Study Guide

Ellis Island Era Immigration People

  • Jane Addams

    Jane Addams (1860–1935) was a Progressive reformer and the most prominent advocate for the settlement house movement, which was dedicated to improving social conditions for immigrants and other residents of urban slums. In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

    In 1889, Addams and her friend Ellen Gates Starr co-founded Hull House in Chicago to provide social and educational services to the predominantly immigrant residents of the city's crowded working-class tenements. Hull House soon grew into America's largest and most famous settlement house, serving thousands of Chicagoans. It epitomized Progressive efforts to reform and uplift immigrants in America.

  • Thomas Bailey Aldrich

    Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907) was a prominent 19th-century American writer. Aldrich's most popular work was The Story of a Bad Boy (1870), a quasi-biographical novel based on Aldrich's own rambunctious childhood in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Mark Twain, a friend and admirer of Aldrich, later said that the story's eponymous hero provided him with the inspiration for the character Tom Sawyer.

    In 1895, Aldrich published "Unguarded Gates," a poem that might be read as a nativist riposte to Emma Lazarus' famous sonnet, "The New Colossus." Like Lazarus, Aldrich built his poem around the iconic image of the Statue of Liberty. Aldrich, however, invoked the statue to question immigration, not to celebrate it:

    Wide open and unguarded stand our gates
    And through them presses a wild motley throng
    Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes
    Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho
    Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav
    Flying the Old World's poverty and scorn
    These bringing with them unknown gods and rites
    Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws
    In street and alley what strange tongues are loud
    Accents of menace alien to our air
    Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
    O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
    To leave the gates unguarded?

  • Harry Bridges

    Harry Bridges (1901–1990) was an Australian immigrant and the longtime president of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), representing West Coast dockworkers. Bridges, a militant trade unionist, was also for many years a secret official of the Communist Party U.S.A. In 1934, Bridges led the longshoremen to victory in a prolonged and sometimes violent strike against West Coast shipping interests.

    Bridges migrated from Australia to America as a sailor in 1920. His prominence as a radical union leader, his connections to communists, and his lack of American citizenship made him vulnerable to deportation by the government. Between 1939 and 1954, the government made five separate attempts to deport the labor leader. In every case, Bridges either prevailed in his deportation hearing or won on appeal. So, he was allowed to remain in the country and to keep his position with the ILWU, which he held until finally retiring in 1977.

  • Anton Cermak

    Anton Cermak (1873–1933) was a Czech immigrant and Chicago Democrat who was elected mayor of the city in 1931. After less than two years in office, Cermak was assassinated while making an appearance with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami. While observers initially believed that Cermak had been the accidental victim of an assassination attempt against the president, it later seemed likely that Cermak himself had been targeted by Chicagoland gangsters who were angered by his attempts to clean up organized crime in the city.

    Anton Cermak came to America with his parents at the age of one and became the first "new immigrant" to be elected mayor of a major American city. When his opponent in the 1931 election mocked his name and ethnicity, Cermak replied: "He doesn't like my name... Of course we couldn't all come over on the Mayflower... But I got here as soon as I could."

  • Leon Czolgosz

    Leon Czolgosz (1873–1901) was an aspiring anarchist who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901. Czolgosz, who gravitated toward anarchist teachings after becoming involved in a series of labor disputes during the 1890s, convinced himself that he could best address the injustices he saw in American society by murdering the president. In September 1901, Czolgosz approached McKinley in a receiving line in Buffalo, New York, extending his arm as if to shake the president's hand before shooting him twice in the chest from point-blank range. McKinley died from his wounds a week later. Czolgosz was tried, convicted, and executed the following month.

    Leon Czolgosz was not himself an immigrant, having been born in a small town in northern Michigan. But his parents had emigrated from Poland, and Czolgosz's non-anglicized name led many to believe, erroneously, that he was himself a foreigner. The assassination then fueled widespread fears about the dangers posed by radical immigrants. In the wake of Czolgosz's crime, Congress passed new legislation making foreign-born anarchists and radical extremists ineligible for immigration or naturalization.

  • William Dillingham

    William Dillingham (1843–1923) was a Republican who served one term as governor of Vermont (1888–1890) and five terms in the United States Senate (1900–1923). Dillingham was best known as the chairman of the United States Immigration Commission, better known as the Dillingham Commission. Created by the Senate in 1907, it investigated all aspects of the immigration problem in order to formulate recommendations for changes to federal immigration policy.

    In 1911, the Dillingham Commission issued its findings. Publishing thousands of pages of research in 41 volumes of reports, it concluded that the recent so-called "new immigration" of Southern and Eastern Europeans posed a serious threat to American culture and society. The Dillingham Commission's findings influenced the restrictive immigration acts ultimately passed by Congress in 1921 and 1924.

  • Madison Grant

    Madison Grant (1865-1937) was a prominent American eugenicist of the early twentieth century. Grant used his pseudoscientific theories to argue that immigration and inbreeding threatened to pollute America's strong "Nordic" racial heritage with "inferior stock" from Eastern and Southern Europe.

    In 1916, Grant wrote The Passing of the Great Race, one of the most influential works of pseudoscientific racism ever published. In the book, Grant criticized "the pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to revise or obliterate immemorial hereditary tendencies." He ominously warned that the "great race" of Anglo-Saxon Americans would soon be overrun by "the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races" if the government failed to block Southern and Eastern European immigrants from settling in the country.

  • Emma Lazarus

    Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) was an American poet, best known as the author of "The New Colossus," an 1883 sonnet that has become a famous credo of America's immigrant ideals. Lazarus, a native New Yorker, was born into an old American family of Sephardic Jews. Her sympathy for Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1880s grew into a broader sympathy for all immigrants. Lazarus died at a tragically young age, likely due to Hodgkin's disease.

    Lazarus wrote "The New Colossus" in honor of the Statue of Liberty, which was under construction at the time. The poem's famous closing lines are written from the perspective of the statue herself:

    Give me your tired, your poor
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door


    The poem is now inscribed on a plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.