Russian Brotherhood – A Philly Story

Now known as the Keystone State, Pennsylvania equally deserved its earlier nickname: the Coal State. Northeastern Pennsylvania at one time contained three-quarters of the world’s anthracite deposits.

Beginning in the early 1800s, beleaguered Eastern European laborers flocked to this region. Carpatho-Rusyns, i.e. those living along the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains in present day Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine, quickly became one of the anthracite region’s most dominant ethnic groups.


St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Church, undated. From the Jane Campbell scrapbook collection [V71]

Also called Ruthenians, Lemkos, or (inaccurately) Russians, the Carpatho-Rusyns flocked to small towns and cities, including Shenandoah, Centralia, and Scranton. The smattering of onion-domed churches is perhaps the most visible marker of their influence in the area.

Life was not easy. Knowing neither the language nor the customs of the United States, many Carpatho-Rusyns depended exclusively on their fellow immigrants for aid in times of need. Working in the mines, always a dangerous activity, was even more so in the late 19th century.


Russian Brotherhood policy for Nicholas Mandziak ca. 1923. From the Russian Brotherhood Organization Records [3035]

In an era when injury and death compensation did not yet exist within the coal industry, the establishment of a beneficial society became a necessity. Founded in 1900 at Mahanoy City, the Russian Brotherhood Organization (RBO) set out to provide material, moral, and cultural aid to Carpatho-Rusyn settlers and immigrants from Galicia.

In addition to providing relief for those distressed by illness, physical injury, or disability, the RBO also cared for the widows and orphans of deceased members. Social and cultural ties to their ancestral homeland were also promoted.  A Cyrillic-alphabet newspaper published by the RBO, Pravda, featured essays about American life as well as “Letters from the Old Country.”


Russian Brotherhood of the U. S. A. Russian Almanac ca. 1935. From the Russian Brotherhood Organization Records [3035]

Russian Brotherhood of the U. S. A. Russian AlmanacThe RBO continues to aid those of Carpatho-Rusyn descent through its support of orphanages, scholarships, and other charitable institutions. The RBO is currently headquartered at 1733 Spring Garden Street, in Philadelphia.

Join us on March 23 for Becoming U.S. – Age and Assimilation, the second program in HSP’s latest series, as we explore the many ways age and generational status affect immigration and assimilation experiences.

Is the experience decidedly different if an individual arrives in the U.S. as a child, or if one is a student or a working adult? Do first-generation immigrants – i.e., the parents – think about assimilation differently than second-generation immigrants – i.e., children? Does one generation wish to celebrate the “home” culture more than the other? Register for the free program here.

Becoming U.S. is a series of programs launched by HSP in fall 2016 to encourage sharing across ethnicity, race, and citizenship status. We want to hear and learn from each other about the human endeavor of transition and settlement. Through civic dialogue, we wish to personalize stories often presented in the media in only the broadest of strokes, to foster a mutual respect and renewed appreciation for the histories of all Philadelphians.


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