DETROIT STREET, 1920
Snaphot of an Urban Community

Lisa Amato, Jeanne Costa and Anthony Nettles

Cleveland in 1920 was a typical Midwestern city. It was a melting pot of various ethnicites, social and economic classes. The turn of the century had brought America great prosperity as a nation. The industrial revolution had paved the way for technological advancements and economic plenitude. This made the country the destination for an even more diverse range of immigrants than had been previously seen. While Cleveland exemplified the prosperity and diversity being experienced by the nation, one must remember that it is important not to stereotype the city. When one examines 1920ís Cleveland more closely, it becomes clear that although the city reflected many of the trends that were defining the country, but it also possessed unique characteristics that were distinctly its own. One can see this by viewing the individual neighborhoods which comprised the city. By doing this it becomes apparent that, although some defining characteristics remained the same, many areas did not mirror every characteristic of the city or the nation as a whole. Only by examining the city on such a small scale are we able to understand the distinct aspects that made CSU Special CollectionsCleveland more than just a stereotypical 1920ís American city.

One example of an individual Cleveland neighborhood was Detroit Street. When one examines this particular area it quickly becomes clear that it possessed both characteristics typical for the time as well as ones that were distinctly its own. There were several factors which help to determine this including ethnic composition, socioeconomic status, job occupation and schooling. When each of these factors is examined on an individual basis one can come to understand what life on Detroit Street was like in 1920 as well as how the individual characteristics of the neighborhood fit into Cleveland as a whole.

The Detroit Street neighborhood was located on the West Side of Cleveland and was considered to be an area of lower socioeconomic status due to the large number of immigrants who lived there. However it is important to look beyond this stereotype and realize that not all of these people lived in poverty or worked in low level, unskilled jobs. It is also important to note that not everyone in this area was a foreign-born immigrant. The neighborhood was comprised of a diverse range of ethnicities and job classes. In this aspect it is indicative of the city of Cleveland as a whole. In order to understand this diversity one must begin by examining how the neighborhood was comprised ethnically.

The ethnic make-up of the neighborhood was quite surprising. To begin with, the West Side of Cleveland was comprised mainly ofimmigrants. An impressive 44% of the Detroit community was foreign born. Thus the foreign-born were a very substantial minority. But when one looks beyond the raw numbers it becomes clear that there is more than meets the eye in this situation. To begin with, out of the fifty-six percent who were American born, twenty-six percent are second generation Americans, American born with foreign-born parents. Therefore, despite their American birth, they were most likely still considered to be ethnics. Out of one hundred and seventy-one heads of household, forty-five were second generation Americans. Fifty-six percent of these were of Irish parentage. The next largest percentages are those of German and Canadian heritage. It is not surprising to find such a large number of people of Irish descent. Detroit Street had been home to a large Irish population for many decades. The large number of second generation Americans with Irish roots shows that the children of Detroit Streetís Irish immigrants remained in the area during their adult lives.

Another surprising aspect of Detroit Street is the ethnic backgrounds of the foreign-born. While the majority, twelve-percent, was Irish, the next largest groups, six percent each, were of Romanian and Finnish ethnicities. The large percentage of Irish supports the premise that the West Side was a haven for Irish immigrants, this had been true for many decades. The number of Romanians exemplifies the new wave of Eastern European immigrants coming to America. However the large number of Finnish immigrants is quite unusual. Although the number of Scandinavian immigrants coming to American and to Cleveland was continually increasing after the turn of the century, there were very few who came from Finland. Therefore it is remarkable that the Finns made up the third largest ethnic percentage on Detroit Street. Other Scandinavian ethnicities included the Swedish and Danes. Although individually the Scandinavians made up very low percentages of the community, when viewed as a whole they comprised close to ten percent of the ethnic population of the neighborhood. The rest of Detroit Streetís ethnic make up reflected both the old wave immigrants as well as the new. Irish, German and English lived along side Hungarians, Russian, Finns and Romanians. It is important to note that the number of foreign-born Germans, English and Canadians was relatively small when compared to the new wave immigrants from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. This could be due to the fact that the former ethnicities had been migrating to America for decades whereas the latter had just begun large-scale immigration to the United States. One last surprising aspect of Detroit Street's ethnic make-up was the presence of two Chinese families. Although this number was low it was still remarkable due to the fact that there were extreme restriction limiting the amount of Asian immigrants coming to America around this time.

