In Memoriam

Victor R. Greene: 1931–2014

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks and Michael Gordon | Jan 1, 2015

Historian of American Immigration and AHA Life Member

Victor R. Greene, emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, died on September 5, 2014, at the age of 80. A noted scholar and teacher in the fields of American immigration, labor, and popular culture, Greene earned a BA cum laude in history from Harvard University (1955), an MA in history from the University of Rochester (1960), and a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania (1963). Before joining UWM in 1971, Greene taught at the University of Notre Dame and Kansas State University.

Greene was active in many professional and community history organizations. A former president and executive secretary of the Immigration History Society, he received the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He also served on the History Committee of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Centennial Commission and was on the editorial board of the Journal of American Ethnic History and Polish American Studies. He was a member of the executive boards of the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning, the Ko-Thi African American Dance Troupe, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, and the Milwaukee County Historical Society. He also lectured and taught widely around the United States, and in China, the Czech Republic, England, and Poland.

Victor Greene authored many acclaimed books. His PhD dissertation on Slavic miners in Pennsylvania was published as The Slavic Community on Strike: Immigrant Labor in Pennsylvania Anthracite (1968). Other notable books followed, including For God and Country: The Rise of Polish and Lithuanian Consciousness in America, 1860–1910 (1975) and American Immigrant Leaders, 1800–1910: Marginality and Identity (1987). His interests then turned to popular immigrant music; the halls of the department were frequently filled with the sounds of accordions and violins as Victor listened to albums and 78 rpm recordings. From this came two wonderful studies. A Passion for Polka: Old-Time Ethnic Music in America (1992) explores the popularization and commercialization of old-time ethnic music from the turn of the century to the 1960s, especially in the “polka belt” that extended from Connecticut to Nebraska and from Texas up to Minnesota and the Dakotas. A Singing Ambivalence: American Immigrants between Old World and New, 1830–1930 (2004) examines what song lyrics can tell us about immigrants’ hopes, fears, and dreams as they left their homeland and loved ones and adjusted to a new society. He also co-edited, with UWM history professor Margo Anderson, Perspectives on Milwaukee’s Past (2009), a collection of essays that explore key themes in Milwaukee’s history from settlement to the present, among them immigration and the ethnic diversity that followed. At UWM, he was a generous donor to programs that benefit students, establishing a fund in honor of his own hero, former Milwaukee mayor Frank P. Zeidler, which presents an annual award to a history master’s student interested in American history. Recognizing Greene’s long dedication to undergraduate learning, the history department named its award for the best paper written by a senior history major the Victor Greene Award.

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks
Michael Gordon
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

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