Ardmore Project Suburban Life in the Early 20th Century


Ardmore, Pennsylvania

General Description

Villanova students gathered all of the information on this site from the 1920 U.S. Census, centering their research on a specific area in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The census data that they used relates to District 0109 of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Resident Data

According to the 1920 census, South Ardmore contained 2569 residents spread across 22 streets. To see the list of streets, click on the "Zones" tab on the left. The census returns listed 598 households in the area, and the data indicates that approximately 277 were owned and 317 were rented.[1]

Of the 2569 residents, 1345, or 52% of the residents, were female. The remaining 1224 were male. Only 8 residents in the entire population were divorced. 43% of the population was married, while just over half of the total population remained single. To see a chart break down the percentages, click here.

21% of Ardmore residents were 10 years old or younger, while 63% of the entire population spanned from 11-50, making up the majority of the population. These percentages indicate stable population growth, or even increasing population growth, as the largest percentage of the population is made up of children. To see a physical representation of the trend, click here. The slope of the line indicates that the population is increasing as more children are born into the area.

Literacy, Race, and Immigration

72% of Ardmore residents were Pennsylvania natives, suggesting that the area was fairly settled and stable despite the increasing immigrant population over multiple decades. For a more in-depth look at the origins of Ardmore residents, click here.

The area was predominantly white, with blacks accounting for about 12% of the total population. Additionally, there was a small group of 13 persons designated as “mulattos” in the census. To see the area’s racial breakdown in a chart, click here. The African American population in Ardmore was generally confined to a small section of the entire district, which indicates that Ardmore residents drew distinct social lines between races. Very few streets had significant numbers of black residents—of the 22 streets in the area, 9 had no black residents and only 3 had populations that were more than 20% African American. The three streets that had significant African American populations were: Sheldon Lane (with about 24%), Simpson Road (about 38%) and Chestnut Avenue (about 39%). Few African American residents lived on any other streets, and the vast majority lived highly concentrated racial groups in the area formed by Sheldon, Simpson, and Chestnut in the southern part of the district. To see an image[3] of this population distribution for African American residents, click here.

Although the immigrant population of Ardmore was very diverse insofar as immigrants came from a wide variety of places, a large portion of the total immigrant population—39%-- came from Ireland, and about 22% came from Italy. Immigration from Ireland peaked from 1900-1910, preceding a similarly large wave of Italian immigrants in the 1910s. You can see a complete breakdown of the total immigrant population and immigration by decade by clicking on these links.

Immigrant and African American populations interacted in very different and interesting ways: while Italian immigrant populations often lived in the same area as blacks, Irish immigrants were almost completely separated from these groups. Like the African American population of Ardmore, the Italian immigrant population stayed in tight groups in specific area. In fact, Italian immigrants lived in the very same places that African Americans lived, especially on Chestnut Avenue and Simpson Road. To see a map[2] of Italian immigrant settlement, click here. Although the Irish immigrant population also had pockets of close settlement in some areas, Irish immigrants were generally more spread out across Ardmore. To see a map[4] of the Irish immigrant population, click here.

A map[5] of the African American, Italian, and Irish populations overlaid on top of one another provides a basis to judge how the various populations interacted with one another in Ardmore. The Italian and black populations lived in the same area, indicating that they not only interacted, but also were probably considered to be of similar social statuses. In contrast, the Irish population settled in areas that were close to, but distinctly separate from, the Italian and black populations in Ardmore. Although some Irish residents lived close to blacks and Italians, it appears that they actively sought to distance themselves from those groups. This deliberate detachment from Italians and blacks suggests that there was a tension between these groups in the Ardmore community, though it is not clear why this tension arose. It may have been a result of religious or political differences, or may have been caused by the fact that blacks, Italians, and Irish immigrants were competing for similar jobs or higher social standings.  

It is very likely that blacks and Irish immigrants were often competing for similar jobs in the Ardmore community—both competed for low-skill service jobs including butler, caretaker, chauffer, cook, servant, launderer, or laborer. Even though Italian immigrants also competed against blacks and Irish immigrants for jobs, they were much more likely to be laborers than the other two groups—Italian immigrants made up 30% of all laborers, and about 29% of all Italians were laborers. In contrast, though blacks made up 39% of all laborers, only about 12% of all blacks worked as laborers. Finally, although Irish workers made up about 10% of all laborers, only 5% of all Irish residents were laborers. Thus, although Italians competed for jobs with other groups, as a whole they performed more unskilled, basic labor and may have made up the lowest social class, posing less of a threat to Irish immigrants and blacks who had a better chance at upward mobility through work.

Ardmore was also a highly literate population, boasting a 98% literacy rate. Although the general population had a very high literacy rate, literacy rates were lower for minorities. 10.1% of blacks and 21.4% of Italians were illiterate, which helps to explain why so many of them worked as unskilled laborers. Irish immigrants had a 97% literacy rate, which indicates that they were a fairly educated workforce and supports the idea that they sought upward social mobility through their work.

Industries and Occupations

63% of Ardmore residents who were over 18 years of age were employed in 1920, and they were spread out amongst a wide variety of occupations—there were 262 different occupations listed in the 1920 census.[6] The Ardmore population was very diverse in terms of social class and immigrant populations, which is supported by the fact that workers were involved in different levels of skilled and unskilled labor, ranging from doctors and lawyers to engineers and proprietors to laundresses, machine operators, and general laborers. About 37% of all workers were involved in unskilled labor, but immigrants and blacks made up over 70% of that percentage. 

There were several different significant industries in Ardmore, including manufacturing and railroad, but the automobile industry had the most powerful effects on the community. Ardmore’s Autocar Factory was established in 1897, and helped to transform the area through its expansive industrial reach. A glance at the map of Ardmore during this time reveals the expansive area that the factory consumed by the 1920s. The automobile industry proved to be a major source of income for the area, and employed almost 20% of all working residents.  

In 1920, the national rate of female employment for all women over the age of 16 was 21.4%, while Ardmore’s rate of female employment was 24.1%.[7] Women made up about 29.5% of the workforce, though they usually held low wage jobs like laundress and servant. In fact, all laundresses and 98% of all servants in Ardmore were women. Other common jobs for women were stenographer (87.5% of all stenographers were women) and teacher (83% of all teachers were women). Some women held white collar jobs, like operator, clerk, and bookkeeper, but this was fairly uncommon. A few women held very high profile jobs during this time, including Mary Jenkins Ensign, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper, the Ardmore Chronicle.


[1] There is not enough data to determine the ownership status of four houses listed in the census. 

[2] The key for the map is as follows: small circles represent one person. Larger circles represent five people. Solid-colored circles indicate first generation; striped circles indicate second generation. 

[3] Small circles represent one person. Larger circles represent five people. 

[4] The key for the map is as follows: small circles represent one person. Larger circles represent five people. Solid-colored circles indicate first generation; striped circles indicate second generation.

[5] The key for this map is as follows: black circles represent African American residents, white circles represent Italian immigrants, and striped circles represent Irish immigrants.

[6] There may have been some misspellings or repeats in the complete list of jobs that inflated this number, but this is as accurate as possible.

[7] U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. Web: