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United States Immigration Commission Report - 1911

Steerage Passengers (1905)

The report of the Immigration Commission on steerage conditions resulted from investigations by agents of the Commission who, in the guise of immigrants, traveled in the steerage of 12 trans-Atlantic ships.

Practically all of the more essential lines engaged in the immigrant-carrying traffic were included in the inquiry, and every type of steerage was studied. The report upon this subject was presented to Congress on December 13, 1909, and printed as Senate Document No. 26, Sixty-first Congress, second session.

It is reprinted here as a part of the Commission’s complete report to the Congress. Miss Anna Herkner, who, as an agent of the Commission, crossed the Atlantic three times as a steerage passenger, prepared the report on steerage conditions.

Introduction
Before the act of 1819, there was no law of the United States for the protection of passengers at sea. The introduction of steam as a motive power in ocean transportation and the enormous increase in the tide of immigration necessitated further legislation relative to the transportation of immigrants.

The Old and New Steerage Described

Trans-Atlantic steamers may be classed in three general subdivisions from their provision for other than cabin passengers. These are Vessels having the ordinary or old-type steerage, those having the new-type steerage, and those having both. To make clear the distinction between these subdivisions, a description of the two types of steerage, old and new, will be given.

The Old Steerage

The old-type steerage is the one whose horrors have been so often described. It is unfortunately still found in a majority of the vessels bringing immigrants to the United States.

The New Steerage

Nothing is striking in what this new-type steerage furnishes. On general lines, it follows the plans of the accommodations for second-cabin passengers. The one difference is that everything is simpler proportionately to the difference in the cost of passage. Unfortunately, the new type of steerage is to be found only on those lines that carry emigrants from the north of Europe. The number of these has become but a small percent of the total influx.

Recommendations

The Commission proposes that a statute is immediately enacted providing for the placing of government officials, both men, and women, on vessels carrying third-class and steerage passengers, the expense to be borne by the steamship companies.

A Typical Old-Style Steerage: An Investigator's Report

While this report is long, a little over 6,000 words, it contains a snapshot of what it was really like crossing the Atlantic in the steerage class in the summer of 1908. The text was edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity to improve readability. Portions of the report were "redacted," and a "_____" was inserted to replace the redacted text.

A Typical New Type Steerage: An Investigator's Report

Report by the same investigator as to another vessel. Clearly, the experience was dramatically improved over the previous voyage. The text was edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity to improve readability.

The Old and New Type Steerage in the Same Ship: An Investigative Report

Reported by the same investigator, with redactions of some text to obscure the actual ship, steamship line, along with their officers and crew members. We have edited the text for spelling, grammar, and clarity to improve the readability of the report.

Treatment of Immigrants on Steamers in the Coastwise and Inland Traffic

A certain percentage of the immigrants who are distributed from New York City and other points travel toward their ultimate destination on smaller steamship lines in the coastwise trade. There seems to be no attention whatever paid to the accommodations for or care of immigrants on these ships.

Results of the Italian Law Providing For Official Inspection of Steerage

Because of the recommendation that immigrant inspectors and matrons travel on each ship carrying immigrants, the following extracts from a report on an Italian vessel are pertinent: The investigation was made by a woman.

A Seaman's Statement Regarding Third Class

An investigator, formerly a seaman, who has crossed the Atlantic in all classes of ships makes comments concerning third class on one of the newer types of steamships.

Appendixes

Appendix A: The United States Passenger Act of 1882

The Immigration Act of 1882 was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on August 3, 1882. The passenger act affords protection to passengers against overcrowding, makes it obligatory to give them proper and sufficient food, air space, and in many respects promotes their comfort and safety.

Appendix B: Section One of Passenger Act, As Amended, 1908

Section 42 of the new immigration law was approved on February 20,1907, the purpose of which is to provide greater air space and better accommodations for immigrants. Section 42 does not take effect till January 1, 1909, thus giving the steamship companies ample time to change the construction of their vessels, if necessary, so as to conform to the new law.

"Steerage Conditions," in Reports of the Immigration Commsion, Volume 37. Steerage Conditions--Importation and Harboring of Women for Immoral Puroses -- Immigrant Homes and Aid Societies -- Immigrant Banks. (S. Document No. 753, 61st Congress, 3rd Session) Presented by Mr. Dillingham, 5 December 1910, Washington: Government Printing Office (1911) P. 2, 5-51

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