Steerage Definition, Conditions, Immigrant Journey
On steamships, Steerage (or Tween Decks) and Third Class was the default choice of many immigrants from the 1850s through the 1930s. The conditions varied by steamship line and were likely to be relatively harsh compared to modern standards.
The expression "steerage passenger" means all passengers except cabin passengers, and persons shall not be deemed cabin passengers unless the space allotted to their exclusive use is in the proportion of at least thirty-six clear superficial feet to each passenger.
Early steerage often housed hundreds of immigrants in one large room, often converted from cargo holds to hold what might have been described as human cattle. These potential new citizens were emigrants from many countries around the world who endured a journey unlike any other.
Steerage Passengers – Enduring Hardships
- 1879 - Steerage Accommodations
A British reporter takes a voyage on the Cunard Steamship Line in steerage and reports on the horrible conditions endured by immigrants.
- 1888 - The Immigrant Journey
A Sham Immigrant's Voyage to New York
- 1890 - Life in Steerage
A Transatlantic Voyage
- 1898 - Steerage Conditions in 1898 - A First-Hand Account
The lavishly illustrated article provides an historical account of what a transatlantic voyage in steerage was like.
- 1905 - The Immigrant Journey
The Fellowship of the Steerage - Illustrated with photographs and illustrations. 8 Chapters.
- 1906 - Urgency of Improved Steerage Conditions
A First-Hand Account
Steerage Conditions: An Intractable Problem
- 1871 Steerage Passengers' Journey from Northern Europe
Various steamship lines are enumerated; with details concerning their management as far as steerage passengers, that is, emigrants, are concerned. The article includes information on Ports of Call and Rates Charged for Steerage.
- 1881 Observation of Steerage on the Cunard Line
If our naval architects who seek distinction in rendering vessels shot-proof, would give attention to rendering them discomfort, proof for the emigrants who crowd the steerage, it would be a great blessing.
- 1890 America's Open Gate: Castle Garden
Castle Garden May Cease To Be The Immigrant's Landing
- 1904 Immigrants and the Steamship Steerage Rate Wars
Steerage fares reduced from $25 to $10 from several European ports
- 1906 An Interview with The Commissioner of Immigration
Includes tables of facts of Admitted, Rejected and Debarred immigrants.
- 1907 Improvements in Conditions in Steerage Class and Increased Head Tax
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."
- 1909 Women in Steerage
Conditions called Appalling - Newspaper account provides insight of traveling in Steerage a the turn of the century.
- Cases of Abuse Among Immigrant Passengers
Brief but informative report
- 1911 Steerage Conditions
A Report of the Immigration Commission - Excellent summary of the conditions and history of steerage.
- 1911 Steerage Conditions and Related Regulations
The Full Report. Covers and Describes both Old-Style and New-Style Steerage Conditions.
- Worse Case of Steerage Passenger Abuse - 1912
Among her 1,242 steerage passengers there were in the eight weeks of her voyage 58 deaths, 57 being children; the births numbered 14. Fines were levied against the steamship owners.
- 1913 Steerage Conditions on Steamships
The Cotterill Report offers an in-depth look at conditions at the time of the Titanic
- The Steerage Passenger
Conditions circa 1913 Contrasted with Old Steerage Conditions.
- 1916 Immigrants to the Melting Pot
The Hopes of the Hyphenated - Richly illustrated report offers and extensive look at immigrants and steerage.
A Steerage Experience for Five Dollars
“There was keen competition at this time.” Said Mr. Williams, “and I have known steerage passage to America to be given for a single sovereign—live dollars.”
The food was excellent in those days on the Atlantic liners, but very poor in the Mediterranean service, according to Mr. Williams.
He ascribed this to the fact that the American steamers were victualed by the company, while those plying through the Straits of Gibraltar were victualed by the captain, who received an appropriate allowance—and, apparently, did not expend it as judiciously as he might have done.
Mr. Mclver, one of the directors in the early days of the Cunard Line, happened to be at Malta on one occasion when there was a great deal of complaining going on. He instituted an inquiry, and things were soon put right.
It was while Mr. Williams was serving in the Algeria, in the “seventies,” that she burst a boiler tube one day out from Queenstown, westbound. He was then boilermakers mate, and it fell to his lot to plug up the burst tube.
To do this he had to crawl through the furnace into the smoke-box, and, the fire having only just been drawn, no great imagination is required to picture his condition when he had finished the job.
He had to be carried on deck, dosed with grog and put to bed for twenty-four hours. On the ship’s arrival in New York, the “Chief” sent for Mr. Williams and gave him a sovereign and a day off in which to spend it.
“This,” concluded the veteran “shows that the Cunard Line knew how to treat its men, even in those long-departed days!”
Reported by the Shipping Magazine: Marine Transportation, Construction, Equipment, and Supplies, New York: Shipping Publishing Co, Volume 15, No. 5, March 10, 1922, p.14.
IN 1907 Alfred Stieglitz, in the photograph (above) which we publish in the present number of “291 " under the title “The Steerage,” obtained the verification of a fact.
The desire of modern plastic expression has been to create for itself an objectivity. The task accomplished by Stieglitz's photography has been to make objectivity understood, for it has given it the true importance of a natural fact.
He has surpassed “Art,”-that idiotic word which during centuries has dominated everything, and which in reality has only expressed a mental state, a state of unconsciousness. “Art" has become an esoteric God who had for his sole prophet “Conventional Beauty.”
“Art" and “Conventional Beauty” together have exercised a tyranny. It is surely due in great part to photography that we have finally freed ourselves from that spell. We have escaped from the fetishism into which that word “Art" had hypnotized us, making us insensitive to the respective realities of our inner selves, and of the outer world.
I speak of that photography in which the genius of man leaves to the machine its full power of expression. For it is only thus that we can reach a comprehension of pure activity. Objective truth takes precedence over Stieglitz in his work.
By means of a machine he shows us the outer life. Stieglitz comprises the history of photography in the United States. “Camera Work” bears witness to this.
If he has given sometimes too much importance to the intellectual juggleries of others in mechanical representation, he has unwaveringly put into practice the principle of Boileau, “Nothing is beautiful but the truthful.” And in seeking truth he has acted as a real creator.
If modern plastic expression has made us conceive the possibility of creating new forms to express new sentiments, photography in the hands of Stieglitz has succeeded in determining the objectivity of form, that is to say, in obtaining the initial condition of the phenomena of form; phenomena which, under the domain of human thought, give birth to emotions, sensations and ideas— “291.”
De Zayas, M., “The Steerage” in American Photography: Incorporating Popular Photography and The Photographic Times, Boston: American Photographic Publishing Company, Vol. X, No. 3, March 1916, p. 120-121