Book General Admission
Mary Ward Illustration
  • Name: Mary Ward
  • Age: 19 in 1865
  • Emigrated: From County Wexford to Boston in 1864

Many of us hadn't been to sea before. On board, we faced various threats across the years: disease, hunger, storms, predatory men, and even attack during the First World War. We were young and vulnerable, often travelling alone.

She says she got it on board from the steward.

Board of State Charities, Histories of alien residents of almshouses and other instititions.

Massachusetts Archives, Boston

I have nightmares about the James Foster Jr. I was forty five days on that stinking boat. I can still smell the stench of the berths: vomit, piss and food gone off. Down in steerage we were crammed together, over three hundred of us, four or five to a bunk. Us poor lassies weren’t one bit safe. The men drunk. It didn’t take much to get them hammered. Their bellies were empty. The rations wouldn’t have fed a child: a bowl of porridge in the morning, a few measly pints of rancid water, stale sea biscuit, hard as a board. I made pals with a girl from Leitrim, thinking if we stuck together, the men would surely leave us alone. We were a pair of good girls, traveling in our Sunday finest, ready to impress in the New World.

I was lucky, not many Wexford lassies got help to go off to the States and make something better of themselves. Our William and Bridget were already out there in California. There was nothing left for me in Ireland. Da was dead and Ma too feeble to make the crossing. Once she passed, I’d be all alone.

Well, I’m all alone now. I’ve been here half a year. I’ve been backwards and forwards across the States looking for my brother and sister. I haven’t found them yet. I’m saving for my passage home. It isn’t easy. There’s only one job available to a girl like me. See, I’m not virtuous anymore. A filthy steward saw fit to that. He caught me up on deck, taking the air. He ruined me, then came back the next night and ruined me all over again. The doctor says I have syphilis. He gave me such a look when he said it, like I was something he’d stood on it the street. He didn’t believe I’d only ever been with one man. “It causes insanity,” he said. He meant the vile thing that’s inside me, but I wanted to tell him it was too late. America’s already driven me mad. Whatever it takes I’ll get back to Ireland though I dread the day I have to set foot on another ship.

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.