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All images: Collection of Yeshiva University Museum

A sizeable portion of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who streamed into New York at the turn of the 20th century found work in the city’s expanding garment industry. Although only about 10% were actual trained tailors, many Jewish immigrants held experience in both producing clothing–since the garment industry in Russia was one of the only businesses open to Jews–and held industrial skills, making them prime candidates for operating machinery in clothing factories and sweatshops. 

Conditions were extremely poor in the sweatshops and factories where they found work, but immigrants discovered that the close-knit environment of clothing manufacture allowed them to work with their families, preserve cultural and religious traditions, make acquaintances and even start unions. By 1897, up to 75% of NYC laborers employed in clothing manufacture were Jewish. Some of these Jewish workers, as these colorful advertisements show, used their garment expertise to open their own apparel companies, hawking everything from caps to boots. Cherubic children appear frequently in these ads, and, unfortunately, children also appeared frequently in garment-industry sweatshops.

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