Friday, January 13, 2006

Irish Catholics in America

Census figures show an Irish population of 8.2 million in 1841, 6.6 million a decade later, and only 4.7 million in 1891. It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930.
Our ancestors were part of this great migration. Kate Lynch immigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1881. Her future husband, Teddy Hopkins, immigrated in 1881 or 1882. In about 1888, they were joined by Teddy's father Michael. In about 1890 the entire Hopkins family headed west, settling in Tacoma, Washington.

The Library of Congress has an interesting site about Irish-Catholic immigrants to America that can tell us more about our ancestors' experiences. Unlike many immigrants who came with money, the Irish typically were very poor:
The Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle in a nation lacking modern industry. Many immigrants found themselves unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States. Though these immigrants were not the poorest people in Ireland (the poorest were unable to raise the required sum for steerage passage on a ship to America), by American standards, they were destitute.
They lived in tiny, cramped tenement buildings in the cities which were hotbeds for diseases such as cholera, typus, and tuberculosis. With poverty came the social problems of violence, alcoholism and crime. Their wilolingness to work for very low wages put them into conflict with other working class immigrants. They were also discriminated against for their Catholic faith.

Because there were so many Irish-Americans in the cities, they became a powerful political force.
Irish-American political clout led to increased opportunities for the Irish-American. Looking out for their own, the political machines made it possible for the Irish to get jobs, to deal with naturalization issues, even to get food or heating fuel in emergencies. The political machines also rewarded their own through political appointments. In 1855, "...nearly 40% of New York City's policemen were immigrants, and about three-fourths of these immigrants were Irish."[Wittke, The Irish in America]
Many Irish immigrants also became union organizers and leaders.

Irish immigrants who settled in Washington state in the mid- to late 1800s had more opportunities than their urban east coast cousins. However, later settlers faced growing anti-Catholic sentiment in the early 1900s.

Our Hopkins ancestors followed the same trades as many other urban Irish: Teddy Hopkins was a mounted police officer in Tacoma in the early years of the 20th century. The older Hopkins son, John J., was also in law enforcement, serving as a parole officer at the Federal Penitentiary at McNeil Island. Younger son Thomas Michael, called Teddy Jr., was the business representative of the grain millers union, beginning in the late 1930s.

It is thanks to the Irish who arrived in the Puget Sount area before them that solid jobs were available to the Hopkins men in Tacoma.

Related Links
Irish in Washington - The Early Years (1840s to 1890)
Ancient Order of Hibernians in Washington State, 1890-2000. John J. Hopkins was an officer in the King County AOH, which served both Seattle and Tacoma.
• Irish Heritage Club: A History of the Irish in Seattle
• 1943 photo titled "Labor heads and service men at the U.S.O. (in Tacoma)" which includes Ted Hopkins, Jr. (From the Tacoma Public Library's Photography Archive)

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