By Emily Reed, digital records archivist, Mercy Heritage Center
The Sisters of Mercy stand in solidarity with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. This blog post is part of week-long focus on Mercy and immigration, including historical accounts of the sisters’ roots as immigrants in the 19th century as well as a look at Mercy ministries, past and present, serving our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers. Visit the webpage for Mercy for Immigrants to learn more.
In 1895, the Sisters of Mercy established St. Joseph’s Home for Working Girls in Worcester, Massachusetts. Intended to provide an affordable space for single, working women, the home quickly became a safe haven for immigrant women. In a world where they had few rights or legal protections, immigrant women were particularly vulnerable, as they arrived in the United States without social or economic support.
Throughout American history, women have been subject to laws limiting their abilities to work, own property or have full determination over the course of their own lives. In 1895, when St. Joseph’s Home was established, the right to vote was 25 years in the future. Education could be difficult to obtain, and women had limited control over finances. Most careers and professions were off-limits. Immigrant women were, and continue to be, particularly vulnerable to such discrimination, since they lacked the resources, both economic and social, needed to overcome or circumvent such discrimination. On their own in a country where opportunities were limited for women, St. Joseph’s Home provided a place for immigrant women to establish themselves, save money and stay safe in an unfamiliar land.
A Home for Immigrants
In the early years, St. Joseph’s was home to immigrant women from Ireland, Italy, Poland and other European countries. As immigration patterns changed over the years, it was home to women from Latin American and African countries. In all, St. Joseph’s opened its doors to women from 43 countries during its 110-year history.
Throughout the years, the ministry of St. Joseph’s Home expanded to include other groups of women who needed the space, security and tranquility to address stressful situations, recover from past traumas, stabilize their lives and continue to grow. Through this broadening of mission, women recovering from mental health problems and substance abuse; women in transition due to domestic violence; retirees; and persons who were economically poor or developmentally delayed all found a place at St. Joseph’s.