Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Alyssa Ribeiro


Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, known as PSFS, was the first savings bank in the United States, founded in 1816. For most of its history, PSFS emphasized practicality in its operations, architecture, and community orientation. The historic organization added a modern accent to the Philadelphia skyline in 1932, when it opened a new, International-style building at Twelfth and Market Streets.

[caption id="attachment_29034" align="alignright" width="196"]An etching with a chest on the top. Above the chest are the words to save is to earn, and below the chest it states economy secures independence. The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society sought to instill in its customers the virtue of saving. To achieve this end, PSFS offered savings accounts to poor and working-class customers, who kept track of their deposits in passbooks like the one depicted here. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The merchants who organized PSFS, led by Condy Raguet (1784-1842), hoped to replicate the success of savings banks in Great Britain. PSFS founders avoided using the word “bank” in the name due to public suspicion of financial institutions.

PSFS had a modest mission: to uplift poor and working-class communities through the virtue of saving. The bank placed a priority on accessibility for customers and long-term stability. Reflecting this caution, PSFS invested primarily in government bonds and mortgage-backed loans.

Management’s pragmatism led to compromises and adaptations. To secure incorporation in 1819, PSFS leaders agreed to let the commonwealth set deposit limits. Depositor behavior—particularly migrants’ short-term use of accounts to accrue targeted savings—also shifted bank policy. PSFS hired interpreters to assist its large immigrant customer base and stood ready to pay out balances on short notice. During the Civil War, PSFS leaders donated to the city’s defense.

Evolving bank policies combined with Americans’ increasing use of savings banks to yield a rapidly growing customer base, including significant populations of African Americans, immigrants, and women. By 1900 approximately 15 percent of Philadelphians held PSFS accounts.

PSFS relocated several times during the nineteenth century, driven by increased business to seek larger facilities. Modest beginnings at Sixth and Minor Streets gave way to locations in the 300 block of Walnut Street. In 1868, PSFS built an expansive headquarters at 700 Walnut Street. During the early twentieth century, several branch locations served a suburbanizing population.

The PSFS building that opened at Twelfth and Market Streets in 1932 was an instant landmark. Designed by George Howe (1886-1955) and William Lescaze (1896-1969) in the functional International style, the glass and steel high-rise garnered criticism and acclaim. It was anything but low profile. The thirty-two-story tower, the first International-style skyscraper in the United States, became a dominant part of the Philadelphia skyline. Observers could not miss the red neon PSFS lettering on top or the WCAU antenna tower added in the late 1940s.

By 1940 PSFS was the largest financial institution in Philadelphia, and grew to serve 80 percent of local households. Many children knew PSFS through its school banking program.

[caption id="attachment_29030" align="alignright" width="206"]A color photograph of the PSFS building. The building is rectangular in shape, with a blue sign on the top with the letters P, S, F, and S in capital letters. The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society moved into the iconic PSFS Building at Twelfth and Market Streets in 1932. The WCAU antenna to the left was added to the tower in the late 1940s. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

PSFS also tackled urban problems. In 1968, civil rights leader Cecil B. Moore (1915-79) partnered with PSFS President R. Stewart Rauch (1914-2001) to bring black and white leaders together to form the Good Friday Group. Hoping to prevent riots, the group raised $1 million to support an array of social programs. In 1975, PSFS joined with two other banks in the Philadelphia Mortgage Plan, aiming to lend in formerly redlined neighborhoods.

By the early 1980s, PSFS had become the nation’s largest mutual savings bank, but it struggled to adapt to deregulation. In quick succession PSFS absorbed the troubled Western Savings Fund Society, changed its name to Meritor Financial Group, and abandoned mutual ownership to become a publically traded stock. Subsequent attempts to diversify investments were unprofitable. Meritor sold fifty-four branches and the PSFS name to Mellon Bank in 1989, but the institution did not survive long. Regulators seized and sold Meritor’s remaining assets in December 1992.

In its prime, PSFS encouraged savings and homeownership, built significant infrastructure, and acted as a concerned corporate citizen. After the demise of PSFS/Meritor in 1992, real estate developers transformed its flagship office tower into a Loews hotel. They preserved many design elements, including the neon lettering, to remind visitors of a once-prominent institution.

Alyssa Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor of History at Allegheny College. Her research has examined relations between Puerto Rican and African American residents in postwar Philadelphia.

Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans

The centuries-long relationship between the Philadelphia region and Puerto Rico unfolded in four interrelated areas: economic links, political channels, personal networks, and cultural exchange. Several dynamics shaped those connections over time. Colonialism, first under Spain and later the United States, set the broad context for trade relations and government policies. Individual reactions to those policies in turn drove the movement of people, capital, and ideas. Over time, advances in transportation and communication technologies increased the frequency and volume of connections across roughly sixteen hundred miles of ocean.

[caption id="attachment_25847" align="alignright" width="300"]Around 8,700 tons of raw sugar at Philadelphia's Pier 40 in 1916. As sugar consumption increased in the United States, Philadelphia’s imported tonnage from Puerto Rico was second only to New York’s. About 8,700 tons of raw sugar is shown here at Philadelphia’s Pier 40 in 1916. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Early links between the two geographic areas were part of the broader Atlantic exchange of humans and commodities. In the early 1700s, Philadelphia traders complained of raids by Puerto Rican privateers, who sought to steal their lucrative cargo of slaves. During the wars between Atlantic powers in the early 1800s, the ports of San Juan and Philadelphia facilitated transshipment of goods and relayed communications across the ocean.  The Red D shipping line of merchant John Dallett (d. 1862) set sail between Philadelphia and Caracas, Venezuela, in 1820; its vessels commonly docked at Havana, Cuba, or San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well. Much of the island’s early trade with Baltimore and Philadelphia was controlled by George Latimer, son of a prominent Philadelphia family, who served briefly as the American consul in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in the 1830s. Sugar and tobacco were especially important aspects of trade, as Philadelphia housed numerous sugar refineries and cigar factories. As sugar consumption increased, Philadelphia’s imported tonnage was second only to New York’s. The local tobacco processing industry, which first arose to handle Pennsylvania-grown crops, began to incorporate smaller quantities of Caribbean tobacco in the early nineteenth century. The parallel migration of cigar workers from Puerto Rico and Cuba to Philadelphia allowed local concerns to market “Havana-filled” and “Cuban-made” cigars. Mid-Atlantic flour, which resisted spoilage in tropical climates, accompanied other staples and manufactured goods on return trips to the Caribbean.

Spanish-speakers in the Philadelphia region were politically active, pressing for both Cuban and Puerto Rican independence from Spain. In 1822, a small armed force left Philadelphia intent on invading Puerto Rico, but its plans were thwarted by capture. Later in the century, local expatriates joined organizations like the Republican Society for Cuba and Puerto Rico and the Partido Revolucionario Cubano. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, armed insurrection against Spanish rule quickly gained the endorsement of the U.S. government.

American expansionism, public outcry over the indignities of Spanish rule, and the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor led to the Spanish-American War in 1898. Material and men from the Philadelphia region backed the U.S. campaign. Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company supplied naval vessels, many of which bore armor and armaments from other Pennsylvania companies such as Bethlehem Steel and Midvale Steel. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania National Guard saw only limited action after being deployed to Puerto Rico, despite being among the best prepared state militias. That did not discourage Philadelphia from hosting an elaborate three-day-long Peace Jubilee in October 1898 to honor the troops and American victory. Puerto Rico remained under U.S. military rule until 1900.

A Hope for Profits

Companies based in the Philadelphia region hoped to profit from development of the Caribbean islands.  Pennsylvania businesses supplied equipment and management for railroad and pier construction in Puerto Rico. Similarly, the Puerto Rico Company, a New Jersey company headquartered in Philadelphia, held franchises for lighting, ice, and brick plants in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Caribbean investments also promoted more philanthropic endeavors. When a cyclone devastated Puerto Rico’s food supplies in 1900, Philadelphia donors quickly filled an entire ship’s worth of food aid. Baltimore soon followed suit. 

As the United States gained influence over Cuba and control of Puerto Rico, scathing critiques of American imperialism circulated through Spanish-speaking communities in the Philadelphia region. While island exports had long been sold to the United States market, American political control severely limited Puerto Rico’s ability to export to other nations. Displacement wrought by the swift consolidation of land ownership created the appearance of surplus population on the island. Laborers recognized their increasing subjugation to the American capitalist system. In the years surrounding World War I, some Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia joined the Industrial Workers of the World and helped to distribute anarchist newspapers while maintaining close contact with island allies.

