Successful Thrift

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIII (8) start of chapter

It may be questioned if in any part of the Union the Irish of the working classes are better off in all respects than they are in San Francisco. The immense and continuous employment, as well as the liberal rate of remuneration, have had much to do with this; but to the thrifty habits and admirable conduct of the Irish is the happy result equally attributable. Though wages of all kinds are liberal at present, and employment is constantly to be obtained for the greater portion of the year, still the rate of remuneration is not equal to what it was when the work to be done was more pressing, the hands to do it were fewer, and the mines attracted almost universal attention. From 1849 to 1853 skilled labour ranged from 6 to 10 dollars a day, while unskilled labour commanded from 3 to 5 dollars a day. Washing was then as high as 6 dollars per dozen! Women in domestic employment were paid at from 50 to 70 dollars a month. From wages such as these it was not difficult for an industrious and economical person to save money. Many did so, and bought lots on the outskirts of the town, which soon extended in every direction, and so enhanced the value of the property thus honourably obtained, as to render its owners rich without any further exertion on their part. I am happy to know of many, many instances of such successful thrift and forethought on the part of Irishmen in every part of the United States, and also in the British Provinces.

Mechanics now earn from 4 to 5 dollars, while labourers receive from 2 to 3 dollars a day. This, taking the present value of the dollar, would be, on an average, 14s. 6d. a day for the mechanic, and 8s. a day for the labourer. Being so amply remunerated, almost every working-man, whether mechanic, labourer, or drayman, owns the house in which he lives, and the lot on which it stands. Different indeed from the state of things in New York, where the well-paid mechanic, who but rarely owns the house in which he lives, has to pay 100 or 120 dollars a year for two or three rooms in a tenement house. Women servants receive from 20 to 40 dollars a month, according to their occupation or proficiency, or the class of people in whose houses they reside.

If any further proof were required of the condition of the Irish in San Francisco, it is to be had in the facts connected with the Hibernian Savings' Bank and Loan Society, now nearly completing its eighth year of usefulness. The deposits in this bank to January 21, 1867, were 5,241,000 dollars. I perceive by the returns for 1866 that the depositors receive interest at the rate of eleven per cent., and that the earnings that year amounted to 244,000 dols. But it is more important to learn that seven-eighths of the depositors are Irish, and that of the amount deposited by the Irish fully three-fourths belong to the working classes, including mechanics, labourers, and girls in various employments.

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