History of the Poles in Baltimore
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The history of the Poles in Baltimore dates back to the late 19th century. The Polish community is largely centered in the neighborhoods of Canton, Fell's Point, Locust Point, and Highlandtown. The Poles are the largest Slavic ethnic group in the city and one of the largest European ethnic groups.
In 1940, approximately 34,000 Polish-Americans lived in the state of Maryland, most of them in Baltimore. In the same year, 8,862 immigrants from Poland lived in Baltimore. These immigrants comprised 14.2% of the city's foreign-born white population. In total, 21,175 people of Polish birth or descent lived in the city, comprising 15.2% of the foreign-stock white population.
The Polish community in the Baltimore metropolitan area numbered 122,814 as of 2000, making up 4.8 percent of the area's population. In the same year Baltimore city's Polish population was 18,400, 2.8% of the city's population.
In 2013, an estimated 15,828 Polish-Americans resided in Baltimore city, 2.5% of the population.
The first Polish immigrants to Baltimore settled in the Fell's Point neighborhood in 1868. Polish mass immigration to Baltimore and other U.S. cities first started around 1870, many of whom were fleeing the Franco-Prussian War. Many of the Polish immigrants came from agricultural regions of Poland and were often considered unskilled workers. Many worked as stevedores for Baltimore's International Longshoremen's Association. Other Polish immigrants worked in the canneries, some travelling to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi to work in the seafood canneries during the winter months. After the abolition of slavery, farmers had lost their slaves and wanted a cheap source of labor. Following changes in U.S. immigration laws many Central and Eastern European migrants, particularly Polish and Czech, came to Maryland to fill this need. These changes also affected other nations.
The majority of the Polish immigrants were Roman Catholics. The first Polish-Catholic parish to be formed was the St. Stanislaus Kostka church, which was organized in 1880. The Holy Rosary Church parish was founded in 1887. However, many were Polish Jews. Polish Jews helped found the B'nai Israel Synagogue in 1873.
By 1893, the Polish population was starting to become the backbone of Baltimore's laboring class. 1,500 were arriving in Baltimore annually and by 1893 there were 23,000 Polish-Americans living in the city.
During the early years of the 20th century the Polish population became more established in Baltimore. The Polish community established ethnic clubs, Polish-language newspapers, and create their own savings and loans societies. By 1910, Eastern Avenue in Baltimore was known as the Polish Wall Street of Baltimore.
In the census of 1960, Polish-Americans comprised 15.2% of Baltimore's population. The Polish-born was a percentage of the total foreign-born population was 62.6% in Fell's Point, 38.5% in Locust Point, and 74.7% in Southeast Baltimore.
The Polish community has declined in numbers over the years, but there is still a strong Polish presence. The Polish National Alliance is located in Baltimore and maintains an archive of several thousand documents in the Polish language. There are a number of Polish delis and restaurants still in operation, such as Krakus Deli, Polock Johnny's, Ostrowski of Bank Street, and Ze Mean Bean Café. In 2011, Baltimore's long-running Polish festival left Baltimore after 37 years of being held there; the festival was relocated to Lutherville-Timonium, due to the shrinking size of the Polish community in Baltimore.
The Polish community is Southeast Baltimore is sometimes referred to affectionately as Little Poland.
Notable Polish-Americans from Baltimore
- Mike Bielecki, a former professional baseball player who pitched in the Major Leagues for five different teams.
- Kendel Ehrlich, former First Lady of Maryland, having served from 2003 to 2007 during the administration of Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
- Aharon Feldman, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and rosh yeshiva (dean) of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel (Ner Israel Rabbinical College) in Baltimore.
- Philip H. Goodman, 42nd Mayor of the City of Baltimore and a member of the Maryland Senate.
- Hank Kazmierski, a retired American soccer forward.
- Greg Kihn, a rock musician, radio personality, and novelist.
- Barbara Mikulski, the senior United States Senator from Maryland and a member of the Democratic Party, serving since 1987.
- Ric Ocasek, a musician and music producer best known as lead vocalist for the rock band The Cars.
- Edward Rowny, a U.S. Army general and an ambassador.
- Carroll Rosenbloom, a businessman who was owner of the Baltimore Colts and the Los Angeles Rams.
- Mitchell T. Rozanski, a prelate of the Roman Catholic Church serving as the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts.
- Leon Uris, a novelist known for his historical fiction.
- Leo Wolman, a noted economist whose work focused on labor economics.
Fictional Polish-Americans from Baltimore
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