The Irish in America


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Family Album: Minnesota’s Irish During the Depression

My grandma Agnes McMahon Regan graduated from Columbia Heights High School in 1930. She was the only one of the seven McMahon children to graduate. Her dad agreed to let her finish high school because she was smart and liked school and was just sixteen at the start of senior year (she skipped the second grade). Plus, he said she might as well stay in school since there were no jobs. After graduation, Agnes felt lucky to find part-time work in the office of an insurance broker, but she really wanted to get in at Sears. Her older sister Margaret worked at Sears and Agnes would go down to Chicago and Lake in Minneapolis once a week to check in with the Personnel Department about any job openings.

Grandma said her persistence paid off and Sears eventually hired her – temporarily at first, but she had her foot in the door. She stayed at Sears for the next ten years, until her first child was born.

On the weekends, Margaret and Agnes would often travel west to Benson, Minnesota to visit their older sister, Mary and her growing family of nieces. They would catch a ride with someone or hitchhike. Wonder whose car this was?

Margaret and Agnes McMahon, 1933 (Private Family Collection)


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Three Sisters

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (early 1930s)

Margaret, Rose & Agnes McMahon (mid 1930s) ATMR Family Collection

When I think of the Irish in America, snapshots like this one come to mind. My grandma Agnes with two of her three older sisters, young and happy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The McMahon sisters were second generation Irish Americans. However, my grandma told me they didn’t spend any time thinking about their heritage when they were young. She made up for it when she grew older and had a highly inquisitive granddaughter. She shared with me stories and songs, old sayings and recipes, passed down to her from her parents and Irish-born grandparents. Grandma was my link to our family history.

I am not sure if this is at the house in Columbia Heights where the McMahons lived, or if it is in south Minneapolis at the Foley house. Maybe my mom will help us out and leave a comment!

I am currently scanning and organizing my grandma’s collection of photographs and ephemera. Moving forward I will share some of my favorite items.