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Steerage Class - Improvements in Conditions in Steerage and Increased Head Tax

Head Tax Raised

The immigrant faces an increase in steerage rates from Europe within six weeks when the United States law increasing the head tax from $2 to $4 for every alien entering the country goes into effect.

While the steamship companies have always added the head tax to the cost of transportation they have avoided criticism and complaint by materially improving steerage service and conditions, so that today the humble new-corner from other shores travels in no mean style and comfort below decks of the big Atlantic steamships.

Photo 1705G: Steerage Passengers Taking Life Easy On An Clean Liner circa 1905 (3b06393u LOC)

Photo 1705G: Steerage Passengers Taking Life Easy On An Clean Liner circa 1905 (3b06393u LOC)

Amenities In Steerage

The giant White Star liner Adriatic, recently in port from her maiden voyage, has a smoking saloon, recreation room for women and children and promenade deck all for steerage passengers.

With the improvement in the steerage, which has taken place within the last few years, many companies have dropped the name steerage and now designate it as the "third class," which today compares with the second class of a decade ago. Travel to Europe has greatly increased in the steerage because of these improved conditions.

Historical Condition in Steerage

The manager of the third class department in one of the large trans-Atlantic lines said yesterday that the change in the steerage had benefited companies because it had increased travel. Formerly steerage passengers were herded below decks like cattle. Large rooms were set apart for the sexes and married couples, and as many as forty and fifty persons slept in one room.

The companies furnished only the bare berth and food and each passenger had to purchase a straw mattress, a tin dish, cup and knife and fork before leaving the docks. The mattress was thrown overboard at the end of the trip. When meal time came a large cauldron was brought into the dining room and the hungry immigrants turned in and helped themselves. Hunks of bread were thrown down beside the cauldron, and in the scramble for food there were frequent desperate fights between the passengers.

Conditions Found in Steerage Class Today

But competition between the English and German lines for the immigrant trade gradually brought about better conditions in the steerage, and trans-Atlantic steamships today give comfortable berths and bedding to each steerage passenger. Married couples are given a room and in no case are more than six persons housed in one room.

Meals are well-cooked, wholesome food is served at long tables covered with clean linen and the companies provide all table utensils. Some of the steamships have revolving chairs in the steerage dining room. Bathrooms are provided and there are recreation rooms for women and children, where may be found newspapers and magazines.

A promenade deck and covered deck for stormy weather give the steerage passengers ample opportunity to get the air and stewards wait on steerage passengers at their meals. The steerage passengers have 4 different menu for their meals each day during the trip.

Other Steerage Reforms

Another marked reform is that first and second class passengers are no longer permitted to roam through the steerage and gaze curiously at the immigrant as an object of interest. The sanitary arrangements are excellent and the closest medical supervision is observed. Twice a day the ship's surgeon goes through the steerage accompanied by the captain, and any passenger found suffering from a contagious disease is quarantined. Formerly disease spread unchecked in the steerage.

The Italian government sends a government surgeon on every ship leaving for America, and stipulates that the steamship company shall furnish a certain amount of meat every day to each passenger. Recently a captain of one of the German lines, having a port of entry in Italy, was arrested because he gave his passengers more meat than the law designated. The prosecuting officer said that the captain was aiding and abetting gluttony.

"Immigration Head Tax." In The Marine Review, Volume 35, No. 22, 30 May 1907, Page 15+

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