“Kitchen Queens” and “Tributary Housekeepers”: Irish Servant Stories in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Magazine Fiction

Christine Palumbo-DeSimone, Temple University
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 77-101

The popularity of stories about Irish domestics in nineteenth-century American women’s magazines reveals much about the functions of such stories as well as the complicated relationship between Irish domestic workers and their American employers. The arrival of so many young, typically unmarried Irish immigrant women coincided with the rapid growth of the American middle class to create “Biddy,” the stock Irish servant character in the American literary imagination. While the status of real Irish women and their place in the larger American landscape changed throughout the century, Biddy was a persistent and remarkably static figure in women’s magazine fiction, suggesting that the character functioned in ways that were not directly tied to the socioeconomic status of the Irish as a minority group. Women’s magazine fiction suggests that the relative proximity of Irish women—and the resultant interconnectedness of the lives of Irish servants and their employers—proved a source of deep anxiety among American women. Indeed, stories about Irish servants in women’s magazines reveal much about the uncertainty of each woman’s function, not just in the household but in the broader American culture.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]