This week we covered the "Gay '90s" - 1892 to roughly 1904. SO much to irritate me in this deck: The "modern" strategy of race relations in the south (segregation), the annexation of Hawaii, some of the details of the Spanish-American War especially as it affected the citizens of Puerto Rico and Guam (and the Philippines). But this is where my textbook decides to cover the meta subject of post-Civil War immigration and the reaction of Americans to (some of) the new immigrants. Since all four of my grandparents, each of them in the "some of" category, arrived between 1887 and 1906, this is what we're discussing today. Here is a picture taken at Ellis Island in 1892 of immigrants waiting to be processed before they can board the ferry to lower Manhattan and America. My grandparents probably waited in a line like this.
Now, the typical introduction to this topic would be this:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fameSurprised there's more to the poem? Well, this is the type of thing a nice German Jewish girl like Emma Lazarus would have written in 1883, and in 1903 the last five lines were put on a plaque and attached to the statue, a gift from France that was erected in New York Harbor in 1886.
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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
What does this have to do with immigration? Pretty much all it has to do with the immigrant experience during this period is that you could see the statue when you got off the boat here
I used the term "Second Wave" because some of these new immigrants came from places that had not provided many immigrants to the United States before. Why italicize that? Because it's not just something you heard at some point in your education. It's perpetuated, as you see in this basic history of New York from the Fordham University website:
However, in late 1880s, a second wave of immigration began which consisted of Polish and Russian Jews, southern Italians, as well as a spattering of Greeks, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Bohemians, and Chinese. Between 1880 and 1919, 17 million immigrants passed through the Port of New York [You see how important Ellis Island is from this]. Most of these immigrants settled in cities, including five out of six Russian Jews and three out of four southern Italians, and many remained in New York City.Well, sure. But doesn't that suggest no one else was arriving? Not at ALL true.
I wish I knew which years this chart was for, but let's say that it's for the 1870-1920 censuses. which is likely. During the years covered by those censuses, roughly 26 million immigrants arrived in the United States, and at no time during that period did the number of immigrants represent more than 12% of the national population. Not all of them even stayed. Statistics show that at least 30 percent of immigrants overall were here only temporarily: nearly three out of every five Slovaks who came to Pittsburgh around 1900 went back again: they had answered ads in the Slovak press for temporary jobs and they had taken them because they were temporary. (Only the Jews and the Irish, who tended to migrate in family groups, stayed more than 90% of the time.) Further, as you can see from the chart, 76% of those immigrants came from the countries which had provided immigrants to the United states since colonial times. So that's 6,250,000 people, the great majority of whom settled in Eastern and Midwestern cities.The 1900 census showed that over 60% of migrants from Russia, Poland, Italy and Ireland lived in cities, while less than 35% of Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians did. In 1890 42% of New York City’s population was foreign born, 41% of Chicago’s,and 37% of Minneapolis’s.
Not to mention the fact that immigration was already restricted. Chester A. Arthur had signed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the same year Congress excluded lunatics, idiots and persons likely to become public charges. Prostitutes and non-political felons had been excluded in 1875. Between 1885 and 1907, Congress also excluded foreigners under contract to perform labor, victims of dangerous diseases, polygamists and other sex criminals, epileptics, pimps, anarchists, and children under sixteen who were unaccompanied by a parent. Still, fewer than 1% of arriving immigrants were forbade admission to the United States.
So why the geschrie, which you'll learn more about below? These 6.25 million people didn't speak English, and they weren't Protestant. And they tended to cluster in places and form neighborhoods where they didn't have to. The influence of family and friends already in America allowed migration to perpetuate itself in a process called “chain migration:” where the chain led, the villagers went. This is how Sicilians from Santo Stefano de Quisquina ended up in Tampa, and how 90% of the Italian population of Cleveland in 1900 came from ten small towns, five in Sicily and five in Lombardy. "Towns" gives you another hint of difference. Most of these migrants arrived in the big American cities from rural areas in many ways different from the receiving culture. Hence the ethnic neighborhood, which still persists. These are actually immigrant clusters where one group is large enough to give identity to an area and social mobility is modest enough to keep some form of immigrant community intact. It's generally agreed neighborhoods like the Lower East Side played a significant role in helping immigrants adjust to their new country.
As for Americanization, such efforts generally proceeded at the immigrants’ own pace, as, not surprisingly, immigrants preferred becoming Americans on their own terms
Immigrant parents who didn’t send their children to Catholic schools often supported supplemental schools which taught language, religion and group culture to public school students (like Hebrew, Greek and Vietnamese schools). Of course, nativists and many well-meaning leaders of Americanization movement read this incorrectly to mean immigrants didn’t want to become Americans.
