The Irish in America


Leave a comment

Meet Florence Connolly, Second-Grade Teacher

Florence was the first Tazewell resident to catch my eye once I delved into the research for my article. I never know why exactly someone stands out to me. I just get a feeling and the wheels start turning. Often the wheels come to a screeching halt, but once in a while I get lucky and that feeling leads to interesting discoveries.

Florence Mildred Connolly was born on February 25, 1889, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her parents were Thomas F. Connolly and Mary Morrison. Florence was the youngest of the couple’s four children. Thomas had an additional six children from his first marriage to Dora Fitzgerald.

Thomas was born about 1844 in Ireland and came to the United States in 1852. He settled in Chicago, marrying Dora Fitzgerald on January 3, 1869. The couple moved to St. Paul after the birth of their first son, Joseph. In St. Paul, Thomas and Dora’s family expanded to include five boys and one girl (the youngest, Mary Margaret). Dora died shortly after Mary’s birth in 1878. With six young children to raise Thomas soon remarried. He and Mary Morrison wed on January 15, 1880. The Connolly family lived at 77 Partridge St. in St. Paul.

In 1880, Thomas “worked at a shoe and boot factory,” according to the census. By 1900, the Connollys lived at 523 Third Street in Stillwater, Minnesota. Thomas was a manager for Union Shoe and Leather. 

[Since this post is about Florence at The Tazewell and not her father, I will refrain at this time from sharing all of the fascinating information I learned about Thomas F. Connolly. Stay tuned for his story, coming soon!]

In the 1916 Stillwater City Directory Florence was employed as a teacher and lived at the family home on Third Street. Her father died in 1917 and by 1918 Florence boarded at 1317 Selby Avenue (a three-bedroom, two-story home built in 1912) in St. Paul and taught at Jefferson School (located at Pleasant and Sherman). The 1919 St. Paul City Directory listed Florence in residence at 135 N. Western Avenue at the brand-new Tazewell Apartments.

Florence moved into apartment 205 with her older sister Mary (the youngest of Thomas’ first family). Mary was a teacher at Hill School (Selby and Oxford) and Florence was still at Jefferson. The Tazewell was very conveniently located one block from Selby Avenue – the streetcar, shops, and services were practically outside the front door. 

For the 1920-21 school year, Florence transferred to Webster School. This was a smart move for Florence, as it cut her commute time to five minutes. Webster was an elementary school located on the northwest corner of Laurel and Mackubin, just two blocks from The Tazewell. According to the Saint Paul Public Schools Directory of School Officers and Teachers 1920-1921, Florence taught second-grade. There were two classes for each grade of kindergarten through eighth (except three classes of fourth grade and just one class of fifth grade). Living two blocks away didn’t win Florence any award for “teacher living the closest to school” – several of her Webster colleagues lived within a block of the school.

Webster School built in 1882. Currently the site of McQuillan Park. (photo: Minnesota Historical Society)

Florence and Mary had a phone at The Tazewell, and their number was “Dale 4826.” The numbering of the apartments changed somewhat after the renovations in 1980 and I have not quite been able to figure it out, but I think Florence’s apartment, #205, was an efficiency unit. And efficient it was, with its space-saving pull-out bed, built-in desk and cabinets and walk-up dressing room/closet, complete with a built-in dresser, mirror, slide-out vanity table, and bench.

Bed, built-in, French doors, closet, view of kitchen thru dining room - photo credit: Kevin O'Brien
Bed (pulled out partially), built-in, dressing room to left (Photo: Kevin O’Brien)

There was also a built-in booth/table in the kitchen and French doors leading from the main room to dining room. Windows added light and air to the space as well as the sense that the apartment was larger than its 500 square-foot size. There were the added amenities of a grocery store and a beauty shop in the building, at the garden level. I think Florence and Mary would have been quite comfortable at The Tazewell. They resided there for ten years.

In 1930 Florence lived at The Commodore, 79 N. Western. The Commodore was a step (or two) up from The Tazewell. It was not apparent in the City Directory listings that Mary and Florence were still living together when Florence moved to The Commodore, but the 1930 Census cleared it up for me.

