Rogarshevsky kitchen, restored to its 1918 appearance. Photo: Carol Highsmith, 1998
Immigrant Life in New York
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
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
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.
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.