. The Times of Jan 9, 1854, had an ad for servants from a "Protestant Employment Society." A houseworker ad on February 10, 1858 specified, "Only Scotch need apply." For comparison, the search engine turned up 25 instances of the phrase "respectable young girl" in 1861 alone, plus 34 entreaties for a "first rate cook" that year. It turned up a solitary ad that specified "only Americans need apply"—for a governess position in Kentucky. New York

[End Page 421] Times
July 18, 1855. The New York Irish-American (May 28, 1853) vowed that "we shall kill this anti-Irish-servant-maid crusade." It claimed to have hired a lawyer to sue the advertisers and the papers involved. On May 16, 1857, it proudly noted that there had not been a "no Irish need apply" ad in a while. On maids see David M. Katzman, Seven Days a Week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America (1978).

19. Aunt Abbie, The O'Brian Family, or The Fruits of Bible Reading (Philadelphia, 1855). They hired an Irish servant anyway, to keep the story moving.

20. The privacy zone around household employment still operates in federal civil rights law. Stephen J. Pollak, "1968 and the Beginnings of Federal Enforcement of Fair Housing," (2000), online at has explained the exemption from the 1968 Civil Rights law for "Mrs. Murphy's boarding house." That is, for houses with no more than four units, one of them occupied by the owner. The choice of an Irish boarding house was doubtless a humorous touch by Senator Everett Dirksen, who loved witty wordplay.

21. Online at Library of Con- gress. See William H. A. Williams, "Irish Song in America," in Glazier, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Irish, 475—6.

22. Online at Library of Congress, digital ID 09730

23. Meagher's men (see and Corcoran's brigade were Irish Catholic combat units raised in New York City in 1861—62. (see After Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept 22, 1862, support from Irish Catholics fell off drastically, suggesting that the lyrics were written before then. At the battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862, Meagher's brigade, comprising six all-Irish regiments from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, suffered 45% casualties and the Irish enthusiasm for fighting drastically declined. Craig A. Warren, "'Oh, God, What a Pity!': The Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg and the Creation of Myth," Civil War History (2001) 47:193—221. For the Irish mood see Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots; Frank L. Klement, "Catholics as Copperheads during the Civil War," The Catholic Historical Review (1994) 80:36—57. For songs celebrating their patriotism, see David Kincaid, "The Irish Volunteer: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier, 1861—1865," online at

24. The narrator is male but he selects an ad for a maid, which gives the house address. The annual Donnybrook fair had a long reputation for brawling. "Spalpeen" meant rascal and was current only in Ireland; "Millia murther" ("million murders") was the standard oath when one was getting beaten up. On more typical job searches by new arrivals, see Joseph Dinneen, Ward Eight (1936), 1—3. For Tony Pastor, see and Susan Kattwinkel, Tony Pastor Presents: Afterpieces from the Vaudeville Stage (1998). The modern version by Brendan Nolan (see is a variant of the Poole version. For music listen to

25. The unsigned editorial was probably authored by John Mitchel, the famous "Young Ireland" leader who was on staff at the time. William Dillon, The Life of John Mitchel (1883). For text see

26. John Aloysius Farrell, Tip O' Neill and the Democratic Century: A Biography (2001) p 55; Miller, Emigrants and Exiles, 324. The convent was run by Catholic nuns from French Quebec and primarily served rich Unitarian girls. See Nancy Lusignan Schultz, Fire and Roses : The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834 (2000). [End Page 422]

27. There are a few other references to NINA in the periodical literature: The Nation Jan 14, 1869, p. 27; March 23, 1871, p. 192; 1873 short story used to show prejudice of a crooked politician p 447; (see; an amusing 1876 usage by novelist Henry James, Jr. in The American, showing tolerance p 669 (see; 1876 account on why Chinese make better houseworkers in San Francisco p 736 (see; There is an explicit reference by an Irish priest in a Catholic magazine of 1881, referring to an era 40 years before: Rev. F. P. Ryan, "Ireland and the Irish," Catholic World (Sept 1881) 33: 849, online at

28. Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800—1860 (1938), 407, and geographical maps 405—6. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's (1992).

