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

Children from countries other than Great Britain also escaped to the United States, but in fewer numbers. Getting them across multiple borders in Europe was difficult. Getting anyone out of Germany or German-occupied France was nearly impossible. Early efforts, before the war began to help Jews leave Germany came to a halt when the war started.

Waterbury American, 23 July 1940
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

Children left from England by ship, arriving in Canada before traveling to the United States. Immigration law restricted the number of children to 6,500 a month, between the ages of 5 and 16, registering as permanent resident aliens. The children were Dutch, French, Belgian, Polish, Czech, Scandinavian, and German, as well as British. (Waterbury Republican, 5 July 1940)

The U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children, created in 1938 at President Roosevelt's suggestion, established a social service network for placing refugee children in foster homes. In Waterbury, Margaret Bull oversaw the Corner House, which processed requests from local people to foster refugee children. The first wave of requests came primarily from the local relatives of refugees, who needed official government permission to take in their grandchildren or cousins or nieces & nephews being sent from Europe. In some cases, unrelated immigrants (including an unidentified Portuguese woman) read about the refugee children in the newspapers and offered to become foster families.

Children being sent as refugees from Europe had to be bonded to the amount of $50, to "protect" them from becoming paupers. An additional $13 fee covered the expense of supervising the child's welfare. As tactfully explained by Margaret Bull, "It may be found that a child and a family do not get along. It will be possible to for the committee to switch the child to some more congenial home." (Waterbury Republican, 18 Aug 1940)

The children who came here were traumatized by the war. The Waterbury Republican recounted a story about three siblings, Tom, Sally and Susan Abrams, whose father was fighting with the British army. The children were in Connecticut with their mother visiting relatives in Woodbury: "The first thing the children did in peaceful Woodbury was to gravely build a bomb shelter in the cellar. They set up cots there, and stored the shelter with food, flashlights and blankets. They did this as casually as American children play house."

Connecticut residents were so eager to take in refugees, there were more available homes than refugees. The medical condition of many of the refugee children was an issue. Many were suffering from measles and other childhood illnesses prevalent during that era. Medical records were, not surprisingly, hard to come by for children who fled from war-torn countries. (Waterbury American, 6 Aug 1940)

Associated Press images of refugee children published in the Waterbury Republican, August 18 1940.
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

The children were sent by parents who knew there was a chance they would die at sea. They were also sent with the knowledge that, perhaps, the parents would not survive the war. There was no safe choice. Soon, however, the option of evacuating ended.

In September, 1940, George Brown and wife, who lived at 29 Euclid Avenue, waited to find out if the refugee children they were expecting had been on a ship torpedoed by a Nazi submarine. The ship was the SS City of Benares, which left Liverpool as part of a convoy of 21 ships on September 13 and was torpedoed and sunk on September 18. Nearly all of the 90 children on board died. The incident led to the cancellation of the program to evacuate children from England to Canada and the U.S.

Waterbury American, 23 Sep 1940
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

The parents are torn with doubt. Should they send their little boys and girls away on a ship that may be sunk by enemy mines, or should they keep them at their sides and risk death rained from overhead? Most of them are willing to part with their families because they think the children will have a greater chance of safety in America but some of the parents, mothers especially, cannot refrain from expressing their fear of the long sea voyage.
                        ~ Waterbury Republican, 18 August 1940


Fear of enemy agents working in secret in the U.S. led to federal regulations requiring "enemy aliens" (immigrants from Germany, Italy, and Japan) to register with the government starting in September, 1940. By the end of 1940, nearly 12,000 aliens in Waterbury and surrounding towns had registered (Waterbury Republican, 27 Dec 1940). Registration involved being fingerprinted, photographed, and issued an Alien Registration Receipt Card. The Post Office was responsible for doing the registrations.

Postmaster Charles A. Babin learning how to take fingerprints with
Detective Captain John V. Leary at police headquarters (Waterbury American, 1940)
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

Kay Wolff, secretary to Waterbury's budget director, models the fingerprinting process
for the Waterbury American in July, 1940. Collection of Silas Bronson Library.

