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“Out of abundance, give to the poor.” Such was the Gospel precept of Italian Methodist minister, Rev. Antonio Arrighi in establishing the Anson Phelps Stokes Italian Free Library in 1894 in NYC. My talk will demonstrate the connection that existed between his Protestant missionary work and this immigrant library collection.

The library opened in July 1894 in a stately building on Mulberry Street. Housing more than 3,000 books and newspapers in both Italian and English, it was funded entirely by the wealthy donor’s wife, Helen Louisa Stokes. Both she and Arrighi desired to see such a library serving the Italian immigrant population of New York City at this important time in immigration history. Capitalizing on the steady stream of over 200 daily visitors to a facility that provided both a social and educational function, the opportunities were many for acts of religious conversion and Americanization.

I have been researching this immigrant library since 2010 after discovering the 1896 catalog to its collection on microfilm at NYPL and the first to connect it to this location. I welcome comments and suggestions from fellow colleagues on ways to continue my research.


This presentation was given as part of the Grace Ellen-McCrann Lecture series.

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