Sweatshop Tenement Tour


I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Tenement Museum in Manhattan’s lower east side.  This is an absolute jewel of a museum!!  The mission of the Tenement Museum is to preserve and interpret the history of immigration through the “lens” of generations that have lived in this neighborhood, and particularly this tenement building.


For an hour we were completely immersed in the turn of the century lives and struggles of garment working immigrants.  We were in the spaces where they lived and worked and died.  We learned about the intersection of commerce, religious barriers and compromises and striving for the American dream.


The stewards of this museum have done a fabulous job of providing a vehicle to teach living social history. 7000 people lived in this tenement at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935.  The building was shuttered up in the 30’s because mandated renovations could not be afforded.  50 years later the building represented a time capsule because of it undisturbed contents.  The curators claimed it was like everyone just up and left.  Today, we learn the stories of the lives and struggles of some of these residents.


In light of recent tragedies for garment workers in Bangladesh and India it is good to remember our own experiences with sweatshop workers.  Next time you are in Manhattan, take a trip down to the lower east side and visit the Tenement Museum.