History and Mission

The International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit (IIMD) was founded, in 1919, by a group of YWCA volunteers who sought to help legal immigrants learn English, appreciate freedom and democracy, become citizens, be assimilated into their communities, and learn to understand each other's cultures. The International Institute of Detroit was one of 55 such institutes founded by the national YWCA in cosmopolitan cities all over the U.S., at a time of peak immigration into the U.S. The International Institute movement was inspired by Jane Addams' Hull House, in Chicago (1889), and the "settlement movement" in England, including Toynbee Hall in London, founded in 1884. The first such International Institute was founded in New York City by Edith Terry Bremer, in 1911. The original International Institute of Detroit, starting in 1919, was located in a brick cottage at the corner of Adams and Witherell, in Downtown Detroit (at the site of the current Comerica Park Detroit Tigers baseball stadium). Newly arrived immigrants to Detroit were welcomed at this building, as they sat around what became a familiar fireplace in the building's living room.

Jane Addam's Hull House in Chicago, Illinois
Jane Addam's Hull House in Chicago, Illinois

In 1934, the International Institute moved to new expanded facilities at 2431 East Grand Boulevard, in Detroit. It became part of the "YWCA Industrial Center," funded as a Red Feather agency, and changed its name to "The International Center." In 1945, the International Center became independent of the YWCA, changed its name back to the "International Institute," and became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, funded by the United Foundation Torch Drive. The first President of the Board of Directors was Dr. David C. Henry, the President of Wayne University (now Wayne State University). At the end of World War II, the International Institute was one of the first organizations nationally to work with the U.S. Department of State to arrange programs for short-term visitors from foreign countries. This visitors program later became the International Visitors Council of Metropolitan Detroit, which is today housed in the International Institute building.

In June of 1949, land was dedicated at the corner of East Kirby and John R, in Detroit's Cultural Center, for a new building to house the International Institute. Over 1500 people participated in the dedication, in a colorful ceremony at which many attendees, dressed in native costumes from around the world, walked in a procession around the Art Institute square. The event was part of the celebration leading up to the City of Detroit's 250th anniversary of its founding by Cadillac, in 1701, and Detroiters wanted to emphasize the importance of Detroit's multi-national ethnic and cultural heritage. The new building partially opened on July 3, 1951 and a final move-in took place in June of 1952. The new building has a large fireplace, reminiscent of the old fireplace at the original brick cottage location that welcomed immigrants so long ago.

International Institute 2016
International Institute 2016

The International Institute has been accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice, Board of Immigration Appeals, since 1958. In 1990, The Institute was accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Service for Families and Children, Inc., and Institute caseworkers periodically host social work conferences for associated agencies. The International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit is today a United Way for Southeastern Michigan agency and, as a non-profit organization, relies on grants and generous donations from businesses and individual citizens to fund its programs. These programs include legal services to assist immigrants become U.S. citizens, the sponsorship of swearing-in ceremonies in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, English as a second language classes, citizenship classes, GED classes, ethnic enrichment programs, career development programs, financial literacy programs, foreign language classes, interpreter and translator services, and much more.


The International Institute building today houses the award-winning "International Cafe" restaurant, "The Yuinon" youth services, the Brush Park Conservatory of Music and Fine Arts, and more. The International Institute sponsors, along with the City of Southfield, the annual International Festival, an event that dates back to 1926. Our building is located in Detroit's vibrant University-Cultural Center / Midtown District and participates in the area's annual "Noel Night."


The Institute has a vast collection of ethnic and cultural artifacts, which are on display for visitors to enjoy. 1) the Hall of Nations auditorium, which houses flags from 82 countries; display cases of the Ethel Averbach International Doll Collection, the world's largest collection (over 2,500) of dolls dressed in native costumes from 150 countries; and other ethnic displays and artifacts, and 2) the American Room, which houses the Wilkinson Model Ship Collection - scale models of ships, donated by Lawrence Scripps Wilkinson, which are replicas of ships on which immigrants came to the United States of America. In addition, the Institute was honored to receive in 2013 the Lucille and Marshall Miller International Artifact Collection.


Mission Statement of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Inc.

The International Institute is dedicated to working with foreign-born and with all Americans in the constant task of solving social problems, acculturation, education and acceptance. It provides and utilizes human and physical resources to advance the welfare and the integration of the foreign-born and their relatives; foster community awareness that varied cultures contribute to the richness of American life; and serve other organizations in the areas of its competence.

"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)

Over the years, the YWCA no longer sponsored the network of International Institutes. Many went out of business and others obtained new funding sponsors and resources. Other immigrant service organizations, started by religious organizations, government agencies, and charitable organizations, helped to fill the needs for newer immigrants arriving in the U.S. The International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit is one of a handful of original "International Institutes," with its roots in the YWCA, still in existence today. Below is a list of other "International Institutes" that can trace their origins back to the start of the "International Institute" movement.

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

- Poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty: The New Colossus

Several of the original International Institutes listed above today constitute the core of the membership of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). Learn More >


We also recognize the legacy of "Hull House," in Chicago, co-founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star, in 1889, to serve immigrants as well as the native-born of Chicago to be successful and productive citizens. Hull House is no longer in business, but is today a museum to its legacy as an important part of United States history, open to public tours. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For information on the history of Hull House, see: More on Hull House >


Also, read Twenty Years at Hull House, by Jane Addams - The complete book here >

Hull House was inspired by the "Settlement House Movement" in England, starting with Toynbee Hall, located in the East End of London, established in 1884.


To read more about the "Settlement Movement" in England - See here >


To read more about Toynbee Hall, see: See here >