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"The Chinese In New England -- The Work-Shop." Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

By 1890, immigrants accounted for approximately one-third of shoe and boot industry workers in the United States. Massachusetts, however, counted a smaller percentage of its workers as foreign-born, as the well-established industry was already staffed by those native to the state. A few immigrant groups, like those from China and Armenia, found both brief and more lasting places in Massachusetts’ shoemaking industry.

In 1870, workers in a unionized shoe factory owned by Calvin Sampson in North Adams, Massachusetts, went on strike for higher wages and a workday shorter than 10 hours. Undeterred, Sampson fired all of his employees and recruited ninety-five Chinese immigrants from California to replace them. The workers were all men who viewed this employment as temporary; most were gone by 1880.

Local shoe factories became communities within communities for many immigrants. Following the Armenian genocide of 1915, in which more than one million Armenians were massacred in World War I, many Armenian men and women immigrated to Watertown, Massachusetts. There, the Hood Rubber Factorya major producer of the state’s shoe and boot solesemployed many recent immigrants, forming a center for this displaced population and providing resources like medical care and English tutoring.