The Old and New Type Steerage in the Same Ship: An Investigative Report (1911)
Report by the same investigator
“In order to pass through the control station Myslowitz, at the junction of the three countries, Germany, Austria, and Russia, it was necessary to come from some eastern point in Austria. Because of my familiarity with it and the consequent convenience, I chose to come from Krakow. Unfortunately, there was no agent for the ______ Line in that city. A partial payment on my passage brought me a ticket from the main office.
The steamer ______ was to sail November 3. From Krakow to ______ is less than a twenty-four hour ride with even an ordinary train. Thinking to give myself ample time, I left Krakow Saturday, October 31, about noon, with a through ticket to ______ on fast trains.
Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Myslowitz. The immigrants to America were led through a narrow hall before a desk at which stood three men, one apparently an agent of the steamship companies, the other, judging by their uniforms, a Russian gendarme and a German officer. To the agent we gave up our tickets both for steamer and railroad. Then with our baggage we were led into a large hall; we from Galicia into one, immigrants from Russia into another. "
“These halls have tiled floors, painted walls, high ceilings, and colored-glass windows. They are steam heated and electric lighted and equipped with means of ventilation. Around the entire hall are wide wooden shelves or benches. The baggage is placed under these and on them, the immigrants sleep—as many as find space. The rest sleep either on their baggage or on the floor.
No other sleeping accommodations are at hand. Men, women, and children from one country are all in one hall. Poor and insufficient toilet and washing rooms are situated in the small yard. Nothing is charged for accommodations during this enforced stay at Myslowitz, nor can they rightly be called accommodations."
“The walls in the two halls were alive with vermin. When I noticed this and learned that I must remain until the evening of the following day, I sought to escape the threatening danger. There was no responsible person in charge to whom to apply. Finally one watchman allowed himself to be convinced that my baggage might become infected and permitted its removal to an adjoining hall, where I also insisted upon being allowed to remain. Two Polish girls who arrived on a later train were lodged with me, and the three of us slept on the bench along the wall. A watchman made his bed in the other end of the room. '
“When once the emigrant has entered this hall or control station (and he is conducted there immediately on descending from his train) he is not allowed to leave the building except to enter the train that is to bear him from there. Food and provisions are to be had only at the canteen. The keeper was intoxicated the evening of our arrival, as were the watchman and porters during the entire time.
Though the price lists on the walls contained fruits and other desirable foods, the stock at the canteen consisted mostly of drinks, beer and various wines and whiskies in small bottles. There were also tobaccos, some bread and sausage. The travelers ate such provisions as they still had from home.
Sunday morning we tried to get either some coffee or tea. The canteen keeper was either still or again drunk, and there was nothing to be had of him but liquors, and, moreover, his manner was most objectionable. The officers who again appeared to relieve newly arrived emigrants of their tickets declined to release us to go to the adjoining depot for some breakfast. Their reply was that there was a canteen to supply all an emigrant’s needs.
Finally, after 9 o’clock, the wife of the canteen keeper appeared, and she consented to get us some coffee. By ordering it immediately, we were able to have some dinner at noon. This consisted of soup, boiled beef, potato salad, and bread. The price charged us was 25 cents. Later a higher price was asked of others.
This, of course, was exorbitant and far beyond the means of the average emigrant. Besides, not less than the full meal could be had, and this must be ordered a half day in advance. Prices, too, were constantly wavering, and getting correct change was all mere luck.
German, Russian, and Polish were all spoken in the canteen, and German, Russian, and Austrian money all accepted. Ignorance of some one of these languages or coins was continually affected in order to defraud. A Russian laid a half mark on the counter and ordered a glass of beer. He drank it and waited for change. Receiving none, he asked for it. The waiter pretended he had been given only the price of the beer.
In other instances he argued that the coin given him had not the supposed value, or returned too little change. More often, he insisted on explaining in a language unknown to the emigrant. There was constant argument at the bar about overcharges, and watching the transactions there for some three hours, I saw that most of the complaints were well founded. In a few instances where the emigrant insisted and was about to prove his point beyond dispute he was turned over to the drunken canteen keeper, who talked so loudly and so without reason that no argument availed."
“It was not only difficult, but practically impossible, to get any food, while beer and whisky tempted the hungry and the thirsty. Needless to say, many of the emigrants drank more or less, not only in Myslowitz but later in the train. Liquor was the one thing with which a person could supply himself for the journey.
