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Bridget Donnelly

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Bridget Donnelly Illustration
  • Name: Bridget Donnelly
  • Age: 47 in 1903/4
  • Emigrated: From Country Tyrone to New York in 1876

We wanted to have control over our own bodies but were often subjected to multiple pregnancies. Desperation could set in. Some of us would try anything to limit our family size.

Nine children are too many for any woman to bear.

Interview with Bridget Donnelly, in Elsa G.Herzfeld, Family Monographs: The history of twenty-four families living in the middle west side of New York City

New York, 1905

Nine weans are too many for one woman to bear. It’s little wonder I have ‘female ailments.’ I was in the family way for more than ten years. Martin wouldn’t leave me be. He’s my husband. He thinks it’s his right. I’ve six weans living. I don’t dwell on the ones I’ve lost. Six are too many to clothe and feed. I’ve just about kept the roof over our heads and there’s been a lot of roofs. Back in Tyrone, it was different. You were stuck to your own wee bit of land. In America people are always flitting about.

One tenement’s the same as the next. You’ve a few rooms if you’re lucky, a bit of privacy when you’re doing your business or having a wash. Sometimes, if things were particularly tight, we were bunged in together, eight of us sleeping between a bed and a couch that unfolded at night. A privy out the back, shared with the neighbours. It stunk in the summer and, in the winter was an icebox. There were always rats nosing around. Rats and drunks and prostitutes.

I feared for the weans and for Martin. He’s an awful pig-headed fella. Back home he was raised well-to-do, then lost all his land to a neighbour. He’s still thinks awful highly of himself. Like, in the winter, when there’s no work on the cranes he won’t lower himself to go looking elsewhere. He’d rather let his family starve. It’s the same most years. The work runs out. Money’s tight. We pack up again and move to the rougher end of the street.

I married Martin because he had a good heart at the bottom. I know it’s still there though sometimes I’m afraid of him. When he’s out of work or too drunk for it, he hangs around Murphy’s saloon, drinking all our money away. I’d stay with him, even if he was continuously full. There’s the weans to consider. And I take my marriage vows seriously. Still, I sometimes think about my time in Gilbertville when I was fresh off the boat and working in the factory. I was happy enough by myself. I didn’t need Martin following me over to America. I know it’s God’s will how things turned out; both the sadness and the joy. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if I’d have been better on my own."

This is an imagined version of what happened to me. It’s based upon the parts of my story that were recorded and ground-breaking research into other Bad Bridgets who lived in Boston, New York and Toronto from 1838 to 1918.