Friday, December 16, 2011

Creating Bridget Moore

Education Associate Sarah Litvin spent months preparing for our new "Meet Bridget" tour, which allows school children to visit with a costumed interpreter portraying Irish immigrant Bridget Moore, who lived at 97 Orchard Street in the 1860's. Here, she shares her thoughts on the process of bringing Bridget to life.

To transform the Irish Outsiders tour from a third to a first person narrative, I embarked on a major research project. Not only would our Costumed Interpreters need to know everything about Bridget Moore's experience at 97 Orchard Street, but they would also need to know everything that happened to Bridget up until that point.

Educator Emily Gallagher as Bridget Moore, visiting with school children

To build Bridget's memories,I divided Bridget's life into a few segments, and then learned everything I could about each one.

What was home life like in Ireland when Bridget was growing up? What was the life as a domestic servant like in New York City in the mid-1860s?
What do we know about life as a young married woman in the FIve Points area?
How did Bridget accomplish the day-to-day aspects of life at 97 Orchard Street?

This research then became a sourcebook which each actress training to play Bridget Moore must master.

In addition to building Bridget's memories, we also had to learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed and how she would have spoken. With the help of a fantastic summer intern, Jessica Pushor, and the inimitable scholar of Irish domestics, Margaret Lynch-Brennan, we uncovered some really neat sources.

To learn how Bridget Moore would have dressed, Jessica did extensive research into the dress of Irish peasantry, domestics in New York, and maternity clothing in mid-19th century. She unearthed the below photograph of an Irish domestic, which we used as the primary source to base our Bridget Moore costume.

For language, the source that proved most useful was a novel written in 1861 by Ann Sadlier, a woman who was, herself, an Irish domestic in New York before becoming an author.

The novel, Bessy Conway, is available online for free. It follows a young Irish emigrant from her home in Ardfinnan, County Tipperary, to New York. In her seven year stint as a domestic, Bessy encounters and learns to fight temptation in the big city. As she sees friends fall victim to drink, materialism, and lust around her, Bessy navigates the straight and narrow (and religious!) path. It was a great read and a great source to give insight into the irish immigrant communitiy in New York.

Here are a few choice ninetheenth-century Irish immigrant-isms we dicovered:
P.D.A: "Pour Dire Adieu" (To say godbye)
I don't care a snap: I don't care at all
shin-dig: a party
neither chick nor child: bachelor
astore: my darling
crummy: milk cow
posset: warm drink of sweet and sour milk

--Posted by Education Associate Sarah Litvin

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