Monday, July 17, 2017

Whipping Post on the Green

There was a demonstration on the Green last week. I didn't see it myself, but photos have been showing up on Facebook. The issue in question is the controversial presence of the potentially centuries-old whipping post on the newly renovated Green. While many people have forgotten its original purpose and saw it as an innocent piece of history, in use as a bulletin board for centuries, others clearly recognized it as more than just a public notice board.

Photo from Jesus Papers' Facebook page, posted July 15, 2017.

The demonstration was performance art, as you can see from the photo, one of several circulating on Facebook right now.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Early Female Physicians

Harriet Judd Sartain (1830-1923) is today remembered primarily for her work in homeopathic medicine in Philadelphia, but she was also the first woman with a medical degree to practice in Waterbury, returning here after finishing her education in 1854. She was one of two Connecticut women to earn medical degrees from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1853; the other was Ellen Boyle of Farmington. They were the first women from Connecticut to attend that college and may very well have been the first two women from Connecticut to earn medical degrees. Sixty years later, Judd Sartain was hailed as "the pioneer woman physician of America."

Forest City (SD) Press, 22 July 1914
Courtesy of Chronicling America

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Community Cleanup at Scovill Homes

There are people who sit around complaining about problems, and then there are people who dive right in and solve the problems. Today was a good day for the problem-solvers in the Scovill Row Homes.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

ACT For America Protest in Waterbury

A group called ACT for America organized "March Against Sharia" protests in two dozen cities around the country. The protest in Connecticut was held in front of Waterbury's City Hall. A counter-protest was held in front of the Silas Bronson Library.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Waterbury Democrat Newspaper

The Waterbury Democrat began in July 1881 as a weekly newspaper called the Valley Democrat in Waterbury, Connecticut. The newspaper became The Sunday Democrat on January 7, 1886, and The Waterbury Evening Democrat on December 5, 1887. Founded by an Irish Catholic Democrat, Cornelius Maloney, the Democrat was known for its promotion of the Democratic Party’s principles and for its coverage of Irish and Catholic topics. The paper focused its local reporting on Waterbury news and sports, along with a column for the neighboring towns of Naugatuck, Oakville, and Watertown.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Early Muslim Immigrants in Waterbury

Waterbury was one of the first places in the United States to become home to a community of Muslim immigrants, when Albanians began arriving a few years before World War I, fleeing war and massacres.

Although Muslims have lived in the United States throughout the entirety of the country's history, it was not until the twentieth century that sizable Muslim communities were able to establish themselves and thrive. The first recorded instance of communal prayers being held by American Muslims happened in 1900 in North Dakota.

Waterbury had one of the first mosques in the United States, established by the Albanian community in 1919. Earlier mosques included ones in North Dakota and Michigan in 1912 and Biddeford, Maine in 1915. Waterbury's mosque may well have been the fourth mosque to be established in this country. I have found very little information about it. By the 1930s, it was gone, but Waterbury's Albanian Muslim community would continue to grow as new wars and political oppression forced more people to flee their homeland.

Albanian American Muslim Center on Raymond Street, built in 1969.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Waterbury at the Women's Marches

I'm doing something a little different with this post. I wasn't able to attend the Women's March yesterday, but I noticed many of my friends did. I reached out to some Waterbury people who went and asked them to share photos of the event and their reasons for attending. I want to make sure the Waterbury experience of this national historic event is preserved (because that's what historians do).

There's still time to participate in this blog post. If you're from Waterbury, send your photo(s) and reason for participating in the Women's March to and I will add them to the post. [Latest update: Tuesday, January 24, 2017]

Women's March in Hartford. Image courtesy of Robert Goodrich.

Peace and Unity Community Gathering

The Naugatuck Valley Project partnered with Waterbury's United Muslim Masjid and St. John's Episcopal Church to host a community gathering on Wednesday, January 18, 2017. As soon as I heard about it, I was determined to attend and show my support for my Muslim friends and neighbors who face an uncertain future with a president who gladly stoked people's irrational fear of Muslims during his campaign.

I was so pleased to see a large audience at the community gathering. When I arrived, the church was nearly half full and many more people arrived after me. The Rep-Am estimated some 200 people were in attendance. Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, unaffiliated voters, and more came together to take a stand against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance.

The scene when I arrived, before the church filled up.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Grassroots Organizing and Funding

I am a member of the Grassroots Grants Committee at the Connecticut Community Foundation. In the year or so that we've been active, we have been privileged to see some of the amazing individuals and groups that are changing people's lives in Waterbury and to make funds available for their programs. It has been a profoundly heartwarming experience to see how many people truly care about others, to see how many people who have experienced difficulties and suffering in their own lives turn that into a determination to help others facing the same challenges they once faced, and to see how many people are working to lift up those around them out of the goodness of their hearts.

The Grassroots Grants program is open to any Waterbury resident who wants to make positive changes in their neighborhood or community. This can include things like starting a community garden, offering a program for homeless youth, or building relationships between community members.

Melissa Green, co-chair of the Grassroots Grants Committee, speaking at the Silas Bronson Library

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Welton Horse Fountain

The publication of Charles Monagan's novel about Carrie Welton has inspired renewed interest in the statue of a horse on the Green downtown. The novel is very good--I highly recommend reading it, especially if you have any interest at all in Waterbury's history. It blends fiction seamlessly with historical fact, making the past come alive. The Silas Bronson Library has copies of the book available to borrow. You can also buy a copy at John Bale Books on Grand Street, the Mattatuck Museum on the Green, or online at

For whatever reason, I have always been very passionate about defending the horse that was the inspiration for the statue. If you're not familiar with the story, here's the gist of it: the horse was modeled after Knight, Carrie Welton's favorite horse; Knight, however, was responsible for the death of Carrie's father, Joseph Welton. The condensed version of the story, as it is often told, is "that's Carrie Welton's horse Knight, who killed her father." Very dramatic and memorable, but the full story is more nuanced.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Vampires, Ghosts, and Witches

It's Halloween, so what better time to look for stories of ghosts, goblins, and haunted houses in Waterbury? Here's what I've been able to find so far.

Baby Vampire?

The New-York Gazette reported a bizarre story on September 10, 1770: "We hear from Waterbury, that a Woman of that Town, who in the fourth or fifth Month of her Pregnancy, was taken with a most violent Longing to eat the Flesh from her husband's Arms---he indulged her in making several Attempts, but her Teeth were not sufficient for her Purpose;---and her accountable Longing continued until her Deliver, which was about three Weeks ago. The infant refusing the Breast, or any other Sustenance usually given to Infants, it was offered the raw Flesh of a Fowl, cut fine and dipt in the Fowl's Blood; on which it has fed heartily every Day since its Birth, and is the only Food the Child has taken, till a few Days since, when it eat a little Milk mixt with Blood."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Construction on the Green

The big public works project right now is the reconstruction of the Green downtown. The Green has been fenced off, and so far they've removed most of the sidewalks, lamp posts, benches, wood stanchions, and a few trees.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Library Matters

I've always taken it for granted that, of course, everyone has a library card. Why wouldn't you? As it turns out, however, only about a third of the residents of Waterbury have a library card, and more than half of those cards are expired.

In the past year, people have told me they don't use the library because their kids are all grown up, or because they think there's nothing for them at the library. In fact, there is something for everyone at the Silas Bronson Library. Take a look at this list, and I think you'll see something that appeals to you:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Aliens and Refugees During World War II

The war in Europe began with Germany's invasion of Poland and the subsequent declarations of war against Germany by Great Britain and France in September, 1939. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the United States remained neutral until December, 1941, when Japan bombed our military base at Pearl Harbor.