[caption id="attachment_25843" align="alignright" width="300"]Children at the Please Touch Museum's "Salute to Puerto Rico," held in 1983. The Please Touch Museum mounted a “Salute to Puerto Rico,” shown here, in 1983 to increase cultural exchange and awareness. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

In the early twentieth century, Quakers from the mid-Atlantic region worked to liberalize U.S. policy toward Puerto Rico, though their efforts were limited by widespread assumptions about racial hierarchies. After the Jones Act of 1917 granted them U.S. citizenship, Puerto Ricans could migrate to the mainland United States without threat of deportation. But this citizenship carried severely limited political power, as island affairs remained subject to the oversight of an appointed governor and the United States Congress. Such control derived, at least in part, from recognition that Puerto Rico’s geographic position, in particular its proximity to the Panama Canal, made it a valuable military asset for the United States.

During the early twentieth century, Puerto Rico’s image as an idyllic tropical island drew a limited number of tourists from the Philadelphia region. Although San Juan was less accessible by ship than other Caribbean ports such as Havana and Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, demand for the very limited passenger service to Puerto Rico was high and usually required advance reservations. At the same time, the racial mixing common among Puerto Rican passengers on second-class ships offended the segregationist ideals of some white passengers from the mid-Atlantic.

Growing Bonds

The throes of the Great Depression and the contingencies of World War II further consolidated links between the mid-Atlantic and Puerto Rico. Labor organizations attempted to respond to systemic economic crisis through coordinated campaigns. Striking cigar makers, for instance, simultaneously halted production in Camden, New York City, Tampa, and Puerto Rico in 1933. Soon after, military demands funneled the flow of resources. Puerto Rico remained a strategic location, and Philadelphia-based McCloskey and Company won a $4.7 million contract to construct portions of the air base at Punta Borinquen during World War II. Meanwhile, the War Manpower Commission coordinated the movement of laborers to the mid-Atlantic in order to aid with defense production; about five hundred Puerto Ricans went to work at Camden’s Campbell Soup Company. They joined other Puerto Rican migrants drawn by agricultural employment in the region.

From the late 1940s, two major dynamics impacted the Philadelphia region’s relationship with Puerto Rico. First was an assertive economic development policy called Operación Manos a la Obra (Operation Bootstrap) that sought to industrialize the previously agricultural island. A second, related development was a concerted effort to promote labor migration off the island to solve the perceived problem of overpopulation.

[caption id="attachment_25842" align="alignright" width="300"]Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Felisa Rincon de Gautier, visiting Philadelphia in 1961. Felisa Rincon de Gautier, shown visiting Philadelphia in 1961, was the first woman to be elected as the mayor of a capital city in the Americas. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Alongside the Puerto Rican government’s efforts to promote labor migration, labor recruiters based in the Philadelphia region built personal relationships with island residents. In particular, Samuel J. Friedman, who had been born in Puerto Rico, played a prominent role in steering Puerto Rican workers to South Jersey farms and establishing a Migration Division office in the region. By the late 1950s, Puerto Rican labor migrants predominated in the mushroom growing industry surrounding Kennett Square. As Puerto Rican populations increased, first churches, then other local institutions, and eventually city governments began offering accommodations for Spanish speakers.

The advent of regular air travel between Philadelphia and San Juan in the late 1950s greatly increased population flows back and forth. Many passengers were Puerto Rican labor migrants, but Puerto Rican officials also pleaded for increased air service in order to accommodate more tourists. By the 1940s, Puerto Rico had become a vacation destination for some of Philadelphia's black middle class, who built social relationships with their island peers. Between 1958 and 1967, Nancy Middens (1913-89) wrote a column for the Philadelphia Tribune called “Under Two Flags,” which sought to inform readers about both the island and Puerto Rican migrants to Philadelphia. In 1967, black attorney and politician Charles Bowser (1935-2014) represented Philadelphia on a goodwill trip to Puerto Rico. The Reverend Leon Sullivan (1922-2001), a civil rights leader and proponent of economic uplift, also traveled to the island and established a Puerto Rican branch of the Opportunities Industrialization Center.

Sports provided one avenue of cultural exchange—especially baseball and boxing. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Philadelphia Phillies, and Camden’s minor league baseball team all traveled to play in the Caribbean in the early twentieth century. Higher-paying island teams lured players such as Gene Benson (1913-99) away from the Negro League’s Philadelphia Stars. In the following decades, the Philadelphia Phillies regularly sent coaching staff and players including Grant Jackson (b. 1942) and Mike Schmidt (b. 1949) to participate in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Numerous Puerto Rican-born players such as Willie Montañez (b. 1948) eventually found places on the rosters of the Philadelphia Athletics or the Philadelphia Phillies. Meanwhile, boxing fans in the mid-Atlantic followed the successful careers of numerous Puerto Rican fighters.

