Since the story broke of the Washington, DC teenager who used Google and her own smarts to prove that “No Irish Need Apply” signs were a very real part of Irish American history, IrishCentral readers have been sharing their own NINA-related findings and stories.
Yesterday, we asked readers to send in archival discoveries, and you did – with examples from California to Australia, from the 1700s to more recent history. Here are some of your examples:
From Australia, reader Marea Whitley shared some instances of NINA signs and a bit about the encounters of her Irish grandmother and mother. “My Irish grandmother said she met more discrimination in Australia than in England,” she shared, and “my mother, at a very young age, was victim to awful racial abuse from a neighbor, (until my grandfather paid a visit to the neighbor).”
She also pointed us to a blog post by Susan Arthure, an Irish archaeologist living in Australia, which cataloged a search for “No Irish Need Apply” cases in 19th and 20th Century South Australian newspaper archives.
“The earliest ad I found in South Australia was from 1852 where Mrs. Nelson of Franklin Street, Adelaide promised good wages to a servant of all work, but no Irish need apply,” Arthure wrote. “The same story continued through to the 1900s for general servants, nursemaids, plain cooks and respectable girls – all in demand as long as they weren’t Irish.”
She also found a fascinating example of the Irish making their insult known. After a Mrs. Edmund White posted a wanted ad for a nursemaid (“No Irish need apply”), one E. McEllister posted his own classified ad, drawing the attention of Irishmen in South Australia to the discriminatory solicitation.
Personal ads included “NINA” stipulations, too, she found. One example she found was of two young men from the country looking to correspond with marriage-minded young ladies – provided, of course, they were not Irish.
The earliest NINA examples we were able to locate, using the Newspapers.com archives, dated to an 1828 ad in the New York Evening Herald.
But Barry Popik, a New York etymologist who since 2012 has extensively catalogued “No Irish Need Apply” instances on his own website, has found cases dating back to the late 1700s.
The first he located is from 1797, in an edition of the Federalist newspaper Porcupine’s Gazette, edited by William Corbett in Philadelphia. There, Corbett wrote, as was later referenced in the London Morning Post in 1810, “I want a Printer—NO DAMNABLE IRISHMAN need apply.”
Popik, who is also a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, also found a much earlier classified ad instance, in the August 11, 1819 edition of the New York-based Mercantile Advertiser: “Coachman wanted....No Irish or colored man will be engaged,” it reads.
It’s very worth noting that he also found NINA detractors from the same era.
A page three column in the July 12, 1830 edition of the New York Morning Herald stated “’NO IRISH NEED APPLY.’—Several advertisements with this insulting appendage have been from time to time left on our hook for insertion, but which we rejected with disdain for their authors. If one Irish servant maid commits a fault, is that a reason that all other Irish girls must be bad? Surely not. Those who write those illiberal and foolish advertisements ought to remember that the misconduct of a few can afford no ground for insulting a whole nation; and a nation like Ireland—renowned for the virtues of her females, and the genius and generosity of her sons. That American cannot be patriotic who would deliberately offer an insult to the country of General Montgomery and Commodore Barry. When we were making the great struggle for our liberties, were we not nobly assisted by IRISHMEN?”
“Irish Catholics Need Not Apply” – while seen less frequently, was also a restriction that existed. Edward Ryan Stewart of Brooklyn wrote to us that the phrase had been passed on to him through collective family memory, and that a search of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives did yield one ad stating just that, from 1882. He also found, between the years of 1860 and 1901, 86 hits for “No Irish Need Apply” – “15 or 16 of them reference folks writing about the whole notion of No Irish Need Apply while the remaining 70 represent actual ads for employment.”
The following ad from 1865 was found by another reader who also searched the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives.
Maureen McCormack, another reader whose search of Brooklyn papers archives produced many results, also recalled what being Irish meant to her father, starting his first job.
“My own father applied for a job as a young man at what was then known as Chemical Bank. With a surname Black (Co. Sligo) he was not easily identified as Irish but was warned not to disclose his ancestry or even mention that he was Catholic,” she wrote.
A commenter from Chicago, Kathleen O’Nan, had a similar story to tell. “My father told of signs like this being common when he was a young job-hunting man in the early 1930s,” she wrote. “He had a photograph from a meat-packing plant that said ‘Colored and Irish Need Not Apply.’"
But others had the last laugh, like the grandfather of reader McDonald Kennedy: “My favorite in the Baltimore Sun was a classified ad that reads in 1879: ‘Wanted by the Democratic Party Candidates for Office. No IRISH NEED APPLY' Interesting that my grandfather, Ambrose J. Kennedy, born in 1893 in Baltimore, of Irish immigrants, was a Democratic Congressman from the 2nd District in Maryland from 1931-1940.”
On the west coast, Elizabeth Creely found the following ad in the August 11, 1879 edition of the Sacramento Daily Union. She did also note, however, that he family had been in California since 1851 and never had any reports of bigotry against the Irish to share.
Via the Fulton History database, reader Linda Walsh found 847 examples, including this excerpt from an article in the August 28, 1876 edition of the Oswego Daily Times, about what happened when the Irish did attempt to apply.
“Last spring the Irish Democracy of this city made the very modest request that some respectable Irish citizen should be one of the delegates to the State Convention. . . (However) "No Irish need apply" was written over the portals of that Democratic Convention. . . "No Irish need apply" was also the watchword of the representatives of the Irish democracy of this city in the State Convention. . . A few weeks rolled by and Mayor Poucher was called upon to appoint four Fire Commissioners. A large number of our most respectable citizens, without regard to party petitioned for the appointment of Mr. Daniel Lyon. . . His appointment was almost unanimously called for. What stood in the way? Emblazoned over the door of our honorable Mayor was the legend: "No Irish need apply."
The Irish did apply. But they found that the Mayor of Oswego, twice elected to that honorable position by Irish votes, . . . was deaf to their claims. "I'll be d-d if I'll appoint a Micky," said his Honor, and he didn't."
Thank you to all those who took the time to research NINA.