29. Critics said Irish bosses made a mockery of republicanism; for an example (with no anti-Catholic component), see "Irish Power" a cartoon in Puck, April 3, 1889, online at

30. Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (1993); Billington, Protestant Crusade ; Ward M. McAfee, Religion, Race, and Reconstruction: The Public School in the Politics of the 1870s (1998). American scholars are laggard compared to the excellent work done in Britain and Canada: D. G. Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England (1992); John D. Brewer and Gareth I. Higgins, "Understanding Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland," Sociology, (1999) 33:235—261; J. R. Miller, "Anti-Catholic Thought in Victorian Canada," Canadian Historical Review, (1985), 66:474—494; Mark McGowan, The Waning of the Green: Catholics, the Irish and Identity in Toronto, 1887—1922 (1999); Terence Punch, "Anti-Irish Prejudice in Nineteenth century Nova Scotia: The Literary and Statistical Evidence," in Thomas P. Power, ed., The Irish in Atlantic Canada, 1780—1900 (1991). For an anti-Catholic compendium see Samuel W. Barnum, Romanism as It Is (1872), online at

31. The bishops strongly opposed the Fenians and the Molly Maguires; the Pope condemned the boycotts in the Irish Land War. Violence simply was an unacceptable technique. The one American exception that proves the rule was Rev. Edward McGlynn, who was repeatedly warned and finally excommunicated. Many priests and nuns were arrested in Missouri during Reconstruction; the Irish were known to have supported the Confederacy and the Radicals wanted to exclude them from politics. The indictments were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. See Harold C. Bradley, "In Defense of John Cummings," Missouri Historical Review (1962) 57: 1—15; William T. Johnson, "Missouri Test Oath" The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912) v 14, online at

32. In Ireland the political role of priests was well established; John Newsinger, "The Catholic Church In Nineteenth-Century Ireland," European History Quarterly (1995) 25: 247—267. Rev. L. W. Bacon, "The Literature of the Coming Controversy," Putnam's Monthly Magazine (Jan 1869) p. 72, praises rapid maturation of RC church; online at

33. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles 268—70, 273—4; 314—23; Stephan Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880—1970 (1973); Joseph P. Ferrie, "The Entry into The U.S. Labor Market of Antebellum European Immigrants, 1840—1860," Explorations in Economic History (1997) 34:295—330; Ferrie, "Up and out or [End Page 423] Down and Out? Immigrant Mobility in the Antebellum United States," The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1995) 27:33—55.

34. The Irish image in the popular media has been a topic of interest for historians. As Lewis P. Curtis showed in Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature (1997) Punch magazine in London commissioned many cartoons and jokes denigrating the Irish in every way possible, and making them look like monkeys. For example see the crude humor of its Dec 21, 1861 issue, pp 250—51, online at American writers in the MOA corpus never referred to the Irish as monkeys or apes (though one did refer to Yale undergraduates as monkeys.) However the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast picked up the device. Nast was famous for his use of animals—including the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey—but does not seem to have depicted the Irish or any ethnic group as animals. Nevertheless rival cartoonist Frank Beard ridiculed Nast by drawing him as a monkey, in Judge July 12, 1884. Otherwise there were no references to the Irish as "Simian" or subhuman in the American literature. Anthony Wohl reviews the British hostility towards the Irish (see

35. The most visible—and ghastly—conditions were in New York City; see Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum (2001).

36. In Ireland the Land Wars of 1879—82 involved a demonization of landlords, contrasted with their sacralization of the exploited tenant farmer, reflecting a premodern rural ethic, coupled with a duty sense of fighting back against the oppressor. See Donald Jordan, "The Irish National League and the 'unwritten law': rural protest and nation-building in Ireland, 1882—1890," Past & Present (1998) 158:146—70. A dynamic interaction between agitators inside Ireland and America existed from the mid 1850s, resulting in the formation of the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, as well as fund-raising in the States. The Fenians turned violent in 1863, aiming to invade Canada. This cross-Atlantic interplay perhaps heightened Irish suspicions that they were abused by Yankees as much as by Englishmen. Oliver Rafferty, "Fenianism in North America in the 1860s: The Problems for Church and State," History (1999) 84: 257—277; Victor A. Walsh, "Irish Nationalism and Land Reform: The Role of the Irish in America," Irish Studies (1985) 4: 253—269.

