Why Were People From the Old Kensington The Way They Were?

I’m talking about your mom and dad, your grandparents, and maybe even you. I have thought about this a lot. When I wrote my books about the people from old Kensington, I patterned my historical figures after people I knew. No one of them represents a single person but rather they are a combination of Kensingtondom traits. I know? That’s not a real word, but I like it.

So when I describe to you the traits I identify as being Kensington, it’s also not any one person and maybe you won’t be able to identify some of those traits in the people you knew. Also, I think we would all agree very few people are saints and we all have some traits that may not be, shall we say, acceptable in mixed company. So I will only talk about the good traits. You are welcome to cover the bad ones in your comments. 😊

Hardworking: When our immigrant ancestors came to Philadelphia, they weren’t welcomed, especially if they weren’t from the original British people. So they had to take the jobs no one else wanted and that paid very little. They worked in the mines, cleaned up horse manure on the streets, washed rich people's laundry, and cleaned their homes. The Irish, Germans, Polish, Hungarians, Jewish, and Italians had to work hard just to survive. This trait was passed on to their children and their children’s children. Hard work was instilled into our Kensington psychics. It’s also probably the reason that there were so many corner bars in Philly.

Adaptable: When early Kensington immigrants came to Philly, they had to adapt or die. There was no free food, welfare or rich relatives they could count on to see them through. They adapted but kept the family traditions, the foods, and the religions and these became as American as the Liberty Bell. I mean, look at the symbols of Philly. The steak sandwich and the hoagie are Italian derivatives. Soft pretzels were German and so on and so on.  

Close-Knit: People back in old Kensington had to look after each other because no one else would. They learned the value of family and friends.

Tough: I do consider being tough a good trait. I’m not just talking about physically tough but also the toughness of mind. In old Kensington, you could be sure you would be called upon to fight in America's wars. And I am sure that is still happening with our modern wars. The poor generally fight the wars. These men who fought had to be tough to survive. Ever wonder why so many Irish became cops? That’s why. And the women who replaced the men in the factories and took care of their families by themselves were even tougher. They might have cried at night but come daylight they were ready, willing, and able to do anything they could for the family.   

Okay, so your ancestors came to Kensington and faced hardships, maltreatment, had to work long hard hours, and learn to adapt to a new way of life. They gave you the gifts they learned living and working in old Kensington. Learning those lessons was enough to make a person curse. Remember this, if you remember anything. The reason you curse so much is that your ancestors paved the way for you and left a few traits in you.

Do you have any stories of tough, adaptable close-knit and hardworking family members?

Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.

Visit our curated page that provides a variety of books about Philadelphia.
Visit the Mercy Row Series of Books about A Philadelphia Irish mob family.

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .