Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars by Elizabeth Ewen.
This nonfiction book gave me valuable background for understanding the lives of immigrant women like Minnie Farkas and Henrietta Mahler who came to New York City between 1890 to 1925. Although the book focuses on Jewish and Italian households, some of the observations apply to immigrant households in general.
One insight, from the "Our Daily Bread" chapter, explained why my great-grandma (Lena Kunstler Farkas) insisted that her children (including my grandma Minnie) hand over their pay packets in their entirety. Immigrant families simply couldn't be supported by the wages of the father alone--if he found steady work--and as soon as children were able, they went to work to help pay for food and rent and clothing.
The book observes that mothers had to exert control over the children's pay early (before the children learned to spend) or they wouldn't have enough money to keep the family going. Some immigrant families also needed money to pay for bringing other family members from the home country to America. So teenagers and even children in their 20s gave the pay packet to Mom, who then doled out car fare and maybe a bit for snacks or lunch and kept the rest for the household's expenses. This was the pattern in my Farkas family, for sure.
Another tidbit I learned is why my elderly Schwartz cousin made a point of mentioning
that the clothes worn by my female ancestors in Hungary were good quality.
Newcomers from Europe came to realize that in New York (and probably
throughout America), "greenhorn" ladies needed to wear stylish clothing --
even if inexpensive -- if they wanted to be accepted into the
mainstream, as the author points out in her chapter titled "First
Quality was very important in the Old Country as a mark of financial achievement, and that's why my cousin emphasized that point. However, being seen in the latest styles was much more important for ladies in the New World. Luckily, my Farkas grandma and great aunts were super with a sewing machine and could whip up fashionable dresses for their daughters.
My immigrant grandfathers both boarded with immigrant families in NYC tenements before marrying. This book says (in the "House and Home" chapter) that boarding with immigrants who were originally from the same area was extremely common, especially among men who arrived alone and needed someone to cook for them, etc. The book also points out that a boarder often got the best bed and/or the only bedroom.
Grandpa Isaac Burk boarded with his future in-laws, the Mahler family, for a short time after arriving in NYC. Unfortunately, I'll never know whether Grandpa Isaac knew Grandma Henrietta before he was a boarder in her family's apartment, or whether love blossomed once he was part of the household.
PS: Today is the 125th anniversary of the wedding of my great uncle Joseph Jacobs to Eva Michalovsky. They married in Manhattan on this date in 1890, a Sunday.
- Wm Tyler Bentley's story
- Abraham & Annie Berk's Story
- Isaac & Henrietta Birk's story
- Mary A. Demarest's story
- Farkas & Kunstler Families
- Rachel & Jonah Jacobs' story
- Robert & Mary Larimer's story
- Meyer & Tillie Mahler's story
- Halbert McClure from Donegal
- Wood family of Ohio
- McKibbin & Larimer
- Schwartz family, Ungvar
- John & Mary Slatter's story
- Steiner & Rinehart story
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