Asenath Nicholson and the Great Irish FamineeBook - 2015
The first biography of Asenath Nicholson, Compassionate Stranger recovers the largely forgotten history of an extraordinary woman. Trained as a school teacher, Nicholson was involved in the abolitionist, temperance, and diet reforms of the day before she left New York in 1844 "to personally investigate the condition of the Irish poor." She walked alone throughout nearly every county in Ireland and reported on conditions in rural Ireland on the eve of the Great Irish Famine. She published Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger, an account of her travels in 1847. She returned to Ireland in December 1846 to do what she could to relieve famine suffering-first in Dublin and then in the winter of 1847-48 in the west of Ireland where the suffering was greatest. Nicholson's precise, detailed diaries and correspondence reveal haunting insights into the desperation of victims of the Famine and the negligence and greed of those who added to the suffering. Her account of the Great Irish Famine, Annals of the Famine in Ireland in 1847, 1848 and 1849, is both a record of her work and an indictment of official policies toward the poor: land, employment, famine relief. In addition to telling Nicholson's story, from her early life in Vermont and upstate New York to her better-known work in Ireland, Murphy puts Nicholson's own writings and other historical documents in conversation. This not only contextualizes Nicholson's life and work, but it also supplements the impersonal official records with Nicholson's more compassionate and impassioned accounts of the Irish poor.