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Bridget's Passage

Bridget Dunne My father's mother was the last of my ancestors to arrive in the States. Like my ancestors before her she traveled steerage, although by 1914 this was not quite the ordeal it was in the 1850s.

The ship's manifest tells a story:

Name: Bridget Dunne (my paternal grandmother)

Ship Name: Carmania Arrival Date: 23 Apr 1914 Port of Departure: Queenstown, Ireland Port of Arrival: Boston, Massachusetts

Previous visits to the U.S. None

Age: 20 years [April 11, 1894]

Birthplace: Ballyduff [Ballaghduff], Ireland

Last Residence: Moylough, Ireland

Nearest Relative: Father, Michael Dunne. Address: Cooloo Moylough County Galway

Destination: With her train ticket in hand, she was on her way to St. Louis, to the house of her sister, E. Price, at 1431 North Kingshighway. She had $10** to her name. (If you had less that $50, you had to declare how much.) Her passage was paid for by her sister.

Occupation: servant


So her big sister Ellen, who later became known as Aunt Helen* or Auntie, gave her a big 20th birthday present -- a passage to America. Auntie was already married, to Ernest Price. If you press the fast forward button, you will also learn that Auntie gave her something more -- a husband. Bridget wound up marrying Walter Price, Ern's brother.

But Bridget did not jump into marriage (or maybe it was Walter who was not jumping). She put her plan into action and worked as a live-in domestic, a common occupation for upwardly ambitious Irish girls. The 1920s census shows her living at 5291 Westminster Place with George and Gertrude Whitelaw, a young couple with a 2-year-old son Charles and 3 young women as servants. Domestic service had the advantage of teaching young women how to be refined, which I know my grandmother valued.

While Bridget was learning to be a lady, her future husband Walter was drafted into the Great War and learned what it meant to be a man. He arrived home at the end of May 1919. They were married at some point after Walt arrived home and their first son Jack was born at the end of 1920.

My father still swears that she returned to Ireland during this period (either right before or right after their marriage). He found some documentation of this as a boy, which he can't remember now. His persistent belief is that she got cold feet about marriage, but discovered she was pregnant and returned to St. Louis. As he recalls, Bridget and Walter were married in Waterloo, Illinois -- a favorite place in the early-mid 20th century for elopements and shotgun marriages.

Friday, 2.25.05 (revised 3.15.05, 3.28.05)


RMS Carmania, a Cunard liner. In August of 1914 it was requisitioned as an armed merchant cruiser for the War effort. This site has pictures.

*There was no sentimentality about Ireland in my grandmother's family. "Ellen" became "Helen" and you worked hard to lose the Irish brogue.

**$10 in 1914 had the purchasing power of about $220 in 2008 dollars.