Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not a good place to be a woman. Among the wave of emigrants from Ireland to North America were many young women who traveled on their own, hoping for a better life. Some lived lives of quiet industry and piety.
Others quickly found themselves in trouble – bad trouble, and on an astonishing scale.
In Bad Bridget: Crime, Mayhem and the Lives of Irish Emigrant Women (Penguin, 2024) Elaine Farrell (Ulster University) and Leanne McCormick (Queen’s University Belfast), creators of the Bad Bridget podcast, have unearthed a world in which Irish women actually outnumbered Irish men in prison, in which you could get locked up for “stubbornness,” and Catskills serial killer Lizzie Halliday was described by the New York Times as “the worst woman on earth.”
They reveal the social forces that bred this mayhem and dysfunction, through stories that are strange, sometimes funny, and often moving. From sex workers and thieves to kidnappers and killers, these young women went from the frying pan of their impoverished homeland to the fire of vast North American cities.
Bad Bridget is social history and true crime, revealing a fascinating and seldom explored world of Irish immigrant women. The book and podcast are part of the duo’s Bad Bridget Project at Queen’s University Belfast.
The project focuses on the sexually deviant woman, the bad mother and the criminal Irish woman in Boston, New York and Toronto.
It explores how and in what ways Irish women were sexually deviant.
According to their website:
“We consider women’s roles in the sale of sex, including as sex workers and brothel-keepers. We question to what extent and in what ways immigrants failed to live up to the image of the good Irish mother.
“Were Irish women migrants involved in illegal practices of abortion and infanticide to the same extent as their counterparts in Ireland? How did a perceived lack of familial support networks impact Irish women’s actions? What determined a ‘bad’ mother?”
Upcoming Bad Bridget Event
Farrell and McCormick will talk about the Bad Bridget Project in a February 20th video produced by the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, NY.
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