Irish domestic servants, 'Biddy'and rebellion in the American home, 1850-1900

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This essay looks at the role that Anglo-American women played in governing their Irish immigrant domestic servants and at the racial and gendered meanings that were attached to servitude. In the second half of the nineteenth century, female Irish Catholic immigrants predominated in domestic service employment in the north-eastern United States. Newspaper and magazine articles portrayed the home as a site of conflict where Protestant, middle-class families clashed with Irish Catholic 'peasant'girls newly arrived in the US. Employers depicted 'Bridget'or 'Biddy', the collective nickname given to Irish domestic servants, as insubordinate, unrefined and prone to violent outbursts. While reliant on domestic service for wages, female Irish immigrants understood that service represented racialised labour in the United States and was viewed as an occupation befitting non-white populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-286
Number of pages24
JournalGender and History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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