While exploring the inhabitants of West 9th St, New York, NY, circa 1900, Rachel, Jennifer, observed the proverbial “melting pot.” It seems to have been a neighborhood formed predominantly of immigrants or first-generation Americans. While this is not a huge surprise in for this part of the city, the wide variety of countries of origin was fascinating. Of course, the obligatory Irish were in evidence, but so too were Germans, English, Swedes, Austrians, French, Chinese, Italians, and even Japanese. While the Irish are primarily listed as domestic servants, as are the Swedes, the majority of the other inhabitants of the street seem to be merchants, professionals or other skilled workers, like clerks. (There was even a French and Swiss married couple who were opera singers!)
Interestingly, in spite of this considerable diversity as far as ethnicity, it does seem to have been fairly monotone as far as skin color—there is only a handful of “black” inhabitants recorded in the census for this year. Of the few there are, only a fraction are native New Yorkers—most of them are from the American South—Virginia, North Carolina. These people are primarily domestic servants, presumably part of the great Northern Migration that many African Americans participated in in the decades after the Civil War, searching for work in the growing northern cities of the United States.
Another interesting facet of the neighborhood is the large number of boarders and lodgers. Although there are more traditional households in the neighborhood as well (consisting of a husband, wife, children and servants), there are also a large number of households headed by older widow-women, living with their (frequently adult) children and boarders. In the census, these landladies are called by a number of names, most notably “capitalist.” Many of these boarders are women, who are listed on the census as providing for themselves by way of a number of professions. Schoolteachers and secretaries are common, as are dressmakers, hat makers, and salesmen and women. We found the presence of a large number of working, single women fascinating, an example of the changes that American life was undergoing at the time, particularly in large cities like New York. The fact that women could come to the city on their own and work, without their reputations suffering overly much, was a very new and exciting cultural change.
Overall, 9th street seems to have been primarily residential, home to large apartment buildings and lodging houses, rather than large mansions of the very wealthy. At the same time, the private households show a large number of servants, which would seem to argue that these families were significantly well-off, at least wealthy enough to have a butler, multiple maids, laundresses, and cooks. The large number of working women who lived in the lodgings on this block were a fairly respectable lot, judging by their professions, and the community seems to have been a blend of a number of different cultures and ethnicity, including Americans from other parts of the country. The melting pot that we learned about in grade school seems to prove true, judging by the mix of different classes and ethnicities living on one diverse street.