History of the Welsh in Chicago
History of the Welsh in Chicago
We are slowly wading through our society’s archives to piece together the history of the Welsh in Chicago since 1853. The society was originally founded at that time to meet a perceived need for those of Welsh descent who had settled in the Chicago area and had fallen on hard times. A flyer from 1912 recruiting new members states that the society “…was organized for the sole purpose of caring for the destitute Welsh, or those of Welsh descent…” Sometimes a family needed money for food, for a suit of clothes for a job, or for train fare to travel to another city where they had relatives who could take them in. It has been noted that no Welsh family requested assistance from the city following the Great Fire of 1871 though undoubtedly many were affected. The Welsh community took pride in taking care of its own. Board Members would often make a collection among themselves to help an especially needy individual or family who came directly to them for assistance.
Families living on a meager income also could not afford the extra expense incurred if one or more of its members died. At such times the society made arrangements with a funeral home to provide everything necessary for a decent burial. H.D. Sheldon is listed as “Official Undertaker to the Cambrian Society of Chicago” in records from 1905. He subsequently had a long and mutually beneficial association with the organization.
Members were encouraged to pay annual dues of $1 for gentlemen and 50c for ladies. In 1903 the society reported that it had purchased plots in three Chicago cemeteries; Graceland, Forest Home, and Oak Ridge. They continued to purchase plots as more funds became available and were able to make good on their promise to take care of any Welsh family who was unable to pay for a burial.
At the turn of the last century there was a vibrant and cohesive Welsh community in the city held together by a sense of common heritage and purpose and a strong association with the church. Many of the Welsh people in Chicago were new immigrants looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Three Welsh churches; Humboldt Park Church, South Side Welsh Church, and Hebron Church, were then in existence. Over time these congregations shrank and by the mid 1950s they became consolidated under the banner of the Hebron church which closed its doors in the 1980s after a final move to Des Plaines. The dissolution of the churches and the dispersion of the Welsh community to the suburbs and beyond eradicated any identifiable Welsh area of Chicago. We are left only with Berwyn and Bryn Mawr avenues on city maps neither of which are close to those first communities and neither of which has any Welsh association with Chicago. They are names which were used by a city developer for new streets and were copied from names of stops on a train line in Pennsylvania.
Celebrating Chicago’s Welsh Families is a new project we are starting this year to recognize the 160th anniversary of the founding of our organization, founded January 31st, 1853. At our 160th St David’s Day dinner in March 2013 we will be showcasing these families and we are looking for information, artifacts, photographs, letters etc. that help tell the story. If you are part of a Chicago Welsh family and would like to share your family’s history we would love to hear about it. Please contact Dilys Rana, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We will continue to add more information to this site as it becomes available.