Tenement life of the early 1900’s

Tenements in NYC circa 1900                              Tenement life; Photo by Jacob Riis 1910

These images show how the typical immigrant lived in New York City in the early 1900’s.  The first photo depicts how tenement life worked in the 1900’s.  It shows a crowded community in a very small area.  It also gives you the idea of a relative sense of community, after all the strings the clothes hang on do connect to other strings.  It can be a place to talk to your neighbors from each others windows and it seems to be a bright spot in a struggling immigrant’s life. People from many backgrounds all met in these areas and since they all lived in these same conditions they formed bonds with each other.   The second photo was taken by renowned photographer Jacob Riss and is a more dreary and accurate portrayal of immigrant life.  Entire families were packed into a single room, and that room was called their home.  These rooms were generally decrepit, cramped and full of chemicals that today are deemed extremely hazardous to health.  Families would often work out of these shoebox sized rooms; doing things such as tailoring and shoe-making.  It was a very tough life to live, but to them it was the only way to survive.


1910 Labor agency and American Express

Image Title: Living rooms of a tenement family near Hull House, Chicago, 1910 Creator: Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940 -- Photographer

1900. Made by Byron Company

The first image shows a scene in front of a labor agency. We can not see any women in the crowd, but there are children. This is representative of the current demographic structure on the labor market overall. In 1900, a census year, only 19% of working age women participated in the workforce, while in the same 1900 1.75 million children of age 10-15 y.o. were “gainful workers”. It was comparable with the amount of “non-white” workers, which totaled to 3.8 mln people (source: http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/cm20030124ar02p1.htm). To put the dollar sums visible on the ad board into the context, the average price of bread in 1912 was 5.6 cents/pound (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/documents/CT1970p1-06.pdf).
The second photo is showing women on Mulberry str., area heavily populated by Italian immigrants. The picture is very different from the first one, so I will not go into differences of the two photos. What I found interesting, however, was the sign in the background saying “American Express Company”. Turns out currency exchange was a big business because of the constant flow of new coming immigrants. Particularly there were a number of private exchangers on the Ellis Island, who were not always honest with their clients. In an attempt to control the flagrant practices US immigration department in 1905 made AmEx the first company officially authorized to handle currencies exchange for the immigrants on Ellis Island. Apparently they had branches in other areas of the city, as we see on the photo.


Checking from Coast to Coast

Chinese immigrant getting checked at Angel Island, San Francisco Bay

Immigrants receiving a skin test for infectious diseases at Ellis Island.

These images both portray immigrants being subject to checks of their current health. Whether you are coming form the East coast at Ellis Island or the West coast at Angel Island, immigrants get their health checked for any infectious diseases. Immigrants had to pass through numerous examinations before they can enter the States. It goes to show how much of a struggle it is to migrate to the United States. It’s a struggle just to leave your country, but then once you arrive, you must go through different examinations before you can enter.


Faith and Hope, Come to America

"Inspection room, Ellis Island, New York."

“Inspection room, Ellis Island, New York.” Between 1910 and 1920. Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920.

Bride Of An Iowan Farmer Coming To Her New Home

Both of these two pictures were taken in the 1910′, Ellis Island. The top one depicts the “”Inspection room,” where the immigrants pass through a detailed process of examination; the second portray was taken by a camera man during ten days of observation in the island, which portrayed a foreign bride of an Iowan farmer. We can see through the bride’s eyes that full of hope and faith in the future, dream of the new life in this magic land, become one of these freedom American. However, before she entitled to enter this free country, she have to pass this physical examination and the exam by an inspector who asks the long list of questions required by the law. Some might be inadmissible.


Immigrants being transported on horse-drawn wagon, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Immigrants in English class given by Training Service of the Department of Labor in Ford Motor Co. Factory, Detroit, Michigan 


 While both pictures give us a sense of people being in immigration, the second one tells us why United States was considered the best destination of immigration. Unlike other countries at that time, companies in the United States were more willing to spend money and time to train their immigrant workers. We can easily identify the different attitude of these two group of people. People in the upper one were more gloomy, probably worrying their future while those workers in the lower one seemed more eager to learn and more confident about their lives in the US.


Immigration to the Land of Opportunity

This is a picture of Hungarian immigrants taken from an article of the New York Times in 1905.

This is a picture of immigrants in their homes.

