Despite the evidence unearthed by 14-year old student Rebecca Fried, and the numerous examples of “No Irish Need Apply” advertisements discovered by IrishCentral readers, Professor Richard Jensen still claims that such signs rarely existed, referring to them as the “NINA legend.”
Earlier this year, 8th grade student Rebecca Fried published “No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs” in the summer edition of the Oxford Journal of Social History, claiming to have disproved the theory of Professor Richard Jensen that there was no such thing as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs.
Her article was written in response to a 2002 article published in the same journal by Jensen, a retired Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Chicago, entitled “’No Irish Need Apply’: A Myth of Victimization” which claimed the signs were a fabricated memory of Irish-Americans to make themselves appear as greater victims.
Professor Jensen has now written a strongly worded argument disagreeing with the evidence compiled by Fried and claiming that many are reporting on her findings and discrediting his own without actually reading her essay.
Writing for the History News Network, Professor Jensen states that the majority of the examples of NINA discovered by the Washington D.C. teen are irrelevant when placed in historical context and that, when placed under classroom scrutiny and scholarly review, they are not valid.
“All Fried’s cases melt away under classroom scrutiny,” he writes.
“The lesson is teachers need to insist that students review the scholarly literature before they believe everything that flashes on their screens.”
In his original argument against the existence of the signs, Jensen claimed that, as his exhaustive research only discovered once such example, “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, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or drawing exists.”
In her response, Fried searched a larger newspaper database and claimed to have come across 69 cases of “No Irish Need Apply”.
“She claims to have refuted me. I reject her claim,” Jensen announced.
Referring to a number of cases cited by the 14-year-old, Jensen argues that they are “misinterpretations” or that they “are not relevant to the historical debate.”
Referencing her discovery of a “want-ad” in the 1901 Monmouth College Yearbook which reads “a partner to take interest in a home. Must have a loving heart and be willing to take an active interest. No Irish need apply”, Jensen believes, “The Yearbook staff concocted this fake ‘want-ad,’ and they touched on the friendly campus rivalry between the Scottish Presbyterian and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian students.”
Further criticizing the evidence accumulated by the young student, Jensen states that a NINA sign from 1883 in Port Washington, Ohio, which posted a patronage job to clean lamps on the bridges from the local police department, was in fact an attempt to replace Democrats with Republicans, not an attempt to discriminate against the Irish.
“When Republicans won local elections, they replaced all the Democrats,” he continues.
“Practically all the Irish were Democrats, so ‘no Irish need apply’ represented routine political cleansing.”
Attempting to pull apart her argument further, the Professor writes that one of the signs she came across on the database did not match the criteria of his own investigation and that her claim that anti-Irish hostility was “often common” was invalid when put into context.
He does not believe that finding 20 NINA newspaper ads in one New York City newspaper in 1842-43 (which Fried admits as being the centerpiece of her argument) and only 8 ads in New York City papers throughout the following eight decades, allows Fried to make that claim. Jensen argues that this alone is not enough substantial proof to say that employers only hired Protestants.
Continuing with his own research, Professor Jensen returned once again to the newspaper databases to examine the much larger National Digital Newspaper Program files.
“Using all 1,841 newspapers with 9.7 million pages online, I calculate a subscriber would have to read over 41,000 pages of small print to encounter even one NINA,” he said.
“That is certainly not ‘ubiquitous’ as Miller [a scholarly advocate of the existence of NINA and an aid in Fried’s research] asserts, nor ‘often common’ as Fried believes.”
“History teachers will increasingly work with bright students applying their skills with complex database searches; students will need guidance regarding historical context,” he continues.
Jensen’s results seem at odds with the number of submissions sent to IrishCentral in a recent call for examples of NINA in the US. Our own investigation of Newspapers.com alone returned over 1,400 mentions of “No Irish Need Apply” in newspapers throughout the US between 1828 and 2012, peaking during the years 1873 to 1883 with 400 examples.
Among the numerous readers examples submitted were cases by Barry Popik, a New York etymologist who has extensively cataloged examples of “No Irish Need Apply” on his own website, discovering cases as far back as the 1700s.
Kathleen O’Nan from Chicago also commented that her father often told of signs being common when he was a young man in the 1930s and had himself a “photograph from a meat-packing plant that said ‘Colored and Irish Need Not Apply.’"
Unfortunately, Professor Jensen believes that many of the examples used to argue for the case of the existence of NINA “cherry-pick” and that the negative portrayal of his research has been also unfortunate for “healthy scholarly exchange”.
He is particularly critical of the portrayal of an university professor being outwitted by an 8th grader which he feels works to “bolster the theme that universities are overfunded or unnecessary” and that “highly paid university professors are practically worthless”, an attack he claims has become “a very dangerous threat to academia across the United States, especially to public universities”.
Do you agree with Professor Jensen or 14-year old student Rebecca Fried? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.