This website contains interviews conducted between 1991 and 1994 as part of the Lower East Side Oral History Project. The interviews document life and work in the Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood of Manhattan, New York throughout the 20th century. The narrators lived and worked in the LES between the 1910s and 1990s and are mainly Jewish first-generation Americans of Eastern European descent. Other narrators include immigrants and children of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Italy; African-American migrants and children of migrants from the southern United States; and a child of migrants from Puerto Rico.
The interviews include descriptions of apartments in tenements and public housing and neighborhoods in the LES, discussions of single and dual parent households and divorce in the early 20th century, and relations between Jewish residents of the LES with other ethnic and religious groups in the neighborhood. Narrators discuss social and leisure activities in the LES, including the Yiddish theatre, and the importance of the settlement houses to residents of the LES. Narrators describe paid and unpaid work inside and outside of the home, immigration and migration experiences, labor union activity, and political activism. Many of the interviews contain discussions surrounding Jewish identity in terms of religious and cultural traditions, in particular narrators comparing their experiences as first-generation Americans with their parents’ experiences as immigrants.
The interviews conducted in 1991 focus on the Henry Street Settlement in the LES. The narrators were staff, board members, teachers and former students of the Music School, participants in the Home Planning Workshop, and members of the Henry Street Oldtimers. These interviews cover a wide range of topics relating to the Settlement and the LES, with the majority focusing on the narrators’ memories of staff, programs, activities, and events at the Settlement between the 1910s and the 1940s and the importance of the Settlement to the residents of the LES. Many of the narrators discuss their memories of Helen Hall, the director of the Settlement between 1933 and 1967. The narrators include early residents of the Vladeck Houses in the LES who compare the apartments as they were in 1940 and at the time of the interview.
The interviews conducted in 1993 focus on life in the tenements in the LES between the 1910s and the 1930s. The interviews include vivid descriptions of the layouts of the apartments and living arrangements within them. Narrators describe the neighborhoods and stores in the LES and discuss education and social activities in the LES.