“About 2 o’clock the doctor came and the examination, for which some were detained twenty-four hours, some longer, was to take place. All were driven into one room and passed single file before the doctor. He examined each one’s eyes and the ordeal was over.
The clothing and baggage of some of the Russian Jews was disinfected, our tickets were returned, and we were sorted and packed into the train. There were coaches for Bremen and for Hamburg. The Jews were put in separate coupés, but this division was not strictly observed, for in the coupé with myself and two Roman Catholic Poles were also three Jews.
“I had had a through ticket from Krakow to ______, third class, for fast trains. In Myslowitz the agent returned me 6 marks 80 pfennigs on it and said I would go with the regular emigrant train, third class, and also fast, but would pay only fourth-class fare. The train made but few stops and reached ______ in twenty hours.
The coaches were the regular third-class kind, supplied with wooden seats, and divided into coupés. They were filled to their utmost capacity and the numerous and bulky baggage filled the racks overhead and the floor. Some coupés were so filled that the occupants took turns standing.
The sleep obtained under these conditions was anything but restful. In the morning about 5 o’clock, our train stopped at Magdeburg. Here there was a mad rush to the pump at the station to wash and to get water to drink. That continued to be the one excitement the entire half day—watching for stops at stations where drinking water was to be had.
No stop was made for breakfast and there was no opportunity to get anything along the way, except at about 10, when our cars had been attached to some regular train. Sandwiches were sold at the station at 35 pfennigs apiece, a price beyond the emigrant. After twenty hours’ ride, we gladly piled out of the train at ______."
“We were first led into a room for examination. A physician looked into each one's eyes. Another officer measured each one, noted his description and birthplace. Another officer put the usual questions as to age, kind of employment, address of friends in America and Europe, and amount of money at hand. To him were also given such papers as each had to indicate that his passage was paid or partly paid. While these were taken to the office for inspection, we were led to an adjoining room where food awaited us. Each place at the long tables was supplied with a small white enameled dish resembling a washbasin. On this were two large slices of good rye bread. There was also good fruit, marmalade, and tea.
“When the officers returned the names of all those having passage engaged in the steerage of the were called off and an interpreter was told to inform us that the steerage passengers had gone on _____ just before noon; that we had either to wait ten days for the Steamer or pay the difference, 30 marks, and go third class on the This news caused great dismay to all.
Waiting meant not only weariness and loss of time, but an expense of at least 2 marks 25 pfennigs per day for board and lodging. The payment of an additional 30 marks was impossible for some, for others it meant the paying out of their last coin, and how was one to get to his destination? What could he show in money in America, or how telegraph his friends there? And there was no longer time to get money from home by telegraph.
Many of those from eastern Galicia and Slavonia had already had to make unexpected additional payments along the way after thinking that their transportation to New York had all been paid to the agent at home. Serious consultations took place. My own plight was quite as serious in a way as that of the others. The stay of ten days would have been horribly tedious, and there was nothing of value to be learned more than a short stay would reveal.
The agent in Prague had been most unwilling to sell a ticket for passage in the steerage, saying that practically none but Russian and Polish Jews of the filthiest habits traveled thus. Now, all my fellow travelers from Myslowitz were to go third class and no doubt many others who were lodged elsewhere. A group of Slavonians and myself, who were most anxious to go steerage, proposed that we be allowed to pay only for the more convenient transportation to the steamer and there be put in the steerage.
The officers would consider no other alternatives; we must pay the difference and go third class or wait ten days for the next steamer. There was more consulting, counting, borrowing, and lending. At last, all had decided to pay and go and take the chances of being admitted on the other side because of lack of money. My lot was cast with the rest."
“On the morning of the departure of the steamer ______we were called early, had breakfast, and received our tickets. Our hand baggage was labeled ‘inspected.’ That inspection was not made in our presence and could have taken place only while we were at breakfast. Then we, together with our baggage, were placed in large wagons, driven to the railway station in ______, and went from there by train to ______, where we boarded the steamer.
“The third class on the proved to be an idealized steerage. The passengers were treated with care and consideration. There was every attempt to give satisfaction. Where cabins were for any reason unsatisfactory, a new arrangement was attempted and made wherever possible. All actual human needs were supplied, with cleanliness, order, and decency. The third class was confined to the stern of the vessel.
