A Multi-Cultural Community Grows

In 1872, Norwood was still largely an agricultural community; many of the leaders of the new town of Norwood felt it was imperative for the town to grow its tax base and began to look for ways to attract new businesses, which in turn would attract new residents. From the time Norwood was established, its population grew at steady pace as more and more people moved into the town looking for work in its newly created industries. In the ten years from 1875 to 1885, the Massachusetts State Censuses show Norwood increased its population from 1749 to 2921. It nearly doubled over the next fifteen years (1885 to 1900) and doubled again over the following fifteen years (1900 to 1915). These numbers reflect the coming of the New York & New England Railroad Company, the “car shops” in 1876, and the printing companies in the mid-1890s and then the growth of these industries experienced. Therefore their need for labor also increased, and a significant portion of this labor force were immigrants.

Paulina Wiik (on the right) serves tea to two friends. View looking down Melville Ave. (Courtesy of Barbara Wiik Brierley)
The Wiik family home in Swedeville (Courtesy of Barbara Wiik Brierley)

Initially, these new immigrants may have been welcome to supply labor, but they were not really welcome as members of the community. This certainly may have had to do with Yankee closed minded beliefs. This closed minded view of foreigners was most obvious was in the Flats neighborhood. It was located on the outskirts of town, making it more segregated than other town ethnic communities.  Its tenement triple-decker houses were crowded, and lack of basic plumbing and like services gave this area a slum-like feeling, making this area of town a very undesirable place to be. When the influenza outbreak of 1918 hit Norwood, the sick from the various ethnic enclaves were sent to makeshift hospital wards. It was here, because the illness was airborne, the illness spread. This spreading was thought to be due to the uncleanliness of the immigrants. Many of the outreach services provided to the new citizens of Norwood, may on the surface seem kind, but underneath could be viewed as patronizing. However, this notion should not take away from the progressive reforms many in Norwood adopted to assist those who needed help and strengthen their community. As time went on, the fully Americanized second generation were accepted and their histories as they relate to Norwood are now viewed as just part of Norwood’s history.

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