Our Bad Bridget book emerged from our research over many years in many different archives and libraries in North America. It tells the story of the Irish migration experience through a new lens – that of the women and girls who found themselves on the wrong side of the law, particularly in the cities of New York, Boston and Toronto.
In many ways, Bad Bridget was a continuation of our previous research on Irish women and girls on the island of Ireland. Leanne had published on the sexual (mis)behaviour of girls and women in twentieth-century Ulster, and Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene Laundries, while Elaine’s research had focused on the crime of infanticide in Ireland, as well as women’s experiences in the nineteenth-century Irish convict prison.
We realised though, that we didn’t really know if Irish women and girls were behaving in the same ways when they emigrated as they did at home. While there is some excellent work on notorious criminal cases, like Margaret Atwood’s brilliant Alias Grace (about Grace Marks convicted of murdering her employer), much of what had been said about Irish migration was about men. Focusing on the Irish male experience meant that crimes like prostitution, abortion, infanticide, and department store theft were largely ignored. Given our previous research, we suspected that if we looked we would find criminal and deviant Irish girls in the North American historical records. And we were right!
We found thousands of Irish women convicted for these often gender-specific crimes, as well as other offences like drunkenness, murder and kidnapping. In the book we open up the archives to tell some of these women’s stories, with each chapter focusing on a different crime.
We use individual cases to show how some Irish female migrants experienced poverty, discrimination and loneliness that led them to end up being convicted of crimes. Alongside poverty and despair sit other tales of jealousy, anger and greed. Some stories seem like they are straight out of a detective novel, with Irish women having hidden bodies or kidnapped children for ransom. We also show Irish women’s defiance against the odds, their ingenuity in avoiding detecting and dodging the authorities, and their hilarious antics in the courtroom.
We hope the book will bring all these experiences and the lives of these Irish girls and women in North America to a wider audience, and provide a glimpse of the complex and fascinating history of Irish female migration.