“The sleeping quarters were situated on the second deck, below the main deck. A large space extending in width of the ship was subdivided into cabins containing two, four, and six berths. Families and friends were lodged together. Men had cabins on one side, women on the other. The beds were arranged in two tiers and consisted of an iron framework, very simple but clean. Each bed was supplied with a mattress, white sheet, and a blanket and pillow having a colored gingham covering. These were clean at the outset, but were not changed during the voyage. Each cabin was furnished with a washbasin, drinking glasses, towels, sick cans, and was cleaned every day and supplied with fresh water.
“The toilets were on the main deck. There were 10 each for men and for women. They were of a form convenient for use and were well equipped. Cleanliness was maintained here as well as in every other part of the third-class quarters. There were also rooms labeled men’s and women’s washhouses. These proved to contain one bathtub each and about 10 wash basins. Women were allowed to do some little laundry for the children in the basins, and a bath could be had by feeing the stewardess one-half mark. This room was usually locked and could be used only by permission of the stewardess.
“Meals were served in a large dining room seating 300 persons and situated on the first deck below the main deck. The tables accommodated l4= persons each for the most part and each was the special charge of one steward. There were red covers, white napkins (which were changed once during the journey), heavy white porcelain dishes, and good cutlery. There was a double supervision and a thorough one by two higher officers of the dining room, as well as of the sleeping quarters and promenade deck. In consequence of this, the stewards performed their duties carefully and thoughtfully, and so gave splendid service. The food, though it offered practically only actual necessities, was sufficient in quantity and properly prepared and decently served.
“The menu card which appeared each morning read about thus:
- “Breakfast.—Cereal, meat or eggs (sometimes), bread, butter, jam, coffee.
- “Dinner.—Soup, meat, potatoes, one other vegetable, stewed fruit (occasionally), dessert.
- “Three-o’clock lunch.—Coffee and coffee cake.
- “Supper.—Bread, butter, tea, meat.
“The open deck extending over the part of the vessel allotted to the third class served as its promenade deck. There was also a small upper deck, supplied with four benches. On this upper deck was an ‘American bar,’ well patronized, also a smoking room containing a piano. There was no special sitting room for women.
“For entertainment there was a very fair library of German and English books. The band played a half hour each afternoon in the dining room. Walking on the deck was popular, since the air below in the cabins was heavy.
“The stewards cleaned and scrubbed all day and everything was kept clean. The floor in the dining room, the decks, and all the passageways between the cabins were washed every day. The floors in the cabins were swept as often and washed when necessary.
“There was a separate entrance to the steward’s quarters, and except when taking the air on deck they did not mingle with the passengers. Sailors and others of the crew came into the third-class quarters only to perform definite duties.
“The nearly 300 passengers were a mixed lot ----from fairly well to-do Americans, German artisans, clerks, etc., coming to America to try their fortune to servants returning from a visit to their native lands, laborers returning after the crisis, peasant women going to their husbands in the mining sections, and sheep herders, clothed in crude garments made by themselves from the skins of the sheep; from those who understood the use of the fork to those who ate with their fingers.
Nor was this mingling of extremes delightful to either side. Those who came from comfortable circumstances found accommodations somewhat too plain and simple and the presence of ‘them people awful,’ meaning the immigrants. The latter, again being made to feel their inferiority, held themselves in the background and hesitated to enjoy the comforts for which they had paid.
Some who had been obliged to pay the difference with their last money and go third class worried about their admittance at Ellis Island, and so did not enjoy the added comforts. Others were glad that they had escaped the steerage, thought it took their last or all but that."
“On the ______ each c lass was not so closely confined to its own quarters; at least it was easy enough to go into the steerage and the third class.
“During daily visits to the steerage I made the acquaintance of a Bohemian girl there. She, though somewhat surprised at the generous offer, gladly changed places on the steamer with me. Our arrangement occasioned no serious inquiries.
“The steerage was located in the bow of the vessel. The first entirely enclosed deck extending the entire length and width of the steamer was termed the main deck. On this, there were three large compartments. The foremost of these was assigned to the use of families or women with children. The next, not being required for sleeping quarters on this trip, had its beds piled in one corner and was supplied with long wooden tables, having benches attached on either side.
