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Washington, D.C.
Beyond “Rags to Riches”: An Economic History of New York’s Irish Immigrants
Beyond “Rags to Riches”

Irish immigrant women withdraw money from the Emigrant Savings Bank. Image courtesy of Tyler Anbinder.

With “Moving Beyond ‘Rags to Riches,’” Tyler Anbinder, a historian at The George Washington University, offers us a new way of looking at immigrant experiences in the nineteenth century and today. Using the savings and deposit account records from the nineteenth-century Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, Tyler considers the degree to which Irish immigrants were able to save money and measures their overall success in pursuing the American dream. Contrary to accounts that imagine Irish immigrants as a perpetually-poor underclass, Anbinder finds that many immigrants were able to achieve a degree of prosperity that far exceeds that which immigrants are able to achieve today, largely due to the array of job opportunities available to them. The project, which culminated in City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York (2016), was funded by an NEH collaborative research grant. With NEH funding, Anbinder hired undergraduate researchers, who analyzed 18,000 pre-Civil War savings accounts. Their work is being converted into a searchable online database that will be of use to other professional researchers, as well as the many Americans who study genealogy.

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