Illuminating the Particular: Photographs of Milwaukee's Polish South Side

By Christel T. Maass, Introduction by John Gurda, Photographs by Roman B.J. Kwasniewski

Hardcover: $19.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-347-3

160 pages, 167 b/w photos, 1 map, 10 x 10"


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Prussian Poles began to arrive in Milwaukee in the mid-19th century, settling predominantly on Milwaukee's South Side. More than three quarters of the entire Polish population lived on the city's near south side, bordered by Lake Michigan, eventually running west to the city limits and beyond, and north and south between National and Oklahoma Avenues.

Roman B. J. Kwasniewski, a son of Polish immigrants, used his camera to document life in this neighborhood shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The photographs in this book are representative of the Polish American experience in Milwaukee prior to World War II. Kwasniewski's photographs document this critical time when the children and grandchildren of Milwaukee's Polish immigrants established themselves fully as American citizens.

The photographs in this collection depict what life was like in Kwasniewski's Lincoln Avenue/Mitchell Street neighborhood. Many images such as family portraits and wedding pictures are from the time when Kwasniewski operated Park Studio between 1913 and 1947. Kwasniewski also took his camera out into the community to capture scenes of life on the streets, local businesses, homes, classrooms, and cultural, social, and recreational activities. With an introduction by well-known Milwaukee historian John Gurda, this book provides a visual picture of the growth of Milwaukee's second largest ethnic group and the distinctive community that developed on Milwaukee's South Side.

"What Kwasniewski created, apparently without forethought, was a community portrait that is uncommonly complete, technically superb, and compelling in its humanity. Few neighborhoods in America, ethnic or otherwise, have been chronicled in such loving detail." -John Gurda, from the Introduction

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Christel T. Maass is Academic Librarian in the Special Collections Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Golda Meir Library. She holds a B.A. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and M.S. (LIS) and M.A. (History) degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She participated in processing the extensive Kwasniewski Photographic Collection. She is the author of a monthly photo/caption column, "A Glance at Yesteryear," in the "Small Business Times." Many of the Kwasniewski photos have appeared in that column.

John Gurda is a Milwaukee-born writer and historian who has been studying his hometown for more than 25 years. He is a photographer, lecturer, and the local history columnist for the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel." He holds a B.A. in English from Boston College and M.A. in Cultural Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Gurda is a eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Historical Society's Award of Merit.