“Niva” magazine about how immigrants arrived in America

Caricature 1903 “Emigrants in the USA and who meets them here”

“Leave, ancient lands, the praise of centuries for yourself!
I cry in silence. Give me your tired people,
All those who want to breathe freely, abandoned in need,
From the narrow shores of the persecuted, the poor and the orphans.
So send them homeless and exhausted to me,
I raise my torch at the golden gates! “

(Sonnet of the American poetess Emma Lazarus “New Colossus” (1883), dedicated to the Statue of Liberty. These lines from it were adorned with her pedestal in 1903)

The history of the land overseas. Recent publications of materials on US history show a high level of interest of the VO readership in this topic. Therefore, it is obvious that it will be useful in all respects to turn individual materials related to it into a cycle of a number of articles, one way or another answering the questions of our readership.

Well, I would like to start it with a rather amusing story from the Niva magazine (we have used its materials more than once) about how immigrants from Europe in 1911 ended up in the “promised land”. However, it will probably be necessary to make allowances for some bias of the author of this material. After all, our journalists now and then write about that abroad at every corner there is a pomaded homosexual (how many I travel – I have not seen a single one), that “Russo Turisto” is robbed right on the streets, and in Turkey –

“Well, not at all like before, and everyone is sick.”

There is such a thing now. Probably it was then. But at that time, all the same, such a social order as today it is in relation to the United States, most likely simply did not exist yet, which means that the information content and reliability of this material are beyond doubt. So, we read …

Things in our hands, a gap in our teeth – we are on the land of America

Different passengers – different attitudes

Imagine that you are, say, a Russian artisan, tired of the hardships, who worked at one of the factories of St. Petersburg, who saw foreigners nearby and even heard their stories in broken Russian, that

“There, overseas, there is America – a country of great opportunities!”

So you got there, somehow got to Southampton, and there you boarded a steamer going across the ocean. Among those sailing “for happiness” you are not the only Russian. There are also a couple of Poles, Odessa Jews (nowhere without them). So you had someone to talk to. And you even found out something useful from your fellow travelers. But then your ship came to New York, passed the Statue of Liberty (“This is a whopper!”). And you are looking forward to disembarkation. And – yes, as soon as your ship has moored to the shore, the customs officials begin to inspect the passengers’ luggage. Someone is asked to show documents that prove their identity. Then the passengers go ashore.

“In the center of a big city, where grass does not grow”

But this does not happen with all passengers, but only with … “cabins”. “Cabins” are those who had enough money to buy a ticket to the cabin, and for them no difficulties are expected in the port. Their luggage is examined very superficially, then a government official gives them a pass. And they can go straight from the ship wherever they want.

This is who then came to America by sea: the mafia, socialist murderers and … rats

And the thing is that cabin passengers are not considered “immigrants”, because when passing the inspection they say that they have no intention of staying in America, but they came here on a visit or on business. That is, as they arrived, they say, they will leave. But the “immigrants” … These are a completely different matter. American statistics include “deck passengers” among them. In other words, those who crossed the ocean, of course, not on deck, but on bunks in the lower hold. And so, immediately upon arrival, they have to experience the severity of American laws governing the resettlement process in their own skin.

Street feeding at the beginning of the 20th century

Statistics is an exact science. And so she reports that

“From 1820, that is, from the moment when the settlers began to be counted in America, their number has grown terribly: if in 1820 only 8385 people arrived in the States, then in 1903 – already 857016”.

Therefore, one should be surprised at the law passed in 1882, which allowed resettlement only under certain conditions. In 1903, a new relocation law was passed, which, above all, made it difficult for deck passengers to disembark ashore, turning it into a real torment.

Cleanliness is the key to health

The mentally ill, as well as being too smart in America, are not needed

First of all, the resettlement law denied many people the right to land in the United States. The entrance to the country was closed for the mentally ill, mentally ill, crippled, sick with infectious diseases, disabled, criminals convicted of criminal offenses (this did not concern political criminals). As well as “contract workers”. They meant those smart people who had previously entered into an agreement with American employers while still abroad. That is, it was not forbidden to seek earnings “on the occasion”, but to travel, knowing exactly where and with whom you would work, was prohibited under the new law.

“Emigrants – a Threat to American Values”

The number of arrivals to New York sometimes reached 12,000 a day. So the officials in the port had to work with full dedication. A special officer boarded the vessel even before it arrived at the port. His task was to find out which of the cabin passengers should be subjected to interrogation with partiality along with the deck passengers.

Deck passengers were to remain until they were taken aboard by small government steamers and brought ashore at checkpoints. Each such steamer could take up to 400 people, and during loading, customs officials inspect their luggage, which, however, happens very quickly, since deck passengers have practically no luggage. Here, in the crowd of deck passengers, disguised policemen are trying to mix in, whose task is to find out if there are criminals among them who (even with money) flee to America under the guise of immigrants, hoping that in this crowd they will pay less attention to them.

