When comparing the four U.S. Censuses from 1850 through 1880, there were not large numbers of Irish immigrant women living in Alexandria, Virginia at first. In 1850, there were only 85 females; however, there were 345 females recorded ten years later. This surge in the number of Irish immigrant women was tied to jobs, not necessarily for their fathers or husbands, but for themselves.
The 1850 U.S. Census does not give the occupations that women held. 1860 was the first year the census kept track of female occupations, along with how much money they had. Many of the positions they filled were jobs that were extensions of what was seen as “women’s work”– washerwomen, domestics, and seamstresses.
In the 1870 U.S. Census, a handful of women were listed to be clerks in stores and grocers. 49 Irish immigrant women would be keeping house; these women were married and were at home taking care of their family. 12 women had “at home” written next to their names, meaning that they lived with their families though they were not in charge of caring for them. At least one individual inherited money. In 1870, Margaret Purcell, married to Richard, had $2,000 next to her name.
In the 1880 U.S. Census, almost every grown woman either had a job or, if married, kept house. Whether in their own home or someone else’s, Irish immigrant women worked in some form of domestic labor. A few had other jobs, such as small business owners.
From 1850-1880, information for around 600 Irish immigrant women living in Alexandria, Virginia was collected. Many of these women–young and single–worked to support themselves. Older, married women, however, tended to care for their families. A few outliers owned their own businesses, worked in stores, or had large amounts of property.