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Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this project led by Leanne McCormick (Ulster University) and Elaine Farrell (Queen’s University Belfast) focuses on the criminal and deviant Irish girls and women in Boston, New York and Toronto from 1838 to 1918. In year 2, Leanne Calvert was appointed as PDRA on the project.

The project has a number of aims. It seeks to explore how and in what ways Irish women were sexually deviant in North America and how they were treated. We consider women’s roles in the sale of sex, including as sex workers and brothel-keepers, and their lived realities.

We question to what extent and in what ways immigrants failed to live up to the image of the good Irish mother. Were Irish women migrants involved in illegal practices of abortion and infanticide to the same extent as their counterparts in Ireland? How did a perceived lack of familial support networks impact Irish women’s actions? And what determined a ‘bad’ mother?

The project also seeks to uncover the types of criminal activity in which Irish women were involved, from drunkenness to murder. Our research has revealed that Irish-born migrants feature frequently in registers relating to prisons, houses of correction and houses of industry. We consider if Irish women deviated from societal norms to a greater extent than other ethnic groups and if the reactions of the authorities were guided by ethnic prejudices.

And we tell lots of Bad Bridget stories along the way! The fascinating individual cases reveal the lived realities and experiences for Irish girls and women who left Ireland for the ‘new world’.

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If you like our Bad Bridget research, you might be interested in our books on related subjects of women, crime and sexuality:

Elaine Farrell, Women, crime and punishment in Ireland: life in the nineteenth-century convict prison (Cambridge, 2020).

Leanne McCormick, Regulating sexuality: women in twentieth-century Northern Ireland (Manchester, 2009).

Elaine Farrell, A most diabolical deed’: infanticide and Irish society, 1850-1900 (Manchester, 2013).