Document Type

Thesis

Publication Date

9-2017

First Advisor

Stephanie Yuhl

Department

History

Abstract

My project explores the history of the Polish-American community of Worcester, Massachusetts centered on the parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa and how its members responded to the forces of Americanization. Like many ethnic groups new to America, Polish-Americans and Polish immigrants in the twentieth century had to adapt in a world that demanded conformity in exchange for social mobility and departure from tradition and community. Over eight weeks, I conducted research in area archives such as the Worcester Historical Museum, the Worcester Public Library, and at Our Lady of Czestochowa’s rectory and its parish school of Saint Mary’s, as well a dozen oral history interviews with past and longtime members of the community to test the assumption that the story of Worcester’s Polish community is one of loss and decline. Contrary to expectations, I found that Polish-American efforts to preserve their group identity proved to be particularly resilient. For example, the construction of I-290 through Worcester has long been blamed by not only Poles but other ethnic communities as wholly detrimental to community life, but my research demonstrates that the Polish-American community rose above and even prospered despite this supposedly debilitating blow. Polonian identity, composed from the strands of Polish nationalism, a distinct vein of Roman Catholicism, and American patriotism, was and is one that encouraged strong communal ties. Worcester’s Polish population resisted Americanization, perpetuating Polish cultural practices through the parish and other organizations, and adapted where they could not, such as in some cases discouraging learning the Polish language in some families beginning in the early years of the Cold War. The resilience of Worcester’s Polish-American community against full Americanization until even the present day suggests that this resistance is characteristic of Polonian communities in other areas of the United States.

Comments

A corresponding poster, used to present this thesis at the 2017 Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium, is available at https://crossworks.holycross.edu/summer_symposium_2017/2/

The interviews conducted as part of the research for this project may be found at https://crossworks.holycross.edu/polish/