MassMoments reminds us today of the terrible famine faced by the people of Ireland in the mid-1840s. Brought low by the potato blight, harsh winter weather and burdensome taxes, the Irish people were starving and perishing in horrible numbers. Those who could – left their land. The plight of the Irish people struck the generous hearts of Americans especially here in the Commonwealth with Bostonians and Lowellians as well. Relief was organized in the Catholic community, in the non-Catholic community and among the mill girls of Lowell. By the summer of 1847 – Americans had sent over $500,000 and thousands of tons of supplies to Ireland. The famine continued – the great Irish Diaspora begun in the 1830s continued – sending five million souls to America alone.
…in 1847, Boston’s leading citizens held a meeting at Fanueil Hall in response to news of the famine devastating Ireland. With the failure of the potato crop several years in a row, tens of thousands of Irish peasants were suffering from malnutrition, disease, and exposure. Between 1847 and 1851, 1,000,000 Irish men, women, and children died. As people in Boston realized the enormity of the disaster, donations poured in. The city’s Catholic community sent $150,000 to the famine-stricken country. A relief committee collected 800 tons of food and clothing and persuaded the U.S. government to allow a fully-loaded warship to sail on a mercy mission from Boston to Ireland.
…Now I had thought to-day, while witnessing these scenes of suffering, that the Girls of Lowell might give each a comfortable calico dress, to clothe the destitute of their sex in Skibbereen. I am sure such an example would be followed by the ladies in different towns in New England, and that tens of thousands of these poor, thin, naked, blue- lipped children would attest in favor of their benefactresses at another day; ‘I was naked and ye clothed me.’ I hope the counties of Middlesex and Essex will club together and send out a ship freighted with provisions and clothing for Ireland, and that it will embrace in its bill of lading 10,000 calico dresses, suited to every size, from the Factory Girls of the two counties.
Skibbereen, Feb. 23, 1847The Factory Girls – Heaven Bless Them!
“The Voice of Industry,” Lowell, MA
April 30, 1847
Merrimack Corporation, Lowell April, 14.
…A few evenings since we received a call from two blessed ‘sisters of charity,’ who were responding in the appeal of the Christian Citizen, by visiting every Factory boarding-house in Lowell, and presenting the claims of the suffering Irish. The enclosed list proves that their efforts were not in vain…. One small boarding-house, upon this corporation, was the focus and fountain of all the interest; and when I went in to add my mite of labor to theirs, and saw the five large boxes so nicely packed, I was astonished to see how much a few weak hands could accomplish.
Lowell “Mill Girls” sent a total of 1,032 Dresses, Shawls, Cloaks, other clothes, and Quilts.