About Us

The Tenement Museum welcomes you into the homes of immigrant, migrant, and refugee families to inspire connections between past and present and to promote an inclusive and expansive American identity.

We tell the stories of working-class tenement residents who moved to New York City from other countries and other parts of the country. Their work helped build the city and nation, and their stories help us understand our history.

While textbooks often overlook the stories of ordinary people, our tours immerse visitors in the tenement hallways, kitchens, and parlors where families carved out new lives. We share primary sources and research that help us explore the stories of tenement families. Free public programs, curricula, and our Your Story, Our Story website continue the conversation, using our stories as points of departure to connect the past to the present.

We aim to build an inclusive and expansive American identity and believe that the exploration of our complex history—one with moments of both inclusion and exclusion—helps prepare us to recognize and discuss today’s complex issues with empathy and nuance.

Our Story

When the Tenement Museum opened in 1988, it radically challenged the methods, subjects, and approaches of museums and historic houses. It elevated everyday real-life people who never dreamed their stories would become the subject matter of museums and crafted those humble stories into dynamic and engaging lenses onto history.

Co-founder of the Tenement Museum, Ruth Abram, stands at a podium giving a speech at a Lower East Side Historic Conservancy event.


Our Beginnings

Founded in 1988 by historian Ruth Abram and social activist Anita Jacobson, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum explores the uniquely American story of immigration and the rich, diverse landscape it continues to create. The Museum took root when Abram and Jacobson discovered 97 Orchard Street — a dilapidated tenement building whose upper levels had been shuttered for more than 50 years.

Assorted pieces of torn paper and artifacts found at 97 Orchard Street, including bits from flyers, playing cards, and photos

Revealing a Shared History

Although the building was in a state of disrepair, they uncovered personal belongings and other evidence of the families that called those apartments home between the 1860s and 1930s.

These artifacts – toys, library notices, dolls, hairpins, jacks, business cards, high holiday tickets – became clues that helped us piece together the stories of ordinary people who didn’t leave formal archives.

Unlike other museums which focused on one particular group, the Museum aimed to tell the variety of immigrant and migrant stories.

A trailblazer, the Tenement Museum reshaped the museum experience. Rather than having visitors wander through galleries reading wall text, we work with these objects and primary sources, and educators share them with visitors on our interactive tours.

A museum educator points at a painted mural on a wall at 97 Orchard Street


Bridging the Past to the Present

We explore stories of tenement dwellers through guided tours of two historic buildings, 97 and 103 Orchard Street, and their Lower East Side neighborhood.

These immersive trips back in time offer a chance to explore identity, public policy, urban development, architecture, and other themes from the prespective of the ordinary families who lived in these iconic buildings and the people in the neighborhood.

Fast Facts

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Exhibits exploring family stories from around the world -- including China, Eastern Europe, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Russia
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Crowd-sourced stories in our ever-growing interactive Your Story, Our Story digital collection submitted by teachers and students in the U.S and abroad
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New arrivals we’ve connected with through local settlement houses and immigrant service organizations as part of our Shared Journeys program

Book a Historic Tenement Tour

Click a family on the timeline to book a tour and learn more about the stories we share.

Experience the Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum provides many opportunities to understand the experiences of immigrants, migrants, and refugees and the fundamental role they play in defining our national identity.