“New Babylon”

The guilty tongue is cut off along with the head

“Deck” ones stand in line and are subjected to strict interrogation, during which they need to think carefully before answering, or to know all the questions and answers to them in advance. So our worker from St. Petersburg got to the controller, who asks him a question of the most innocent quality:

– What do you intend to do in America?
– To work, – the foreman answers.
– Have you already found a job? – the inspector continues to question him.

It is good that the Jews from Odessa warned our immigrant how to answer this seemingly simple question. But the one standing in front of him did not know this. He was afraid that if he said “no,” he would be sent back, and said loudly “yes,” which just should not have been done.

It was necessary to say that he did not know where he would find work in America. “Lie to the rescue” costs him dearly: he is immediately separated from the others to be sent back, or … imprisoned for such a reckless response to the prison on Ellis Island.

Of course, all this is discussed on the ship, but out of excitement and embarrassment, many forget about it and say “yes.” For example, only in 1903, 1086 people of such “contract workers” were sent to Europe.

1900 poster “The Melting Pot of the Nation: Citizenship and Equal Rights”

But then they ask to show cash. And here someone is as lucky.

“We were unable to find out anything definite about the existence of a certain minimum of cash,”

– writes the magazine. The sums are called different: both $ 10 and $ 30.

For example, the author of an essay in Niva received permission to disembark after presenting less than eight dollars in cash. In 1903, 5812 people were not allowed to land in America precisely because of the lack of any funds.

This is how they lived …

And then a kick in the back

If the inspectors were satisfied with the answers to these questions and the amount of money, then the migrant was asked the last question:

does he have any relatives here among those who moved earlier, and does he want to join them?

If it turned out that he wanted to stay at the landing site, then he, one might say, “received freedom.” But only after the next inspector directed him to the exchange office, where he exchanged his money for American ones. This was done in order to protect him from deceivers – street money changers.

Street amenities in a big city

Only now the immigrant walked to the exit through a large gallery, crossing which a person finally found himself in the city.

But then trouble again lay in wait for him. For some reason, at that time it was downright fashionable (of course, among a certain type of local public) to go to meet newcomers and greet them with all sorts of offensive remarks.

And then he did get a blow on the neck, so much so that he flew off 6-8 steps. At the same time, the crowd giggled with pleasure and, apparently, got pleasure according to the principle

“Push the falling one.”

After all, what did the move to America mean for the overwhelming majority? Only one thing – failure in your homeland. But what if you yourself were like that? And did you get the exact same kick upon arrival? That means that the “newcomer” should also be given the same support? Let him know!

Both old and young worked

The fate of those unlucky

But what happened to those who were rejected by doctors or inspectors?

They were sent to Ellis Island, where they were temporarily held in the resettlement control building. Temporarily – this is until they either have relatives, or guarantors, or until a special commission deals with them completely. In America, the decision of the commission, the migrant had the right to appeal, but only for this he needed a clever lawyer and money for the proceedings in court in Ellis Island.

So usually for such poor fellows, everything ended with boarding the steamer on which they arrived. Returning back, however, is already free – the road was paid by the US government.

The situation on the island was very much like a prison. Both in the prison, and according to the rules of imprisonment, meetings with relatives took place. A room separated by an iron grating served for this. So they could even say goodbye and, perhaps, forever, with their loved ones only through this prison fence.

And someone could and so – “seize the land.” “Race to the Ground” in Oklahoma in 1889

The most interesting thing is that in New York, at least some conditions were provided for the content of the “rejected”. This was not the case, for example, in San Francisco. Where, according to the Commissioner General of the Resettlement Commission, the migrants left on probation were kept in ordinary prisons until their fate was decided. And, in general, this was a violation of American laws.

And you will become a “man of the earth”, and your children will not be afraid of snakes. Just like you … State of Nebraska. 1895 g.

However, those who did not stay in New York could not so immediately escape from the control of the authorities. Resettlement control transferred them to the railway companies, which owned the roads along which the migrant planned his further journey. These companies even sent their steamers for them and transported them directly to the station, where they sold tickets and helped to get on the desired train. Everything, so to speak, is for the good of the settlers. Except for the direct benefits of such “operations”.

The immigrant received complete freedom in America only when the carriage in which he was sitting started to move.

This is how emigrants found their way to the “promised land” at the beginning of the 20th century. And, as you can see, it was not easy at all.


Well, as for our hypothetical migrant artisan, he most likely went to Hartford, where he got a job at an arms factory. And there, over time, he became a respected master, successfully married (the daughter of an old master). So his children were already considered one hundred percent Americans and went to study who went to college, and who even went to university. This also happened and not so rarely.

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