This was the dining room, also the general lounging place in stormy weather. The third room was the sleeping quarters of women traveling alone. On the deck below were three similar compartments. The men slept in the middle one of these. The other two were not used on this trip. The beds were the usual iron frames used in the steerage, built in two tiers and of the required dimensions.
Each was supplied with a mattress and pillow of sea grass and covered with a colored slip, a pair of gray blankets and a life preserver acting as a. second pillow. These beds received no attention from the stewards throughout the entire voyage. Besides being a sleeping place, each bed also served as a repository for all hand baggage, additional clothing, and food, and as a rack for towels. Whatever belongings the steerage passenger had with him must be tucked away in his bed.
Each berth, littered as it necessarily was by every possession that the passenger could not wear or carry continually on his person, was nevertheless his one and only place of refuge or withdrawal. Here, amid bags and baskets, outer wraps and better garments saved for disembarking, towels, and private drinking cups and teapots, each of us undressed for the night and combed and dressed in the morning. Nor could there be proper or even decent preparation for retiring owing both to lack of privacy and to the lack of space for the disposal of clothes.
These must remain in the berth, and so it made little difference whether they were about or merely over the person. If the pipes running overhead sprung leaks, as they did on several occasions, garments were safer under the blankets than on top of them. As for privacy, that is left entirely out of consideration in the steerage, where people are housed together in such large numbers and must spend every hour of the twenty-four, and this for many days, in the presence of so many others. "
“This entire lack of privacy accounts for more than one of the filthy or indecent habits of the immigrants on board. People, both men and women, who were ordinarily cleanly about their person, complained that it was totally impossible to keep clean with the given accommodations. A self-respecting person couldn’t wash properly in a room that was being used at the same time by several others, and there was no avoiding becoming dirty.
Some very nice German girls, seeking to change their linen in private, waited until long after midnight, when all were asleep and even then stood as guard and screen for each other against the steward on duty in the compartment."
“The floors in all the steerage quarters except on the main or open deck were made of large sheets of iron. In the sleeping compartments, though the floors, even under the berths, must _be kept free of baggage, they were never washed. They were swept in the morning in preparation for the daily inspection by the captain and his officers. And whenever the waste accumulated it was again swept. But this sweeping by no means kept the floor clean.
No sick cans or receptacles for waste of any kind were provided. The sea was rough much of the time and there were many sick. This alone kept the floor wet and in an awful condition, and since it was never washed the smell from it was dreadful. The cleaning and littering of the floor went on in regular rounds. When the steward had finished sweeping, he brought out from his private stores a basket of boiled eggs and offered them for sale at all the berths. Then followed a basket of apples, another of oranges, dried prunes, pickled herrings, and sausage."
“The immigrants bought as freely as their purses allowed of these edibles to supplement the regular meals, and when the steward had completed his round of sales the floor was again littered with egg shells, orange peels, apple cores, prune stones, and herring bones. Nor could it be otherwise. There were no waste cans in which to throw these, and passengers more or less sick could not be expected to leave their berths and climb up on the open deck to throw such waste into the water. On the many stormy days, water came down through the hatchways and through leaks in the ceiling.
“The sleeping quarters were a ways a dismal, damp, dirty, and most unwholesome place. The air was heavy, foul, and deadening to the spirit and the mind. Those confined to these beds by reason of sickness soon lost all energy, spirit, and ambition. A division of the steerage into two classes was soon apparent. Those who were good sailors and could be up and out kept away from the sleeping rooms until very late and left them often as early as 5 a. m.
Those whom seasickness rendered weak and helpless in their beds were so stupefied and enervated by the heavy, foul atmosphere that they continued to lie in their bunks as though in a stupor. Such surroundings could not produce the frame of mind with which it is desirable that newcomers approach our land and receive their first impressions of it."
“The dining room was quite as cheerless and dispiriting. At times when steerage travel is heavy it is a sleeping compartment, as are all the other rooms of the steerage. The three or four thousand Italians who are to return home for the holidays on the will not have the convenience of even this crude dining room, but must eat wherever they can find room to stand or sit.
The furniture of this dining room consisted of rather ingenious pieces, a table and chairs all in one piece. A long board attached to the framework of the table on either side served as an immovable bench. This combination piece of furniture is probably convenient to handle in moving, but it certainly was most inconvenient for women to have to step over the benches getting in and out."
