The exhibit, The Irish Mission at Watson House: The Untold Story of the Home
for Irish Immigrant Girls in Lower Manhattan (1883-1954) opened in at the original site of
the dormitory in 2012. The exhibit was developed by historians, Dr Maureen Murphy and
The Mission was the inspiration of Charlotte Grace O’Brien (1845-1909). She was the
daughter of William Smith O”Brien, the Young Irelander who was transported to Tasmania
for his part in the1848 Rebellion. Charlotte Grace inherited her father’s fighting spirt and his
concern for the poor and exile. She was born in 1845, the year that saw the first complete failure
of the potato crop and the beginning of the Great Irish Famine (1845-52).
Charotte Grace became determined to do something about the unsatisfactory immigration
conditions that she witnessed first-hand on the docks at Queenstown (Cobh, Country Cork)
and when she traveled to New York City in 1882. Profoundly deaf with limited means she
nevertheless was responsible for a number of immigration reforms and managed to elicit a
promise from the Catholic clergy in the US to set up a dormitory for immigrant women arriving
in New York City which was in operation from 1883-1954 with some 60,000 women coming
through. The ledger archives of the Mission have become an important genealogical record
and are under development to be available online.
With support from the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the exhibit has
traveled to six locations throughout Ireland. Dr. Murphy is currently continuing her research
on the life and contributions of the remarkable Charlotte Grace O’Brien.