When examining the ethnicity of the Detroit Street community, one must also consider the occupations of those who lived there. Up until this point in history ethnicity and job skills had been closely related. It was generally understood that immigrants such as the Irish and Hungarians held mainly low skilled jobs, while native-bornAmericans held mostly medium and high skilled occupations. It was also understood that recent immigrants tended to hold mostly low skilled jobs. However when examining 1920 Detroit Street, one finds that these tendencies are not always true.

In the case of the Irish, the stereotype appears to hold true. Out of twenty Irish workers, sixteen held low skilled occupations, four held medium skilled and one held a high skilled position as the owner of a grocery store. The high percentage of low skilled Irish workers appears to support the commonly held stereotype. However in the case of Americanís living on Detroit Street, the stereotype of them possessing higher skilled jobs and better socioeconomic status crumbles under examination. Out of fifty-one "native" Americans on Detroit Street only five held highly skilled jobs. Twenty-four held medium skilled and twenty-two low skilled jobs, showing that Americans possessed almost as many low skilled as medium skilled jobs. This information contradicts the common conception that Americanís were better off than other ethnicities. However one must not look at this information without putting it into a greater context. The reason for such a low percentage of high skilled American workers could be the fact that those Americans who possessed such skills chose to live in a more desirable area of Cleveland. Despite this, the evidence for Americans living on Detroit Street shows that their ethnicity is not directly related to their occupation skill level or their socioeconomic status -- many native Americans were classified among the city's poor.

CSU Special CollectionsIn order to fully understand if there is a relationship between occupation skill level and ethnicity one must examine the Detroit Street community on an even smaller level, by block. Doing this allows one to view small trends and idiosyncrasies and see if they are indicative of the city and the nation. Detroit Street in 1920 can be broken down into five distinct blocks each consisting of twenty-five to forty families. It is important to note that the information obtained about the block areas was based upon the heads of household and did not include spouses, children or any other occupants living in the house. By viewing each block separately one can gain an even more detailed understanding of how ethnicity and income were dispersed along Detroit Street while at the same time allowing us to see the dynamic of the street as a whole.

One hundred and seventy-one families lived on blocks two through six. The majority heads of household were born in either America, (native 56, second generation 38), or Ireland, 22. Those who were Romanian, Finnish, and Hungarian born also made up a substantial part of the community. The rest of the ethnicities, including those born in Canada, England, Scotland, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, China and Germany made smaller representations in the area. When one views the dispersement of these ethnicities within each block one can find some surprising information which gives further insight into the functioning of the community.

On block two the largest ethnic group are the Americans, both native and second generation, who make up forty-nine percent of the block. After the Americans, the Irish, Hungarians and Finns contribute mostly equal percentages to the area, followed by the English, Swedes and Danes who make up sixteen percent of the block. Therefore this block, while dominated by the Americans, seems to be equally diverse, with several ethnic groups representing fairly equal numbers.

Block three is not so equal. This area is dominated by the Americans who make up a total of 55% of the total number, followed by the Irish at 31%. The remaining 14% is equally divided between the English, Canadians, Austrians and Hungarians. These numbers show that although block three has a large number of varying ethnicities, it was not very diverse in the distribution of them.

Block four is again comprised mainly of Americans who total 61%. The next largest group are the Finns who total 18%, followed by the Irish and Hungarians with 9% each. This block is less diverse in both its ethnicities and its distribution of them.

Block five mirrors block three in the variety of ethnicities that comprise it, but it is much more limited in the distribution of these ethnicities. This block contains the largest percentage of Americans out of all the blocks, 76%. Other ethnicities including Irish, Finns, Russians, Canadians, Chinese and English contribute equal percentages to the block. Therefore, despite the fact that the Americans make up the main portion of this area, the block is equally CSU Special Collctionsdistributed among its other ethnicities.