“In the serving of the meals the women were shown some consideration. Their tables were set by stewards. Each place was given a heavy, white porcelain soup plate, a knife, fork, and spoon. The knives, the very cheapest quality of steel, were cleaned once during the voyage, and then the stewards gathered a crowd of the women passengers to help sandpaper them.
There were just barely enough dishes to go around, and more often not quite enough. For this reason, the passengers soon learned it was necessary to get a place at the tables as soon as they heard the rattle of dishes, to grab a plate and the cutlery as soon as it left the stewards’ hands and hold it until the food came."
“ The following bill of fare for the steerage was posted on the walls and was quite closely followed:
Breakfast, 7 a. m.-—-Coffee with milk and sugar; fresh bread, butter, oatmeal, corned beef, or cheese or herring.
Diner, 12 m.—Sunday: Bouillon with rice and vegetables, fresh meat, potatoes, pudding with plum sauce. Monday: Pea soup, fresh beef or salted pork, potatoes, and sauerkraut. Tuesday: Bouillon with rice, fresh-meat, potatoes, French beans. Wednesday: Barley soup, fresh or salted beef, potatoes, cabbage or carrots. Thursday: Bouillon with rice and vegetables, fresh meat, potatoes, pudding with plum sauce. Friday: Bean soup, fresh beef or salted pork, potatoes, turnips or sauerkraut. Saturday: Barley soup with plums or bouillon, fresh or salted meat, potatoes, and sauce.
Afternoon, 3 o'cl0ck.—Coffee with milk and sugar, bread or cake.
Supper, 6 p. m.—A warm dish consisting of rice in milk or barley with plums or potatoes with herrings or Lapskaus or ragout or Irish stew. Also white or rye bread, butter, and tea with sugar.
“Dinner and supper were served an hour earlier than announced. Not much time was consumed in serving—never more than a half hour. The food was brought to the tables occupied by the women. It was passed down from the gallery on the open deck along a line of stewards, as pails of water are by a bucket brigade.
For dinner each table receive a pail of soup , a small dish pan of meat and potatoes another with vegetables; or the other meals a large tin kettle o either tea or coffee already containing milk and sugar, bread, a plate of prune jam or a butter substitute. The dishes were afterwards collected and washed by stewards.
The men passengers did not receive even this much service. Each of them had to take his turn in bringing the food for his table and in washing and caring for the table’s dishes. There were a couple of tubs of warm water in a corner of the dining room for dishwashing, but no towels.
There was also no place provided for keeping these dishes, so the beds and the floor beneath, that already served so many purposes, acted also as dish cupboard. Places at tables were not assigned, nor was there any attempt to establish or maintain any order beyond to prevent crowding.
And even here the attempt was only apparent, for the real cause of it rested not with the passengers. They were obliged to seek places at the first sign of preparation for a meal; grab dishes, if they were to be sure of any. More than one learned that to be a trifle late was to be too late."
“The quality of the food was not so bad, but the manner and haste in serving it made it unsatisfying. It might not be unreasonable to demand a little more care in its preparation and seasoning.
“The Hebrew cook who prepared kosher food for the Jewish passengers received much the same materials as our cook. Some of the better passengers, particularly Germans, found the Jewish cooking so much more appetizing that they sought favor with its cook in order to secure it continually. The also complained of the quality of the bread, and the purser allowed their table to have such bread as was supplied to the third class. The coffee and tea were less satisfactory than the other food, but hot water was available, and many prepared their own tea.
“At the bar, besides drinks, apples and pickled herrings were sold. Several stewards had supplies of edibles that the offered for sale. The steerage passengers were already buyers. The plain, tasteless, quickly bolted meals really required supplementing, and as long as there was money with which to buy, it was quite impossible to resist.
“The washing and toilet rooms were quite as inadequate as the sleeping and eating accommodations. These were on the main or open deck. There were eight toilets and as many wash basins for the women; the men had two similar rooms adjoining. The construction of the toilets rendered them convenient enough for use had they been kept clean and dry.
