Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ireland's Éamon de Valera and the taboo of illegitimacy

De Valera with his mother in USA 1919/20

Éamon de Valera (1882-1975) was Ireland's leading politician of the 20th century and he was in office as head of government and president for 35 years in the period 1932-1973. The politician who was instrumental in triggering a shameful civil war in 1922 had a miserable childhood and according to some experts exhibited Asperger Syndrome traits, where genius is coupled with poor social skills.

De Valera had many people helping him over the decades to find documentation to prove that his mother had been married when he was born in New York City in October 1882. None were found.

It was ironic that in the year of his retirement in 1973 de Valera's political party Fianna Fáil which he had founded in 1926, was replaced by a Fine Gael-Labour coalition and Richie Ryan, the minister of finance, gave the first official recognition to "illegitimate" children and their mothers by introducing an Unmarried Mothers' Allowance.

In 1972/1973 Mary McGee, a brave women from Cork, challenged the ban on the importation of contraceptives at the High Court and she won in the Supreme Court in 1973. It would take about 20 years of political tomfoolery to finally get to a sane system for access to contraception.

Another Fine-Gael-Labour coalition in 1986 introduced the Status of Children Bill which aimed to give complete equality of treatment to all children, whether born within or outside of marriage. It became law in late 1987 when Fianna Fáil were back in power.

In effect, the Status of Children Act abolished a system where some Irish children were second class citizens and for example, they acquired equal rights of succession in the estates of their relations.

The first known use of illegitimate / illegitimacy were in 1536 and 1680 respectively according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary while the first known use of the word bastard is said to have been in the 13th century, although the 1066 Norman conqueror of England is said to have been nicknamed William the Bastard.

Whether a noun or adjective, they are cruel terms that brand some children as inferior and while once universal there are still regions of the world where the taboo persists.

Droit du seigneur, (French: “right of the lord”), was a feudal privilege in medieval Europe similar to rituals in primitive societies, giving a lord the right to sleep in the first night with the bride of any one of his vassals. However, children of unmarried parents were not generally stigmatised because their parents hadn't been married but that changed later.

The stigma of illegitimacy did encourage marriage and in a 1913 paper 'Problem of Illegitimacy in Europe' Victor von Borosini noted "The statistics of first born legitimate children reveal that in Berlin 45%, in Dresden 48%, in the kingdom of Saxony and in rural Denmark 39%, and in Amsterdam 26.4% are born less than seven months after the wedding. If one added the percentage of illegitimate, of still born children, and of miscarriages, the figures for Berlin, Saxony and Denmark would show that, at least 50 to 70% of the couples have sexual relations without waiting for a civil and religious ceremony. This is especially true in countries with a large surplus of women, where percentually fewer people get married."

Typically women bore the brunt of social sanction and hypocrisy was often a factor.

Boris Johnson wrote in The Spectator magazine in 1995 that the children of single mothers were “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate.” The British prime minister has multiple children among several women including during extra-marital affairs.

Today, India and Pakistan with a combined population of 1.5bn for example remain backward where women are appallingly treated.

From the almost universal stigma attached to nonmarital births in past centuries, in for example the period 2008-2013, the percentage of all US births that were nonmarital births remained unchanged at about 41% (1.6m births per year), compared with 28% of all births in 1990 and about 11% of all births in 1970 according to the Congressional Research Service.

On average across mainly rich OECD countries, in 2018 41% of births occur outside of marriage. In 11 OECD countries (Chile, Denmark, Estonia, France, Iceland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden) more than 50% of children are born outside of marriage, with rates particularly high in Mexico (69%), Iceland (71%), and Chile (74%). In four other OECD countries (Israel, Japan, Korea and Turkey), by contrast, less than 10% of children are born outside of marriage. In Japan, Korea and Turkey, the rate is as low as around 2-3%. Ireland's rate was 38%.

President de Valera welcomes President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to Ireland, June 1963

Teeming New York

In the 30 years, 1850-1880 waves of immigration from Europe resulted in the population of New York City more than doubling to 1.2m. It was at 1.5m in 1890 when Danish immigrant Jacob Riis' pioneering book, 'How the Other Half Lives' was published. The early example of photo-journalism exposed the grim world of the tenements of New York, mainly concentrated on Manhattan's Lower East Side (LES).

“Five Cents a Spot” (circa 1890) Jacob Riis, Museum of the City of New York

Riis wrote "The apartment was one of three in two adjoining buildings we had found, within half an hour, similarly crowded. Most of the men were lodgers, who slept there for five cents a spot."

US Census Bureau data show that the population per square mile (equal to 2.59 square km) in the LES rose from 234,84 in 1890 to a peak of 375,048 in 1910.

In the decades following the devastating Irish Potato Famine more young single Irish women emigrated to the United States than Irish men.

In the period 1871-1891, 55,690 Irish women emigrated to the US compared to 55,215 men for the same time period while census data show that 50% of Irish emigrants were female compared to 33% of all immigrants from Europe.

The Irish women were stereotyped as "bridgets" or "biddys" and the males "paddys" as reflected in contemporary cartoons. The rise of the progressive movement in the 1890s with an emphasis on humane working conditions was a concern for the wealthy WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) and the middle class that relied on domestic workers.

From the mid-nineteenth century until 1921 the median age of emigrant Irish females was about 21.

Between 1848 and 1900, Irish-Americans remitted about $260m to Ireland, and 44% or $104m was in the form of prepaid tickets.

Lucy Maynard Salmon (1853-1927), the pioneering female professor at Vasser College wrote a book 'Domestic Service' (1897) and she used surveys in 1889 and 1890 to gather information. The men who set the public agendas were not impressed.

Salmon estimated the annual pay of domestic servants at an average of $168. This compared with a United States consular report from Ireland that put the pay at the equivalent of $40 a year in the 1880s.

An economist who reviewed 'Domestic Service' put the annual total at $250 when allowing for board and lodgings.

In 1886 the Commissioner of Labor reported that New York firemen earned $427 annually while a printer earned $915.

While the wages in New York, Chicago and San Francisco were about twice the average wages throughout England, the prices of the necessaries of life were lower in New York and Chicago.

In a large number of cases, "the Irish agricultural laborers supplement their wages with the produce of small plots of ground attached to their cabins...a fair share of the field work is performed by women" according to a consular report."

The United States Consul in Cork City reported, "The food is made up of a selection from tea, bread, oatmeal, potatoes, dried fish and among the poorer classes a course Indian meal instead of oatmeal."

With wages paid almost equal to England and Scotland the food of the working people of Ireland was much inferior according to the consuls in the 1880s.

New York had almshouses provided by charities, that were similar to the poorhouses of Ireland and Britain. Abandoned babies seldom survived in these places of squalor and fresh milk was a risk for every New Yorker.

In 1869 the Catholic Archdiocese opened the New York Foundling Asylum run by the Sisters of Charity, for abandoned babies which were called foundlings. There were over 2,000 in the first two years and the State Legislature gave a grant of $100,000 to expand the facility. On May 30, 1870, The New York Times described the cradle “standing from morning to night and from night to morning to receive its human burdens.” It added, “A bell nearby gives warning to the attendant nurse when the cradle has an occupant.”

The infant mortality rate in 1880 in New York City was as high as 288 per 1000 live-born infants, primarily related to various infectious processes. Sister Irene Fitzgibbon of the New York Foundling Asylum commented to a reporter in the 1880s that the death rate was “appalling.” An early death, she added, was the fate “hanging over all foundlings.”  The asylum became a hospital and mothers were encouraged to feed their infants and there were also adoption and fostering placements.

By 1910 almost 28,000 children had been processed by the hospital and it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019. More background here.

The fictional Vivion Juan De Valero?

I did summer work in Colorado Springs and Denver during my time at university and I first heard from an Irish priest that de Valera's father had moved to Denver for health reasons and had died there in the 1880s.

Colorado and Switzerland were meccas for people with respiratory illnesses in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Denver has a nickname, the Mile High City, while Colorado Springs has an elevation of 1,839 metres (6,035 feet).

Catherine (Kate) Coll (1856-1932) of Knockmore townland, near Bruree, Co. Limerick finished her schooling at about the age of 14 and 9 years later on October 2, 1879, she arrived in New York from Queenstown (Cobh, Ireland) aboard the SS Nevada. Kate was almost 23 years of age and in 1880 was recorded in the United States Census as a servant in the Brooklyn household of a family of French origin named Giraud.

Joseph M. Silinonte (1956-2004), a genealogical researcher with a mother of Irish ancestry, wrote in The Irish Times in 1999 that he had seen the records of the Nursery and Child's Hospital, which catered for destitute women in Manhatten. It read, "Line 1 - Date of Admission 10/13/1882, Name, Mrs Kate de Valero, Age, 23, Place of birth, Ireland, Religion, Roman Catholic, Reference, Mrs Abraham, 61 East 41 St, Residence of Parents, Brother, Edward Cole (or Coll), Rahway, NJ, c/o A.F. Shotwell, Esq. Line 2, Date of Admission: 10/14/1882, Name, Mrs Kate de Valero, Name of Child, Blank, Place of Birth, N. and C.H. (Nursery and Child's Hospital)."

