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Rogarshevsky kitchen , restored to its 1918 appearance
Rogarshevsky kitchen, restored to its 1918 appearance. Photo: Carol Highsmith, 1998

Immigrant Life in New York

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City preserves and interprets America's urban, immigrant, and working class experiences between 1863 and 1935, when the Lower East Side was home to 7,000 people from more than 20 nations. The museum is located in a former tenement house at 97 Orchard Street. In 1900, nearly two-thirds of the city's population lived in the Lower East Side area.

The museum presents a genuine history of the masses, whose stories are at once personal and universal. The museum illustrates how ethnic and religious identities did not interfere with assimilation. Often immigrants' Old World ties and traditions were essential to survive in a sometimes difficult or hostile New World. Museum founder and president Ruth J. Abrams views the historic tenement as an ideal place from which to initiate discussions of issues key to the United State's democracy and nationality.

In 1985, Abrams and curator Anita Jacobson were searching the Lower East Side for a suitable tenement to house a museum. They wanted a building old enough to tell the story of German, Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and Chinese immigrants, and formerly enslaved African-Americans. In 1986, while looking for office space, they found 97 Orchard Street, built in 1863, in which 18 apartments had been vacant since 1935.

In March 1988, the museum moved into one of the storefronts, and began fund raising to purchase the building for $750,000 million. The museum staff also began to research the lives of the building's former residents, owners, and shopkeepers. That same year, a federal law made the Tenement Museum an affiliate of the National Park Service, linking it with the immigrant landmarks at Ellis Island, Castle Clinton, and the Statue of Liberty. In 1992, the Tenement Museum building was added to the National Register of Historic Places In 1998, the museum, in collaboration with the City College of New York, began the nation's first Urban Museum Studies Program. The museum remains a work in progress.

Through guided tours, programs, and exhibits, the museum interprets the lives of immigrants, including former building residents a German-Jewish dressmaker, Catholic immigrants from Sicily, a Sephardic-Jewish family from Turkey. The museum's collections also feature a rich variety of books, documents and artifacts related to 97 Orchard Street and the Lower East Side.

Documentation includes a 33-page report, slides, and two videos of the dedication ceremony.

Originally submitted by: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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