Historian Edward T. O’Donnell’s talk will explore the origins and workings of the “political machine” and why the Irish were uniquely suited to take advantage of it. He will also discuss the Irish political machine as an agent of charity and social welfare in an era when the poor had few places to turn for assistance. But while political machines empowered the Irish in America, they also brought condemnation due to their corrupt and questionable practices. Finally, O’Donnell will explain the fate of the Irish political machine in the 20th century noting how, long after its disappearance, it left behind a tradition of liberalism and social justice that continues to inform political debate today.
EDWARD T. O’DONNELL was born in Gloucester, MA to Irish American parents. He earned his doctorate in American History from Columbia University and currently is Assoc. Professor of History at Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA. He is the author of several books, including Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum (Random House, 2003), 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History (Random House/Broadway Books, 2002), and the forthcoming Talisman of a Lost Hope: Henry George and Gilded Age America (Columbia University Press). His scholarly articles have appeared in the Public Historian, Journal of Urban History, and the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He has also worked on several major museum exhibits on Irish American history, including serving as curatorial consultant to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC for their Irish Family Apartment (opened, June 2008). This is his first lecture for the Museum of Newport Irish History.