Museum Shop Manager Katherine Broadway guest-blogs about some of her favorite Shop books.
I am often asked to suggest a book about immigrant women in New York City. There are many to choose from, but the book I point to most often is Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925. Elizabeth Ewen focuses on the women who came to the United States as part of the largest wave of immigration, from Eastern Europe and later from Italy. Ewen uses personal stories of Jewish and Italian women and their families to make the larger history of immigration more immediate and accessible.
Immigrant women were responsible for taking care of the house, finding and cooking food, educating children and helping to assimilate the family into the new world. Daughters born in the U.S. were often sent to work to help support the family. Ewen shows the generational difference between mothers born in the old country and their daughters, raised in a new world.
For an earlier picture of women’s experiences in Lower Manhattan I recommend Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Professor Hasia R. Diner has written extensively about the historical immigrant experience to the United States. The Irish were among the earliest immigrants to settle in New York, and Irish women faced discrimination, poor sanitation, and extremely high infant mortality rates.
Above: A photo of an immigrant homemaker from the National Archives - collection of the Woman's Bureau