This page is referenced by:
media/Harkins Hall - 0-6_Harkins_Hall_1948_picture_bw.jpg
media/Logo image cropped.jpg
National and Local Historical Context
The North End of Providence had a growing population of eastern European Jewish residents by the beginning of the twentieth century. By 1915, there were approximately 8,000 eastern European Jews in Providence (3% of the total population), and their children comprised another 3% of the population (Smith, 1985). Thus, the changing neighborhood demographics meant that the first Jewish students arrived at the College soon after its founding. Alumni from the 1930s to 1960s chose Providence College for three main reasons: it was a neighborhood school, economic times were tough, and the quota system in place at Brown University and other Ivy Leagues often narrowed their options.
While many Jewish men and women of the North End recalled little or no anti-Semitism, there were some tensions. Reports indicated tension between Catholic Irish children at St. Patrick’s school and Jewish children who lived in the vicinity (Horvitz, 1979). In the beginning of the twentieth century, Catholics as well as Jews faced discrimination in Rhode Island: a long tradition of nativism meant that property based voting restrictions against immigrant populations were not fully lifted in the state until 1928 (Sterne, 2015). In the 1920s, the Rhode Island Ku Klux Klan grew and engaged in anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-Catholic activities in the state, including burning a cross near the campus of Providence College on November 6, 1924. In the 1920s and the 1930s, there was a significant uptick in anti-Semitism among the Italian-American community, purveyed through L’Eco del Rhode Island, the Italian language newspaper. By 1935, the national fascist and anti-Semitic organization of the Khaki shirts recruited 1500 members in Providence, before disbanding in 1935 (Luconi, 2002).
On a national scale, Father Charles Coughlin held immensely popular weekly Sunday radio broadcasts throughout the 1930s which attracted up to 30 million listeners. In a 1930 broadcast, Coughlin asserted that “We have lived to see the day that modern Shylocks have grown fat and wealthy, praised and deified, because they have perpetuated the ancient crime of usury under the modern racket of statesmanship” (USHMM.org). Despite his increasingly aggressive anti-Semitism, many Catholic families still listened to the weekly broadcast, and Providence College students at the time were familiar with his name.
Simultaneously, during the 1930s and 1940s, as a result of the Great Depression and rising need among all sectors of the city, the Jewish community, led by Max Grant, began to reach out in interfaith projects through the Providence Community Fund. Grant served as the Chairman of the Rhode Island Seminar on Human Relationships and served as one of the first Chairmen of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which held a conference on the campus of Providence College in 1932. Max Grant worked closely with Father John Dillon, the fourth President of Providence College, on projects of interfaith dialogue in the late 1930s. Thus, at a time of peak anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad, Providence College focused on building ties with the Jewish community, its actual neighbors on Smith Hill.
Jewish students who entered Providence College in the 1940s frequently left early because they either volunteered for service or were drafted to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II. Many died, like Abraham Smith who was killed in action in Germany in 1945. Some returned to finish their education, like Jerome Weintraub, who graduated in 1948.
By the early 1960s, declining anti-Semitism, demographic shifts in the Smith Hill neighborhood , and the end of the quota system in higher education led to the decline in numbers of Jewish students at Providence College. Many Jews began to leave the North End in favor of the suburbs and the East Side.