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An Irish-American Odyssey

The Remarkable Rise of the O'Shaughnessy Brothers

Colum Kenny

Publication Year: 2014

The O’Shaughnessy brothers’ story takes place between 1860 and 1950 in Illinois, Missouri, New York, and Ireland. They were the children of an impoverished immigrant who fled the famine in Ireland and of his Irish-American wife. An Irish-American Odyssey is the tale of this first generation immigrant family’s struggle to assimilate into American society, highlighting their perseverance and determination to seize opportunities and surmount obstacles, all the while establishing a legacy for their own descendants in American art, advertising, journalism, and public service.

TIME magazine called James O’Shaughnessy “the best in the business” of advertising, and he became the first chief executive of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. Earlier, he was a “star” reporter at the Chicago Tribune, and James and Francis were centrally involved in founding and maintaining the Irish Fellowship Club. Francis was also the first graduate of the University of Notre Dame to be invited to deliver its annual commencement address, while Martin was the first captain of Notre Dame’s official basketball team. An attorney, John represented the alleged victim in a notorious “white slavery” case. Thomas (“Gus”) became the leading Gaelic Revival artist in America as well as a promoter of Italian-American heritage, campaigning successfully to have Columbus Day enacted a public holiday.

The remarkable rise of the O’Shaughnessy brothers proves the American dream is attainable.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The story of the O’Shaughnessys in Missouri, Chicago, New York, and Ireland between 1860 and 1950 is a remarkable one. They were the children of an impoverished immigrant who had fled famine and of his Irish-American wife. Their experiences illuminate the gradual assimilation of immigrants and their descendants into American society and particularly into American arts, media, and public life in the O’Shaughnessys’ case....

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pp. xiii-xvi

Various archivists, librarians, and others assisted me in the course of my research, and I am indebted to them all. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Gary Cox of the archive department of the University of Missouri, and Robert Werle of the Christian Brothers of the Midwest archive helped me to piece together early details of the O’Shaughnessy family as it moved a number of times before settling in St. Joseph, Missouri, ...

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One. Missouri Settlers

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pp. 1-23

James Shaughnessy was an orphan when he immigrated to the United States. A boy setting foot on American soil for the first time, he had grown up in one of very many Irish rural communities devastated by a great famine during the 1840s....

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Two. James O’Shaughnessy — Star Reporter

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pp. 24-51

During the 1880s James O’Shaughnessy decided that he would not become a teacher or a lawyer, careers that had attracted him as a youth. Instead, he worked as a newspaperman. Rising levels of literacy among the public, a growing and wealthier population, improvements in print technology, and greater volumes of advertising and mass consumption meant that newspapers were flourishing. His journalism was to include dispatches from...

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Three. Rising Fortunes in Chicago

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pp. 52-64

During the 1890s not only James but also his parents and most of his siblings moved to Chicago, which is five hundred miles from St. Joseph. James and his four brothers each made a mark in the city. Their sisters lived elsewhere, one in California until her premature death, one in Arizona as a nun, and one on a farm in Missouri with her husband, William Cullen....

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Four. Hyphenated Immigrant Loyalties

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pp. 65-73

Many of the Irish in Chicago, as well as their Irish-American children, felt that they had “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and were proud of their contribution to the United States. One such was Irishborn Richard Curran from Limerick, who had worked on a farm in Ireland before immigrating at the age of sixteen to America and there training as a plasterer. By 1912 he had his own construction business, was a member of the...

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Five. The Irish Fellowship Club and Chicago Politics

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pp. 74-88

The Irish Fellowship Club quickly became a pillar of Chicago society and a forum for Irish-Americans and is still active today; it has been visited by presidents and power brokers from both sides of the Atlantic. Among its foundational and early members were James, John, Francis, and Thomas O’Shaughnessy. Both James and Francis served terms as president of the influential organization. The O’Shaughnessy brothers also played an active role in party politics in Chicago....

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Six. Gus and the Gaelic Revival

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pp. 89-115

If it is true that nuns encouraged a young Thomas O’Shaughnessy to make his first stained glass window when he was still in Missouri, as is said, then they started him on a path that would reach an artistic summit with the decoration of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago. It was largely due to the quality of his work there that in 1977 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places....

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Seven. James at the Helm of US Advertising

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pp. 116-151

James O’Shaughnessy came to play a major role in the development of modern US advertising. As a youth in Missouri, he had turned his hand to promoting his father’s footwear business by writing advertisements for it. As managing editor of a newspaper in St. Joseph, Missouri, he subsequently saw at close quarters the relationship between advertising and journalism. The latter depended on the former...

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Eight. Two Midwestern Attorneys

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pp. 152-160

While Thomas made a precarious living as an artist, and James prospered in advertising, their brothers John and Francis worked as lawyers in Chicago. Francis, in particular, was a stalwart of the Irish-American community in that city, but it was John who played a role in a sensational scandal that highlighted the alleged trafficking of young immigrant women into prostitution....

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Nine. Irish Roots

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pp. 161-187

James and Gus O’Shaughnessy and their siblings were the grandchildren of John Shaughnessy and Ann Gallagher, who lived and died in Ireland. James Shaughnessy, who crossed first the Atlantic and then half a continent and settled in Missouri, had been born to John and Ann between 1838 and 1842.1 His family had at some point dispensed with the Gaelic prefix “O” (meaning “of ”) before its name, but by the beginning of the twentieth century he and his children had restored it....

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Ten. An Irish Leader in America

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pp. 188-199

Having met the Irish prime minister in Dublin in 1924, James O’Shaughnessy hoped to be of some service to W. T. Cosgrave when he visited the US in 1928. No doubt it pleased O’Shaughnessy that the Chicago club of which he had been a prime mover was instrumental in securing the first visit to America by a leader of the Irish Free State. Yet Cosgrave was to find himself perhaps too closely associated with some of Chicago’s controversial citizens....

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Eleven. The Best in the Business

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pp. 200-211

In 1928 James O’Shaughnessy decided to quit his job as chief executive of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and to become a consultant. He was then aged sixty-three and had been eleven years at the helm of the AAAA. The reputation that he enjoyed was reflected in the fact that by 1928 he was also lecturing to postgraduate business students at Columbia University in New York City. He had been invited to share with them his...

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Twelve. Missouri to Manhattan

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pp. 212-220

Immigrants deal with their emotions in a variety of ways when they live far from their home country. For James Shaughnessy, like so many others, migration had been a matter of sheer necessity. He fled a terrible famine in Ireland during the 1840s rather than end his days starving by the side of the road or terminally ill in a workhouse infirmary. He had little reason to reflect calmly on his cultural identity or to fret about his feelings as he...

Appendix One: Journalism of James O’Shaughnessy

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pp. 221-226

Appendix Two: A Missouri-Irish Haunting

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pp. 227-232


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pp. 233-260


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pp. 261-280


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pp. 281-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273208
E-ISBN-10: 0826273203
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220240
Print-ISBN-10: 082622024X

Page Count: 309
Illustrations: 50 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014