Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - How Immigrants Handled Finances

When it comes to depositing money and taking out loans, many recent immigrants in New York avoid big banks in favor of local credit unions like the Affordable Loans for Immigrants Campaign and the Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, which support small businesses and allow undocumented workers to open accounts. (Many don't require social security numbers, using other methods to validate customers' identities.) Curatorial Director Dave discusses how immigrants dealt with finances back when 97 Orchard was still occupied.

Was it common for 19th Century Irish immigrants in New York to deposit their money in banks?

In 1873, former 97 Orchard Street resident and Irish immigrant Joseph Moore opened an account with the Emigrant Savings Bank. Given their relatively impoverished condition upon arrival, Irish immigrants appear to have had a surprising propensity to deposit their savings in banks.

The historian of Irish America Joseph J. Lee has written that, “The extraordinary savings surge on which so many immigrants embarked almost immediately upon arrival in New York City – depositing savings, however humble the amounts, on a regular basis for years—and which was presumably replicated wherever comparable institutions where available, may have reflected something of a search for security among people who had seen the price of insecurity paid through eviction and death. In fact, they quite possibly over saved, stinting themselves in order to help bring other family members out through remittances and to build up some protections against what they saw as a callous and unpredictable world.”

Source: J.J. Lee, “Introduction: Interpreting Irish America” in J.J. Lee and Marion Casey, eds., Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States (New York University Press, 2006).

Built in 1908, the Emigrant Savings Bank on Chambers Street served New York's Irish population. Click here for more photos.

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