Immigrants from Germany, Italy, or Japan were required to register if they were at least 14 years old (younger children were registered by proxy by their parents). A year after the initial registration push, the Federal Immigration and Naturalization office sent out a reminder that "alien" children were required to register within 30 days after their 14th birthday. This was to be done in person: 14-year-olds were treated the same as adults in the registration process.

Waterbury Democrat, 16 Sep 1941
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

Under increasing pressure, immigrants rushed to apply for citizenship. Some had lived here for decades, never feeling the need to become citizens. With the wartime hostility toward and legal action against "enemy aliens," immigrants had an urgent need to become citizens.

The reference librarians at the Silas Bronson Library (Charlotte Gibson, Anne Burns, and Mary Freney) went to work helping Waterbury's "aliens" with their citizenship applications. In order to apply for citizenship, you needed to prove how and when you arrived in this country. This meant trying to figure out the name of the ship they arrived on, which was not something most immigrants paid attention to. For people who had been in the U.S. for decades, it was even more difficult. The immigrants would try to remember what time of year it was when they arrived and what year they thought it might have been. The reference librarians would then write to either the steamship companies or to immigration officials in Washington, D.C., asking if the immigrant in question was on the passenger list of a specific ship on a certain date. In the pre-internet database days, this was a long, laborious task.

Waterbury Republican, 22 Sep 1940

A man who came over more than 50 years ago had that difficulty the other day. He is not an old man now and was a young child when he came. His parents are dead and there is no one else to tell him the name of the big strange port from which he left that fateful day. He must find some other means of proving he really got here.
              ~ Waterbury Republican, 22 Sept 1940

In the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as with Japanese immigrants and Americans, hundreds of Italians were arrested or detained. About 250 were interned in military camps in Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. By June of 1942, more than 1,500 Italians were detained by the FBI on the grounds that they were Italian and therefore might be spies or saboteurs (none were charged).

Internees Eating In Mess Hall At Fort Missoula in Montana, 1943- Peter Fortune Memorial Collection (2001.048.111)
Collection of The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

Three Waterbury residents were arrested for being illegal aliens as part of the national roundup of Italians in May, 1941. The roundup was focused on merchant marines whose ships had been impounded after the war began in 1939. In other words, these were Italians who were forced to stay in the United States by the United States, and who were then arrested for being in the United States. Go figure. Domenico Pappaianni, age 39, was arrested at a restaurant on Bank Street. Vito Antonia, age 38, was arrested at a tavern on East Main Street by two immigration agents and six Waterbury vice squad members. Mario Pitorri, age 31, was one of seven Italians arrested in Hartford ("Three Local Aliens Held In Roundup of 200 In U.S.," Waterbury Republican, 19 May 1941). I don't yet know what happened to them. It seems likely they were sent to Fort Missoula, Montana and would have remained imprisoned until the end of 1943, following Italy's surrender to the Allies.

During the month of February, 1942, all "Axis aliens" (German, Italian, and Japanese immigrants) were required to report to the local post office to register with the Department of Justice, even if they had registered previously. Anyone age 14 and older had to be photographed and fingerprinted, and given identification cards to carry at all times. Anyone failing to report would be subject to arrest and detention ("Axis Nationals to Re-Register," Waterbury Republican, 31 January 1942).

"Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities: Certificates of Identification," 1942
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

Notice to Aliens of Enemy Nationalities, 1942. Sent to factories and other employers likely to have immigrant workers. Employers were encouraged to post the notice on their bulletin board to help reach people who were required to register.
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

A wave of fear, racism, and prejudice swept the country. On January 2, 1942, President Roosevelt issued a strongly-worded statement addressing the problem:

        I am deeply concerned over the increasing number of reports of employers discharging workers who happen to be aliens or even foreign-born citizens. This is a very serious matter. It is one thing to safeguard American industry, and particularly defense industry, against sabotage; but it is very much another to throw out of work honest and loyal people who, except for the accident of birth, are sincerely patriotic.
        Such a policy is as stupid as it is unjust, and on both counts it plays into the hands of the enemies of American democracy. By discharging loyal, efficient workers simply because they were born abroad or because they have "foreign-sounding" names or by refusing to employ such men and women, employers are engendering the very distrust and disunity on which our enemies are counting to defeat us.
        Remember the Nazi technique: "Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer!"
        We must not let that happen here. We must not forget what we are defending: liberty, decency, justice. We cannot afford the economic waste of services of all loyal and patriotic citizens and non-citizens in defending our land and our liberties.
        I urge all private employers to adopt a sane policy regarding aliens and foreign-born citizens, and to remember that the sons of the "foreigners" they discharged may be among those who fought and are fighting so valiantly at Pearl Harbor or in the Philippines.
        There is no law providing against employment of aliens except in special defense work of a secret nature, and even in such work the employer may hire an alien with the permission of the Army or Navy, depending on the contract.

Press Release, "Statement By The President," January 2, 1942
Collection of Silas Bronson Library

As wartime anxieties grew, so-called enemy aliens found their lives turned upside down. In Waterbury, Patrolman Anthony Stango, a member of the police department for 13 years, was placed on suspension when it was discovered that he had registered as an "Axis alien" (Waterbury American, 9 March 1942). When Stango joined the police force, he thought he had been born in the United States. He had even been drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I. After World War II started, however, Stango found out that he came here from Italy as an infant, sometime around 1900 or 1901. The discovery of an "enemy alien" on the police force in Waterbury caused a mild panic, with both the police and fire commissioners vowing to adopt a policy requiring new applicants to submit proof of citizenship.

The path to citizenship was eased slightly for some immigrants with the announcement on Columbus Day, 1942, that any alien age 50 or older, who arrived in the U.S. before July 1, 1924, would be granted citizenship without having to take a literacy test ("New Ruling Affects 8,000 Waterburians," Waterbury American, 13 Oct 1942). In Waterbury, there were more than 8,000 Italian immigrants who were not naturalized citizens. More than 2,000 were eligible to take advantage of the relaxed regulation.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Five

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


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


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

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.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Crafter's Classroom

There's a great new co-op storefront in downtown Waterbury: The Crafter's Classroom, 106 Grand Street. They opened with a ribbon cutting on Friday, and they already have some fun classes being booked.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Burning Desire at Seven Angels Theatre

A couple of months ago, I happened to be checking out the Seven Angels Theatre website and was pleasantly surprised to see that Lou Diamond Phillips would be starring in the world premiere of his new play, Burning Desire, right here in Waterbury. Now, I'm not by any means a fangirl of actors. I don't get starstruck. But when I saw that Lou Diamond Phillips (who was so wonderful in La Bamba, Stand and Deliver, Young Guns, a guest appearance on Psych, and now on Longmire) was going to be performing here in Waterbury, at Seven Angels, I immediately bought tickets.

Image from Seven Angels Theatre Facebook page.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Harrub Memorial at Chase Park

During the early 1900s, Americans were fascinated with a romanticized view of the colonial period. Their enthusiasm for the colonial past started in 1876 with the centennial celebration of the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1920, when the country celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival at Plymouth Rock, the Colonial Revival era was in full swing.

Waterbury inventor and engineer Charles Harrub was enamored with an idealized image of the Pilgrims. Following the death of his wife, Rhoby, in 1921, Harrub began planning a memorial to honor both his wife and the Pilgrims. He died before the monument could be completed, but he left his entire estate to the City of Waterbury, which oversaw the completion of Harrub's vision.

Harrub Pilgrim Memorial, Chase Park, April 2011

Instagram Album

I've started a Waterbury Instagram account, where I will be posting photos of all that is beautiful or interesting in the Brass City. I'll be posting at least one photo a day.

