Digitizing Milwaukee’s Polonia

In its heyday, Milwaukee’s Polish-American community was among the largest in the United States. The first Polish inhabitant of Milwaukee arrived in 1842, and by the turn of the century Polish-Americans were the second largest ethnic group in the city. Most settled in a six-square mile area on the South Side known as Polonia.

Studio photographer Roman Kwasniewski created a rich visual record of his community during the first half of the twentieth century. He took pictures of family milestones, including First Communions, Confirmations, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries. He also took his camera into the community, creating a lovingly detailed portrait of the neighborhood and people around him. The Kwasniewski photograph collection consists of 6,000 prints and 29,000 negatives. It is the most extensive photograph collection of a Polish community in the U.S. and widely used by teachers, students, and individuals researching their family history.

Portrait of Roman KwasniewskiPortrait of Roman Kwasniewski

The UWM Libraries have embarked on a large-scale project to digitize and provide online access to the entire collection. We will be tracking the progress of this project and highlighting interesting images in the Digital Collections blog. Follow us by clicking on the “Follow” box on the right, and leave your comments!

And since winter is upon us here in Milwaukee, we thought we would feature a few cozy, snowy shots to kick things off: one of the Basilica of St. Josaphat framed by bare winter trees and a fresh carpet of snow (ca. 1916), and another featuring some south side denizens decked out in their finest cold weather gear. Check back for more selections from the Kwasniewski digitization efforts!

St. Josaphat BasilicaSt. Josaphat Basilica

 

A portrait of siblings, 1917 (possibly commissioned by Mrs. Leon Gurda)
A portrait of siblings, 1917 (possibly commissioned by Mrs. Leon Gurda)

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