Perils to Female Virtue

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVII (5) start of chapter

Perils by sea, and perils by land, is it wonderful that fraud and violence so often triumph over innocence and helplessness?—that human wrecks occasionally strew the highways of the centres of wealth, of luxury, and of vice?

I have in another place referred to the evils of overcrowding, in lowering the tone of the community, and exposing the humbler classes to dangers of various kinds, moral as well as sanitary. Besides the temptations of poverty and passion, of youth and thoughtlessness, there is the terrible mischief of daily and hourly association in the densely-populated lodging-house, in which it too often happens that, even with the best intentions, the most ordinary decency cannot be maintained. There is not a physician or a clergyman in New York who will not say that this system is fraught with danger to the health of soul and body. It is in the last degree unfavourable to the development of virtue; and the same state of things, wherever it is to be found, whether East or West, North or South, must be productive of evil fruits.

There are also the natural consequences of the vicious habits of parents—the drunkenness of the father or the mother, more usually the former—so fatal to the character of their children. This habit alone is quite as destructive in its consequences as orphanage, which, from this more than any other cause, is so prevalent in America, where, at least in the towns, the average duration of human life—especially that of the hard-working classes who are not temperate—is so short. Then there is vanity, love of dress, and perhaps individual perversity, acted upon through all the evil influences of great cities—with the wiles and snares of the fowler ever spread for the destruction of the fluttering bird. These and other causes will explain why it is, that in some, yet comparatively few, places in America a certain percentage of women of bad repute are necessarily of Irish origin.

But, however deplorable that, in any part of the United States, Irish women should form an appreciable percentage of the whole of the class of unfortunates, still, when compared with the Irish female population of those great cities, whether Irish born or of Irish extraction, the number is small indeed. In very many places the proportion is infinitesimal; and there are cities and districts throughout the States in which there has never been known an instance of an Irish girl having come to shame—in which the character of the Irish woman is the pride and glory of all who belong to the old country, or have a drop of genuine Irish blood in their veins.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America