NEWBURYPORT — It’s been a bit of a mystery here in the Clipper City: Why did President Obama single out Newburyport in a speech last week about Irish immigration and the American Dream?
After an inquiry from The Daily News, the White House has revealed its source.
Obama on Friday delivered a St. Patrick’s Day speech in Washington, D.C., to a large crowd that included Vice President Joseph Biden, Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Ireland, legislative officials and other national leaders. The only city mentioned in the speech was Newburyport. Obama highlighted the success the Irish of Newburyport had in achieving the middle class in the early 1900s.
According to a spokesman for the White House, the reference to Newburyport was derived from the book “The Irish Americans: A History” by Jay P. Dolan, published in 2008. Dolan, a professor at Notre Dame University, is a noted scholar of American immigration history.
But the story doesn’t quite end there. Dolan’s references to Newburyport came from a 1945 study conducted by W. Lloyd Warner, a noted Harvard professor who spent 5 years, from 1930 to 1935, studying Newburyport’s socioeconomics with a team of 30 researchers — a project that was unheard of in its day and has few, if any, parallels since.
While Newburyport may seem like a tiny speck to pick out from the nation’s immigrant trends, its importance in scholarly circles far exceeds its small size. According to local historian William Harris, Newburyport has been studied extraordinarily closely by scholars — perhaps the most comprehensively studied city in the nation.
There are a few reasons, Harris said. One is its size — it is a relatively small city, and its population has increased little since it became a city in 1851. It also had many characteristics of a typical early 20th-century immigrant city, such as ethnic neighborhoods and industries that depend on immigrant labor. Anthropologists were also fascinated by the city’s mix of well-established Yankee families and immigrants.