Documentary clips in progress recount the achievements and assimilation of early Arab American women immigrants into American society.
Many women immigrated to the United States, almost a century ago, from what is today Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. They arrived to the shores of America through Ellis Island and settled across the North East, New England; mainly in lower Manhattan and the Boston area. Others moved West reaching North Dakota, and South reaching Kentucky.
Leading feminist figures emerged as journalists, activists, artists and philanthropists early in the 20th century. Women gathered forces to establish The Syrian Ladies Aid Society (1907) to support immigrant girls. Women undertook various entrepreneurial activities, opening stores, running factories, bakeries, restaurants, literary salons or becoming artists and singers.
The first wave of immigration from the ‘Levant area’ occured mostly between the late 1880s and the 1920s. The early immigrants were initially referred to as ‘Syrians’. With the creation of Lebanon in 1920, many became Lebanese. The ‘Levant’ or ‘Greater Syria and Mount Lebanon’ were under Ottoman rule before WWI and were later divided by the British and the French.
Shedding the light on the lives of these early women immigrants gives a glimpse into a community with inspiring stories of courage that are integral to American history.
The stories are told through collections of photos, and testimonials by relatives and grandchildren. Quotes are incorporated, as well as interviews with scholars, such as Dr. Alixa Naff, who created the Arab-American Collection at the Smithsonian Institute, Dr. Evelyn Shakir, author of Bint Arab and Dr. Greg Orfalea, author of Before the Flames.
Interviews and footage filmed to date include:
Dr. Alixa Naff, Dr. Anne Rasmussen, playwright Katie Buck, Mr. Georges Hatab (Helen Samhan’s father), poet Elmaz Abi Nader and her brother Jean Abi Nader from AAI, Queen Noor, writer Dr.Greg Orfalea, Ms. Ruth Ann Skaff, author Dr. Evelyn Shakir, Dr. Evelyn Menconi, Yvonne Homsi, Elaine Hagopian, Emily Hajar, and actress Wendie Malick.
Work in progress screened at American University and Docs-in-Progress (mentioned in local newspaper). Filmmaker was interviewed on WPFW summer 2004, Washington, DC.
Funded in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and the Arab American Institute Foundation.
We’re looking for footage and photos that are not copyrighted or are in the public domain. Please contact us if you have access to family collection such as: memorabilia, photos, video, artifacts
or if you’d like to help with the research to locate audio and visual materials:
Women in dresses
Women in the streets
Women with cars/horses/carts/walking
Speakeasies with women in the shots
Boats on shores (Marseille/NY/Syrian/Lebanon…)
Women in the media
Syrian Women’s Aid Society (Boston/NY)
Ellis Island footage or photos
NY city photos from around 1900-1950
NY garment district