Enormous Flood of Immigrants from Europe - 1902
Suffering and abuse for a multitude of foreigners
By Harry Beardsley
From “Leslie’s Weekly" 1902
Collage of Phtographs of the Many Immigrants Coming to America. The Rush of Foreign Immigration. How the Struggling Poof of Europe Throng the Receiving Stations of America's Greatest Port (New York). 1. New York Italians at the Barge Office Pier Awaiting the Arrival of Immigrant from Ellis Islan. Phelan. 2l. Immigrants Packed Into Express Wagons. Phelan. 2r. Transferring the Baggage of the Bewildered Foreigners. Phelan. 3. A Glimpse of the Steerage of a German Liner Crowded with Immigrants of Many Nations. Schaul. 4. Newcomers from Portugal Quarered Like Sheep in a Building at Ellis Island. Dunn. Leslie's Weekly Magazine, 8 May 1902. GGA Image ID # 15bbed7679
Nearly 150,000 of the peasantries of Europe have already this year landed in America, so that 1902 promises to hold a record for foreign immigration. There seems to be no limit to the capacity of the United States to absorb the European thousands. In January 18,375 immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, New York. In February the number was 29,747. In March it was almost double that many–57,666; and during the first half of April more than 30,000 strangers came.
The great hordes of foreigners crowd ashore at the little horseshoe island in New York harbor which the government has secured for the purpose, and after they have been inspected and passed upon, they are transported in boatloads to the Battery; and there begins their distribution throughout the whole United States.
One day this spring, 6,300 immigrants were unloaded here, the greatest number on a single day in the history of the New York immigrant station. It exceeded even the days of old Castle Garden. One vessel alone carried 2,700 immigrants, packed together in the ship's steerage.
Why should foreign immigration increase to such an extent at this time? The answer is in the records of the Bureau of immigration. These records show that during the years of good times in the United States immigration has always been greatest.
New York Italians at the barge-office pier awaiting the arrival of immigrants from Ellis Island. Leslie's Weekly, 8 May 1902. GGA Image ID # 15bc41b1e0
The foreigners residing in America, the thousands of Italians, Jews, Germans, and others, write of the good times to their relatives in Europe and send money for their passage. And it very often happens that while there is prosperity in the New World, work is scarce and wages are low in the Old World; so the brothers and sisters and wives and children of the Americanized foreigners make the voyage to America, and among them at these rush times are many women and little ones. To these, the passage and the arrival in the new land is the greatest hardship.
On Ellis Island, where all the European immigrants land, one sees much suffering, and it gives rise to the same feeling of pity which one feels toward a flock of sheep who stand silently huddled together in a winter's storm, telling of their pain only by an occasional pathetic bleat.
And this is indeed the conduct of the immigrants when they reach America's shores. In the strangeness of their new surroundings, they are dumb, driven, patient and unhappy. From the time that he leaves his native land until he is at last permanently and comfortably settled in the new country, the experience of the immigrant the common steerage passenger is full of danger and suffering.
And this fact is forcibly revealed, too, at the dock at the Battery, where the bewildered strangers become the victims of human vultures, who take advantage of their ignorance and submissiveness. The enormous number of European poor who have come to America this year has given these wolves a greater opportunity to attack their prey, and the situation has aroused such a loud complaint that the police department has held an investigation and steps are promised for the protection of the strangers who are coming by thousands through America's open gates.
Immigrants packed into express-wagons
Many of the old schemes of the hawks who prey upon the simple immigrants, the schemes which were used in the old days of Castle Garden, have been revived; moreover, it was complained that the police who were stationed among the immigrants to protect them have, instead, beaten and bullied and driven them.
A combination was formed between the drivers of express wagons and proprietors of cheap lodging-houses for foreigners. Whenever a boat-load of immigrants is landed at the Battery, they are confronted by a score of wagons backed to the edge of the sidewalk and by the active, grasping drivers of these wagons.
A dazed Italian, for instance, standing on the sidewalk, in his hand, the address of a friend or relative written on a piece of paper, is snatched by one of the drivers and tumbled almost forcibly, bag and baggage, into a wagon. It has often occurred that the house to which the stranger wishes to go is only a few blocks, frequently less than a mile, away.
The immigrant, who is almost penniless, would gladly walk the distance, but the driver tells him it is eight or ten miles; and then, after a ride of a mile, the poor, bewildered dupe is made to pay often as much as one dollar. If the stranger wishes to go to a lodging-house, the “runner” at once takes him to the place of his partner in the business of fleecing foreigners, and until he finds his friends or makes some vigorous protest, the poor stranger is at the mercy of the sharpers.
Very often friends or relatives of the immigrants are awaiting them at the Battery, but the drivers snatch the newcomers and whirl them away before the waiting and anxious friends even know of their presence.
Transferring the baggage of the bewildered foreigner
This the police stationed at the barge office are supposed to prevent, but it seems that, instead, they have actually been aiding the sharpers by roughly driving the immigrants, often beating the inoffensive foreigners and forcing them to take refuge in the first opportunity offered, and this refuge is the arms and the wagon of the eager “runner.”
Another common misfortune to the immigrant is to become the victim of counterfeiters of his own nationality, who ride among the passengers in the steerage from their native shore and induce them to exchange their good foreign money for a bogus currency of the United States during the voyage.
On a vessel which recently landed a large number of Italians at Ellis Island a counterfeiter, who was himself an Italian, had succeeded in securing almost without exception the money of all the steerage passengers. Scores of them were absolute paupers when they were landed in the great rushing city of New York.
Another menace to the hordes of steerage passengers, particularly when they are brought in unusual crowds, is that of sprained and broken limbs. In the hospital on Ellis Island are nearly always one or more patients with arms or legs broken. Recently in one of the wards was a little boy whose leg was broken in the crush in the steerage of a plunging, swaying vessel.
Exposed to cold and dampness and contagion, there is always much sickness among the new arrivals. In the children's ward of the hospital sat one day recently a man, a woman, and a child before a little white bed. On the pillow was a thin and yellow little face. The doctor in charge of the hospital called the father to one side of the room. The man was a Swede, gentle of voice, mild and reticent in manner.
“Where do you live?” asked the doctor.
“In Iowa,” replied the man.
“What's your business?” asked the doctor.
“I’m a farmer.”
“Got any money?”
“Is that all you've got to take your wife and children out to Iowa?” "
“You know you have two delicate children there,” said the doctor, nodding toward the bed; “they might die.”
The farmer turned his head away, and there were tears in his eyes. He had saved enough money to bring his wife and children from the old home in Sweden and to take them to the farm in Iowa where he had worked to make money. But an emergency arose for which he was not prepared. Both little ones contracted pneumonia on the voyage. With his wife the farmer was living in New York City, slowly spending the money which was to take them all to his Iowa farm, while the children were in the hospital.
Two common diseases among the European immigrants, one an affliction of the eyes, another a scalp disease cause the separation of many families. Both diseases are contagious and sometimes are contracted by immigrants during the voyage. A person found to be suffering from either is deported. An Italian who had sent for his wife and child found that they had taken the disease of the eyes during the trip, and the United States immigration officials told the father that his wife and child must be sent back to Italy.
This is done at the expense of the United States government. It was a heart-breaking scene when the Italian bade his family good-bye. He had been five years saving up the money for their passage to America. The affliction with which they were attacked can be cured if treated in time. And in another five years, the wife and child may come back.
The necessity of strict regulations in regard to health becomes apparent when one sees the herds of dumb foreigners as they first reach America. But after they have been admitted the abuse and deception of the ignorant strangers become the lowest cruelty. And societies for the protection of the strangers have become thoroughly aroused and are determined that the abuses shall cease.
Newcomers from Portugal quartered like sheep in a building at Ellis Island. Leslie's Weekly, 8 May 1902. GGA Image ID # 15bc53e21b
Harry Beardsley, "Enormous Flood of Immigrants from Europe: Suffering and Abuse for a Multitude of Foreigners," Leslie's Weekly, New York: Judge Company, Vol. XCIV, No, 2435, Thursday, 8 May 1902, pp. 442-444.