The Commodore was a swanky “residential hotel.” Florence and Mary paid $100 a month for rent. In 1930 rents at The Tazewell ranged from $42.50 to $75 per month. There must have been some misunderstanding with the census-taker because both the women’s ages are incorrect – Florence shaved a good eight years off her actual age, Mary took a modest four years

I took a closer look and both Florence and Mary remained single. They taught in the St. Paul Public Schools for the rest of their working lives. Mary passed away in 1968, aged ninety. Florence lived another twenty-five years, passing away in 1993. Florence may have been lonesome for her sister in those years, or possibly happy to finally be rid of her! That’s something research in the City Directories will never tell us!

I wonder if Florence stayed in touch with any of her neighbors from The Tazewell…like Beth Hughes who worked as a teller at the Merchant’s Trust and Savings or Central High School teacher Grace Cochran? I think before I consider more of The Irish in America (and at The Tazewell) I want to share what I have found on Florence’s father. 

Next up will be a profile on Thomas F. Connolly. Connolly came to the United States as a boy from Ireland in the aftermath of the Famine. In time he built a prosperous shoe and boot empire from a prison in Stillwater, Minnesota. I’ll explain…

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Irish in America (and at the Tazewell)

The Tazewell in Saint Paul’s Cathedral Hill

I am polishing up an article for Ramsey County History Magazine on 100 years of history at The Tazewell. The short story…The Tazewell Apartments were built in 1918 in a bustling neighborhood of St. Paul. The building suffered from mid-century neglect and urban fight and fell into disrepair. In 1979 the building was condemned. A developer rescued the property and in 1981 The Tazewell Condominiums emerged from the cockroaches, squirrels, and blown out windows.

As a current resident of The Tazewell, I find myself wondering about what the building was originally like and who used to live here. Since, apparently, the original building plans don’t exist, the former plays out in my imagination (aided by the very occasional architectural clue). The latter curiosity can be more concretely satisfied. In preparation for the article, I spent a great deal of time looking at the old St. Paul City Directories to learn about earlier residents of the building. Because so much of the research I do revolves around Irish immigrants, my eye was instinctively drawn to the Irish surnames in these directories. It’s no surprise, but there were a good number of Irish Americans living at The Tazewell over the years.

I mention several of the residents in the article,, but there are many more stories behind the names on the pages of those directories. Small stories, maybe fragments of stories, hidden but waiting to be told. I will explore some of these stories over the next few months. The Irish in America and at The Tazewell is not terribly catchy, but it will have to do for now.

Although construction was completed in 1918, 1919 was the first year a full slate of residents appeared in the directory. Of the fifty residents, there were 21 women and 29 men living in a total of 36 efficiency and one-bedroom apartments. Irish surnames like Hughes, Connolly, Howe, Kelly, Egan, and Neely were scattered among Thorson, Steuer, Albrecht, Van Sylke, and others. Of course, I understand that Felix Hoffman could have as much Irish ancestry as say, Nora Egan, and we’ll look at that as well. That’s kind of the point of America, after all, isn’t it?

For the purposes of exploring the lives of the Irish in America, I will begin next time by looking at the first resident to catch my attention – Florence Connolly, a teacher and original resident of The Tazewell who stayed for nine years. Check back on Monday for Florence’s story.

 


1 Comment

Four Nickels

Thomas Patrick McMahon was born August 30, 1907, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the third of seven children to parents Thomas and Mary (Foley) McMahon. Tom was one of my grandma’s older brothers.

 

Grandma remembered the time she complained to Tom that she had a headache. He looked at her, sighed and shook his head gently. “No, Agnes, no,” he said quietly, “You need to have brains to get a headache. What you have is rheumatism of the skull.”

McMahon siblings on the farm – Grandma is in front with hair in her eyes, Tom on the right, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

Grandma said she could feel her eyes well up, but then Tom placed a hand on her shoulder and she immediately felt better. They had a good laugh. Tom was never mean-spirited, he just had a way with words. Tom was very bright and he enjoyed working on the farm with his dad. He was always a great help, as well as great company to his dad.

Tom on the farm outside Benson, Minnesota, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis from the farm in 1924. Life completely changed for the McMahons. They all eventually adapted to life in the city, finding their ways, except for Tom. He never quite fit in. There was no place for farmers in the city and treating telephone poles in the pole yard with his dad wasn’t quite the same as working on the farm with him. Tom started drinking, started missing work and eventually stopped coming home.

Mary McMahon and her son Tom, 1939 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

My grandma had a currency collection – buffalo head nickels, Barr dollars, drummer boy quarters, and “wheat pennies” – the penny minted in the US from 1909-1956 (see picture at left). I was at Grandma’s one day when I was about fifteen-years-old. I had found a couple of wheat pennies for Grandma to add to her collection.

As Grandma pulled the plastic bread bag of wheat-backed pennies from the drop-down desk, a small envelope fell to the floor. It was one of those tiny manilla envelopes, the kind a landlord might give you with the key to your new apartment.

“What’s this?” I asked Grandma as I bent to pick up the envelope. It looked old.

She took the envelope from my hand, pushed back the flap and poured the contents into her hand. “Four nickels. Twenty cents. This was what my brother Tom had in his pocket when they found his body. Four nickels. It was all he had in the world.” Grandma clasped the nickels in her hand and motioned for me to sit. Then she told me all about Tom, how smart and funny and kind he was and how that all disappeared when they moved to the city and he began drinking.

Tom died on September 5, 1949, or at least that’s when they found his body down by the Mississippi River. He drowned. No foul play, most likely slipped and fell, they said. Tom had no ID, no home, no possessions. The police knew who to call when they found him. They had picked Tom up many times over the years, and it was my grandpa who’d come pick him up. Tom would stay for a day or two – he could have stayed with Grandma forever – but then he’d move on. When my grandpa went to identify the body, the envelope was the only thing he came home with. It was all Tom had.

My grandma kept the envelope tucked up among her collection of bills and coins. I am sure it fell out from time to time and I can see her opening the flap and pouring the nickels into her hand as she did with me that day. My grandma was never one to dwell on the past, on the sadness of life, but I bet she allowed herself a moment to hold on to those coins and remember her brother Tom.


1 Comment

They’re Coming to America

Not to stay, just for a visit. For the first time since I was just a squirming, bald-headed baby, members of the Irish branch of the McCormack family are coming to the Twin Cities.

Jim, Eileen, Regan, and Aine McCormack – Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1972 (photo by Paddy Kelly)

Paddy Kelly was on a GAA tour of the States in 1972 when he swung my great-aunt Nellie Marrin’s home in South Minneapolis. That’s where he snapped this photo. The photo resurfaced in 2011 when the four of us in this photo had dinner with our cousins the Kelly family in County Laois.  I kind of like the idea that this snapshot of us had been in Ireland for most of my life. Even in the years I was not aware or relatives in Ireland, that photo sat in some album or box, like the old photographs of my great-grandfather who left Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century.

But in less than a month, Martin and Marian McCormack will be joining us in Saint Paul. We’ve met up with them in Ireland when we visit, but I can’t wait to see them on our turf.

A bunch of McCormacks in 2011 at Lisheen Castle County Tipperary (Martin and Marian are on left end, front and back)

This is not their first time to the States, but it will be their first trip to Minnesota. I think the Twin Cities will show off pretty well in the September weather. Marian said she wasn’t interested in shopping, so I think we will skip the Mall of America. Several years ago Martin expressed that he didn’t need to see another pyramid or temple so I won’t suggest a tour of the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

Luckily, there are plenty of other things to do and see here, so I am not worried. I wonder, though, what other Irish people who visit the United States like to do while they are here? Or what do they find unique about America? I know what I like to do in Ireland, but I wonder what Irish people like to do when they are here?

I will let you know how the visit goes…


Leave a comment

Summer Irish American Book Club: August, already???

Indeed, it is. Another summer nearly over. But, nearly is the operative word. There is still time to knock a couple more titles off your summer reading list. Regan (my sis) and I started reading Pete Hamill’s Snow in August and I am really enjoying it so far. Order it up and join us…click here, less than $7 on Amazon.

