The Garment Trade and the Immigrant Experience
Immigrant garment workers past and present have many experiences in common. They all share the memories of long hours hunched over sewing machines, the hiss and heat of pressing irons, and the goal of making a better life. The Levines and Rogarshevskys, like many immigrants of their time, found a livelihood in the garment trade, New York’s largest industry.
The Levines operated a garment workshop in their tiny apartment at 97 Orchard in 1892. Harris Levine, the patriarch, hired three workers and worked long 15-hour days, stopping only to observe the Sabbath each Saturday. A family of six, the Levines managed to raise their children and compete with other garment shops for 13 years — and all within a 325-square-foot apartment.
The Rogarshevkys faced a similar living challenge in 1908. With six children, the Rogarshevskys creatively squeezed into their tiny three-room apartment at 97 Orchard Street. The patriarch, Abraham, earned a living as a garment presser in one of the neighborhood shops. It was a job that would take a tremendous toll both on Abraham and his family.