Promotion of Cultural Awareness

Events, exhibitions, television, and publications also sought to increase cultural exchange and awareness. Puerto Rican government officials and musicians regularly traveled to appear at events like Philadelphia’s North City Festival and Camden’s Saint John the Baptist Parade. In the early 1970s, North Philadelphia activist Maria Lina Bonet (1924-97) convinced Pan American Airlines to transport displays and artifacts from the island free of charge in order to stage a large exhibit on Puerto Rican life and art in Center City. Similarly, the Please Touch Museum mounted a “Salute to Puerto Rico” in 1984. These events dovetailed with sustained cultural programs by organizations like Taller Puertorriqueño and neighborhood festivals. Beginning in 1970, WPVI-TV broadcast a weekly half-hour show titled “Puerto Rican Panorama” for more than twenty years. During the 1980s and 1990s, Community Focus, a bilingual weekly newspaper, ran regular features on Puerto Rican history and politics.

Growing Puerto Rican nationalism impacted the Philadelphia region, where it intersected with civil rights activism, Black Power advocacy, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Leftist Puerto Rican groups drew direct connections between the island’s colonial status and the depressed economic condition of mainland barrio residents, but sometimes struggled to balance those causes. When Philadelphia’s chapter of the Young Lords occupied a North Philadelphia church in 1970 to offer legal aid and fight local drug trafficking, their prominent display of the Puerto Rican flag disturbed some of the black congregation, while others were eager to collaborate with the Lords on community programs. Across the river, flags and signs reading “Puerto Rico Libre!” lined the streets during an uprising following an altercation between a Puerto Rican motorist and Camden police in 1971. The Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI), which evolved into the mainland division of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), attracted members in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Puerto Rican independence figured prominently in the “Bicentennial without Colonies,” staged by the PSP and allied organizations in Fairmount Park in 1976. The parade and demonstration drew approximately forty thousand participants, despite the Rizzo administration’s efforts to discourage the event. Beginning in the late 1970s, Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican Alliance, under the leadership of figures including Juan Ramos (b. 1951), Angel Ortiz (b. 1941), and Ralph Acosta (b. 1934), carried on the mantle of addressing both city and island issues.

Concern over the impact of the American naval base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques also resonated on the mainland. Decades of heavy weapons testing contaminated the environment, endangered public heath, and threatened the livelihood of local fishermen. The navy’s activities recurrently drew protests from Puerto Rican populations and Philadelphia members of the Vieques Support Network. Even after the Navy withdrew in 2003, serious environmental damage and health risks remained.

[caption id="attachment_25841" align="alignright" width="300"]Dancers performing a traditional Puerto Rican dance at the Festival de Bambulaé. Dancers performing the traditional Puerto Rican dance Bomba y Plena are accompanied by drumming and singing at the Festival de BambulaéŽ. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Economic connections between Philadelphia-area companies and Puerto Rico grew more complex toward the end of the twentieth century. As manufacturing concerns decreased their presence in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, they took advantage of generous corporate tax incentives and lower labor costs available in Puerto Rico. In the 1960s and 1970s companies including metal products fabricator Perry Equipment, toy producer De Luxe Reading Corporation, and garment maker Rosenau Brothers started production on the island. First Pennsylvania Bank acquired financial interests in Puerto Rico as part of an aggressive growth strategy. The movement of pharmaceutical and medical supply companies such as Wyeth Labs and National Label Company followed in the 1980s and 1990s. With waves of business consolidation, conglomerates including Campbell Soup Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Alco Standard, and Sun Oil operated facilities in Puerto Rico as well as the mid-Atlantic region.

Migration Persists

Migration from Puerto Rico to the Philadelphia region continued throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. For many families, movement between the island and mainland was bidirectional as economic and personal circumstances changed. Economic turmoil on the island brought increased migration to Philadelphia as it grew to house the second-largest mainland concentration of Puerto Ricans. In July 2016, the U.S. Congress enacted the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) to address the island’s growing debt crisis and the possibility of lawsuits from creditors. Puerto Rican populations in the mid-Atlantic joined their Caribbean counterparts in criticizing the power granted to an unelected financial oversight board. 

