Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Residential History of 103 Orchard Street

If you have followed along over the past week, you know that 103 Orchard Street, future Tenement Museum visitor center, was once three separate tenements, remodeled in 1916 into a single corner building. Here is a brief history of the some of the people who lived in those three buildings around the turn of the century.

The construction of 103, 105, and 107 Orchard coincided with the arrival of large numbers of Eastern-European immigrants to the Lower East Side. Most of the fifty-four families who inhabited these buildings from 1888 - 1900 hailed from the Jewish shtetls of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. The majority of them found work in New York’s burgeoning garment industry.

Taken two years after the tenements were erected, the 1890 Police Census represents the first comprehensive official record of their residents. The census documents occupancy by 247 individuals in fifty-four households ranging in size from three to nine people.

While union victories among garment industry workers were few during the 1890s, in 1894, the New York Times described a strike at Meyer Jonasson & Co.’s cloak-making factory on Grand Street. Meyer Jonasson & Co. was a very large garment producer, and during the 1890s the Times reports three separate strikes at their factories.

In the 1894 strike, about 500 workers gathered outside the factory, trying to block non-union replacement employees from going to work. The article states that the women in the crowd were “the worst fighters, and seriously attacked the police, scratching and kicking.” The police arrested one of these women, Mary Schumann of 107 Orchard Street, for slapping an officer in the face and throwing her baby at him when an arrest was attempted.

Already underway by 1890, the neighborhood’s population shift –- from German-speaking to Yiddish-speaking immigrants –- accelerated. A survey completed in 1901 by the United States Industrial Commission describes the changes in population on the Lower East Side:

The Hebrew population in the city, already dense in 1890, . . . has increased tremendously since then. . . . On the East Side they have extended their limits remarkably within the past 10 years[,] . . . driving the Germans before them, until it may be said that all of the East Side below Fourteenth street is a Jewish district. . . .The Germans did not like the proximity of the Jews, and so they left. (1)

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, a total of 269 individuals in 54 households called the tenements at 103, 105, and 107 Orchard Street home in that year. Slightly more than half of the heads of household were employed in the garment industry as tailors, cutters, cloak makers, and pants makers.

The large number of the remainder of heads-of-household were employed in similarly low-wage industries as peddlers and cigar makers. The buildings were also home to a musician, an auto maker, a plumber, two butchers, and a baker. Interestingly, a 103 Orchard Street resident was employed as a Rabbi, while his sons and daughters, ages ranging from 23 to 16, found work as cigar makers.

Through the first decade of the twentieth century, the demographic make-up of the all three tenements remained virtually unchanged. During the decade that witnessed the largest influx of immigrants in national history, the majority of their residents were eastern European garment workers.

(1) Reports of the Industrial Commission on Immigration and on Education (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901), 465, 469; quoted in Ford, Slums and Housing,183.

- Posted by Dave Favaloro, Research Manager

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