Up until now, the Americans have dominated every block; this however is not the case in block six. On this block, the Romanians are the dominant ethnicity with 35%. The Americans make up the next largest percentage with 34%. Other ethnicities including the English, Irish, Canadian, Russian, German and Hungarians make up the remaining portion of the block. It is important to note the presence of the Romanians on this block. This is the only area that contains this ethnicity along Detroit Street, which supports the premise that this particular ethnic group most likely chose to live in close proximity to one another. This was due to the fact that they had a common ethnic background and language and that they were in the same economic class.

After viewing these blocks individually one can see that although Detroit Street is diverse in its ethnic make up, there are many instances where pockets of specific ethnicities converge. This is especially apparent in the dominance of the Americans on almost every block. The reason for such a large number of Americans was attributed to the simple fact that they made up the largest percentage of the Detroit Street population. Therefore it would be expected that they would make up the largest concentration on each area. It is important to note that although they do make up such a significant portion of each area, they are distributed almost evenly across each block. This shows that the Americans most likely did not choose the areas they lived in based upon their own ethnicity. Overall it appears that the ethnic groups were evenly distributed along Detroit Street. The only exception to this seems to be the Romanians who are found concentrated on block six. Therefore one can conclude that not only did Detroit Street contain a heterogeneous mix of ethnicities, but the distribution of these ethnicities was likewise diverse.

While viewing the ethnic diversity of Detroit Street it is important also to examine the occupational make up of the area. At first glance it appears that ethnicity and occupation are closely related. By examining this premise on an individual basis its validity becomes apparent. There is a connection between ethnicity and occupational status.

As a whole Detroit Street was mainly a mix of medium and low skilled jobs which comprise 46% each of the total number. Highly skilled jobs only make up 6% of the occupation level for the area. For this evaluation, medium skilled jobs are considered any type of work where some skills were needed but are not difficult to acquire or more specialized skills which were not as highly valued as those of highly skilled occupations. These medium skilled jobs included such occupations as barber, carpenter, policeman or inspector. Low skilled jobs were considered any job that required no skills or simple skills that were limited in function. These included such jobs as laborer, painter, machinist or peddlar. Highly skilled occupations included jobs with skills that were very precise and difficult to acquire such as engineer or doctor, as well as any type of job involving property ownership such as cigar store owner, retail grocer, restaurant owner and so on.

Beginning again at block two, recall that it was probably the most diverse block in terms of how the ethnicities were distributed, with large concentrations of Americans (both native and second generation), Irish, Hungarians, and Finns. When viewing occupation skill levels for this block it quickly becomes apparent that there was only one highly skilled job on this block. With the exception of this one person, the jobs on this block consisted of both medium and low skilled jobs with the majority being medium skilled. Out of twenty-three people fifteen held medium skilled and seven held low skilled jobs. Ninety-five percent of the Irish on this block held low skilled jobs. The rest of the immigrants held mainly medium skilled jobs although there were three Americans who held low skilled occupations. Block two, therefore, with the exception of the Irish, seems to be mainly medium skilled, and this does appear to relate to ethnicity.

When attention is turned to block three we see a reversal of the situation of block two. In block two, low skilled jobs were the majority compared to medium and highly skilled ones. Block two had only one highly skilled occupation, a doctor. Out of forty-eight workers, twenty-three held low skilled occupations. The Irish on this block held most of the low skilled jobs although there were seven second and four native Americans who held jobs at this skill level. Skill level was evenly divided among the remaining immigrant groups of block three. Therefore the large number of Americans working in low skill jobs shows that on this particular block ethnicity and skill level may not be as closely related as previously thought.