37. William Cardinal O'Connell of Boston reveled in the memories of his boyhood, when he and his chums would refuse to endure "Puritan Yankee jeers and taunts," and often would mete out a few retaliatory "cuffing(s), blows, and bloody noses." William Henry O'Connell, Recollections of Seventy Years (1934), pp. 35—39. Chicago's first mayor Daley built his political reputation as a gang leader circa 1919, with perhaps some involvement in the Chicago race riot that year, as revealed by chapter 1 from Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (2000).

38. As the biographers of Mayor Richard Daley observe:

Daley's childhood catechism of Irish deprivations left him convinced that no group had suffered as his kinsmen had suffered. In the 1960s, when Daley was turning a deaf ear to the civil rights movement, one liberal critic opined: "I think one of the real problems {\lbracket}Daley{\rbracket} has with Negroes is understanding that the Irish are no longer the out-ethnic group."
Cohen and Taylor, American Pharaoh, p. 21.

39. The Irish have worked to include the Potato Famine in the school curriculum; see [End Page 424]

40. The sense of victimhood among American ethnic groups varied greatly. It was highest for groups who lived in high-tension local situations with neighbors they feared, such as Irish, African Americans, Jews, Japanese Americans, and white Southerners (after Reconstruction). However, it seems to be lower among Mormons and German Americans, who were targets primarily of federal wrath. The Chinese Americans seem to have surprisingly low levels of perceived victimhood, perhaps because they systematically walled themselves off from very hostile neighbors after 1880. The question is open on what the correlation was between perceived and actual discrimination.

41. Matthew E. Mason, "'The Hands Here Are Disposed to Be Turbulent': Unrest among the Irish Trackmen of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1829—1851," Labor History (1998) 39: 253—72. Peter Way, "Shovel and Shamrock: Irish Workers and Labor Violence in the Digging of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal," Labor History (1989) 30: 489—517.

42. The first chapter Divided We Stand (2001), by Bruce Nelson, provides an excellent discussion of the collective work culture of longshoremen, 95% of whom were Irish in New York. It is online at

43. Thomas N. Maloney, "Personnel Policy and Racial Inequality in the Pre-World War II North," The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1999) 30:235—57; Daniel Nelson, Managers and Workers: Origins of the New Factory System in the United States 1880—1920 (1975); Sanford Jacoby, Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900—1945 (1985); Richard W. Steele, "'No Racials': Discrimination Against Ethnics in American Defense Industry, 1940—42," Labor History (1991) 32: 66—90. When job discrimination ends—as it largely did against Catholics in Northern Ireland after 1972, the statistics show a rapid equalization of social status. Richard Breen, "Class Inequality and Social Mobility in Northern Ireland, 1973 to 1996," American Sociological Review (2000) 65:392—406. The Irish were not privy to the private letters of management—but historians are, They never mention the desirability of not hiring Irish—though they were often keen about blackballing strikebreakers. See Thomas C. Cochran, Railroad Leaders 1845—1890 (1953); James R. Barrett, "Unity and Fragmentation: Class, Race and Ethnicity on Chicago's South Side, 1900—1922," Journal of Social History (1984) 18:37—55; Licht, Working for the Railroad. Railroad policy, as one president explained to a priest, was zero tolerance for discrimination. "If there are any just grounds even of suspicion that there is any movement among our Superintendents to discriminate in any manner against Irishmen or against Catholics, we will see that the proper steps are taken to prevent it." Franklin B. Gowen to Fr. Daniel O'Connor, March 15, 1880, quoted in Marvin W. Schlegel, Ruler of the Reading, The Life of Franklin B. Gowen (1947), p. 176.

44. See Bayor and Meagher, eds. New York Irish, especially Hasia Diner, "'The Most Irish City in the Union': The Era of Great Migration, 1844—1877" pp 87—106. For conditions in Ireland and the mind-set of the immigrants, see Miller, Emigrants and Exiles. Miller shows that the Catholics felt exiled from their native land, driven out by malevolent Protestants. At the same time the Orange Protestants became much more hostile to the Catholics; they were a strong factor in Canada, and weak in the USA. See Donald MacRaild, "The Orange Order, Militant Protestantism and Anti-Catholicism: A Bibliographical Essay," (1999) online at

45. Carl Siracusa, A Mechanical People: Perceptions of the Industrial Order in Massachusetts, 1815—1880 (1979). For a Catholic view see "The Sanitary and Moral Condition of New York City," Catholic World (August, 1869) 9:553—566, online at

