For generations Irish Americans retained a folk memory of the time when they were not welcome among polite society in the US and when newspapers and business owners from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s featured advertisements that baldly stated: ‘No Irish need apply.’
That was challenged by a prominent American historian who dismissed widespread anti-Irish discrimination as a legend fostered by cultural imagination and ignorance.
According to Richard Jensen, former professor of history at the University of Illinois in Chicago, the so-called NINA ads barely existed — if at all. In a 2002 article in the Oxford Journal of Social History entitled: “‘No Irish Need Apply’: A Myth of Victimisation” Jensen claimed the signs were a fabricated memory of Irish-Americans to make themselves appear as victims.
But now, on foot of research undertaken by a high-school student, the New York Times has offered definitive proof from its archives that ads discriminating against Irish applicants were indeed prevalent for at least 50 years.
One particularly odious advertisement published by the Evening Star in 1855 states: “Wanted immediately, a servant. A slave preferred...No Irish need apply”. It is one of 69 examples unearthed by Washington DC student Rebecca Fried which shows that anti-Irish hostility was common in the US up to the early part of the last century.
The eighth-grade student presented evidence in the same journal where Jensen first published his findings, showing scores of examples of ‘No Irish need apply’ ads, which she had found by searching online databases of digitised newspaper archives.
Intrigued by her research, the New York Times reporter, Mark Bulik, conducted a search of his newspaper’s own database. The earliest example Bulik found dates to November 10, 1854, in a classified ad for a nanny.
“It was the first of many,” Bulik writes. “‘No Irish need apply’ turned up at least 29 times in Times classifieds advertising for jobs, and the sentiment was wider than the frequency of those exact words.” Other phrasings — such as ‘Irish need not apply,’ ‘Irishmen need not apply,’ ‘No Irishman need apply,’ and the more direct ‘No Irish,’ turned up many more examples from the Times’ archive. Many more classifieds Bulik found stipulated that applicants be Protestant, suggesting a prejudice against Irish Catholic immigrants.
Prof Jensen has discounted Fried’s findings, claiming that the amount she discovered was of little consequence — but further examples have been found by readers of the online journal IrishCentral, proving that the such anti-Irish advertisements were not as rare as the historian has claimed.
One of IrishCentral’s readers, Rhonda Anderson Morris, conducted a search through the Newspapers.com database that yielded more than 1,400 mentions of ‘No Irish need apply’ in newspapers from around the US.
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