In the late nineteenth century, an era in which women were expanding the influence outside the home, Irish American women carved out unique opportunities to serve the needs of their communities. For many women, this began with a commitment to Irish nationalism. In Respectability and Reform, McCarthy explores the contributions of a small group of Irish American women in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era who emerged as leaders, organizers, and activists.
Profiles of these women suggest not only that Irish American women had a political tradition of their own but also that the diversity of the Irish American community fostered a range of priorities and approaches to activism.
McCarthy focuses on three movements-the Irish nationalist movement, the labor movement, and the suffrage movement-to trace the development of women's political roles. Highlighting familiar activists such as Fanny and Anna Parnell, as well as many lesser-known suffragists, McCarthy sheds light on the range of economic and social backgrounds found among the activists. She also shows that Irish American women's commitment to social justice persisted from the Land War through the World War I era. In unearthing the rich and varied stories of these Irish American women, Respectablity and Reform deepens our understanding of their intersection with and contribution to the larger context of American women's activism.
Tara M. McCarthy is associate professor of history at Central Michigan University. Her main research interests include American women, social reform movements, and immigration.