Celebrating 100 Years Serving Detroit's Immigrants, Refugees, and Native Born Detroiters.



The International Institute was founded in 1910 by Edith Terry Bremer, a leader and pioneer in social service work for immigrants and refugees. Ms. Bremer began by leading a movement which focused on cultural pluralism and the protection of immigrants. Ms. Bremer, a researcher for the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League [WTUL] and special agent for the U.S. Immigration Commission believed that immigrants were not well served by traditional welfare agencies. Thus, in collaboration with the YMCA, established the first International Institute in New York City.

The International Institute assisted first- and second-generation immigrants and refugees by providing the following services: English as a Second Language Classes, Job Placement, Housing, and Naturalization. Ms. Bremer held to the philosophy that immigrants were best served by immigrants, therefore, she hired social workers who were immigrants themselves. In broadening these efforts, the Institute engaged with the larger immigrant community and began working under the settlement house framework. By 1920, fifty-five International Institutes were established in urban areas throughout the United States.

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Formed in 1919, IIMD was one such agency. IIMD is now Detroit’s longest serving immigrant and refugee organization. Originally located in a brick cottage at the corner of Adams and Witherell, in Downtown Detroit [currently Comerica Park], newly arrived immigrants were welcomed and began receiving services e.g. English as a Second Language Classes, Job Placement, Legal Immigration Services, Financial Empowerment, and Cultural Awareness and Education.



In 1934, the IIMD moved to new expanded facility on East Grand Boulevard. At that time, IIMD collaborated with the YWCA Industrial Center and was funded as a Red Feather agency and changing its name to The International Center. However, in 1945, The International Center became independent of the YWCA and changed its name back to the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. The agency also became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization funded by the United Foundation Torch Drive. In June of 1949, IIMD received land at the corner of East Kirby and John R, in Detroit’s Cultural Center. This location remains IIMD’s permanent home and has existed for decades.


"All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."

- Frank Murphy (1890-1949) (Mayor of Detroit, Governor of Michigan, U.S. Supreme Court Justice)


IIMD has proudly fulfilled the vision and legacy of Edith Terry Bremer. IIMD is remains committed to the foundational philosophy of immigrants serving immigrants. Thus, IIMD’s current staff composition consists of 50% immigrants and 50% native born Detroit Residents. IIMD continues to welcome immigrants and refugees from all over the world and has remained devoted to the City of Detroit and serving its residents. Throughout this time, IIMD has provided one-hundred years of uninterrupted services to over two million people. IIMD strives to fulfill its mission for the next one hundred years by continuing services to metropolitan Detroit’s immigrant, refugee and native Detroit populations.