The hose hung continually attached, and the daily cleaning consisted of a washing off with the hose. The floor and seats were always wet, and, as the individual compartments were so very short and narrow, it was impossible to go in or out without rubbing one’s clothes against the wet and often dirty floor, step, and seat. In the washroom, leading to the toilets, the water often stood inches deep on the floor.
The eight washbasins were insufficient for over 200 women and children. The little room was crowded most of the day. We rose at 5 o’clock, and earlier, in order to get washed before breakfast, which was served so promptly at 7 o’clock. It really was no wonder to me when some finally gave up trying to keep clean.
In such filthy surroundings, it was necessary to wash often, and keeping even comparatively clean would have meant a perpetual struggle to get at a basin. The two or three days before landing those who had given up the struggle resumed it with renewed vigor. The little washroom was crowded all day until late into the night with women washing their own and the children’s heads, and washing out towels and clothing.
They were truly heroic efforts at cleanliness in the face of every obstacle. A thorough washing of the body, or even a part of it, was entirely out of the question. There were no bathtubs, and to monopolize a basin for more than a very few moments was impossible. Besides, one could never have the washroom entirely to himself even for a moment.
Here. where the surroundings make a bath imperative, it was an impossibility. All the human physical needs were so miserably provided for, or else entirely ignored, that it was not at all strange if the passenger developed and showed some animal propensities."
“The steerage passenger certainly gets but very little besides his passage. Practically no consideration is had for him as regards either space, food, service, or conveniences. One of ten rules on the walls announces that the passengers are responsible for the order and cleanliness of the steerage.
The difference in cost between passage in the third class and the steerage is about $7.50; the difference between accommodations is everything, and the third class does no more than provide decently for the simplest human physical needs. The white napkins are the only nonessential that might be omitted.
Every other provision is essential to decency, propriety, health, and the preservation of self-respect. To travel in anything worse than what is offered in the third class is to arrive at the journey’s end with a mind unfit for healthy, wholesome impressions and with a body weakened and unfit for the hardships that are involved in the beginning of life in a new land."
“The letter of the law may be obeyed implicitly without bringing about the desired reforms and conditions. This was very true on the ______. There was apparently every observance of the law and yet the conditions in the steerage were such as should not exist. Observing everything closely and considering it very carefully I could not see how conditions could be improved without changing the entire general arrangement of the steerage.
The undesirable features of the large sleeping compartments will continue as long as the use of the large compartments themselves continues. And so with many of the other evils; they are the inevitable accompaniments of the system itself. The total abolition of the present steerage and the substitution for it of the third class would seem the complete solution of the many evils of the steerage."
“Section 7 of the passenger act was posted in conspicuous places and was fairly well observed. However, there were a few breaches. Sailors and stewards did sometimes find themselves on the open deck with the steerage passengers and on such occasions did not hesitate to make free with the women. This, however, was not of frequent occurrence. The steward in charge of the women’s sleeping compartment promptly expelled any man passenger who entered. He himself, however, and even the chief officer of the steerage, did not hesitate occasionally to poke, punch, and handle the women as they lay in their berths.
“From those who had gone aboard as steerage passengers I learned that they had been taken in a small vessel to the steamer the day before it sailed. They had been vaccinated by the ship’s physicians and relieved of their ship cards. The physicians accompanied the captain on his daily tour of inspection, passing through all the steerage and third class quarters. However, there was no examination of the passengers until just the evening previous to landing. Then each one bared his arm and presented the vaccination to the doctor for inspection. The women were all kept in first, then the men. After that, in order that the last memories of the steamer might be pleasant, each woman was given a little candy, each man a pipe and package of tobacco.
“The day before this, ship cards had been returned, and attached to each was a number to aid the division of passengers at Ellis Island; also a doctor’s card. Similar cards were given in the third class. These were marked and stamped in identically the same manner, though the one class had been vaccinated and the other had not.
Example of an Inspection Card with Page Numbers corresponding to the Manifest where the passenger was listed. (Courtesy of the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Immigration Collection)
“There were hospital rooms, one for men and one for women, but there seemed a strong objection to using them. A sign on the doors strictly forbade admittance, and the doors were locked except when a stewardess was present, and then she kept out the curious.
