Immigrants in the United States
Millions of immigrants from southern and central Europe streamed into the United States beginning in the 1880s. They sought new opportunities and escape from political turmoil. In cities where they settled, ethnic neighborhoods formed, and immigrants created close knit communities to preserve their cultural traditions and to support newly arriving immigrants. Many of these immigrants came to Chicago, where Greeks, Poles, Jews, and other groups settled on the West Side near the textile factories and meatpacking district where they found work.


 Mollie’s Childhood
Shieman family in Poland
Mollie West with her father Harry, her mother Minka, and her brother Louis lived in an orthodox Jewish community in Poland before coming to Chicago.

In the the small town of Sokolov, Poland, Malka Shieman was born on January 2, 1916. Due to complications at her birth, Mollie walked with a painful limp throughout her life, making her childhood difficult and lonely.

The first time Malka saw a big city was at age 12 when she visited the American Consulate in Warsaw to get her immigration papers. In 1916, Malka and her family came to America and moved into a small apartment on the West Side of Chicago.

Malka adopted the American name Mollie, which she would use for the rest of her life. Because she did not speak English, Mollie was first placed in the 1st grade. However, she quickly advanced, entering high school in 1931.

Roosevelt Road on the West Side of Chicago was the scene of regular gatherings where people would congregate to discuss social concerns and political issues. In her youth, Mollie learned from listening to these discussions and debates. Later, she became a regular speaker at these gatherings as she grew into a young activist.


immigration card001
Mollie’s immigrant identification card that was given to her at the American Consulate in Warsaw, Poland. On the card, you can see her given name in Polish, Malka Szejman (Shieman).


Header image: Mollie’s immigrant identification card


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