When looking at block four based purely upon skill level it appears to mimic block three however there are some striking differences when ethnicity is brought into the picture. There were very few Irish on this block compared to other blocks. In this situation the large number of low skilled workers came mainly from Americans, both second generation and native. Out of sixteen low skilled workers, nine were second generation and three were American. This means that over half of those born in America living on Block four, were employed in low skill occupations. The remaining four low skilled jobs were held by an Irish, a German, a Hungarian and Englishman. Another interesting note is that all the Finns on this block held medium and high skilled jobs

On block five one finds the largest number of highly skilled workers out of all the blocks. Despite the fact that block five had the highest percentage, the number itself was still quite small. Out of forty-two workers only four held highly skilled positions and all of them were American. It is interesting to note that block five had the largest percentage of American born workers out of all the blocks. The fact that this block also had the largest number of highly skilled workers supports the premise that Americanís possessed higher skill levels than those of foreign-born; although this appears to be the only instance where the data supports this premise so strikingly. The medium and low skilled jobs are almost evenly represented with the medium being slightly higher. These skill levels were evenly dispersed among all of the ethnicities living on block five.

The last area examined was block six. This area is interesting for two reasons. One is the fact that it had the smallest percentage of Americans (both second generation and native) out of all the blocks and it was the only block that contained Romanians. This block was almost identical to block five in terms of the numbers of medium and low skill levels present. The fact that there were such small amount of Americans but still a substantial amount of medium skilled jobs illustrates that there was not a real tie between ethnicity and skill level on this block. It is also important to note the skill level of the Romanians in this area. Out of eleven Romanian workers, eight possessed medium skilled jobs and three low skilled ones.

When one steps back and examines these blocks as a single unit it is difficult to determine if there was a link between ethnicity and occupation skill level. It appears that the presence of a relationship was dependent upon the particular ethnicity. There does appear to be a relationship among the new wave immigrants living on Detroit Street. This can be seen in the Finns, Russians, and Romanians all of whom held mainly medium skilled jobs. Seventy percent of Finns, one hundred percent of Russians and seventy-three percent of Romanians held medium skilled occupation. This shows that there is a strong connection between ethnicity and skill level for these ethnicities. This connection was also apparent in the Irish where seventy-six percent hold low skilled jobs. However when one examines the Americans, second generation Americans and Hungarians this connection does not seem as strong. Americans possessed almost the same percentages of medium and low skilled workers, forty-seven to forty-three. This was also true for the second generation Americans and Hungarians who possessed fifty-two medium skilled and forty-five low skilled for the former and forty-five medium and fifty-six low skilled for the latter. This shows that for these particular ethnicities there was not a strong correlation between ethnicity and occupation skill level.

However, one must remember that it is often important to look beyond the numbers in order to fully understand what they represent. This deeper analysis must be done in the case of the Americans (meaning both second generation as well as native). While the Americans living on Detroit Street appeared to have no relationship between ethnicity and skill level, this may not be true for the whole of Americans living in Cleveland. The West Side in 1920 was still considered an area of lower socioeconomic class. Therefore it is not surprising that we find very few highly skilled Americans and a large number of low skilled ones. It is quite probable that those Americans who possessed highly skilled jobs and profitable medium skilled ones, did not chose to live in this part of the city. Therefore, while there is no apparent relationship between ethnicity and occupation skill level for Americans living specifically on Detroit Street, there may be one when the city is viewed as a whole.

After evaluating the occupation skill level for each block some conclusions become apparent. It is clear that there was no one determining factor between ethnicity and occupation skill level, it was dependent upon the particular ethnicity. The evidence does show, however, that there was no relationship between occupation level and settlement pattern. Throughout each block it appears that all occupations lived evenly dispersed among one another. Although 80% of highly skilled workers lived on the same block, their total number was so low that it is doubtful their skill level affected their settlement. While there was a discrepancy between the number of medium and low skilled workers on each block the difference was so small that it does not provide sufficient evidence to support a link between occupation skill level and settlement pattern. Therefore the data continues to support the fact that Detroit Street was a diverse neighborhood both in terms of ethnicity, settlement and socioeconomic status.

