Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Immigration

Coming to America

c. 1880

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles, From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she.

With silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus, “The New Colussus,” about the new Statue of Liberty. The quote in the last 5 lines is found on the statue.

c. 1890 [Agents from railroads and steamship companies in Europe to encourage immigration swarmed] as the locusts covered Egypt. An anonymous observer.

c. 1890 How can a steerage passenger remember that his a human being when he must first pick the worms from his food... and eat in his stuffy, stinking bunk, or in the hot and fetid atmosphere of a compartment where 150 men sleep? An Italian immigrant


My first impressions of the new world will always remain etched in my memory, particularly that hazy October morning when I first saw Ellis Island.... All of us... clustered on the foredeck for fear of separation and looked with wonder on this miraculous land of our dreams.

Passengers all about us were crowding against the rail, jabbered conversation, sharp cries, laughs and cheers — a steadily rising din filled the air. Mothers and fathers lifted up the babies so that they too could see, off to the left, the Statue of Liberty.

Italian immigrant Edward Corsi.


1888 [I]nstead of the old American stock being “swamped” by immigration, it has absorbed the immigrants and remained nearly unchanged. Carl Schurz, even, hasn’t imported a German idea into our politics;... our present Mayor Grant, of Irish blood, will serve New York, whether well or ill, solely by American principles. Theodore Roosevelt, letter to James Bryce, the British author of The American Commonwealth.

c. 1890 Jews without Jewish memories.... The shook them off in the boat when they came across the seas. They emptied out their memories. A later Jewish-American writer, on how migrants wanted to leave the Old World behind and become assimilated into American life.

1893 I have always been in favor of a healthy Americanization, but that does not mean a complete disavowal of our German heritage. Our character should take on the best of that which is American, and combine it. Carl Schurtz to immigrants from Germany At the opening of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, on how he expected them to fit into American society. The term "melting pot" had not yet been coined, but Schurz approved the idea.

1903 [Society must take] the earliest opportunity to catch the little Russian, the little Italian, the little German, Pole, Syrian, and the rest and begin to make good American citizens of them. A writer on the need for kindergartens to help children assimilate.

Adjusting to American Life

c. 1890 To this one he lends a dollar; for another he obtains a railway ticket without payment; he has coal distributed in the depth of winter;... he sometimes sends poultry at Christmas time; he buys medicine for a sick person; he helps bury the dead. How machine politicians help immigrants (in exchange for their votes).

c. 1895 [A map of New York City, with a different color for each immigrant group] would show more stripes than... a zebra, and more colors than any rainbow. Jacob Riis, a social reformer and an immigrant from Denmark.

c. 1900 Now if a Russian got his job in a shear department, he’s looking for a buddy, a Russian buddy. He’s not going to look for a Croatian buddy. And if he sees the boss looking for a man he says, “Look, I have a good man,” and he’s picking out his friends. A Ukrainian department, a Russian department, a Polish department. And it was a beautiful thing in a way. A Polish steelworker, on how Pittsburgh steel mills developed ethnic-based work groups. 1904. [Coney Island] is just like what I see when I dream of heaven. An immigrant woman’s opnion of the amusement parks at Coney Island.