These two pictures show the hard lives of immigrants. In the first picture, we can see that these immigrants have probably just reached land. They appear to be disheveled, tired, and in rags. There are no visible pieces of luggage or suitcases or anything that would indicate extra clothing or supplies. They are only there with themselves, ready to work and hoping to make a decent living in a new country. In the second picture, we can see what it was like at home for some immigrants. The second picture depicts male immigrants taking time out of their day for a casual card game. It is obvious how little room there is in that apartments. Conditions for immigrants were tough, and many were simply not able to afford a large roomy apartment. Many times, numerous immigrant families had to live in one apartment. We can see from the second picture that the furniture int he apartment and other things are all cramped up in that tiny space.


The Uprising of Immigrants

An English and Yiddish sign asking for people to support the strike, by saying, “Help the garment workers in their fight for bread and freedom,” The Uprising of the 20,000, New York, New York: ca. 1910. From the Kheel Center at Cornell University.

Strikes on the picket line, The Uprising of the 20,000, New York, New York: February 2010. From the Library of Congress.

In the two photographs, it illustrates the dynamics of the Uprising of the 20,000 strike against the New York’s garment factories.  The strike, which began in November 1909, was the result of the incident at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, where workers died because of the failure to  monitor the working environment. Immigrant workers, mostly Jewish women, were employed in the garment factories. In the first photograph from the Kheel Center at Cornell University, a sign in both English and Yiddish asked for people to support the garment workers win the battle in order to have “bread and freedom.” One of the primary concerns that the workers protested against their employers was safer working conditions. This photograph shows that the garment workers needed all the help and support they can get. The fact that the sign is in Yiddish shows how Jewish immigrants are deeply affected by the garment industry. In the second photograph from the Library of Congress, it shows two women on the picket line during the Uprising of the 20,000. These women look proud to be on the picket line as they are seen smiling at the camera. The women are portrayed to be bravely supporting their cause as they wear the signs with pride.

There are several differences in the two photographs. The first photograph was taken in Decemeber 1909, when the strike just begun. It may be an indication that the strike was not generating enough support yet, hence the sign on the shop. However, the second photograph was taken in February 1910, a few months into the strike. By this time, the strike was gaining recognition and respect for their cause. This is the reason for the gloomy mood in the first photograph. In the second photograph, it shows that people were not afraid to stand up for what they believe in as they march and protest for their rights. In addition, the first photograph focuses more of the impact the strike has on immigrants when compared to the second photograph.


Antiquated Census


       This is a primary document from 1870.  It is the census of The Seals Family living in rural Tennessee.  It indicates all the people that were living in the house this year and also some personal information.  There was a mother, father and nine children in this house ranging from the ages of 1 year to 25 years old.  It shows that four children, all boys, attended school and that all nine were born in Tennessee.  Some names indicate their profession.  Mr. Seal senior was a farmer and his wife Cornelia is listed as ‘keeping the house.’  The three girls stayed at home and James the eldest boy ‘ works on farm.’  The document also indicates who could read and write.       Censuses like this become a very important way that historians today can look at past information.  It gives an insight of what an everyday working man’s life was like.  A document such as this should hold only straight forward information however is possible, but not likely, the data being portrayed is biased or prejudice.  The war had only ended bitterly five years earlier and blacks were still seen as inferior to the majority of the south.  To many, they just ‘didn’t count.’         During and after the war, many freed slaves fled north or searched for loved ones that they had been torn apart from. A census’ main focus is to count the population.  In these situations it would become very difficult if not impossible for an enumerator to accurately accumulate the data that is needed.


The streets are paved with gold

Mulberry Street New York City, 1900, buying bread in “Little Italy”

              Immigrants that made the journey from their homeland into New York City typically moved to neighborhoods with the same ethnic background as themselves.  The streets were a very social setting much unlike today.  Modern day New Yorkers know that it is not uncommon to have no idea what your next doors neighbor’s name is.  The streets of “Little Italy” were filled with sales transactions, political view exchanges and general socializing everyday.  Finding work as an immigrant was never easy an easy task.  They had to take the worst jobs which included low paying wages, long hours and dangerous work.  It’s not clear in this lower picture but it is almost certain that this man four hundred feet in the sky is not wearing any safety equipment.  Through the hardship, immigrants pushed onward with the common goal of a better life, always helping each other along the way.                                                                                                                                                            

 Iron worker on the singer, 1908, Clarence Darrow


“This can not be what I signed up for!” Where are the Paved Streets of Gold!

