The Birth of Immigrant City Archives

She gathered people knowledgeable and passionate about Lawrence history to create the organization, including Phyllis Tyler, Ednah Buthmann, Joseph Mahoney, Carolyn Hamilton, Thomas Leavitt, Andrew McCusker, Anita Moulton, Paul Hudon, and Peter Ford. Immigrant City Archives was organized on March 8, 1978.

Audio [4]:
And so I – of course nobody knew of my idea and I just went on faith and charm and kind of tried to figure out who had an interest in history.


At first, the collections were housed in a small space in the YWCA. Eartha acquired a $5,000 grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission which was matched by a $2,000 grant from Jerome Cross of the Andover Bookstore and the Cross Coal Company and a $3,000 grant from Irving E. Rogers of the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. She remembers that her first purchase was a telephone.

In 1986, the rapidly expanding holdings went to a large room in the South Lawrence Library branch, which made Immigrant City Archives far more accessible to researchers and to those wishing to donate items. Eartha was concerned that official City records were disappearing from City Hall because they were left in hallways and on the basement floor. She approached the mayor and City Council and they passed a resolution naming Immigrant City Archives the official City repository. Later on, learning that the Bessie Burke Hospital was slated for demolition, she went with volunteers into its basement and pulled out many boxes of records. From the earliest days, donors of photographs, books and documents would come in and want to sit down and tell stories about the items they were donating. This led rapidly to the practice of producing oral histories which, by 2007, had grown to 600 interviews.

Audio [5]:
In fact, we had to convince people was interesting enough to be a historian. Because the answer we often got when we asked for an oral history – and which we started quite early the program – that “I was nobody important. I don't – I didn't have an interest in life. I just worked in the mills.” And so we really had to not only overcome the reluctance of the person doing research to focus on Lawrence, but to overcome the feeling of Lawrence people that whatever they had done in their life was of any importance to history.

Audio [6]:
I always said oral history is important because immigrants do not leave written autobiographies or calendars or any written testimony of their having been in Lawrence. So for them to speak out and tell us about their lives is an important addition to our paper collection.


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Lawrence, MA 01840

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Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.