University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

and the Polish Immigrant

  An exhibition celebrating Polish-American heritage will be on display from September 22, 1999 through January 18, 2000 in the first floor exhibit area of the Morris Library at the University of Delaware. The exhibition is being held in conjunction with the October celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month. The exhibit consists of books and Internet resources that illustrate the Polish immigrant experience, their folk art and customs, and their music and dance. In addition, the exhibit will highlight some famous Polish-Americans who have made significant contributions in the fields of science, music, sports, art, and literature. The exhibit is curated by Sandra Ivanitch, Library Generalist, Access Services Department, University of Delaware Library.

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The Immigration Years

Between the years 1892 and 1954, over two million immigrants arrived in the United States from Poland. Changing social and economic conditions in Poland led to this mass migration of people. Few jobs were available, land was scarce, and religious, cultural and political oppression by the governments of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia motivated Poles to seek jobs outside of their homeland. America offered them many opportunities in its fast growing industries. Many immigrants went to work in the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania, the slaughterhouses of Chicago, and the leather industries of Wilmington, Delaware. These immigrants endured many hardships: pay was minimal, working conditions were poor and often dangerous, and health and death benefits did not exist or were minimal. Many took in boarders for extra income and children were encouraged to obtain employment as early as possible. Family, ethnicity, and religious and cultural institutions helped sustain these people as they adjusted to their new home.

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 
Growing up in coal country. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1996.

Jones, Maldwyn Allen.
Destination America. New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, c1976.

Larsen, Wanda Blazejowska.
Dear and Not So Dear Memories, 1995-1996.
Typescript (515 pp), from Wanda Larsen Papers, Special Collections Department.

Miller, Donald L.
The kingdom of coal : work, enterprise, and ethnic communities in the mine fields. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

Schreuder, Yda.
"Wilmington's Immigrant Settlement: 1880-1920." 
Delaware History.  XXIII no. 2, 1988.

Schreuder, Yda.
"The impact of labor segmentation on the ethnic division of 
labor and immigrant residential community: Polish leather 
workers in Wilmington, Delaware, in the early-twentieth century." 
Journal of Historical Geography. vol. 16 (4), 1990.

Thomas, William Isaac.
The Polish peasant in Europe and America : a classic work in immigration history. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1996.

Wilmington and its industries. 1873.

Customs & Traditions

Polish immigrants retained many of their cultural customs and traditions. The most enduring customs are connected with the traditions of the church. For instance, pysanky, the brightly colored eggs created at Easter, symbolize Christ's tomb and the resurrection; and the Christmas Eve dinner or Wigilia, traditionally has an odd number of courses (13 are common, for Christ and the twelve apostles). Another custom, the art of paper cutting or Wycinanki, was used to decorate the walls of the home.  The paper figures were traditionally cut with sheep shears. There are two basic kinds of Polish paper cut-outs, one-color symmetrical forms showing forest or woodland scenes called leluja, and multi-color compositions featuring flowers, roosters, or scenes of daily life.

Anstruther, Fay Sibyl Marie (Rechnitzer) Carmichael- , Lady.
Old Polish legends. New York : Hippocrene Books, c1991.

Harrold, Robert.
Folk costumes of the world in colour. Poole : Blandford Press, 1978.

Jackowski, Aleksander.
Folk art of Poland. Warsaw : Arkady, c1968.
[gift of Delaware Millennium Committee]

Obidinski, Eugene Edward.
Polish folkways in America : community and family. Lanham, MD : University Press of America, c1987.

Pietkiewicz, Kazimierz.
Polish folk art. Warsaw : Polonia, 1966.
[gift of Delaware Millennium Committee]

Polanie Club, Minneapolis.
Treasured Polish recipes for Americans. Minneapolis : Polanie Pub. Co., c1948
[gift of Helen Bain Brown]

"Pysanky: not just another Easter Egg."  
School arts. vol. 90, 1991.

Music & Dance

Music holds an important place in the hearts of all Polish people. When the immigrants came to America, they brought with them the music and dances that reflect the region of Poland from which they had come. Chopin was deeply influenced by the melodies for Polish folk dances such as the krakowiak, the mazurka, and the polonaise. He was called "the poet of the piano" and he composed hundreds of pieces for that instrument. Another notable pianist and composer was Ignace Paderewski. He composed many piano works as well as an opera, a symphony, a concerto, and songs.

Bailie, Eleanor.
Chopin : a graded practical guide. London : Kahn & Averill, 1998.

Okonowicz, Ed.
Disappearing Delmarva : portraits of the Peninsula people. Elkton, MD : Myst and Lace, 1997.

Pawlowska, Harriet M. ed.
Merrily we sing; 105 Polish folksongs. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1961.

Polish Intercollegiate Club of Philadelphia.

Sheet Music collection in Special Collections.

Zamoyski, Adam.
Paderewski. London : Collins, 1982.

Famous Polish-Americans

  • Tadeusz Kosciuszko: Hero of the American Revolution.
  • Maria Goeppert Mayer: Won the 1963 Nobel Prize in physics for her research on the shell model of the atomic nucleus.
  • Stan Musial: Baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals. Won the Most Valuable Player award three times in his career.
  • Casimir Pulaski: Hero of the American Revolution.
  • Arthur Rubinstein: Virtuoso Pianist awarded the US Medal of Freedom in 1976.
  • Maurice Sendak: Illustrator and writer of childrens books.
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer: Writer and recipient of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Leopold Stokowski: Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, organizer of the All-American Youth Orchestra, conducted NBC Symphony, directed New York Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony, and formed the American Symphony Orchestra in New York City.
  • Korczak Ziolkowski: Sculptor, most famous for his work on the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Blake, Mike.
Baseball chronicles : an oral history of baseball through the decades : September 17, 1911 to October 24, 1992. Cincinnati, Ohio : Betterway Books, c1994.

Chasins, Abram.
Leopold Stokowski : a profile. New York : Hawthorn Books, c1979.

Chestochowski, Ben.
Gridiron greats : a century of Polish Americans in college football. New York : Hippocrene Books, c1997.

Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Forsee, Aylesa.
Artur Rubinstein : king of the keyboard. New York : Thomas Y. Crowell Co., c1969.

McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch.
Nobel Prize women in science : their lives, struggles, and momentous discoveries. Secaucus, N.J. : Carol Pub. Group, c1993.

Manning, Clarence Augustus.
Soldier of liberty, Casimir Pulaski. New York : Philosophical Library, 1945.

Mizwa, Stephen P. (Stephen Paul).
Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 1746-1817; American revolutionary war patriot and national hero of Poland. Brooklyn, N. Y. : Czas Pub. Co., 1967?

Sendak, Maurice.
Where the wild things are. New York : Harper & Row, c1963.

Singer, Isaac Bashevis.
Yentl the Yeshiva boy, New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.

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