Between 1880 and 1920, almost 25 million people came to America from other countries. Most of these immigrants came from Europe. They came to escape terrible poverty in their own country, having often heard rumors that the streets of America were paved with gold. They believed that America was a land of opportunity. Unfortunately, immigrants poured into cities in such large numbers that there weren’t enough resources to go around. Life was not easy for them.
- America’s history has always been about immigration. The Puritans, among the first immigrants, came from Great Britain in search of religious freedom. During the first 200 years of our country’s history, millions of immigrants came from Great Britain and Germany. Between 1846 and 1851, almost 1 million hungry people emigrated from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine.
- In the late 1800s, immigrants arrived from Poland, Russia, and Italy. Jews came fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In the West, Chinese immigrants flooded into California during the Gold Rush. More came to help build the transcontinental railroad. Chinese workers were willing to work for little pay, which made white workers angry. Whites worried that Chinese immigrants were taking their jobs. Mobs and riots ensued; in 1882, Congress made Chinese immigration illegal. This law was repealed in 1943.
- Most immigrants came to large cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. They had few skills and didn’t speak English. They gathered together with others from their mother countries, creating Italian, Polish, and Jewish neighborhoods.
- In cities, immigrants lived in crowded tenement buildings. In these crowded conditions, diseases like tuberculosis were common.
- Middle-class Americans were unaware of the plight of the immigrants. Danish immigrant and photographer, Jacob Riis, published a book, “How the Other Half Lives,” which shone a light on the problem.
- Tenement: an apartment or house that has been divided for many families; typically crowded and run-down
- Tuberculosis: an infectious lung disease
- Plight: a difficult or dangerous situation
Questions and Answers
Question: Did anyone help the immigrants?
Answer: Government agencies were slow to respond to the immigrants’ needs. Individuals, churches, and private organizations jumped in to help. Jane Addams opened Hull House in Chicago in 1889. Here, volunteers taught women practical skills, such as sewing, cooking, shopping, and caring for the sick. Other agencies offered lessons in English or job skill training. The Salvation Army offered food and lodging.
People still immigrate to America today. Visit Scholastic to learn more.
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Declan, Tobin. " Immigration to American in the 1800's - The Great American Dream ." American History for Kids, May 2019. Web. 19 May 2019. < https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/immigration-american-dream/ >.
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Tobin, Declan. (2019). Immigration to American in the 1800's - The Great American Dream. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/immigration-american-dream/