Sewing class at Griffin. Woodland Club. | WHS collections 2008.1.19
As a precursor to our celebration of the Society’s 100th Anniversary in 2021, our current exhibition, Windsor in 1921: A Paradox of Progress, examines the cultural forces which contributed to the Society’s founding that year. Among the most important of these factors was immigration. The following is excerpted and adapted from the exhibition.
Windsor’s population had grown rapidly in the years just prior to 1921. The town’s population had long hovered around 3,000, but surged to 5,600 by 1920. Immigrants from Lithuania, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Austria, and elsewhere, who came to work in the region’s farms and factories, drove Windsor’s drastic population increase. A larger population meant progress: more tax revenue and increased manufacturing, but it also created stress among residents who were wary of “foreign” ideas and changes to their habitual way of life.
One response to all these immigrants was Americanization, a political movement that protected the interests of native-born or established Americans above those of recent immigrants. Adherents focused on teaching immigrants to assimilate “traditional” American values. More recently, some have criticized the movement as indoctrination that devalued immigrants and made them seem dangerous.
In late March of 1919, the Hartford Courant ran a story titled “Fines for Bad Boys in Windsor: Americanization Needed in Pupils’ Homes.” The constable had been called to Griffin School, associated with Griffin’s tobacco plantation, because of some unruly immigrant boys who were charged with truancy and breach of peace. Americanization was touted as a solution to the problem. Proponents formed The Woodland Club at Griffin School as a response, taught by members of the YWCA. The group practiced games, singing, and household arts such as sewing, but the true aim of the project was to teach the girls and their families to be good Americans.
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) formed an Americanization Committee in 1919, and the Windsor Businessmen’s Association formed its own in 1920. By mid-1920, school superintendent (and soon founding member of the new Windsor Historical Society) Daniel Howard gave lectures at local schools about the movement. In 1921, the town held an Americanization Pageant, featuring international performances from its participants.
Nationwide, many museums, including Windsor Historical Society, had their start during a period when Americanization was a hot topic. Our forebears sought to preserve an idealized vision of the town’s past they worried might soon be lost to new modes of living and new ideas brought by foreign newcomers. They also desired to preserve the status of an elite group of Windsor founders and their descendants.
When the Windsor Historical Society celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, it is important that we not only celebrate our successes, but also ask ourselves how the Society can move beyond the limiting ideals of 1921, and embrace a more inclusive future.
By Kristen Wands, curator, 2020