11 April 1894. Bridget Agnes was born to Michael (age 30) and Catherine (27) Dunne in the townland of Ballaghduff, Galway. She was the fourth of nine children and the second daughter. True to Irish tradition, she was named Bridget after her maternal grandmother Bridget Ward Martin. How she also got the middle name Agnes is a mystery. It isn’t on her birth registration.
1901. The census finds 7-year-old Bridget and her sister visiting her Aunt “Onnie,” Uncle Mike, and Grandfather Martin in Rushestown. At this time, she could neither read nor write and did not speak Irish as did her older relatives.
1904. At age 10, Bridget enrolled in the Curraghmore National School, along with her village-mates Eliza, James, and Patrick Collins.
Family lore tells us that, as a girl, Bridget was an outstanding musician. She “could play the flute like a man,” I was told. Many decades later, as a grandmother, she had to be coaxed into taking out her melodeon (a small accordian) and it was a treat to hear her play.
She wasn’t happy about chores and told me her least favorite was turf cutting. So, perhaps she was destined for St. Louis and becoming a city girleen.
15 March 1910. 13-year-old Bridget finds herself in the middle of a brawl with the family’s Cooloo neighbor Martin Tully. A complaint was filed by her father Michael on her behalf:
That… defendant did make use of threatening and abusive language towards complainant whereby she had good cause to fear corporal hurt.
And in his own complaint, Michael claimed:
That… defendant did unlawfully challenge complainant to fight and make use of abusive language toward him, all calculated to cause a breach of the peace.
In his counter-complaint filed against Michael (senior) and John Dunne, Tully claimed that they “did unlawfully assault and beat” him.
Looks like Tully got abusive toward young Bridget and her father and brother came to her defense. In any event, neither party showed up for the 10 April court date, so they probably sorted out their differences in the interim.
1911. The census finds her, age 16, at Cooloo, with her older brother John (age 20) and younger brother Patrick (age 12). My understanding is that their mother Catherine ran the family’s second farm at Cooloo, but she probably went home to Ballaghduff at day’s end.
1914. Bridget became the second Dunne child to emigrate to America. At that time there was plenty of economic opportunity in American cities for a young Irish woman, whose rugged farm upbringing prepared her well for work as a servant. And she was more likely to find a husband outside her isolated village community. On the other hand, the eldest Irish son was traditionally obligated to work the family farm. In the Dunne family, two farms constrained two sons.
It was also tradition for Irish sisters to help one another to make the passage. As Bridget turned 20, her sister Ellen (now Mrs. Ernest “Helen” Price) sponsored her passage. Leaving from the Cooloo farm at Moylough with her 22-year-old neighbor Katie Murphy (and possible acquaintance from Ballygar Michael Lohan), Bridget made her way to the port of Queenstown (now Cobh), where she boarded the same ship as her sister had — the Cunard liner RMS Carmania. On 11 April, they departed to Boston, arriving on 23 April. According to the ship records, she had $10 to her name.
ST. LOUIS AND LIFE DECISIONS
Leaving her friends behind in Massachusetts, Bridget caught the train to St. Louis. There, she was welcomed by her sister and introduced to the Price family, including the 21-year-old Walter.
Bridget went to work as a domestic.
1920, January. At age 25, Bridget was living at a fine address: 5291 Westminster Place. She was employed in the service of George and Gertrude Whitelaw, a young couple with a 2-year-old son. Whitelaw worked as a private secretary in a financial company, but was heir to the Whitelaw family fortune, made in the ice business, notably Polar Wave Ice and Fuel.
Living with her at the Whitelaws was fellow domestic Nora Shaughnessy, who also emigrated from the Ballaghduff/Shankill area of eastern Galway about the same time Bridget did.
Along in here she took up with her brother-in-law Walter. He was home from the front lines of the Great War and was back at work in the family carpentry business. A romance blossomed.
An aside: as a kid, my dad got the feeling he was adopted (not true) and set about combing the family document cache for evidence. Decades later, he told me that he’d found papers showing that Bridget had second thoughts about America and marrying into the Price family. She went back home to Ireland. But shortly, she discovered she was pregnant. Back to St. Louis she went. This was one of those tales that just hung out there without confirmation, even though everyone knew Bridget and Walter never celebrated their wedding anniversary.
But now a ship’s record confirms my dad’s childhood snooping. While I can’t find a record of her returning to Ireland, this record shows her coming back, on the SS Celtic, which arrived in the port of New York on 24 Sept 1920. According to the record, she paid for her own passage and was “uncertain” about how long she would stay. Did her family know her condition? Did she want to stay in Ireland? Did the family insist she return to St. Louis? The answers are lost in the mist of time.
My dad thought Bridget and Walter were married in Waterloo, Illinois — a favorite place in the early 20th century for elopements and shotgun marriages. My aunt recalls her mother saying they got married in a priest’s parlour, in the month of October. Both might be true. I haven’t found a record of either. Without a departure date, it’s impossible to say for sure if Bridget knew she was pregnant when she left St. Louis. They might have quickly gotten married so that she would not be stigmatized back home. Or maybe she had no idea.
Anyway, their first child Jack was born in December 1920.
Thus begins Bridget’s commitment to her life as wife, mother, and American.