Race, Ethnicity, and Gender During the Industrial Revolution and Westward Expansion

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  • Reflect on the restrictions and beliefs based on race, gender,
    ethnicity, and national origin that were common in American society
    during the last half of the 1800s.
  • Think about the changes (both positive and negative) that came about
    as a result of the industrial revolution and westward expansion.
  • Think about how discrimination shaped the experiences of each group.
    What particular challenges and opportunities did each group confront
    during this period?
  • How did your chosen group impact the history of this period.


Include your chosen group in your discussion title. Based on the
chapters in your textbook and the required exhibit, answer the

  • What are some of the ways that restrictions and beliefs based on
    race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin shaped American society in
    the latter half of the 1800s?
  • Assess how these restrictions shaped your chosen group’s experience of the industrial revolution and/or westward expansion.
  • Explain the changes that members of your chosen group made possible during this period.

Your initial post should be at least 250 words in length. Your post
should make reference to the required materials with in-text citations.
Your references and citations must be formatted according to APA style .. You may use additional scholarly sources to support your points if you choose.

Alien Menace
Michael O’Malley, Associate Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University
In the nineteenth century, Americans saw Irish people very differently than we might today. Large numbers of
Catholic Irish began arriving in the US in the 1850s—numbers in the millions, driven from Ireland by poverty and
famine. These immigrants were typically very poor, unskilled, and illiterate. Significant numbers spoke little or no
English. The United States was predominantly a Protestant country, and native whites often saw the Irish Catholics as
a danger.
In these cartoons we can see many of the stereotypes of the Irishman of the 1800s–the association with drink, but
also a flat nose, pronounced mouth and lips, low forehead, and general air of brutishness.
In these cartoons, Irish immigrants are shown as ape-like or as racially different. Americans in the mid 1800s were
just beginning to consider the theory of evolution. Scientists argued that “facial angle” was a sign of intelligence and
character. When they studied the “physiognomy” or facial structure, or Irishmen, they detected animalistic qualities.
James Redfield’s 1852 book Comparative physiognomy; or, Resemblances between men and animals saw Irishmen as
dog-like. Redfield mixes claims to science with claims that the Irishman’s dog-like character makes him cowardly and
It’s important to point out that caricatures of immigrants were common. Germans were stereotyped in beer halls;
Chinese immigrants were mocked in caricatures and cartoons; African Americans were almost constantly the subject
of demeaning comic stereotypes. The point is not that Irish people suffered more or less than any other group: rather,
the remarkable thing is how differently irish people were seen. No one today thinks of Irish people as “not white” or
“racially primitive” in some ways, irish people seem sort of “hyper-white.”
Irish Americans and African Americans shared many of the same jobs—the low paying, low status jobs native whites
avoided. Some historians have pointed out that tap dancing, at which African Americans have excelled, has its roots in
irish dancing, which empahsizes minimal upper body movement and elaborate rhythmic footwork. The predominance
of Irish surnames among African Americans points out how much the two groups shared.
This cartoonist called attention to what he saw as the similarity between Irish and African immigrants, and the
possibility that in America, they would turn into each other.
It seems hard to believe that anyone could have looked at Irish people and seen them as “not white.” Many historians
have argued that “white” is an invented category–that when people looked at each other in the 1800s, they saw
many differences–of religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, class. They did not automatically see “white.” Here is a
final example.
Again, the point here is not simply that Irish people suffered from bigotry—they certainly did, but many other ethnic
groups suffered as much or more. And of course there were many Americans who did not subscribe to these kind of
stereotypes. The point is the malleability of our stereotypes. These cartoon images looked like Irishmen and women to
people who saw them. Many nineteenth century Americans saw Irish people as a group that simply could not be made
“American,” as in this cartoon from 1889. They saw them as violent, as non-white, as doomed to poverty and
Search the web for images of the Irish or Irish
Americans, or look for them in advertising and popular
culture. 1) How have the images, or stereotypes, of Irish
Americans changed? 2) Do you see any similarities? 3) Any
differences? Stereotypes help us see what we want to see—
they reinforce what we already believe to be true. 4) What
cultural work did nineteenth century stereotypes do? 5) What
work do modern stereotypes do? Consider also stereotypes of
other ethnic groups—especially in light of the “profiling” law
enforcement officials now do as part of anti-terrorism efforts.


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