46. Dale T. Knobel, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America (1986) grossly exaggerates the ridicule toward the Irish—even to the point of reprinting cartoons that had nothing to do with the Irish, after removing the captions. Knobel [End Page 425] haphazardly selected a couple hundred publications (he never says exactly how many); he selected newspaper stories, for example, that dealt with riots and other episodes of intergroup violence which have little relevance to employment or social status. He found 1592 references to the Irish over the years 1820—1860. However sources, such as melodramas with numerous Irish characters, had numerous references, and each was counted as a separate "unit-perception." In all he found 392 different descriptive adjectives, and coded them according to a scheme developed by a psychologist for the language in use a century later. Knobel found a small (statistically insignificant) increase in emphasis on physical characteristics in the depiction of Irish in melodrama and popular fiction in the 1850s (p. 194). He then rebuilt his thesis around this tiny effect; he failed to follow proper research design by not taking a larger sample to see if the effect was caused by sampling error. (He only looked at 33 melodramas, and then split them three ways, so his N is around 12.) Likewise he divided his 30 school texts into three groups. On the whole, Knobel's statistical research design is much too weak to support his conclusions. For more on the problem of content analysis, see Charles Dollar and Richard Jensen, Historian's Guide to Statistics (1971). Knobel's own data reveal that physical references to the Irish were declining in three of the seven categories of writing, including newspapers and popular nonfiction. He mentions adjectives that he found only once—such as "Simian," "bestial," "savage," "brutish" and "low-browed", and many readers have assumed these were "typical" descriptions of the Irish. In contrast to his few sources this project examined 14,000 books and magazine articles, with 48,000 references to the Irish. We used the amazing searchable indexes at the Making of America project, the New York Times, and The Nation, which of course were not available when Knobel wrote. Searches indicate that Americans rarely or never referred to Blacks as "smoked Irish"; they did not call the Irish "white Negroes" nor characterize them as "Simian," "bestial," "savage," or "low-browed." We found exactly one reference to "low browed" (p. 267 in an 1857 humorous essay full of vast exaggerations), (see Thomas Butler Gunn, The Physiology of New York Boarding Houses (1857), 267, online at and one to "Simian" (by William Dean Howells, (see p. 191, in 1891, commenting on the British cartoonists.) Knobel's misreading of the evidence was perpetuated by David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (1991) and Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (1995) who uncritically used page 88 of Knobel (which, however, is highly ambiguous and misleading in the first place.) No American in the 19th century is known to have considered Irish as black. The Confederacy for example, welcomed Irish Catholics as citizens and soldiers—even as governors and generals. See Glazer, Encyclopedia, 155—56, 868, 929—30; Jason H. Silverman, "Stars, Bars and Foreigners: The Immigrants and the Making of the Confederacy," Journal of Confederate History (1988) 1:265—88.

47. Hasia R. Diner, Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century (1983); Richard Stivers, Hair of the Dog: Irish Drinking and Its American Stereotype. (2nd ed. 2000).

48. Dennis Clark, "Ethnic Enterprise and Urban Development," Ethnicity (1978) 5:108—118; Perry R. Duis, The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880—1920 (1983); Walter Licht, Getting Work in Philadelphia, 1840—1950 (1992); Timothy J. Meagher, Inventing Irish America: Generation, Class, and Ethnic Identity in a New England City, 1880—1928 (2000). Kevin Blackburn, "The Protestant Work Ethic and the Australian Mercantile Elite, 1880—1914," Journal of Religious History, (1997) 21:193—208, demonstrates the Irish did not share the individualistic work ethic of their Protestant neighbors in Australia. The best coverage of the rise of the Irish middle class is Paula M. Kane, Separatism and Subculture. Boston Catholicism, 1900—1920 (1994).

49. Diner, Erin's Daughters.

50. David W. Galenson, "Ethnic Differences in Neighborhood Effects on the School Attendance of Boys in Early Chicago," History of Education Quarterly (1998) 38:17—35; [End Page 426] Galenson, "Neighborhood, and the School Attendance of Boys in Antebellum Boston," Journal of Urban History (1998) 24:603—26; Joel Perlmann, Ethnic Differences: Schooling and Social Structure among the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Blacks in an American City, 1880—1935 (1988), re Providence; Steven Herscovici, "Ethnic Differences in School Attendance in Antebellum Massachusetts: Evidence from Newburyport, 1850—1860," Social Science History (1994) 18:471—96.

51. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles argues this "peasant" outlook was strong among the Irish; Lloyd I. Rudolph, "The Modernity of Tradition: The Democratic Incarnation of Caste in India," American Political Science Review (1965) 59:5—89, shows that an entire caste can indeed move upward by sticking together.

52. Erie, Rainbow's End, 61.

53. Jonathan Prude, The Coming of Industrial Order: Town and Factory Life in Rural Massachusetts, 1810—1860 (1983) demonstrates good relations between the mill owners and the Irish. Also see Siracusa, A Mechanical People; Mitchell, Paddy Camps, and Bernstein Draft Riots.

54. Walter Licht, Working for the Railroad (1983), pp. 222—23; Tamara Hareven, Family Time and Industrial Time (1982). The nearest example is an 1886 newspaper report that a Worcester, Massachusetts, factory was deliberately replacing Irish with cheaper Swedish workers. There was considerable tension between the groups, expressed in street violence and politics. The Swedes, however, seem to have been rather more skilled and better paid. The French also complained about being replaced by Swedes. Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870—1920 (1983), pp. 88—89.

55. Diner, Erin's Daughters, 80—94; Diane M. Hotten-Somers, "Relinquishing and Reclaiming Independence: Irish Domestic Servants, American Middle-class Mistresses, and Assimilation, 1850—1920," Eire-lreland: a Journal of Irish Studies, (Spring—Summer 2001) 185—203; Janet A. Nolan, Ourselves Alone: Women's Emigration from Ireland. 1885—1920 (1989), 73—90; Katzman, Seven Days a Week, 271—73; Diner, "Women, Nineteenth Century" in Glazer, ed. Encyclopedia of Irish 964; Faye E. Dudden, Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth-Century America (1983), 62—5; Aife Murray, "Miss Margaret's Emily Dickinson," Signs (1999) 24: 697—732. For a negative view see Kenny, American Irish, 153—54. Note that in aristocratic Britain the butlers controlled the servants' quarters, not the housewives; an informal Irish network would be a threat to them, so perhaps they were the ones who decided, "No Irish Need Apply." See Jessica Gerard, Country House Life: Family and Servants. 1815—1914 (1994). On the workings of informal networks among domestics, see Dorothea Schneider, "The Work That Never Ends: New Literature on Paid Domestic Work and Women of Color," Journal of American Ethnic History (1998) 17: 61—66. For contemporary views see Grace A. Ellis, "Household Servants," The Galaxy (Sept 1872) 14:349—55 online at; Robert Tomes, "Your Humble Servant," Harper's New Monthly Magazine. (June 1864) 29: 53—60, online at; Harriet Beecher Stowe, "House and Home Papers," Atlantic Monthly (June 1864) 13:759 online at
For a revealing cartoon see "Bridget...Our Self-Made Cooks - From Paupers to Potentates..."

56. David Buffum and Robert Whaples, "Fear and Lathing in the Michigan Furniture Industry: Employee-based Discrimination a Century Ago," Economic Inquiry (1995) 33:234—52 finds the Irish were overpaid by 7%; Paul McGouldrick and Michael Tannen, "Did American Manufacturers Discriminate against Immigrants Before 1914?" Journal of Economic History (1977): 723—46 finds virtually no discrimination. For theory see Kenneth Arrow, "The Theory of Discrimination," in Discrimination in Labor Markets, edited by Orley Ashenfelter and Albert Rees, (1973), pp. 3—33; Gary Becker, The Economics of Discrimination, 2nd. ed. (1971); Glen G. Cain, "The Economic Analysis of Labor Market Discrimination: A Survey" in Orley C. Ashenfelter and Richard Layard, eds. Handbook [End Page 427] of Labor Economics (1986) v1 ch 13 . On ethnic in-hiring, see Odd S. Lovoll, A Century of Urban Life: The Norwegians in Chicago before 1930 (1988), pp. 153, 159, 165.