Italian woman immigrant, Ellis Island, New York : Sherman, Augustus F. (Augustus Francis), 1865-1925 -- Photographer

Differing very little from their ancestors, many European immigrants came to the US seeking  a better life with a hope of economic relief.  The freedom of religion; escape from racial and/or political persecution.  Many did not dream that with the hard journey across the world, life in America would be full of extreme hardship.  Many of them had to endure low wages, poor work conditions and overcrowded living situations.  Yes it was better then there place of origin. Yet if life was too hard many immigrants went back home.

A tenement gleaner, New York City (1900-1937) Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940 -- Photographer

The two photograph above were taken in the early 1900s.  Both picture are similar in the aspect that both women seem as if they are very unhappy.  The woman sitting appears to be quite sad.  She seems like a well bred woman from Italy.  Whom may have came for all that America had to offer.  The woman carrying the large bag, by her dingy clothes seems  to be working or living in hard conditions.  She is an example of what America was offering.  I chose these photographs because of the differences and to show that many of the woman that came into the US during that time, had to work to survive, no matter what they believed the America was suppose to be like.

Anonymous Quote:  Recollections of 1900’s immigrant

“I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all: and third, I was expected to pave them.”


Two Pictures Telling The Same Story

Chinese Exclusion Act: This Federal law suspended immigration, in specific Chinese immigration. This ban lasted for about ten years. The California Gold Rush marked the first mass Chinese immigration to the United States. Understanding this law is important to also understand the context of these two pictures. Both of these images represent the attitude and feelings against the Chinese immigrants. The White community in the United States considered themselves the “supreme race” and they clearly were not welcoming of people who were neither white or black. Does the fact that the “white” folks were the majority race, mean they had the right to discriminate against other minority groups? Obviously no, but this was not the popular view in the late 1800’s.

Invitation to ratify the Chinese Exclusion Act

The first picture represents a flyer which invites the white folks to come and ratify the Chinese Exclusion Act and suspend all immigration from South East Asia. The second picture similarly represents the anger the whites have for the Chinese, who continue to use their good work ethic to take the jobs of the “white folks.” This cartoon represents the California Gold Rush and the cheap labor Chinese immigrants provided to build the city infrastructure.

Chinese accused of talking the "white man's" job.

Invitation to ratify the Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Immigrants

A Chinese immigrant in in San Francisco Chinatown at 1911
A Chinese immigrant in in San Francisco Chinatown at 1911
Xingzhonghui established by Sun Yat-sen in Honolulu at 1894
Xingzhonghui established by Sun Yat-sen in Honolulu at 1894
When Chinese immigrants came to America, most of them still kept their own culture and wore as them in china with a queue to show their loyalty to the Manchu Qing emperor. However, the first Chinese revolutionary group, XinZhongHui was founded in Honolulu at 1894. One year later, This anti-Manchu fraternity start to rebel in canton. Unfortunately, this rebel was failed.



This picture depicts Chinese Immigrants forced to undergo an eye examination

This photo shows an Italian family arriving to the United States in 1905

The two photos above symbolize both Chinese immigration and Italian Immigration.Most of the immigrants who arrived from China were attracted to northern America for the gold rush, with time they began to open up their own businesses. In the first photo it appears as though the Chinese people were having something done against their will in order to be in the United States, this may also symbolize why there was a Chinese exclusion act that came about causing the Chinese population to drop to 62,000 in 1920.This act was a sign of hatred from americans and other immigrants. This exclusion act ended chinese immigration for nearly a century.

The second photo seems of a more peaceful way to come into the United States. The Italian family seems like they are coming in peacefully with no problems or re-enforcement as they arrive into Ellis Island. The primary reason for Italians to come into the United States was to escape the overcrowded population in Italy and to escape low wages and high taxes. From 1820 to 1978, Italian immigration amounted to 10.9 percent of the total foreign immigration.


Coming to America

This is a picture of the RMS Titanic. It was supposed to bring hundreds of immigrants to America, but sunk right off the American coast in 1912.

Emigrants coming up the board-walk from the barge, which has taken them off the steamship company's docks, and transported them to Ellis Island. The big building in the background is the new hospital just opened. The ferry-boat seen in the middle of the picture, runs from New York to Ellis Island. Taken in 1902.

The biggest differences about the two photographs depicted above is the classes shown. In the first picture, of the RMS Titanic, we see a massive ship that was intended for the upper class. Only the highest class were aboard this ship, and they have a wonderful journey, up until they hit an iceberg. However, if they had not hit an iceberg there travel would have been summed up as luxurious. In the second picture we see middle and lower class people arriving in America. Odds are their journey was much more difficult than the people aboard the Titanic. They look like they just had a hard journey, and they will probably have a hard life here in America as well.

