Immigrants and Minorities 2009.pdf (168.12 kB)
Strangers on the inside: Irish women servants in England, 1881
journal contributionposted on 2023-08-30, 13:46 authored by Bronwen Walter
Domestic servants are widely recognised as prime 'others' to white, middle-class male English householders in the later nineteenth century. However the symbolic role of the racialised identities of Irish women who were domestic servants in constructing the boundaries of white middle-class English masculinity is often overlooked. This study uses both qualitative and quantitative sources to explore the presence and significance of Irish servants in English households. It examines ways in which both contemporary and present-day fiction can begin to embody women whose lives are missing from historical records. New data from a 5% sample of the 1881 census provides more concrete statistical evidence about the size and demographic characteristics of the Irish servant population, and their social relationships within middle-class English households. Details from the London sample show that although numbers were still quite small, Irish servants had distinctive profiles. Census statistics confirm close daily contact between English middle-class children and women whose religious faith and national affiliation were strikingly at odds with their employers' cultural and political values. Yet despite being placed at the heart of English society, the identities of Irish domestic servants have remained largely unrecognised, in contrast to the high visibility of 'Bridgets' in the United States.
Publication titleImmigrants & Minorities
PublisherTaylor & Francis
- Accepted version