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Photo of Rogarshevsky family kitchen, restored to its 1918 appearance
The Rogarshevsky family kitchen, restored to its 1918 appearance

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Immigrant Life in New York
A Local Legacy

Almost all of us have relatives who came from someplace other than the United States. People who came to America to live are called immigrants.

From the 1850s through the early 1900s, thousands of immigrants arrived in the United States and lived in New York City. They first came from Ireland and Germany and later from Italy, Eastern Europe, and China, among other places. Because most immigrants were poor when they arrived, they often lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where rents for the crowded apartment buildings, called tenements, were low.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is in a building that used to be a tenement and it tells the story of immigrants in the City. It was built in the 1860s and could house 20 families, four on each floor. Each apartment had only three rooms: a living or "front" room, a kitchen, and a tiny bedroom. Often seven or more people lived in each apartment. Not only was the tenement crowded, but also, until 1905, there were no bathrooms inside the building. Residents also did not have electric power until after 1918.

The Museum has re-created the apartments to look like they did when families lived there. This photograph shows what the Rogarshevksy family's kitchen looked like in 1918. Abraham and Fannie Rogarshevsky arrived with their four children from Russia in 1901. Later, they had two more children in the United States. While they lived in this tenement, a boarder (someone who pays for food and lodging in another person's home) lived with the family. That would have made nine people living in a three-room apartment!

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