Over several centuries, ties between the Philadelphia region and Puerto Rico formed and evolved within colonial structures. Economic connections moved from the trade of agricultural commodities to infrastructure development and capital-intensive production facilities. The nature of those economic links in turn encouraged flows of labor migration to the mainland and capital migration to the island. Political advocacy, cultural events, and tourism added complexity to regional relationships. Overall, the mid-Atlantic’s myriad connections to Puerto Rico represent a microcosm of broader processes of globalization.

Alyssa Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor of History at Allegheny College. Her research has examined relations between Puerto Rican and African American residents in postwar Philadelphia.

Puerto Rican Migration

Puerto Ricans migrated to the Philadelphia area in search of better economic opportunities. A small stream of migration prior to the twentieth century grew during the two world wars, with many more migrants arriving from the 1950s onward. Many families settled permanently in the region, where their lives intertwined with black and white residents and their labor supported the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

[caption id="attachment_20059" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white family of a group of people playing musical instruments near a Christmas tree inside of a home Migrants to Philadelphia brought their culture, including folk music, with them. This group in a Philadelphia home are playing traditional Latin American instruments including a guïro and maracas. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Small pockets of Puerto Rican settlement existed in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Long-standing business relationships between the island and city merchants, especially in the sugar trade, provided personal contacts and direct transportation routes. Itinerant cigar makers, railroad workers, and a smaller number of students and professionals also reached the city, aided by informal networks of family and friends. Some early migrants used Philadelphia as a base for revolutionary political critiques of Spain. They joined Cubans, Mexicans, and Spaniards to form a pan-Latino enclave of perhaps 1,500 persons by 1900. Proximity to jobs along the docks, at Baldwin Locomotive Works, and in cigar factories drew Puerto Rican migrants to three primary areas: Southwark, Spring Garden, and Northern Liberties. In these multiethnic neighborhoods, Puerto Ricans mixed not only with other Spanish speakers, but also Italian, Polish, Jewish, and African American neighbors.

The region’s Puerto Rican population grew quickly due to regional labor shortages during World War I, with many new arrivals to Philadelphia moving into subdivided housing stock or boarding houses. As their numbers grew, Spanish-speaking residents founded institutions including a mutual aid society, La Milagrosa Catholic Chapel, and the First Spanish Baptist Church. Staff at the International Institute (later Nationalities Service Center) also facilitated gatherings. Alongside small businesses like bodegas, these institutions supported a Spanish-speaking community that served as a nucleus for later waves of Puerto Rican migrants. In Southern New Jersey, farmers began to hire Puerto Rican workers as early as the 1920s, and a Puerto Rican enclave emerged around Linden Street in Camden.

[caption id="attachment_20058" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a group of students in front of a banner reading "Club Borinquen Benjamin Franklin HS" Benjamin Franklin High School hosted an early Puerto Rican students club. Puerto Rican migrants in the 1950s and 1960s settled around the Spring Garden neighborhood. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

After the Great Depression, Puerto Rican government officials increasingly encouraged migration off the island, partly to address their perception that overpopulation exceeded economic resources. Officials facilitated employment contracts, arranged air transportation, and oversaw workers through regional offices. From the early 1940s to the early 1960s, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans became seasonal workers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Migrants typically came from rural island areas, where they had worked in agricultural processing of sugar, coffee, or tobacco, produced home needlework, or operated light machinery. Upon arrival in the mid-Atlantic region, the majority started out on farms, while others worked for food canning companies or railroads. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Rican contract workers were not subject to deportation, and many chose to remain stateside. Some Puerto Rican women migrated to join a family member that was already established stateside, while others traveled on their own employment contracts. Finding low wages and poor housing conditions, many migrants left agricultural work relatively quickly in favor of manufacturing or service positions. Some of the population departing from the region’s farms headed to Philadelphia and Camden, while others joined the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans in New York City, small settlements in the Lehigh Valley, or returned to the island.

Industrialization Arrives

Meanwhile, the predominantly rural and agricultural island of Puerto Rico quickly industrialized, as a massive internal migration brought families from rural areas to cities. Finding far too few jobs for the many workers displaced by declines in agriculture and home needlework, growing numbers of Puerto Ricans left the island in search of employment. Philadelphia attracted approximately twelve thousand Puerto Rican migrants during the 1950s and soon hosted the third-largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the continental United States, while Camden drew an additional six thousand migrants. Many moved to the cities in search of manufacturing jobs. The biggest draw was the garment industry in North Philadelphia and Kensington. Others found openings at shipyards or Camden’s Campbell Soup factory. Puerto Ricans also commonly worked in restaurants, hotels, cleaning, and maintenance.

[caption id="attachment_20057" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a group of people posing with a newly-planted tree and shovels El Bloque de Oro is the heart of Philadelphia's Puerto Rican community. Located in the Fairhill neighborhood of North Philadelphia, the area is home to many Puerto Rican-owned businesses including Taller Puertorriqueño, an arts education center and gallery. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the 1950s and 1960s, Puerto Rican migrants to Philadelphia settled primarily in the Spring Garden neighborhood and along a north-south corridor surrounding North Fifth Street. Many of their neighbors were African American families with southern roots. The clustering of Puerto Rican-owned businesses around Fifth Street and Lehigh Avenue developed into the “Golden Block” (El Bloque de Oro) retail area. Pressured by gentrification of neighborhoods close to Center City, some Puerto Rican families later settled farther north, toward Hunting Park. Others moved into West Kensington, where they sometimes faced racial violence and intimidation from remaining white residents. Across the river, Puerto Rican settlement gradually progressed into South Camden, creating friction with remaining Italian neighbors.

In their interactions with other city residents, Puerto Rican migrants encountered discrimination and confusion. Philadelphia officials took greater notice of the new arrivals in the mid-1950s, after white residents attacked Puerto Ricans outside a bar in Spring Garden. The Commission on Human Relations undertook studies in 1954, 1959, and 1964 to gather information on how to speed Puerto Ricans’ assimilation. Existing institutions such as Friends Neighborhood Guild, Nationalities Service Center, and branches of the Young Women’s Christian Association sought to improve services to the community. The Catholic Archdioceses also sought to reach Puerto Ricans, opening Casa del Carmen in North Philadelphia and posting a Spanish-speaking priest at Our Lady of Fatima in South Camden, which was in the process of transitioning from an Italian into a Puerto Rican parish. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans founded their own hometown clubs and other groups, some of which united under umbrella Concilio organizations in both Philadelphia and Camden. They also made Puerto Rican culture more visible, beginning annual Puerto Rican Day celebrations in Philadelphia and Saint John the Baptist parades in Camden.

[caption id="attachment_20056" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of two men in business suits shaking hands with a merchant inside of a store From the 1970s through the 1980s, Puerto Rican business owners in the city were aided by the Spanish Merchants Association, which provided valuable services to overcome language and cultural barriers. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

From the 1970s forward, migration from the island continued to the region even as it declined to other destinations. Local populations also grew through natural increase. By 1973, Philadelphia and Camden had an estimated 85,000 and 13,000 Puerto Ricans residents, respectively. Many families moved between the mid-Atlantic region and the island as employment and personal circumstances changed; it was not uncommon for children to attend schools in both places. The majority of Puerto Ricans still held blue-collar jobs, with about 20 percent gaining white-collar employment. The growing population took advantage of the Young Lords Party’s community programs, Aspira’s educational enrichment, and Taller Puertorriqueño’s artistic offerings in Philadelphia, while Puerto Rican Unity for Progress bolstered social services in Camden.

Community Development

In the latter decades of the twentieth century, Puerto Rican residents faced greater challenges in securing stable employment as the region deindustrialized. Neighborhood infrastructure and public services suffered from disinvestment. Nonprofit organizations including El Congreso de Latinos Unidos and Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha engaged in community development to address some of these needs in North Philadelphia, while the Puerto Rican Alliance helped channel the community’s growing political power. In Camden, the Latin American Economic Development Association (LAEDA) formed to assist small business owners. In both cities, Puerto Rican residents were particularly visible in calling attention to poor housing conditions and police brutality, at times cooperating with African American neighbors in their activism.

Beginning in the 1980s, the community’s growing political power helped elect Puerto Ricans to Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania legislature. Puerto Ricans remained the largest and most politically visible Latino group in the region, but they were increasingly joined by migrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. These groups occupied their own residential enclaves and economic niches while sometimes mixing with Puerto Ricans in established Spanish-speaking organizations.

