Monday, March 12, 2012

Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton, PA

First of all, anthracite is hard coal, and eastern Pennsylvania has the largest deposit of this almost pure carbon (92-98%) coal that burns hotter and cleaner than the coal found in western PA and elsewhere. My problem is that I can be easily distracted, as so many things interest me. So I spent time learning about coal mining and the textile industry of PA, instead of interviewing the curators on the Lithuanian archives, so I missed them, as they left on other business while I was wandering around their museum.

The docent reminded me that from age 27 I lived in an apartment with a coal furnace. I now remember the coal truck and the chute as coal poured into our basement coal bin. I vaguely remember dad shoveling coal, but don't remember how often he had to tend to it. The family coal bin story was of mom finding a litter of kittens behind the coal pile.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution here in the States, running steam engines, supporting railroads and providing power inland, away from waterways. According to the film in the museum, at one time there were 180,000 miners. Originally they were from the British Isles, but soon they employed immigrants from all over Europe, including Lithuania. Lithuanians are mentioned throughout the exhibit and there was also a diary from a Lithuanian. A large Lithuanian wayside cross carved by J. Ambrozaitis and a banner from Sacred Heart Lithuanian Church is on display.

I will have to double check with the curators to see if there are updates on the library and archive collection, but it was an interesting comment from my guide that no one has yet written a book about Lithuanians in Pennsylvania. I have a book on Latvians in Michigan, but will have to check for books on Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in the other states. (I just went through a quick WorldCat search for Estonians and only found a book on Estonians in Oregon. There is mention of them in The New Jersey Ethnic Experience and there is some information on Estonians in Canada and Australia, but that is all I found for now.)

The short film they showed in the museum was composed of archival photos, showing the story of immigrants coming in through Ellis Island, and landing in the Wilkes-Barre to Scranton area, life in the mines, how children were put to work at an early age, how women went to work in the textile mills - mostly for silk and lace. 

Working in the mines has always been and still is a dirty and dangerous job, and I am sure the early workers were paid very little and made to work long hours. So it makes sense that unionization would have happened early in the mines - i.e. United Mine Workers. As I drove through Scranton I saw a statue of John Mitchell in front of the courthouse. It turns out he was one of the great unionizers who led the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. I saw a familiar face in the display of owners, workers and unions – Mary “Mother” Jones (1830-1930). I read Mother Jones magazine regularly for quite a few years, so her photo was familiar, but I had forgotten what she had done. She had organized women and men to protest working conditions. I believe I read she thought Mitchell had given up too quickly. (I am not going to look up these facts to see that I got them right – if you are interested, look it up.)
The film brought up another interesting idea – that churches were the ones that kept ethnic communities together, provided a connection with the homeland, a social gathering space, even practical services like savings. Do the Balts not trust American banks? Everyone seems to have their own credit unions. I feel like I am gathering material for more than one book, as this relates to my own observations of the Baltic communities. The churches are one of the strongest organizations in the Latvian community. I recently made the statement that I would join the local Latvian Lutheran church (even though I don’t agree with all of its teachings) if we could have one over-arching Latvian organization in Kalamazoo, that would oversee social, cultural, educational, spiritual, supportive work of the community. I notice the combination of church, social halls and other functions in the Lithuanian centers. I applaud the idea that Washington DC has one women’s auxiliary for all the Latvian functions.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Many years ago I visited the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia, as it was one of two large American archives that contained Latvian materials. I remember my sense was that they didn’t have very much, and that Latvians should send their materials to the Immigration History Research Center in MN. Last spring, when I attended a conference in Philadelphia, I went looking for Balch and when I arrived at the address that was still out on the Internet, Balch was not there though maybe there was a sign that it had moved, but I didn’t have any more time to pursue it. Now, from the Lithuanian archives list I found that Balch had become part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP).

Before visiting the HSP, I looked them up online and found a fairly extensive list of finding aids for Lithuanians and Latvians. When I visited the downtown Philadelphia building, I knew I was going to pay dearly for parking ($18 for 2 hours), so if I was really going to do research, I would again have to go searching for cheaper parking options or park outside and take public transportation into the city. I have not worked in archives to any extent, so I had forgotten all the rules and regulations. First, I had to pay $8 to use the archive for a day, then I registered and signed a consent form that I would abide by the rules – I had to lock my purse and other stuff in a locker, I could only bring in my computer and loose papers, and camera without the case. These were all checked as I left.

There were a few ways to discover what is in the collection. One is the online catalog, which I had already looked at, and could peruse at my leisure back home. Then  they had a system only available at HSP called MANX: Archival Collections of the HSP, which is an Access database that has 25 fields nicely laid out on the screen, so besides the title and description of the archival collection, you can easily find the dates of coverage, the extent of it (in linear feet, boxes, and volumes), if it has a finding aid, etc. This is where I found the most useful information. The reference person (probably not called librarians in an archive) was helpful and gave me three things to look at, a 1992 guide to the Balch Institute collections, a 2008 listing of the Balch microfilms, and a binder with a list of newspapers both processed and unprocessed. This isn’t the place to list what I found, but basically there is very little from Estonians – some newspapers and one archive. The Latvians have more newspapers and periodicals, one on microfilm, partial American Latvian Association materials (1949-96) and most importantly archives from the Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church of St. John (1893-1995.) The Lithuanians have the most with 15 reels of newspapers, more in print, some substantial individual archives, and extensive collections for the Federation of Lithuanian Women's Clubs, Lithuanian Music Hall Association (1873-1992) and the Voice of the Lithuanian Community (radio program, 1908-1992.)

I now have to write the director of the archives to find if they are still interested in accepting materials, and specifically what types of materials. I think they could also use some volunteers from each ethnic community to help process the archives, as some stated “since materials were in X language, we were unable to determine…”