The Lawrence History Center began its own history in 1978 when German immigrant Eartha Dengler came to Lawrence, MA. At that time there was scant interest in Lawrence's history. Families of the many earlier ethnic groups had been moving out of the City for two decades. The departure of most of the enormous textile mills which were Lawrence's economic engine and the subsequent displacement of ethnic neighborhoods during Urban Redevelopment resulted in significant loss of population even while newcomers were rapidly arriving from Latin America and Southeast Asia. Some of the impressive public and commercial buildings were razed, and other businesses were moving to surrounding communities or to the new suburban mall in Methuen. Public discussion emphasized the future; history was not the focus.
Into this environment came Eartha Dengler who had immigrated with her husband Claus and daughter Ann from war-ravaged Germany in 1951. Spending time in Chicago, she was struck by the cordial intermingling of the various immigrant groups, so unlike her experience in Germany of that time. It acquainted her with diversity and instilled a curiosity for learning about the backgrounds of different groups. Eartha and Claus became naturalized citizens in November, 1956.
Eartha realized how many immigrants like herself needed a place that would listen to their story and preserve their memories. Her life illustrates that one person, believing in her idea and in this city of Lawrence ~ understanding the need for a repository of preserved multi-vocal memory ~ can transform a commercial site into a place of memory and a place of pride for the City and her residents.