© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The complicated, charitable life of Bryan Mullanphy, St. Louis’ 10th mayor

A black and white portrait of Bryan Mullanphy, St. Louis' 10th mayor. Mullanphy is wearing a formal black jacket, staring intently to the right.
Missouri Historical Society
Bryan Mullanphy became the 10th mayor of St. Louis in 1847.

St. Louis streets transformed this weekend into a sea of green as thousands of revelers celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. The city’s Irish community has a long history, which includes St. Louis’ 10th mayor, Bryan Mullanphy, who served a one-year term from 1847 to 1848.

Mullanphy, whose name persists on streets and public buildings, was not a typical politician of his day. The son of the city’s first millionaire, his behavior sparked both scandal and praise. He left behind a complicated record of eccentricity, independence and charity.

“He didn't really worry about what people thought of him,” said Jackie Dana, author of the Unseen St. Louis newsletter on Substack. On St. Patrick’s Day, she published a deep dive into Mullanphy’s life and legacy. Dana said she came away from her research with new appreciation for a figure whose personal life — records indicate he struggled with mental health issues, and he was a lifelong bachelor — remains largely a mystery.

Mullanphy’s term as mayor came at a time when St. Louis had recently absorbed thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing famine. Many settled in an impoverished neighborhood in the city’s north known as the Kerry Patch.

“He had a really rough life. But he saw these immigrants and the struggles that they went through,” Dana said. “I think that it must have been very difficult to be somebody who cared so much about the poor, and realized there was only so much he could do.”

Mullanphy died of cholera at 42 in 1851, three years after leaving office. He left one-third of his fortune to the City of St. Louis, valued between $200,000 and $250,000, which funded the creation of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home and other services to help European immigrants arriving in St. Louis.

Mullanphy’s legacy has faded, but he shouldn’t be forgotten, urged Dana.

“I think we can look back at somebody like him as somebody who … wanted to help people and do something that was kind, that was right, and didn't hold it against people who were poor and were just looking for a better life.”

Related event
What: Unseen STL History: A journey through St. Louis' Irish Heritage
When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 21
Where: Spine Bookstore & Café (1982 Arsenal St., St. Louis, MO)

To learn more about Bryan Mullanphy, including his time as a judge and attempts to protect abolitionist Elija Lovejoy, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

Jackie Dana on 'St. Louis on the Air'

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

Stay Connected
Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."