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Stories of Immigration and Activism in a Global Neighborhood
Beyond Interstate 95 lies Providence’s West Side. A bridge arching over the interstate takes you into the city of immigrants and strivers, of industrialists in Broadway mansions and mill workers in cramped triple-deckers.
The Colonial town, built on shipping and the slave trade, huddled along the Providence River. By the early 19th century, textile mills had changed the economy, the result of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Samuel Slater’s industrial espionage. The turn of the century saw massive global migrations, and many nationalities contributed to the life of the multilingual city. Today the West Side is a dynamic community, home to those native-born and immigrant, coming from every corner of our country and our planet to build a better life in Providence.
Walk the West Side and see the city of the Irish famine and French Canadian mill workers, the Italian diaspora and Armenian refuge, and the new city being built in one of the most diverse communities in America.
This tour was researched and written by Taylor M. Polites.*
Ebenezer Knight Dexter was a role model of civic philanthropy, leaving large donations of land to the poor and the public good.
Thomas Wilson Dorr was the scion of an old and wealthy family who fought to expand voting rights and led a failed rebellion in 1842.
James Eddy was a wealthy art dealer and radical reformer who built a temple dedicated to his independent-minded religion.
Maritcha Remond Lyons testified before the Rhode Island General Assembly at the age of 16 to end public school segregation in Providence and became the first African-American to graduate from Providence High School.
Sarah J. Eddy was James Eddy’s daughter and a radical in her own right, fighting for women’s suffrage, social justice, and the humane treatment of animals, as well as being an accomplished artist and photographer.
Anna Garlin Spencer was the first female ordained minister in Rhode Island, a journalist, and a leader in social work, social justice and equality.
Luigi Nimini was a Verona-born labor organizer, newspaper publisher, and activist for the rights of the poor and working class.
The Tirocchi Sisters immigrated from Italy and dressed the elite of Providence in Paris-inspired couture for more than 40 years.
Raymond L.S. Patriarca was the head of one of the most powerful and ruthless organized crime syndicates in the U.S.
FRENCH CANADIAN, PORTUGUESE, TURKISH, SYRIAN & ARMENIAN
RUSSIAN & POLISH
Today’s immigrants arrive under an immigration program designed by Congress and enacted in 1965. The refugees and asylum seekers living in today’s Providence are fleeing political upheaval and violent conflicts in their home countries and include (without being limited to) Vietnamese, ethnic Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, Guatemalan, Colombian, Mexican, Dominican, Nigerian, Liberian and Ghanaian.
*Taylor M. Polites is a writer and researcher living in Providence, Rhode Island, with his small chihuahua Clovis. His first novel, "The Rebel Wife," was published by Simon & Schuster in February 2012. His work has appeared in Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting (W.W. Norton, November 2013) and "Providence Noir" (Akashic Books), as well as in local and regional arts and news publications. He teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and in the Wilkes University Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts program.