Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1906, When Isaac and Henrietta Wed

In my continuing series of time-travel posts, today I'm looking at the year in which my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk, married my maternal grandma, Henrietta Mahler. Their wedding date was June 10, 1906, so their anniversary is just a few days from now.

These photos show them in the mid-1930s, when their four children were grown and gone.

What was life like for them in 1906, when they were married in Henrietta's apartment in New York City? Despite their hopes and dreams, all around them were larger forces causing major challenges for immigrants from Eastern Europe:
  • War and peace and pogroms. Teddy Roosevelt was President, and this was the year he won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese war. But pogroms continued in parts of Eastern Europe controlled by Russia. Isaac and Henrietta's friends and family there would have been affected by these terrible events (which would also have reinforced their decision to make a life in North America).
  • Money troubles. New York was a city of super-rich socialites and struggling immigrants like my grandparents. The financial panic of 1907 was just around the corner, which may have been one reason why Isaac was "commuting" back and forth between Montreal and New York in search of work. One of Isaac and Henrietta's four children was born in Montreal (my uncle Sidney Burk). Cousin Lois told me that her grandma Ida and my grandma Henrietta would help each other out with money during the Depression years in New York, which suggests money was an ongoing problem for my grandparents.
  • Fear of immigrant labor. Waves of immigration swept over the city and country, and with it, increasing fear that immigrants were stealing jobs from Americans (sound familiar?). Perhaps Isaac felt the effects of this fear when he tried to find work in NYC. Immigration laws were changing . . . and the naturalization rules were tightened in 1906 to require English language knowledge. What was it like to arrive in New York after a week or more at sea? Two years ago, Dick Eastman posted a link to footage of Ellis Island immigrants in 1906, and the three-minute snippet is quite poignant.
  • Earthquakes and exposes. San Francisco was devastated by the huge earthquake and fire in April, 1906, news that would have made it to New York before the wedding. Later that same summer, Chile suffered a massive earthquake and fire that killed 20,000. Other news headlines related to exposes such as The Jungle, which prompted new federal regulations that made my grandparents' daily lives safer, such as the Pure Food and Drug Act. When they could afford to buy a newspaper, most likely Isaac and Henrietta read the Jewish Daily Forward published in Yiddish.

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