Snow in August takes us to Brooklyn (we’ve been there a lot this summer!) For a change of pace, this novel gives us a male perspective on 20th century Irish American life. The novel opens in December 1946 with eleven-year-old Michael Devlin waking up in the apartment he shares with his mother. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t like when people give things away about books. Isn’t that why we read them? To find out what happens? Click here to read the proper New York Times review.

Regan and I are reading Snow in August at the same time so it will be nice to talk about it as we go. I missed that with the last couple of books which we read alternately.  That doesn’t make for much of a book club, now does it?

Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far this summer. You will notice a couple of non-Irish-America-related titles. I took a bit of a detour last month. This list begins with the most recently read book.

 

SUMMER 2017 BOOKS, SO FAR

 

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe.

What I liked most about this book was that Donohoe’s characters felt real. Sometimes they bugged me and I sighed and rolled my eyes at their decisions. Other times I was surprised by their bravery, commitment, and compassion. It’s just how I feel about my family and friends. I also appreciated the way she structured the book and was very consistent in weaving the elements and generations together.  We were given a backstage pass into the world of the F.D.N.Y. and it was fascinating and heartbreaking. Really enjoyed this book.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I loved Holden Caulfield when I read this for the first time at age fifteen, and I love him today (many years later). If you haven’t read this for a while, do it. Holden mentions that his last name is Irish and his dad used to be Catholic when he talks about how “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic.” (p.125)  So many good quotes and insightful observations from Holden. Holden is definitely near the top of my “all-time favorite characters” list.

 

At Weddings and Wakes by Alice McDermott.

When I finished this book and noticed it was published in 1992, I could not understand what took me so long to read it! I fell in love with this book on the first page. McDermott’s writing is beautifully subtle, but she doesn’t try to be mysterious. Bits and pieces of each character reminded me of some old relative in my own Irish American family (those I knew as well as those I’d only heard stories about.) So much felt familiar…like how Lucy never left her aunties without a bag of stuff.


Three Days in Damascus by Kim Schultz.

This memoir has nothing to do with Irish America, but Kim is an old friend of mine. She should be proud of herself for this book. I know I am proud of her! As I read it, I felt like it was 1994 and I was sitting at a crowded table at Chang O’Hara’s, drinking beers and listening to Kim tell us a story. Those were good times. The origin of this memoir is a one-woman play Kim produced following her experience meeting and interviewing Iraqi refugees. Kim met a special refugee and brings us along on the bumpy and confusing road of loving through language and cultural barriers. Well done, Kim. I wish Chang’s was still here…I’d buy you a beer!


Don’t Tell the Girls by Patricia Reilly Giff.

This was a delightful family memoir in which Patricia Reilly Giff explores her Irish heritage. She took the stories she had heard throughout her life and set out to learn details of the real events in her family history. I know the feeling of pouring over census records and passenger lists, looking for something – anything – familiar. What Reilly Giff learned, I will leave it for you to read. There is usually more to the story that Grandma tells…we just have to figure it out! This is currently a real bargain at Amazon…cute hardcover volume for less than $5 would make a great gift…click here.

 

 Saints for all Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan.

Please click here to see my earlier post for more on this book.

 

 

 

 

ON DECK

I just got a copy of Will Murray’s King Kong vs. Tarzan and I think that’s going to be an awesome way to close out the Summer of Irish American Reads! I’ll update you on what we thought of Snow in August

 

Let me know what you are reading and if you have any suggestions for great Irish American book. Leave a comment or send an email to TheIrishInAmerica!


Leave a comment

Getting Started… A Summer Book Club!

We heard from a few of you last week with great suggestions for The Irish in America Laid Back Summer Book Club. It’s laid back because no one is trying to boss you around, tell you what to read and when to finish. We’re just here, taking/making suggestions, learning about Irish American authors and chatting about books.

Back in May, Regan and I simultaneously read Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan. Since Regan and I are neighbors, we found ourselves talking a lot about the book as we read it. This made me more critical of the book than was perhaps necessary. Has anyone else read the book? I’d like to hear what you thought. Leave a comment or complete the form at the end of the post.