In 1940, as the war raged on, the United States began taking in refugees. Children from Great Britain were the first to be welcomed, sent away by their parents in the hopes that they would escape the bombings and the possible impending invasion. (If you're a fan of the Narnia Chronicles, this might sound familiar--the Pevensie children were sent away to the English countryside to escape the Nazi bombings of London.) The U.S. government found itself balancing citizen enthusiasm for taking in refugee children with the slow bureaucratic requirements of the immigration laws ("Mayor Spellacy Gets Assurance," Waterbury Democrat, 13 July 1940).

Waterbury Republican, 7 Aug 1940
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Five

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.
Chinese and Japanese

Immigrants from Asia fared somewhat better in Waterbury during the late 1800s and early 1900s than did immigrants from Europe, most likely because they came here in small numbers, drawing less attention to themselves. In 1901, the Hartford Courant mentioned in passing that the only Chinese woman in Connecticut lived in Waterbury, running a store with her husband. The paper did not bother to print their names.

Hartford Courant, 2 Aug 1901

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions: Part Four

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.

Russian and Italian immigrants were often grouped together as anarchists, perhaps because many of them were socialists advocating for improved labor rights. Russian socialists were referred to as Bolsheviks, the Russian political party led by Lenin which seized control of the Russian government in October 1917. Within a year's time, newspapers across the United States were instilling a fear of the "red terror," Bolshevism, in the hearts of their readers.

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Three

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.

After a surge in immigration from Italy during the 1880s, Italians became closely associated with anarchy, socialism, and general crime from the 1890s to the 1930s. "Italian anarchists" is a phrase that was frequently repeated in the newspapers, as was "Italian radical."

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Two

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.
New Immigrants

Just as the Irish were reviled during the 1850s, new groups from Europe were reviled during the early 1900s. In 1904, Rev. Joel S. Ives of Hartford preached against immigration ("Connecticut's Immigrant Problem," Boston Evening Transcript, 23 March 1904), declaring that the problem wasn't the large number of immigrants arriving from Europe, but the poor character of the immigrants. He claimed "I have seen no foreign country with worse appearing settlements of foreigners" than what he saw in New Haven. Ives targeted Catholics Italians and Poles, and Russian Jews.

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part One

Xenophobia is a word that has been used frequently in the past year. The definition, an intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, clearly describes some of the rhetoric we've been hearing from certain political figures. Whether it's an intense fear of Syrian refugees, an irrational dislike of Mexican immigrants, or an irrational fear of all Muslims, xenophobia has been surging.

As someone who was a child during the 1970s, I have long embraced the melting pot metaphor of this country, thanks in part to a School House Rock video and Disneyland's It's A Small World ride. One of the things that makes America great is our diversity, our ability to integrate people of different faiths and customs into our country. While other nations are torn apart by warfare and genocide stemming from their inability to get along with people of different religions and ethnicities, we have dozens of religions and ethnicities living together in relative harmony. Yes, we still have room for improvement, but overall, we're doing pretty well.

As someone who has immersed herself in historical studies for decades, I have an instinct to compare current events to historical events. Despite the rosy image of the melting pot, our country's history is one in which new groups of immigrants often face a long uphill struggle toward acceptance and integration. Political rhetoric can easily turn to oppressive action. Studying what happened in the past can help us today. We can learn from the mistakes of the past and make better choices in the future.

It's fairly well known that Irish Catholics faced severe discrimination for decades after they began to arrive here in large numbers. Italians weren't considered "white" when they first arrived. Germans were vilified during World War I, to the point that some of them even claimed to be Swiss rather than German. Distrust of Russian immigrants began after World War I and continued through most of the century, thanks to the Cold War. During World War II, Japanese Americans were so distrusted, our government (their government) took away everything they had and locked them up in internment camps.

To a degree, Waterbury has historically been more welcoming of foreigners than many other communities in the United States, largely because the factories eagerly welcomed immigrant laborers to their workforce. The city's success was dependent upon the continual influx of new workers to the factories. But each new immigrant group was met with suspicion, fear, and prejudice as they made their presence known in Waterbury.