With the power of the internet and the determination to find answers, a Washington, D.C. girl challenged the work of a retired history professor regarding the prevalence of employment discrimination against Irish immigrants from the mid-19th century into the 20th century. What started with a Google search ultimately lead to the teen’s findings being published in the same journal that carried the historian’s thesis more than a decade ago.
An Urban Legend?
The professor, Richard Jensen, retired from the University of Illinois at Chicago, published a research project in 2002 that concluded that claims of victimhood for Irish Americans were overstated, and the that the now semi-iconic “No Irish Need Apply” signs rarely, if ever, graced the windows of establishments looking to hire help. In his research, Jensen found only a handful of examples of such blatant discrimination, either in shop windows or in printed want-ads. He determined that the myth of prejudice against the Irish was based on misperception and exaggeration, and perpetuated by popular drinking songs and lore.
Washington, D.C., eighth-grader Rebecca Fried decided to test Jensen’s conclusions with a simple search on online newspaper archives. Her research turned up far more examples of print ads with the “No Irish Need Apply” disclaimer, with many such ads being run by businesses in New York and Boston, two cities at the heart of the Irish immigration influx. She also found several news reports mentioning the signs being hung at workplaces, hotels, and other areas of public accommodation. Overall, she found that an Irish immigrant looking for work in New York’s Sun newspaper in 1842 would have encountered as many as 15 “No Irish Need Apply” ads.
Fried’s work was published in March in the Oxford Journal of Social History, the same publication that printed Jensen findings back in 2002. When news of her research reached online outlets, including, IrishCentral.com, Jensen took to the comments section to offer his congratulations for her scholarship. In true academic fashion, the spirited discussion continued, and Fried maintained her conclusions that the discrimination did exist and was probably more prevalent than many are comfortable acknowledging.
Protect Your Business from Discrimination Claims
The laws regarding employment discrimination in today’s world are much clearer than those in the “No Irish Need Apply” era, and claims of discrimination are extremely serious. For assistance in developing your company’s employment standards, contact an experienced Illinois employment law attorney. At the Miller Law Firm, P.C., we understand the law and will help you take the steps necessary to ensure your business is fully protected.