top of page
  • Writer's pictureBridget Walsh

"Ourselves Alone" by Janet A. Nolan. On female emigration

I found this book while searching the internet for Irish emigration. It spans a later period than my current interest in the Irish Famine years from 1845 to 1850. But the story of the changes that brought about this type of emigration by young single women reaches back to before the Famine.

Almost three quarters of a million, mainly single, girls and women aged between the ages of 15 and 25 emigrated alone to America between 1885 and 1920. This book researches their reasons for this mass migration.

This account presents such a positive view of female emigration. Earlier, during the Famine years, it was a matter of survival, desperate measures had to be taken, by those who had the ticket money.

Post Famine Ireland

The second and third generation of women who grew up after the Famine, had to live in a changed Ireland. The poverty that persisted in rural Ireland after the Famine resulted in women losing their economic and social rights. Where their pre-famine mothers and grandmothers had earned their own money by keeping chickens and maybe a cow and a pig. Those jobs, that had paid the rent, were taken over by the unemployed males in the family, whose labouring jobs were vanishing with new farming practices.

The lack of economic independence and land consolidation led to many women not being able to marry. Only one dowry per family, for example.

This, combined with the power of the conservative Catholic church meant that girls and young women were kept at home and had no life of their own and no expectations of marriage and a family or earning money. In a way, it is reminiscent of the treatment of girls and women in Afghanistan today, who are being locked out of the public sphere.

Thankfully, cheap emigration was possible for these young, educated, single women, and they left in their thousands.

Free primary education in Ireland.

The one saving grace for Irish girls and women of that time, is that they had free primary education, and they loved school. They learned to speak English and could read and write.

In "Ourselves Alone", Janet A. Nolan uses the example of her grandmother, Mary Ann Donovan Nolan's journey from Ireland to America at the age of sixteen. It is beautiful and uplifting.

My third novel. 'Daughters of the Rebellion - Ireland 1848.'

Reading about Irish female emigration has helped me to allow my fictional heroine, Jane Keating, to be optimistic about her emigration to America, although undertaken in the Famine years.

The novel is the final in a trilogy I am writing about the Irish Famine. I have written it from the perspective of two young Irish women. This third novel, 'Daughters of the Rebellion - Ireland 1848' will show that Irish women were actors in their own life stories and the Famine gave them opportunities as well as loss and grief.

PS. I haven't got a cover yet and will add it to this blog when it is completed in February 2023.

Thank you for reading this blog post about female emigration from Ireland to the US. #Irishdiaspora

If you'd like to read one of my Famine stories, then click on the link.

Reference: University of Kentucky Recommended Citation

Nolan, Janet A., "Ourselves Alone: Women's Emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920" (1989). Women's Studies. 1.

Accessed 4th January 2023.


bottom of page