The city of Beverly, Massachusetts has always thrived on industry. The United Shoe Machinery Corporation employed the majority of Beverly’s working-age citizens in the early half of the 20th century. Immigrants and young people from other states were flocking to cities such as Beverly. These growing industrial centers gave promise of a new life and a steady job. In the period from 1880-1920, industry and immigrants depended upon each other in Beverly. Historian Olivier Zunz points out that, “Growing industries changed their locations in the urban territory, drawing with them thousands of workers.”
Many skilled workers arrived alone, as Kenneth Scherzer noted in his study of New York: “A third of professionals boarded with other professionals while avoiding families headed by skilled worksmen.” The influx of people from all types of ethnic communities and backgrounds caused a need for housing. For immigrants to come to a city alone, and look for housing was hard enough. Rent was typically expensive and beyond the pay offered by most jobs attained by immigrants. Boardinghouses were an affordable, and often temporary option. Along with a place to sleep, the boarder didn’t have to worry about household problems or paying for meals. That was all included in agreements between the boarder and the owner. The owners of boardinghouses were generally more understanding than landlords would have been with their tenants.
According to the 1880 Census, there were 102 boardinghouses in Beverly. Boardinghouses were convenient places for workers to lodge for a small amount of money, and to make contact with diverse people. These people arrived in Beverly for many different reasons, but they all had one thing in common. They all aspired to succeed in America on their own. Boarders were ubiquitous in Beverly, even beyond those living in boardinghouses, as Zunz discovered in his research on Detroit. “In addition to blood-relatives, many American-headed households received boarders; there was one boarder for every four American households.”
Women in the late 19th century did not typically hold jobs. Men were usually the head of the household, and were therefore depended upon to support the family. There was also the issue of male pride, which included the fear that one’s wife would be more successful or make more money. The majority of men did not want their wives working outside the house. In his study of Chicago, Richard Sennet observed that “prohibiting one’s wife from working because she may upset the lines of authority in the house by having a better job, paying more money, even though the family needed that money, was a clear case of fear.” Jobs offered to women were few and didn’t pay well, so women stayed home to watch after the children. In many cases they worked out of their homes, carrying out such tasks such as keeping house and being seamstresses. “With women often restricted to such trades as seamstress, bookfolder, and, in particular, domestic service. They were dependent upon a local labor market…[and] women consistently made about half the salary of men in the same job categories.”  While discouraging, this was a fact of life in the lat 19th century, which become a large factor in why women stayed at home. This lack of jobs for women was especially hard for widowed women and single women.
Of these 102 boardinghouses, 90 of them had women who stayed home and kept house. In fact, in the late 19th century, owning a boardinghouse as a woman was not uncommon. In New York in the 19th century, “the management of boardinghouses transformed domestic labor into a service commodity by allowing women to generate additional household income under the cloak of domesticity (women operated 3/5 of boardinghouses).” In Beverly, 18% percent of boardinghouse owners were widows, 3% were divorced women, and another 4% were single women .  This source of income made it easier to take care of their children and their home, and not have to worry about how they were going to pay the bills or keep the house. It must have been a relief in a time when children didn’t always attend school, and if they did, many students left near the age of fifteen.
Beverly was a typical example of a city with a large female ownership of boardinghouses. Women owners also thrived in other urban areas. In her study of mid-19th century Manhattan, Elizabeth Blackmar found that “particularly for lease holders who owned their own houses and shops, cash from boarders flowed into accumulated savings that could be reinvested the household trade or in addition property. And taking in boarders offered women a means to make an independent living.”
A new family
The people who boarded in these houses were not from any specific background, nor was there a notable pattern to the types of jobs they held, as Zunz noted in his research on Detroit: “The center city received many newcomers…Many dwelled in a variety of boardinghouses…But the lack of a strong ethnic concentration did not necessarily indicate strong occupational bonds; in fact, boarders of the hotels and boarding houses were employed in all varieties of jobs.”
However, the Beverly census of 1880 reveals that boarders usually lived with families of the same ethnic background.  This was likely due to the fact that the same ethnic groups had the same traditions, and “cultural divisions and behavioral differences between ethnic groups were wide, as evidenced by their different demographic behavior and their different family strategies regarding such matters as work, schooling, income pooling, or the lodging of boarders.” 
Boardinghouses weren’t just places to eat and sleep. Families became very close with their boarders. ” Many boarders were considered a part of the receiving family…people in times past used the words family and household loosely and interchangeably…”  Most of the inhabitants of these boardinghouses were people in their late teens and early twenties who were trying to make it on their own. “With apprenticeship on the wane and households losing their function as productive units, young men and women were forced out of their households into this semiautonomous stage prior to marriage. Just as the nineteenth century witnessed the separation of their traditional preindustrial functions: production, child-rearing, and residence”, the boardinghouse served as a surrogate family to many young boarders. 
This breaking away from the traditional family, and away from the need to care for young children often gave boarders a new sense of freedom. The boarders were typically people who were at the age when they were both physically and emotionally ready to try to make it on their own. “Nonetheless, the absence of children and the predominance of adults made the boardinghouse a peculiar environment in which freedom replaced responsibility.”  “Often the young American left his paternal household to live as a boarder in another household…or to live in a hotel or a boardinghouse near the downtown area.”  In their quest for independence, these boarders could also seek support from the owners of the boardinghouses as well as fellow-boarders. One visitor called the boardinghouse “a real blessing to the industrious poor” that gave them the “comforts, conveniences, and social appliances which people of moderate means cannot hope to command in their private establishment.” Most might think of young men as boarders, but this was not always the case. Boardinghouses also attracted married couples. “Although the vast majority of boarders were male wage earners who had no other means of curing domestic services, European visitors expresses surprise that many newly married “respectable” New York couples also chose to board rather than to set up housekeeping.” 
While the rates charged by the owners were enough to pay the bills, they were much more reasonable than those of the owners of the hotels. “The standard cost at a boardinghouse ranged between four dollars and seven dollars a week for working-class accomodations, and twelve dollars and fifteen dollars for simple middle-class rooms. For luxurious residential hotels the rate could be one hundred-fifty dollars a week – this at a time when a laborer might earn one dollar a day.” 
Boardinghouses were necessary in the late nineteenth century. A growing working population was desperate for affordable housing, while families were in need of extra income provided by renting out rooms in their homes. Overall, the system worked well. Boarders became parts of the family. They weren’t just taken in; they sat down to dinner with the family. They usually came from the same ethnic communities and shared the same beliefs. Boardinghouses were convenient, and over time they became socially acceptable places. They served their purposes and helped to make cities such as Beverly, Massachusetts more culturally diverse places. They also helped to boost a new economy and filled the jobs for growing American industries.