- Discussion:Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs
Erratum: In Richard Jensen’s discussion beginning on page 853, the word “Discussion” was misspelled due to a manual typographical error.
The publisher regrets this error.
No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs
When I did the research 15 years ago, textual databases were in their infancy. Today far more newspapers are on line and the search engines are much more powerful and more efficient. Rebecca Fried therefore has turned up more examples than I found. But Fried claims far too much. She says, “There were many such advertisements and signs.” As far as the cardboard help-wanted signs in the window are concerned, her one bit of evidence comes from an 1899 recollection of an 1872 episode in which an Irish mob attacked a store that NINA’d; the mob wrecked the delivery wagons and ruined the business. For the sake of argument, let’s say the recollection was factual. Therefore for window signs we have N=1 based on millions of pages of newspaper evidence.
As far as newspaper advertisements are concerned, Fried opens up inquiry by asking about apartments-for-rent ads. Newspapers regularly ran such ads but I have never seen an ad with a NINA restriction, nor has she. The closest is an editorial in the Alpine Texas newspaper of June 22, 1900, where the editor says that Frank has some apartments to let, NINA.
The main theme of Rebecca Fried’s paper deals with newspaper help-wanted ads for adult men carrying the NINA restriction. Her appendix lists 69 citations from 22 cities, from 1842 to 1932. Over a third of her 69 citations are faulty—there’s no actual job being advertised. But let’s not quibble: let’s say that there were 69 newspaper stories from 22 cities over a 90 year period. Is that a lot or a little? Fried claims this shows “widespread NINA advertising.” I will suggest that that may be a lot for a historian to digest, but there was very little for an actual Irishman to see.
The Library of Congress in “Chronicling America” has a large collection of online newspapers, and offers an excellent search engine at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. It allowed me to search 9,458,697 pages of newspapers from every state from 1836 to 1922. The term “no Irish need apply” appeared on 230 pages. That is one NINA per 41,125 pages. Most of the instances were not help-wanted ads. But let’s say that each one of them represented a visible signal that NINA was a fact of life for an Irishman. Let’s imagine Mike who every Monday reads his daily newspaper from start to finish, reading every word, including all the news, editorials, features, letters, display ads and want ads. Mike starts at age 15, and follows the Monday routine religiously. Let’s give Mike a rather long life expectancy of 65 years, or an additional 50 years. So in his lifetime he reads 52×50 = 2600 issues. At 8 pages per issue, he reads 20,800 pages. The probability that he ever encounters a NINA is 20,800/41,125 = 50.6%. In other words it’s 50–50 that despite all that effort Mike never sees [End Page 853] a single NINA reference in his newspaper during his entire lifetime. On the other hand if he goes to the saloon across the street, every so often he will be hearing about NINA and perhaps hear the famous song and he can sing along. From the viewpoint of the Irishman, a visual NINA is an extremely rare event, but an aural NINA is a common occurrence.
Professor Jensen’s numerical exercise is flawed for at least two reasons. First, it errs by pairing a hypothetical single individual with an aggregate of nationwide newspaper pages, including those from the many States where NINA was never prevalent. If Mike had, for example, simply read the Sun newspaper every day, he would have read at least fifteen...