With the city of Lowell just having elected its youngest mayor and one of Irish descent – Patrick O. Murphy, it’s interesting to read the MassMoments story today about Hugh O’Brien. O’Brien was sworn-in on this day – January 5, 1885 – as the city of Boston’s first Irish-born Mayor. O’Brien’s swearing-in marked the beginning of a new era in Boston politics. The city had long been controlled by native-born Protestants -referred to as we look back as “Yankees” – most of whom had a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined and worst of all under the thumb of the Catholic Church. But by 1885, the Irish were over 40% of the city’s population. They were the largest group of foreign-born residents and outnumbered the native-born Yankees – this reality and the families that followed brought about political change in Boston and elsewhere. Lowell voters elected its first Irish Catholic Mayor – John J. Donovan – in 1882. Against the stereotype – Donovan was a successful banker and resident of the Highlands. Donovan and others built a strong Democratic party organization in the city of Lowell. The Donovan administration added buildings to the City Poor Farm, built schools and bridges and made the public library free to all citizens. Other early Irish Mayors of Lowell include: Jeremiah Crowley, James B. Casey, John F. Meehan, James E. O’Donnell and Dennis Murphy.
Back to Boston… On this day:
…in 1885, Hugh O’Brien, the first Irish immigrant elected mayor of Boston, took the oath of office. A new era was beginning. For several decades, the Roman Catholic Irish had outnumbered the native-born Protestants, who were now forced to give up their long domination of Boston politics. As a well-spoken, mild mannered, successful businessman, O’Brien defied all the Yankee stereotypes of Irishmen. During four terms as Mayor, he widened streets, planned the Emerald Necklace park system, and built the new Boston Public Library in Copley Square, all the while cutting taxes. Popular among both native- and Irish-born Bostonians, Hugh O’Brien paved the way for the better known Irish mayors who would follow him — “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley.
Read more about Mayor O’Brien here at MassMoments.org.
For more information about Lowell Mayors – read “The Mills and the Multitudes: A Political History” by Dr. Mary Blewett – a chapter in Cotton Was King: A History of Lowell, Massachusetts edited by Arthur L. Eno and published in 1976 as a project of the Lowell Historical Society.