When examining occupation and ethnicity during this time it is also important to note the role of women. It was not uncommon for women to work outside of the home during this period. In 1920, the majority of the women of Detroit Street were listed in the census as either keeping house or none under the listing occupation. However there were a surprising amount of women who held actual employment. Out of one hundred and thirty-nine women, thirty-two were listed as having employment outside of the home. The most common jobs listed for women were washing woman, candy packer and saleslady. There was even one women listed as the manager of a grocery store. The ages and marital status of the working women was surprisingly varied. The most common age of women workers was eighteen to twenty. There were eight women in the category all of them single. However married women made up the largest percentage of the working women, fourteen out of the thirty-two. The largest number of married women were between the ages of forty and fifty but there were also several married women between the ages of twenty and forty who worked. The main ethnicity of women workers was American, 42%, followed by Irish and second generation American. It is important to note the large number of American-born women who were working. This evidence helps add support to the premise that for the American ethnicity on Detroit Street ethnicity was not necessarily related to occupation.

Thus far our focus has been on the adults but it is important to remember that children made up a considerable section of the community. There were one hundred and seventy-one families living on Detroit Street in 1920 and they had a total of one hundred and seventy-six children between the ages of six and seventeen. Due to continuing advances in schooling during this time almost all of these school-aged children attended school daily regardless of ethnic background. In 1920 every child between the ages of six and thirteen attended school. However at age thirteen the number of children attending school began to drop successively with each year. Twenty-four percent of children between thirteen and seventeen did not attend school in 1920. This information shows that children of this area all utilized the opportunity for basic schooling up to the age of thirteen. However, when they reached the age where they could begin apprenticeships or work, the focus on schooling became less important for a certain percentage of this age group.

Another important aspect of the Detroit Street community was the distribution of families and houses. Many people lived in houses with their immediate families. In some instances a mother-in-law, nephew or brother might live with a particular family. However, there were exceptions to this pattern; boarding houses, apartment buildings and families who took in lodgers. In 1920, there were fifty-one residential structures on Detroit Street. Of these, four were apartment buildings which accounted for approximately one third of all residents on the street. There were also two boarding houses which accounted for about 10% of the population. The remaining forty-five structures included seventeen homes which held either one or two families and three or fewer boarders. Only twenty-two structures contained just one family, and they accounted for about 20% of the street's population. This clearly indicates that the majority of people on Detroit Street in 1920 could not afford to own their own home without income supplementing that which came from the head-of-household. In fact, ten of the twenty-two single-family homes had more than one wage earner. Detroit Street was an area that was lower-middle class at that time. The large number of boarders also indicates that the employment in the area drew many young, unmarried men, most of whom were either immigrants or second-generation Americans. These boarders had a tendency to live amongst those of their own ethnicity. Boarders and the owners of those homes that took in boarders, tended to be of the same ethnicity. Romanian and Hungarian men were the most common among the boarders. Of the ninety-seven boarders on Detroit Street, nineteen were Romanian and twelve were Hungarian. The remainder were spread fairly evenly amongst Irish, Finnish, and Canadian, with a few English, German, and Russian intermixed.

The Detroit Street community was also comprised of some members who were unusual or unique when compared with the rest of the neighborhood. There was a surprisingly large number of elderly people living in the area including a woman who was eighty-two. Medicine was making major advances at this time, and it is likely that we are seeing the result of that. However, medical advances that extended life did not necessarily improve quality of life. There were two invalids on Detroit Street, both of them somewhat elderly. It is likely that because people were living longer, they were more likely to suffer from various forms of physical failure. The neighborhood also included many widows, many of them in their fifties or younger. With the combination of industrial accidents and World War I, it would seem that Detroit Street's male population may have been significantly affected. Many of these widows and elderly people lived with their children. Nursing homes had not yet gained the popularity they have today.

Although the ethnic diversity seemed to be quite remarkable for this area, it was still limited to those of European descent. With the exception of two Chinese people, every member of the Detroit Street community was listed as white.

After examining the details of the people who made up the neighborhood of Detroit Street it is easy to see that this area was distinct. It has several characteristics which are overlooked in the generalizations made about the West Side at this time. This area was much more ethnically diverse than anticipated. The people of the community were overall more prosperous and skilled and the children better educated than one is first led to believe. By looking beyond the generalizations into the details of the community, one comes to understand that, although Detroit Street shared many characteristics with the West Side and perhaps Cleveland in general, overall the neighborhood was a distinct entity with its own dynamic way of life.