“During the journey two women after much effort were admitted to the hospital. One was so weak she had to be carried. She was returned in a couple of days, but was still so weak she dropped in a heap on the iron floor of one of the compartments. Neither stewards nor the two stewardesses noticed her, and when urged to get a mattress for her and help her to a berth said that was the business of the chief officer of the steerage, not theirs. The two stewardesses in the steerage apparently had few duties. They distributed meal gruel to children and in nice weather drove out all the women on deck. Much of the time, they were not in the steerage at all.
“There were 450 passengers in the steerage and almost 300 in the third class. They differed very little in kind. Nevertheless, it was possible to maintain cleanliness and order in the third class. The blame for the filth of the steerage cannot then be placed entirely on the passengers. The third class is proof that if given an opportunity the poorer passengers do keep clean.
“At Ellis Island the inspection by the doctors and the officers of the Immigration Service was quickly completed. The work here has been reduced to a smooth system and the officers are all kind, considerate, and humane until one has passed the boundary of their immediate jurisdiction.
After getting my railroad ticket, I was approached by an agent of the telegraph company. The ordinary immigrant would not have distinguished him from the immigration officials. ‘Show your address,’ he commanded. ‘What’s your name?’ and before I knew what it was all about, ‘Thirty cents for the telegram.’ And so he caught them, except those who had been there before and refused to be caught again.
Later I learned the usefulness of these telegrams. It said ‘Meet me at Union Station,’ but mentioned no trains. My friends spent a night at the station and then didn’t meet me. The other telegrams are about as effective. Further on in the room, where the immigrants are sorted according to the railroad by which they are to continue their journey, they are considered prey.
A rough guard pushed me to the pen into which I belonged. A commissary clerk met me, led me 'to a spot where my baggage could be deposited, then to a counter, saying ‘Show your money.’ I was about to obey, as a steerage passenger obeys these commands given at so many points of his journey, when I concluded that this was the attempt to compel one to buy a box of provisions for his further journey.
Many of the passengers had told me of it and warned me. I refused to show my money, saying I was going only to Baltimore and did not need provisions for so short a journey. The man continued shouting, thinking thus to force me into buying, until he spied someone else entering. Then he dropped me and ran for the new victim.
Immigrants who had been here before and refused to be forced to buy received volleys of oaths and curses. The immigrants are practically forced to buy these boxes, regardless of the length of their journey or their desires.
One man bought a cigar and handed over a dollar. Three quarters were laid down in change, and when he demanded the rest the clerk insisted on his taking something more instead of the 20 cents, and hadn’t the immigrant been experienced in the ways of the world he would have had to yield.
Finally, we were taken from here to our respective stations. We who were going on the ______ Line crossed in a ferry to a dingy, dirty, unventilated waiting room next to the ______ station in Jersey City. Here we waited from 6 o’clock in the evening until after 9. About 8 o’clock the attendant signaled us to go downstairs, showing our tickets as we went. We all expected we were to board the train, so anxiously hurried along, dragging our heavy and numerous hand baggage.
The poor, travel-tired women and the sleepy little children were pitiful sights. Arrived at the bottom of the long stairs, we waited and waited, but there was no train. Finally, the same attendant summoned us to return upstairs. Weary, tired, and disappointed, we climbed up again. Finally we were led to our train in the big station.
We were again sorted according to our destination and our train proceeded to Philadelphia. There we halted somewhere in the yards. Our entire coachful was to change cars. We piled out in the middle of the night, all laden down with baggage, the women having, in addition, sleeping and sleepy little children.
A trainman guided this weary and dejected party along the car tracks through the sleet and snow over an endless distance, it seemed, to the station. There pity seized him or else he was tired from l1elping carry the baggage of one poor woman who had five small children with her, and he allowed her to remain in the waiting room.
The rest of us, with our baggage, trudged farther on to what evidently was a lounging room for section hands. We were locked in there for an hour and a half, when we were again led to the station to be put on a train. They assigned us to the smoker—women, children, and all—and refused even to open the women’s toilet for us, compelling us to use the men’s.
For my immigrant’s ticket from New York to Baltimore, I paid $4.67. The regular price is $5. For this reduction of 33 cents, I was first placed in the charge of two rough, coarse, insolent attendants and compelled to wait over three hours in a dirty, foul-smelling room.
Then I was nine hours making a distance usually covered in six and compelled to sit in a smoker and use a men’s toilet. What those immigrants who had to travel longer distances suffered can be well imagined from the experiences of this short journey.”