About the exhibit
The exhibit "Philadelphia Latvian Baptist Youth Society" is part of a larger research project examining the cultural production of Latvian Baptist immigrants to the United States before the Second World War. The specific focus of the research project is the periodicals and other publications created by these immigrants, who have in large part been ignored by historians of the Latvian immigrant experience.
Latvian Baptists settled in a number of urban centers — Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia — as well as formed a few agricultural "colonies." The largest and by far the most active Latvian Baptist community was the one in West Philadelphia, where between 100 and 200 persons lived within a few city blocks of their meeting house, the First Lettish Baptist Church of Philadelphia at the corner of Ogden and Preston streets. It was this community that was largely responsible for the early publications created for Latvian Baptists in North America.
A few reports from the early 20th century observed that Latvian Baptists had concentrated in West Philadelphia. However, it has been difficult to determine how many. A rare artifact — a photographic postcard showing all members of the Philadelphia Latvian Baptist Youth Society (Filadelfijas latviešu baptistu jauniešu biedrība) in 1916 — provides a gateway to creating a portrait of the immigrant community. Using the names of the 72 individuals pictured on the postcard, the research has attempted to locate them primarily in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. census data, as well as — in the case of males — in draft registration cards from 1917-1918. Although the data are available from various sources, links in the individual biographies connect the reader to the free-to-use FamilySearch website maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some links also lead to the periodika.lv digital collection maintained by the National Library of Latvia.
The postcard offers a snapshot of the young adult population of Latvian Baptists in 1916. Not every individual has been located in the 1910 or 1920 censuses, and females did not register for the draft. Thus, the portrait of the community is far from complete. Despite this, the initial list of 72 individuals has been expanded to about 200 when accounting for parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, and boarders at the same address. Given that some contemporary estimates put the population of all Latvians in Philadelphia at about 1,000, the Latvian Baptist population in West Philadelphia accounted for 10 percent to 20 percent of the total.
The researcher, Andris Straumanis, is an associate professor of journalism in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. This exhibit began as an assignment in a course in digital public humanities at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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