Gorham’s Corner was the center of a predominantly Irish working class community. The neighborhood originated when the Irish became the first large non-English group in Portland. Over 500 Irish immigrants came during Black ‘47, the year of the famine in Ireland. The Irish comprised two-thirds of the 3,900 immigrants to the city by 1860. The trip to America was dangerous: 40 steerage passengers, almost all Irish, the majority of whom were women and children, drowned when the Bohemian sank off Cape Elizabeth. Many of the neighborhood women packed fish in the sardine canneries on Commercial Street (site G05). When the boats came in, the captain would sound a whistle, and the women and children would hasten to the factory. At the turn of the century, women worked at the E.D. Pettengill Co. on York Street (corner of Maple), processing and canning pickles, catsup, preserves, and jellies. Sarah Standish Pettengill was president of the company from 1885 to 1905.
Barbara Joyce (1924-1990) was a representative second-generation Irish-American. She worked in many different jobs all her life. During the Depression, at age 11, she washed floors and shucked clams. She married at 15 and eventually had 11 children. As a single parent, she worked as a waitress, continuing after her second marriage. She later became a community activist. Among her support systems were the Fraternity House (site G01) and St. Elizabeth’s (site S22).