Nativist. There's a word. Developed in 1845 when it was really easy for the white people who developed it to think of themselves as natives because their ancestors arrived 200 years ago and the natives where they lived who had survived the epidemics had been removed by Andrew Jackson. My apology to the REAL native readers, but I have to use it because of the specific meaning it has in the current discourse of history. It's more convenient than saying "the children of the Know-Nothings." In this section, I'll discuss specific anti-immigrant measures as well as cultural efforts which had the incidental effect of separating native middle-class people from others.
We begin with labor issues. The Knights of Labor came out for general restrictions on immigration in 1892, but the AFL, which had a great number of foreign-born members, made no move until after Panic of 1893, the worst depression the United States had had to date, and in 1897 it endorsed a literacy test. In 1894 and 1895 New York and Pennsylvania legislatures excluded all non-citizen immigrants (not just those who hadn’t declared intention to become citizens) from jobs on state and local works. In 1897, Pennsylvania, passing measures sponsored by coal miners, set up residence and language requirements for certification as a miner as well as a special state tax that would be deducted from the wages of all alien laborers. This Pennsylvania regulation didn’t survive a legal test: courts in the late 19th century held attempts to limit the rights of immigrants to be contrary to the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This was painted by De Scott Evans, a specialist in trompe l'oeil still life paintings at some point during the 1880s. I’m not sure if this is a nativist expression, but it fits well here.
The activist Henry Bowers’s American Protective Association combined characteristics of a secret fraternal order with primary interest in politics, and the APA's membership skyrocketed to 2.5 million in 1894. Bowers explained the Panic of 1893 as a Vatican attempt to undermine the American economy by flooding the country with immigrants, and said that American Catholics were behind labor unrest and bank runs. His program was to defend “true Americanism” against the “subjects of an un-American ecclesiastical institution.”
In fact, the immigration question was secondary to the religious question in American nativism until the 1890s. The general anti-foreign feelings were touched off by social change in late 19th century so that each group from southern and eastern Europe appeared as a particularly insidious version of foreign menace. The "new" immigrants were dangerous just because they were different. This is also the time when the Irish, English-speakers although Catholic, became "white."
This was apparent with the way the American press treated Slavic and Hungarian workers: these people had no distinctive stereotype, just uncivilized, unruly, dangerous foreigners. In 1891 Henry Clay Frick precipitated a strike among his coal workers by posting a new wage scale; British and American workers led the strike but because the Slavic workers far outnumbered the strike leaders, this was generally interpreted as an uprising of “Huns” who, in the words of the New York Tribune,
were the most dangerous of labor unionists and strikers. They fill up with liquor and cannot be reasoned with.Frick brought in nonunion workers, the strikers rioted, the militia was called in and it fired on group of strikers leaving ten dead and fifty wounded, Frick succeeded in breaking the strike. And what do we think of when we think of Henry Clay Frick? The art gallery in his home at Fifth Avenue and 70th street, possibly the room with El Greco's Saint Jerome over the fireplace flanked by Hans Holbein's portraits of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More.
In Congress, the Republican party provided the main driving force behind the restrictionist sentiment. It supplied the principal leaders, most of the energy, and most of the votes as Congress assumed the role of “guardian of respectability”. A law passed in 1891 laid the administrative foundation for national control of immigration: it placed immigration entirely under federal control, excluded people with contagious diseases and disorders, compelled steamship companies to carry back to Europe all passengers rejected by American inspectors, and outlawed advertising for workers abroad.
The Immigration Restriction League was formed in Boston just as elections of 1894 installed Republican majorities in both house of Congress; incidentally, Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator from Massachusetts, acted as the League's spokesman
I know I've left things out here, but it's running awfully long already, so I exercised a great deal of editorial discretion here. Feel free to add what you think I left out in the comments, but make sure it's NOT anything that happened after 1904. I'll handle the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 (that one REALLY bugs me) in conjunction with whatever I do for the 1920s. Besides, so much of this is still true about the people who oppose immigration reform.
Thomas Archdeacon, Becoming American (1993)
John Bodnar, The transplanted: a history of immigrants in urban America(1985)
John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (1988)
Albert S. Lindemann, Esau's tears: modern anti-semitism and the rise of the Jews(1997)
and see Ian Reifowitz's recommendation of a much more current book.