You can find the photos at (no Instagram account required for viewing the images).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snowy Waterbury

I love walking in the snow, and today was a perfect day for doing just that.

Welton Carriage Shed.

Civic Responsibility Online

I went back to high school yesterday to participate in a "Who Is My Neighbor?" workshop at Westover School's Rasin Center for Global Justice, sharing my experiences with blogging.

It's always interesting to get someone else's perspective on your work. One of the school's teachers commented afterward that I demonstrated to the students that the internet makes it easier to fulfill a civic responsibility to speak out and to have your voice heard, and that we must abide by an ethical standard of moral judgment and informed opinion (perhaps even more so, since what we post online is there for years). She made a very good point that we must combine moral judgment, informed opinion, and courage in order to be heard. You can write or say whatever you want, but if you aren't trustworthy, you won't be respected, and your voice won't be heard.

Monday, December 21, 2015

St. John's Church

The Rep-Am newspaper recently reported that St. John's Episcopal Church, on the Green, is giving serious thought to selling their building ("St. John's Considers Move," 9 December 2015). According to the article, the church is no longer able to afford the upkeep of the building. More telling, their endowment has dwindled down from millions to only $800,000.

Side note: an endowment is the investment fund that helps pay the bills for churches and other nonprofits. Standard recommended practice is to spend no more than 4% of your annual interest, rolling the rest back into the principle, helping it keep up with inflation. It's a lot like a retirement fund, except that it has to last for centuries. Dipping into the endowment principle should be done only under special circumstances--like a much-needed building expansion or emergency repairs--and the money should be replaced through fundraising as quickly as possible.

If St. John's does decide to sell their building, it will be a significant milestone in Waterbury's history. The Episcopal Church was the second church in Waterbury, dating back to 1740. They've been on the Green since 1795.

When Waterbury was founded, everyone belonged to the Congregational Church (which was the official church of Connecticut until 1818). The Great Awakening, a widespread religious revival of the 1720s and 1730s, led to many people leaving the Congregational Church and joining the Anglican Church (Church of England). After the Revolutionary War, Anglicans in the U.S. ditched their allegiance to the King and reformed as Episcopalians.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Happy Blogiversary!

Today is the 10 year anniversary of this blog. So much has changed since then. During the first year or two of my blogging, a "hot" post had a dozen views--which isn't too surprising, since many of those early posts were pretty dull! But as they say, the best way to improve as a writer is to keep writing.

As some of you know, I started a new job last month. I am now Director of the Silas Bronson Library in Waterbury--absolutely a dream job. A couple of people have asked if I'll still be writing about Waterbury history, and the answer is a solid YES. Researching and writing about Waterbury history is what I do for fun in my free time. The same is true for my artwork--painting brings me peace and fulfillment.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. Rest assured there will be many more posts about history and cool current happenings in the coming months and years. Oh, and if you want to know what's happening at the Bronson Library, you can follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Loads of good stuff there, too! ;)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Mary Della"

While doing some research into Waterbury history, I stumbled onto a serialized novel from 1929, firmly set in Waterbury. Serialized novels were tremendously popular during the 1800s--most of the famous novels from that era first appeared in serial format in newspapers. The format continued into the 1900s, but eventually lost popularity. Serialized storytelling moved into radio and, eventually, television, where it continues to thrive today.

This particular serialized novel was titled "Mary Della" and was written by someone named Julie Anne Moore. There's no sign of Julie Anne Moore other than being listed as the author of this and other stories. I'm assuming Julie Anne Moore was a pen name. (I'll do some additional research later this week to see if I can find out more about her.)