When immigrants came to America it wasn’t easy. Most of them were discriminated against. A few of them came over with a lot of money, but for most it was a hard journey. Many people were even deported back to their home country if America didn’t want to accept them in. This happened if they had diseases, if they were prostitutes, or if they were seen as anarchists.


Angel Island Immigration Station

The picture on the left hand side was about several Chinese immigrants getting detention and interrogation at Angel Island, San Francisco Bay and the right hand side one was a picture of a barrack the Chinese were lived during that time. The immigration station station in Angel Island was established in 1910, the immigration officers detained the Chinese and asked them quetions about Chinese villages and family histories, they also were forced to prove they had a husband or father who was a U. S. citizen, if they could not answer quesions correctly or provide evidences, they would get deported. Unlike Ellis Island in NY, which usually processed immigrants in a day, the Chinese immigrants at Angel Island were detained in the immigration station for weeks, months or even years. Many Chinese still recalled the hardships of detention after many years later. A museum later was established at Angel Island in Los Angeles, CA.


From A to B

Barges transported immigrants from their steamship company’s dock to Ellis Island. Immigrants then walked from the barges to the main building on Ellis Island. In the background is a hospital where ill passengers were dispatched.

Credited: 1902 William H. Rau. Library of Congress

Additional buildings used by the U.S. government to quarantine immigrants with contagious diseases.

Credit: Created 1902 Unidentified photographer. Library of Congress

Both of the pics differ for one is depicting the immigrants coming off their original boats and into the new ports on Ellis Island. The other one is the actual additional buildings. The style is the different because they are by different authors but yet they are both from the Library of Congress.


No Exemption without Inspection!

Doctor’s Examination at Ellis Island

Final Discharge from Ellis Island

The top picture depicts a doctor’s examination office in Ellis Island where a man is stopped from passing because he’s suspected of defective eyesight. He was detained for further examination to determine if the defect will prevent him from earning a living. This picture was published in 1902. Millions of immigrants passed through Ellis Island where they were examined for disease or other undesirable attributes.

The second picture shows the final discharge area from Ellis Island. This must have been a relief for most immigrants were probably anxious about passing the physical exams. After passing that aisle, they are in America, where they could start anew. This picture was also published in 1902.


The Struggle to and in America

Crowded ship

The S.S. Batavia carried 2,584 immigrants to Ellis Island on June 8, 1903. This ship set a record for the greatest number of passengers to arrive at New York City at one time.

Chinese immigrants

Although America was said to be the land of great opportunity, many immigrants had to endure many hardships. For example the Chinese immigrants in the photo above had to cramp into small rooms and call it home.

The first photo gives a clear image of how crowded immigrant ships were during the early 1900s. Lucky for these people, they were able to pass inspections and literacy exams that ultimately allowed them access to American. However, their struggles for a better life didn’t end there. In the second photo, chinese immigrants who were lucky enough to pass through Ellis Island had to live in cramped spaces. Often times immigrants of all ethnicity came to American with little to no money, which forced immigrants to share small tenements with others. The tenements were often dirty and crowded making it very difficult to even find a place to sleep. By comparing the two images, it is clear the different struggles immigrants had to live through coming to and living in America.


Immigration To The New World

These two images portray the lives of Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. Both images depict their living conditions in the 1900s. The image on the left shows the bedroom of an Italian family. Judging from the image, the family may be from a lower class because their living condition seems poor, cramped and unsanitary. However comparing this image to the one on the right, they are complete opposites from one another. The image on the right shows a much well off family probably in the middle class. The breadwinner in this family may have been a scholar, allowing him to have a higher paying job compared to other immigrant families with low education back then.


Immigrants at the Turn of the Century…

Immigrants’ Landing, Ellis Island, N.Y. Detroit Publishing Company.

Depicts a group of Chinese men who have recently arrived in America. Wave Publishing Company, Dec. 1901

The beauty and symmetry of the Ellis Island architecture represents a false facade of organization, wealth and cleanliness while the street scene on the bottom represents the harsh reality of the turn of the century New York streets. Also, the top photograph is taken from afar and shows the people as tiny objects moving toward some level of the Ellis Island process while the bottom picture shows the anguish and emotion on the faces of the Chinese immigrants as they move their street car up the hill i thing in lower Manhattan.