When the Nebraska State Board of Health released statistics in December 1912 on various aspects of life in this state, it probably didn't expect to provoke any controversy. However, the Omaha Daily News on December 25, under the headline "No Irish Babies Born in Nebraska," took the board to task for its failure to include the Irish in its list of ethnic groups and their birth rates in Nebraska.
The board's statistics indicated that there were 26,697 births reported during the year 1912, with 10,402 deaths, showing that Nebraska gained population. Of these 13,783 were male and 12,914 female. "Americans" had the most births, 21,869, with considerably lesser numbers reported for other nationalities, including Germans, Scandinavians, Bohemians, and the British.
Entirely missing was a separate category for the Irish, who could hardly have been more unhappy over the report had it appeared on St. Patrick's Day. "According to Omaha Irishmen," said the Daily News, "this is a grave and slanderous error and they will have the records corrected or at least see hereafter that the Irish are classed separately. That in proportion to their numbers as many or more babies were born of Irish parents as any other nationality, is asserted by leading Omaha sons of Erin who resent bitterly the insinuation that race suicide is an Irish trait in Nebraska.
"The matter will be taken up at once with the state health department and an offer made to secure a correct record of the number of Irish babies born in the last year. State Senator John E. Reagan, D. J. O'Brien, T. J. Flynn, Jerry Howard, P. C. Heafey, and other Irishmen in Omaha will make a serious effort to have the Irish given hereafter the same preeminence in Nebraska as any other nationality.
"'What do they think we are, South Sea Islanders or cannibals,' demanded John E. Reagan today. 'I suppose they have included us among the British or the Indians or some other class. I am going to investigate and have it corrected.'
"'It is a base slander on our race and I will not stand for it. The Irish have just as many babies as anyone else and more. I repeat, I will not stand for it. It is an insult,' said Jerry Howard."
Howard, a native of Limerick, Ireland, served in the Nebraska House of Representatives, 1909-11, 1915-21, and 1929-30. In 1921 he returned to Ireland where a revolution was in progress and was twice arrested by the British for alleged incendiary speeches before returning to the United States. He died in Omaha in 1930, remembered as an Irish patriot and "friend of the working man and working girl."
St. Patrick's Day souvenir on a postcard. NSHS 10146-169-(3)