57. Harper's Weekly reported on the anti-Chinese movement in California; their reports are online at James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States (1920) 8:186 explained how real job discrimination worked:

"There were a large number of unemployed in San Francisco, estimated when the winter came on at 15,000, a large number for a city of about 200,000; these were willing converts of Dennis Kearney, the leader of the Sandlotters. Kearney was a drayman of some education who had lost money through speculation in mining stocks and who swayed the crowd by his inflammatory speech. "The Chinese must go," was a favorite declaration and, from attacking the Chinese, Kearney naturally arrived at a denunciation of their employers. "A little judicious hanging right here and now," he said, "will be the best course to pursue with the capitalists and stock sharps who are all the time robbing us." A notable event was a meeting on October 29 (1877) on Nob Hill in front of the railroad kings' wooden palaces. In his speech Kearney demanded that the Central Pacific Railroad discharge all Chinese within three months. "Recollect Judge Lynch," he said, "and that is the judge that the working-men will want in California if the condition of things is not ameliorated." Kearney was arrested for incendiary language and when released reiterated his refrain, "The Chinese must go," and exhibiting to the Sand Lot meeting four feet of rope with a noose declared that that was their platform."

58. From Stephanie W. Greenberg, "Industrial Location and Ethnic Residential Patterns in an Industrializing City: Philadelphia, 1880," in Theodore Hershberg, ed., Philadelphia (1981), p. 215.

59. Jensen, unpublished data, using sample of 1915 Iowa State Census. The "lifetime income" is an index involving time discounts, and should be considered the present value of the future income of the group, holding age constant. "Return" is how much one additional year of high school improved annual earnings over a lifetime.

60. Peter Baskerville, "Did Religion Matter?: Religion and Wealth in Urban Canada at the Turn of the Twentieth Century," (unpublished paper); Joel Perlmann and Waldinger, Roger, "Second Generation Decline? Children of Immigrants, Past and Present: A Reconsideration," International Migration Review (1997) 31:893—922.

61. Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir (1994), pp. 110—11.

62. Stephan Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (1964); see also Howard Gitelman, "No Irish Need Apply: Patterns of and Responses to Ethnic Discrimination in the Labor Market," Labor History (1973) 14(1): 56—68. Looking at Waltham, Massachusetts, 1850—90 he finds Irish avoided on-the-job training or formal education; they stayed in the lowest-paying, unskilled jobs.

63. See Andrew Greeley, The Irish Americans: The Rise to Money and Power (1981), pp. 110—20; Thernstrom, Other Bostonians; JoEllen Vinyard, "The Irish on the Urban Frontier: Detroit, 1850—1880." (PhD Michigan, 1972); David Noel Doyle, Irish-Americans, Native Rights and National Empires; The Structure, Divisions and Attitudes of the Catholic Minority In the Decade of Expansion, 1890—1901 (Doctoral Thesis, University of Iowa, 1976; published by Arno); Grace McDonald, History Of The Irish In Wisconsin In The Nineteenth Century (1954); and Steven P. Erie, "Politics, the Public Sector and Irish Social Mobility: San Francisco, 1870—1900," Western Political Quarterly (1978) 31: 274—289. For good essays comparing cities across the country see Timothy J. Meagher, From Paddy to Studs: Irish-American Communities in the Turn of the Century Era, 1880 to 1920 (1986). For comparative wealth data, see Timothy G. Conley and David W. Galenson, "Nativity and Wealth in Mid-Nineteenth Century Cities," The Journal of Economic History, (1998) 58:468—93. [End Page 428]

64. Terry N. Clark, "The Irish Ethnic Identity and the Spirit of Patronage" Ethnicity (1978) 2: 305—359, found municipal spending much higher in Irish strongholds; compare Erie, Rainbow's End, 46. See also John D. Buenker, Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform (1973). Patrick D. Kennedy, "Chicago's Irish Americans and the Candidacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932—1944," Illinois Historical Journal (1995) 88: 263—278.

65. German was another matter, especially in World War I, and as late as 1940 Wendell Willkie was attacked for his German (Protestant) heritage.

66. Andrew Greeley That Most Distrustful Nation: the Taming of the American Irish (1972) and many other reports using national survey data.

67. Identification of a minority's dysfunctional and pathological internal problems make an investigator vulnerable to attacks for "blaming the victim" or "racism." A firestorm of criticism engulfed sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965, when he reported on the condition of the Negro family. Daryl Michael Scott, "The Politics of Pathology: The Ideological Origins of the Moynihan Controversy," Journal of Policy History (1996) 8: 81—105.