"Mary Della" was serialized by The Independent Syndicate, a company based in Washington, D.C. It ran in newspapers all over the country, but not simultaneously. Some papers started running it in 1929, others in 1930. Some included photographic illustrations, others ran the installments without any illustrations.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Almost Home Wins CCF Trustee Award

Last week, on August 20, the Connecticut Community Foundation (CCF), based in Waterbury, held its first annual Trustee Award Ceremony at South Farms in Morris. They honored two organizations that embodied partnership and collaboration, core values of the Foundation. One of those two organizations was the Almost Home Summer Camp program, started this year in the WOW neighborhood.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Charlton Comics: The Tenuous Waterbury Connection

Most people are aware of Waterbury's claim to fame as home of Eastern Color Printing, the first printing company to make comic books. Lesser known is Waterbury's connection to Charlton Comics, a Derby-based company that helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in comic books. According to anecdotes, Charlton Comics used a Waterbury printer for their first however many years, and they were co-founded by one of the defendants in Waterbury's Hayes-Leary scandal. I had assumed that Charlton was printing in Waterbury because the company's co-founder was from Waterbury (but you know what they say about assumptions...).

Yesterday, I attended a panel discussion about Charlton Comics at the Connecticut ComiCONN. While I was already aware of much of what is generally known about the company's history, the discussion got me thinking about it in new ways, and inspired me to write what I thought would be a quick blog post highlighting the Waterbury side of the Charlton story. As it turns out, I've stumbled onto a piece of history that hasn't been fully documented and is mostly misunderstood.

Charlton Comics panel at CT ComiCONN, 15 Aug 2015
Left to right: Mort Todd, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, TC Ford

In my effort to trace Waterbury's ties to Charlton Comics, I have found more questions than answers. There is a documentary about Charlton currently being made, so perhaps the film makers will uncover some of the answers. Or, perhaps, someone reading this post will share a few clues in the comments section. In the meantime, however, here's what I know.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Dating Your Family Photos

Being able to easily identify the approximate date of an old photograph is a skill I take for granted, since I do it all the time. Yesterday, after a friend posted something on Facebook, I realized that it is not a common skill. I looked for a good guide to identifying photograph dates for my friend, but I couldn't find one I liked. So, with that said, here is a guide to figuring out when a photograph was taken (using all Waterbury and Waterbury-connected photos, of course!).

1. No photographs before the 1840s.

The photographic process was invented in France by Louis Daguerre in 1839. That first type of photograph is called a daguerreotype, after its inventor. Only one image was made, developed directly on a glass plate, which was then placed in a protective case.

Daguerreotypes had a long exposure time, meaning that people had to hold still for several minutes to avoid looking blurry. Daguerreotypes of street scenes don't show any people or animals, unless they happened to be standing still during the exposure time. People walking by were effectively invisible.

Waterbury's Scovill Manufacturing Company was the first in the U.S. to make daguerreotype plates, starting in 1842.

Daguerreotype of St. John's Church on the Green, Waterbury, circa 1847
(Collection of Mattatuck Museum)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Brass City Comic Con 6

Naugatuck Valley Community College once again hosted Waterbury's own comic book convention, the sixth annual Brass City Comic Con, on Sunday July 26. As always, it was a great event for families and anyone wanting to meet real live comics professionals. No lines, and plenty of accomplished artists and authors happy to discuss their work.

A few of the great cosplayers at the Brass City Comic Con.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Summer Camp Launch

Sometimes it seems like there is more energy spent on complaining about problems than on solving problems, so I'm always delighted when I see the problem solvers shine.

Erika Cooper is one of Waterbury's great problem solvers. She's a Scovill Row Homes/WOW neighborhood resident, and my neighbor, so I'm extra pleased to see how much she's accomplished in the past year. Last fall, after a series of shootings rattled the neighborhood, and after discussing fears for their children with other parents at the school bus stop, Cooper formed the Uplift A Life Parents Committee. The group led a march and rally against the violence last September.

Preparing to march through the neighborhood on September 28, 2014.

Since September, Cooper has organized regular neighborhood cleanups for the neighborhood kids, building pride and teaching them the importance of contributing to their community, that they have the power to make things better. As she said today, we have to care--if we don't care, no one else will.