Our neighborhoods are full of people who throughout our history have made remarkable contributions in philanthropy, business, culture, and helping immigrants. One figure who did all of the above, with a legacy still quite apparent today, but whose name is little known, is Dr. Robert Hogan. Hogan (b. August 23, 1800, according to the only source we found with this information) was a major figure in the city’s Irish community in the mid-19th century. President of the fraternal and benevolent society The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick (founded 1784) from 1839 to 1842, while in this position, Hogan participated in developing the Irish Emigrant Society, which developed and provided an abundance of resources to Irish immigrants. The organization not only transformed the experience of immigration from Ireland, but also played an integral role in strengthening the size and influence of the city’s Irish community. Hogan also helped organize the city’s early St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He and his family lived at 175 MacDougal Street, which still stands today, and owned the two buildings to the north stretching to Eighth Street.
Robert Hogan attended Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He married Eliza Helen, and the couple had three daughters: Clara, Sarah, and Ellen Louise. Once in New York City, Dr. Hogan built 175 MacDougal Street, which was completed in 1837. Two years later, however, he was living with his family at 3 St. Clement’s Place, which became 179 MacDougal Street (demolished) when the street name changed around 1860. He also owned 5 St. Clement’s Place, later known as 181 MacDougal Street (also demolished). Hogan was deeply involved in a number of the city’s institutions and activities. As part of his work with The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Dr. Hogan was in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. He also acted as a director for the Excelsior Fire Insurance Co., and was at one point invited to speak at the commencement of St. John’s College.
In the late 1830s, the number of Irish immigrants arriving in New York City increased substantially. In response, The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick organized a committee to look into the development of an aid society devoted specifically to the protection of those who had recently emigrated. Dr. Hogan was placed in charge of compiling a leadership team for the new society, and selected the most elite members of the city’s Irish community. The Irish Emigrant Society was founded on March 22, 1841, and went on to establish offices on Wall Street, Nassau Street, Maiden Lane, Merchants’ Exchange, and Fulton Street — close to the city’s commercial center. Dr. Hogan served as the first vice president of the Society, and for a time acted as its president.
According to the Society’s 1845 annual ball ticket, the organization’s mission was multifaceted, systematically addressing the most pressing challenges faced by recent immigrants from Ireland:
To assist the friendless Emigrants with advice and information; to find immediate employment for those who need it; to protect them from the cruel and daring frauds so frequently practised upon them; these are the objects the Society has in view, and for which it seeks your support. To have effected these objects, even to a moderate extent, is no small subject of congratulation. Each succeeding year, as the Society becomes better known, its field of usefulness is enlarged, and the records of the five years it has been in existence make evident the still increasing benefits conferred upon the Emigrant.
In addition to the annual ball, the new organization relied on annual subscriptions costing five dollars, as well as members’ donations. It was also sponsored by an employment exchange, which likely served as a valuable resource for recent immigrants searching for work. The Society, remarkably, would station representatives at the Battery to meet people immediately upon their arrival to New York. It would also provide assistance to those who were stopped by the Immigration Authority for not having proof of sufficient means of support. According to a calculation reported in the Society’s 1899-1900 Annual Report, most of those who registered with the Society ended up staying in New York.
In 1850, following the waves of Irish immigration instigated by the Irish Famine, the Society chartered the Emigrant Savings Bank. The Bank gave immigrants a safe place to keep their money and assisted individuals with sending funds back to their relatives in Ireland. Throughout its history, the Emigrant Savings Bank shared officers with the Emigrant Society, and the two organizations maintained close connections. The Emigrant Savings Bank, still operating, is the oldest savings bank in New York City and once the largest savings bank in America; today it is the largest privately held, family-owned and run bank in the country.
Through this and many other endeavors, Greenwich Villager Dr. Robert Hogan and the Irish Emigrant Society provided innumerable opportunities for immigrants and deepened the roots of New York City’s Irish community. The Society’s incredibly successful model was replicated in other cities across the country, including Philadelphia and New Orleans.
For more information on the extensive Immigrant History of Greenwich Village, check out the “Immigration Landmarks” tour on our interactive map: Greenwich Village Historic District: Then & Now Photos and Tours. The map also includes a “Daytonian in Manhattan” tour: a tour of sites in the Greenwich Village Historic District from the blog “Daytonian in Manhattan” by author and historian Tom Miller. The Daytonian blog provides thoroughly-researched and in-depth accounts of the histories of buildings and monuments throughout Manhattan.