Kate's recorded age was 23 but she was almost 26 and while she is referred to as Mrs Kate De Valero, the only relative referred to in the hospital record is her brother, Edward as next of kin.

De Valera's 1882 New York Birth Certificate:
Sean J Murphy, Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
Kate gave birth to a boy on October 14, 1882; he was registered by the state of New York on November 10 as George De Valero. His father Vivion De Valero was recorded as Spanish and by occupation was an artist.

The child was baptised as Edward on December 3, 1882. Silinonte noted that the elapse of 7 weeks after the birth "was extremely unusual for that time."

Kate had the birth certificate amended in 1910. George became Edward and De Valero become de Valera

The only evidence of the existence of Vivion De Valero are the 1) first and adjusted birth certificates 2) the baptismal certificate.

De Valero becomes de Valera on 1910 adjusted Birth Certificate

In the 1880 Census, there is a New York entry for a Valera but none for Vivion De Valero anywhere in the US.

Kate said she and Vivion got married in Greenville, Jersey City in September 1881 and later she said the marriage took place in New York. However, searches of the records of Catholic churches in New Jersey and New York failed to find a record.

Vivion apparently went to Denver for a time in 1880 because of poor health and again he left New York for Denver according to Kate on June 30, 1884. He was said to have died in the spring of 1885 leaving no public or church records of his death.

1) Kate apparently had no letters from Denver to share later with her son. The Union Pacific's New York-San Francisco service had a stop in Cheyenne, Wyoming where passengers for Denver would connect with another train but there were no meetings between husband and wife. There are no photographs of her first wedding or from Denver (some years ago I got a copy photo of my namesake great-granduncle Michael Hennigan (1844-1920) who had arrived in St. Louis in 1870 from Dunmanway, West Cork).

Developments in photography from the 1850s to the 1880s made the production of photographs cheap and common in the United States.

In 1876 just 83 hours after leaving New York City, the Transcontinental Express train arrived in San Francisco.

There is no evidence that Vivion De Valero relatives in the US despite claims that his father was involved with the United States-Cuba sugar trade.

In April 1885 the young Edward arrived in Queenstown (Cobh) in Cork Harbour on the SS City of Chicago with his uncle Edward (Ned), to be reared by the Coll family in Co Limerick.

Wikitree: "The 1910 census of Rochester Ward 12, Monroe, New York, US provides some background for Charles and Catherine Wheelwright. Here, we learn that Charles and Catherine E. Wheelwright were sharing accommodation with 10 others in a house at no:22 South Goodman Street.";

2) There was no grave to visit when de Valera visited Denver in 1919 and 1937;

3) David McCullagh in his 2017 book 'De Valera Volume 1: Rise (1882–1932)' notes that Edward Coll who was 18 months younger than Kate, used to meet her in New York on a Sunday to attend mass. The author comments, "Oddly given this close relationship he was unable in later life to offer any detail on Kate's husband Vivion."

4) Vivian or Vivion (and variants such as Vivien and Vivienne) are of French origin and relate to Saint Vivianus, a 5th-century bishop of Saintes. The name entered the English-speaking world through the Norman invasion of England;

5) One of the charter rules of the Nursery and Child's Hospital where Kate gave birth in 1882 was that the expectant mother should be married;

6) Frank Giraud (1840-1900) gave his occupation as artist in the 1880 Census and Vivion De Valero was also described as an artist on the 1882 birth certificate. According to Kate, Vivion tutored Giraud's children in music as he had given up his job as a sculptor after an eye injury.

Giraud was a vaudeville actor and he used the stage name, Frank Girard. He was made the 1876 Grand Exalted Ruler of the New York Elk Lodge. Some bio material here.
Frank Giraud

Frank Pakenham Earl of Longford and Thomas P. O'Neill, official de Valera biographers (1970) called the Girauds a French family. They wrote that the Girauds were the second family in New York that Kate had worked for;

In the 1880 US Census there are Valera and Valero surnames but none with the prefix 'de.' At the time at least it seemed to have had a wider usage in France.

Frank Giraud may well have been the father of de Valera and the timelines of changing job locations are not reliable. Kate had limited free time because of her domestic work and whoever the father was, he must have had some influence and cash to acquire the birth and baptism documents.

Hannie, Edward's favourite aunt, left for New York in 1887.

Kate arrived in Ireland in March 1888 and she refused to bring young Edward back to New York. 

In May 1888 Kate married an English coach driver named Charles Wheelwright. They had a daughter Ann, and a son, Thomas, who would later become a Catholic priest.

Kate met her first son in 1888, 1907, 1919/20, 1928, 1929, and she died in 1932.

She lied to de Valera about his father but if she had told him the truth, it's unlikely that he would have publicly acknowledged it.