229 Brown Street: Societatea Banateana-Vasile Alecsandri
229 Brown St.
In the early 1900s, no government-funded relief welfare system existed in the United States. The absence of publically funded support for the working classes led to the founding of numerous benevolent societies that aimed to help struggling individuals through hard times. Romanian-Americans from the province of Banat in southwestern Romania formed one such society in 1906: Societatea Banateana, the first Romanian-American cultural and beneficial society in Philadelphia. A second Romanian-American benevolent society formed in 1912 and the two merged a year later. The merge created Societatea Banateana-Vasile Alecsandri, often referred to as Banateana, located at 229 Brown Street in Philadelphia from 1923 until the mid-1970s. The Society still existed a century later in 2013.
The Romanian-American community established itself in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Rural Romanians heard from individuals who emigrated before them, mostly their Danube-Swabian neighbors, that Philadelphia offered many job opportunities. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the industrial world knew Philadelphia as The Workshop of the World because of the vast amount of factories and products manufactured in the city. The prospect of well-paying factory jobs attracted many Romanians, who immigrated to Philadelphia and formed a strong community in the Northern Liberties section of the city.
Most members of Banateana hailed from rural communities in Romania. Those who immigrated to Philadelphia related to each other in many different ways, including common ancestral villages, extended families, or their Romanian Orthodox Religion. Additionally, many of the Romanian immigrants also spoke German, Hungarian, Serbian, and other second languages depending on their home region. This allowed the Romanians to form a tight-knit community in an area of the city already heavily populated with Germans and other Eastern European immigrants.
The Society rented quarters until 1923, when it purchased a four-story building located at 229 Brown Street in Northern Liberties. Founders of Banateana formed the Society specifically to help each other fund medical and funeral expenses. However, the Society also functioned as a common place where Romanian-Americans could socialize with one another and celebrate their heritage through the upholding of traditions from the old country. Members participated in choral groups, performed plays in Romanian, held dances with traditional Romanian folk music, and formed all male dance troupes to perform traditional Romanian dances. In 1919, members of Banateana even formed Philadelphia’s first Romanian Orthodox parish: Descent of the Holy Spirit Romanian Orthodox Church.
Societatea Banateana-Vasile Alecsandri moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania in 1974. As of 2013, Societatea Banateana still functioned as a cultural and benevolent society. The organization began efforts to preserve the heritage of the group in the early 1990s, with the establishment of a cultural museum at the Descent of the Holy Spirit Romanian Orthodox Church. In 2013, Societatea Banateana donated its extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to ensure both the protection and accessibility of the collection.