Minnie A. Lucey, a pioneer social worker, dedicated her life to the education and acclimation of the Italian immigrants in the Pine Street Historic District of Montclair in the early 1900s.
In 1915, she was named director of the Home Department in the Baldwin Street School, and later the Baldwin Street Community House (later renamed the Minnie A. Lucey House)
After 1890, with the establishment of the first Montclair Water Company, there was the need to build a municipal infrastructure that would replace local well water with a modern, sanitary water and sewer system. A substantial wave of immigrants from several towns in Southern Italy: Aquilonia, Lacedonia, San Fele, Cerami — who had an expertise in fontaniere and fonaiole (plumbing)–arrived in Montclair to accomplish that task. These newcomers were considered foreigners and even the census at the time reflected this difference. Up until the 1940s, the Montclair census had three ethnic categories, Caucasian, Negro and Italian. The Italians settled in the Fourth Ward.
Lucey taught child care and hygiene to these new families. The class was open to all, but participants had to abide by one rule, they had to bring a baby.
What was particularly simpatica (nice) about Minnie Lucy’s class, was that if you wanted to learn and didn’t have a baby, you could just borrow one from a friend or family member. Minnie Lucey’s classes were very popular, full of young mothers and their daughters who wanted to learn. She taught English, reading, writing and other social and homemaking skills. The library of the school was transformed into a nursery so attendees didn’t have to leave their other children at home alone, according to several senior members of Montclair’s Digeronimo and de Carlo families, who were part of this community back then.
Minnie A. Lucey’s “Little Mother’s” class, taking place in the Baldwin Street School in 1914. The girls practiced with life-sized dolls before bringing in the real babies they often cared for.
Minnie A. Lucey was considered a pioneer in the field of social work and her success was largely due to her sincerity, kindness and concern for the Italian people.
The Baldwin Street Community House was constructed in 1929 at a cost of $85,383.58. It was designed by the architectural firm of Holmes and Von Schmid of Montclair in the style of an Italian villa to reflect the Italian heritage of the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.
Minnie A. Lucey died in 1930 at the age of 45. Following her death, the Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution to rename the Baldwin Street Community House the Minnie A. Lucey House. That facility served the Italian American neighborhood in Montclair until the 1960s.
(Pine Street Historic District, Essex County, NJ, Nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.)
Donato DiGeronimo, Montclair
Photos, The Montclair Public Library Digital History Archives