 

AINE’S CURRENT SELECTION…

Eileen suggested an Alice McDermott novel. Since I usually follow Eileen’s advice, I chose At Weddings and Wakes, McDermott’s 1992 novel. McDermott has several books from which to choose, but this one felt right for a summer read. The book begins in the summer and the stifling heat in the Brooklyn apartment McDermott describes is not unlike what we had in Saint Paul over the weekend, although I do enjoy air conditioning!

I am on page fifty-four, and I love this book. McDermott is a beautiful writer. I am not a fan of overly descriptive, flowery language – when I feels as though the author is trying to impress me with their writing. McDermott is the opposite of that. She writes with confidence. Her descriptions are integral to developing the characters, to telling the story.

One of my favorite passages so far is on page eight where McDermott describes the three children from the perspective of their fellow passengers on a subway car. This is the youngest daughter:

And then, nearly dangling from her mother’s arm, another in the same white eyelet dress. No beauty here, what with the freckles on the moon face and those small green eyes, but it was she they smiled at, those who smiled, she who drew them to smile up at the mother (the door sliding shut behind her, cutting off the noise), whose face brought to mind not only the map of Ireland, but the names of two or three other women they knew who looked just or something like her.

Isn’t that great? I can picture the girl (and the two or three or four other women) exactly.

Click here for a review of At Weddings and Wakes.

Let me know if you decide to read this book…we can discuss!

 

WHAT’S REGAN READING?

Regan is currently reading Ashes of Fiery Weather, by Kathleen Donohoe. Stay tuned to the blog, she will tell us all about it. You can also follow Regan on Twitter…click here.

 

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

NEXT UP FOR AINE…

Mary suggested King Kong vs. Tarzan, by Will Murray. Looking forward to this one…more about the book and its Irish-American author coming soon!

 

JUST WONDERING…

I include links to amazon.com because that’s where I buy a lot of my books. Where do you get yours? I will include links for you, too. If you go to your local library – or your sister’s bookshelf – you will be on your own!

 

 

 


6 Comments

Summer Reading: The Irish in America

Memorial Day is in the rearview mirror, the school year is winding down and the air has turned heavy and warm…summer has arrived in Saint Paul! It’s time to assemble your summer reading list, hit the pool/beach/lake/air-conditioned living room, and start reading!

I plan on doing a lot of reading this summer so I thought it might be fun to start an Irish American Book Club here on the blog. I’ve never been much for the traditional book club. I like to discuss books as I am reading them. It’s hard for me to save up all my key points and insights for the monthly club meeting. I also don’t like the pressure involved in the typical book club – I don’t like people telling me what book to read and when to read it.

This will be a different kind of book club. I am not exactly sure how it will take shape, but for starters, I would like to hear what Irish American books have been on your radar lately. I need some suggestions as to what I should read this summer and I would like to hear what people think about what they’re reading.

Make suggestions, give feedback. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Books should be by an Irish-American author or have a subject involving the Irish in America, but needn’t be both.
  • Readers will share what they are reading and will be honest with their critiques and praise.
  • We will have fun reading!

Regan (my sis) and I got a head start and read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. It is a novel about two Irish sisters who move to Boston in the 1950’s. Immediately I thought of Maureen Teahan Murray, the lovely contributor to the blog who passed away last summer. Maureen came to Boston from Milltown, County Kerry in 1947. She and her sister landed in New York just in time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before heading north to Boston to begin their new lives. (Click here for more about Maureen and links to her delightful essays.)

I also thought about Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, a book I loved. The movie was great as well, but the book was better. However, I put all of this out of my mind when I began reading Saints for All Occasions because I wanted to have an open mind. I didn’t want to compare it to a real-life situation or another novel.

Has anyone else read Saints for All Occasions? I would love to hear what you thought of it. I think it is a perfect summertime “beach read.” It is just over 300 pages and it goes pretty quickly. Regan and I discussed it as we read, carefully monitoring where the other was in the story as to not spoil anything. Leave a comment and let us know what you thought!

If you have book ideas or thoughts on Saints for All Occasions, tweet me @ainemccormack1…I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Summer!!!!