I found a steam ship passenger record that validates some family stories and tells an amazing tale of my great grandmother, Bridget Power b1872, who, at the age of 16, set out by herself to journey from her native Ireland to the US.
Bridget boarded the SS Bothnia in Queenstown, Ireland (now Cobh), with a single piece of luggage and a steerage ticket. Her mother had passed away 4 years prior due to tuberculosis and, if family stories are to be believed, she had a storybook-style “wicked stepmother.” She arrived in Boston on August 6, 1888 after a 9 day ocean journey. Many years later she would tell her grandchildren that she threw up every day of the trip, which is no surprise based on the quality of life in steerage (from Edward Alfred Steiner’s “On the Trail of the Immigrant” (1906), pages 35-37):
- … passengers… are positively packed like cattle, making a walk on deck when the weather is good, absolutely impossible, while to breathe clean air below in rough weather, when the hatches are down is an equal impossibility.
- … the stenches become unbearable, and many of the emigrants have to be driven down; for they prefer the bitterness and danger of the storm to the pestilential air below.
- … young women who are quartered among the married passengers have neither the privacy to which they are entitled nor are they much more protected than if they were living promiscuously.
- The food, which is miserable, is dealt out of huge kettles into the dinner pails provided by the steamship company. When it is distributed, the stronger push and crowd, so that meals are anything but orderly procedures.
- On the whole, the steerage of the modern ship ought to be condemned as unfit for the transportation of human beings…
I can only imagine what a terrifying journey this was for her. Upon arrival, she established herself in her new country, working as a servant in a home in Uxbridge, MA. There is definitely more story to figure out, as she eventually married and settled in Woonsocket, RI.
Here is the full steerage record, if you’d like to check it out. My great grandmother is on line 345.