Events & exhibitions

Stepping Stones for New Americans

  • Monday, April 15, 2013 through
    Thursday, September 13, 2018
  • Schlesinger Library
    3 James Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138
Pages from a brochure
From a Denison House brochure. Denison House, founded by the College Settlement Association, opened on Tyler Street in what is now Boston's Chinatown in 1892. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

This exhibition features material from collections in the Schlesinger Library of four Boston-area organizations founded to support immigrant groups. The documents and memorabilia of Denison House, the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society, the North Bennet Street School, and the Window Shop showcase the diversity of the immigrant experience in Boston and the changing socio-political context in which the groups operated.

Denison House

Denison House, founded by the College Settlement Association, opened on Tyler Street in what is now Boston's Chinatown in 1892. The settlement house offered camps, clubs, sports for girls and boys, classes, a library, a clinic, union organization, and other services for the neighborhood's mixed nationalities—Irish, Italian, Greek, Syrian, and Chinese.

During World War I, Denison House helped immigrant women support themselves and their families by selling lace and embroidery, both at Denison House and the Boston Society of Decorative Art. From 1926 to 1928, Amelia Earhart, who was teaching in Boston, worked and lived at Denison House as a social worker. (She dropped leaflets from her airplane, the "Yellow Peril," over the city of Boston to advertise events for Denison House.) In 1942 Denison House moved to the Dorchester-Roxbury area and in 1965 merged with three other settlements to form the Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, which are still in operation today as "College Bound Dorchester."

Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society

The Society for Relief of Syria and Lebanon (also known as the Syrian Mt. Lebanon Ladies Relief Society) was founded in 1917 by a group of 27 women, including many immigrants from the Mt. Lebanon area in present-day Lebanon, with the goal of raising funds and sending relief supplies to the war-afflicted people in the regions of Syria and Lebanon. 

Following the Armistice, the members turned their attention to the needs of the Syrian and Lebanese in Boston and throughout Massachusetts. Officially incorporated as the Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society of Boston in 1920, the Society distributed coal, food, and cash stipends to needy families; accompanied new immigrants to doctor appointments and court appearances; and made arrangements for the care of the elderly and the sick.

In 1929 the Society purchased a townhouse at 44 West Newton Street in Boston to use as a meeting house and central gathering place for the Arabic community. In 1962 the Society changed its name to the Lebanese Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society, and in 1964 the Society sold its meeting house and relocated to West Roxbury, Massschusetts. Surviving mostly in name today, the Society continues to provide aid to the community and strives to keep the Arabic culture alive in America.

North Bennet Street School

Incorporated in 1885, the North Bennet Street School (originally known as North Bennet Street Industrial School) was founded in Boston's North End by Pauline Agassiz Shaw, who was committed to providing employable skills for the predominantly Italian immigrants of the area. Over the years, vocational training classes were offered in pottery, printing, sewing, sheet metal work, watch repair, and cabinet making. Also, through social services such as kindergarten classes and recreational activities, the school helped generations of Boston's immigrants to adjust to their new country, as well as to make a home for themselves. After more than one hundred years, the North Bennet Street School is still training individuals for employment.

Window Shop

The Window Shop opened on May 2, 1939, and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1941. 

Its goal was to provide employment for refugees fleeing Europe and to provide a place for them to meet and interact with Americans. Their name was inspired by the large window in their original location at 37 Church Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They soon moved to 102 Mount Auburn Street and settled in their final location at 56 Brattle Street in 1947. The Window Shop was divided into two sections: the Gift Shop and the Food Shop. The Gift Shop sold imported goods such as clothing, china, and gifts, as well as items made by refugees. The Food Shop served meals and sold Viennese cakes, cookies, and breads. The Window Shop also granted scholarships and provided emergency assistance to employees and their families. The gift shop and restaurant closed in 1972, and the Window Shop dissolved in 1979.

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