[caption id="attachment_20060" align="alignright" width="300"]a color photograph of a parade of people wearing red tee shirts dancingdown the Benjamin Franklin Parkway The Puerto Rican community gathers together on the final Sunday of September to celebrate Puerto Rican Day with a parade down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and several festivals. (Photograph by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

By 2010, approximately 122,000 Puerto Ricans lived in Philadelphia and an additional 24,000 in Camden. Philadelphia’s population had grown sufficiently to overtake Chicago as the second-largest mainland concentration, behind only New York City. More recent economic troubles on the island spurred additional migration to the mid-Atlantic region.

Overall, Puerto Rican migration to Philadelphia has been a reflection of economic circumstances. Workers who found an inadequate labor market on the island were attracted to opportunities in agriculture, manufacturing, and service in the mid-Atlantic region. Upon arrival, migrants provided the region with much-needed labor, but also faced challenges due to widespread discrimination and the decline of industrial employment. Still, many persevered and built a strong network of community resources within an increasingly diverse region.

Alyssa Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor of History at Allegheny College. Her research has examined relations between Puerto Rican and African American residents in postwar Philadelphia.

Friends Neighborhood Guild

[caption id="attachment_13430" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a woman walking with a group of children down a sidewalk, outside of a brick building. The Guild provided a variety of educational opportunities for children and adults. This daycare class was photographed just before a field trip to Abington, Pennsylvania, in 1965. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Friends Neighborhood Guild, a Quaker-founded settlement house and neighborhood center in North Philadelphia, for more than a century has helped residents confront urban issues by offering services, participating in neighborhood redevelopment, and acting as a broker for interactions across ethnic and class lines.

Established in 1879 as Friends Mission No. 1 at Beach Street and Fairmount Avenue, the Guild began as a Quaker outreach effort to immigrants and children working on the waterfront. By 1880, the mission offered a night school for boys, a sewing school for girls, and temperance meetings. The mission’s goals overlapped with the emerging settlement movement, and the institution increasingly focused on helping immigrants to adapt to urban life. In 1899, the mission changed its name to Friends Neighborhood Guild and relocated to 151 Fairmount Avenue.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the Guild provided vocational training, recreation, and health services. Demand for services outgrew facilities at Fairmount Street, and in 1913 the Guild moved to Fourth and Green Streets, where it continued to serve portions of the Northern Liberties, Poplar, and Ludlow neighborhoods.

The Guild sought to help residents of all backgrounds and promote better racial and ethnic relations. While it had earlier served European immigrants, by the 1920s changing residential demographics made African Americans a sizable Guild constituency. By the early 1950s, the Guild also provided an important meeting space and resource for the growing Puerto Rican population and for displaced persons from Eastern Europe. As civil rights struggles developed, the Quaker-controlled institution faced demands for greater local influence, which eventually resulted in community representatives holding half of the seats on the Guild’s governing board.

[caption id="attachment_13431" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of the Guild House building. The image shows the brick building and the sidewalk and street in front of the building. There are three cars parked in front of the building. The Guild House was designed by postmodern architect Robert Venturi and provided 91 apartments for the elderly of Philadelphia.(Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Under the leadership of Francis Bosworth (1905-83) from 1943 to 1967, the Guild became more involved in neighborhood and community development. The Guild took an advisory role in East Poplar urban renewal efforts and launched Operation Poplar to address juvenile delinquency. Increasingly concerned about the scarcity of affordable housing, in the 1950s the Guild partnered with American Friends Service Committee to develop Friends Housing Cooperative at Eighth Street and Fairmount Avenue, where the Guild relocated its offices once more. The racially integrated cooperative housing development allowed families to buy dwellings with low down payments and sweat equity. In the 1960s, the Guild completed construction of Guild House, an apartment complex for the elderly, at 711 Spring Garden Street. The Guild also facilitated tenant negotiations with public housing officials and assisted rent strikes against private landlords.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the Guild served a neighborhood impacted by deindustrialization and suburban migration. Remaining residents had high rates of poverty and unemployment, and the Guild offered more basic social services. As Philadelphia’s downtown-focused redevelopment continued, the Guild took leadership in opposing a commuter rail tunnel. In the 1990s, the Guild offered energy assistance and began a Freedom School summer program. By 2011, the Guild, which had historically been supported by a mix of Quaker funds, government programs, grants, and United Way allotments, faced financial difficulties as these funding sources diminished. Nevertheless, the Guild continued to serve the area.

Alyssa Ribeiro is a Research Scholar at UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women and teaches at California State University, Northridge.

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