True Immigrant Tales: The Many Interpreters at Ellis Island

With thousands of immigrants were arriving daily, Ellis Island officials were hard pressed to find enough interpreters to process the many nationalities.  In 1911, Commissioner William Williams reported to his superior in Washington on how many interpreters knew how many languages and pleaded for more multi-lingual personnel: “Languages known by interpreters: Arabic (2), Albanian (2), … More True Immigrant Tales: The Many Interpreters at Ellis Island

True Immigrant Tales: The Stench of Steerage

This is an account of an undercover U.S. government inspector sailing to the United States with central and eastern Europeans in steerage class from Gdansk, Poland, in 1908. “The steerage was located in the bow of the vessel. The first entirely enclosed deck extending the entire length and width of the steamer was termed the … More True Immigrant Tales: The Stench of Steerage

True Immigrant Tales: After Ellis Island

The travail for immigrants wasn’t limited to the journey and Ellis Island processing. They could still be exploited and/or treated harshly before reaching their final destination as this 1910 report to the Presidential Commission on Immigration reveals. “At Ellis Island, the inspection by the doctors and the officers of the Immigration Service was quickly completed.  … More True Immigrant Tales: After Ellis Island

True Immigrant Tales: Sexual Abuse in Steerage

[This is further testimony about sexual harassment and abuse in steerage class, taken from testimony given by a female government inspector, disguised as an immigrant aboard ship, reporting in 1909 to the Dillingham Immigration Commission.] “There was an outside main deck and an upper-deck on which the steerage were allowed.   These were each about 40 feet wide … More True Immigrant Tales: Sexual Abuse in Steerage

True Immigrant Tales: H.G. Wells Visits Ellis Island

[British novelist H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds) visited Ellis Island in 1906 and described his impressions in his book, The Future in America: A Search after Realities. Here is an excerpt.)  I visited Ellis Island yesterday. It chanced to be a good day for my purpose. For the first time in its history this … More True Immigrant Tales: H.G. Wells Visits Ellis Island

True Immigrant Tales: Sexual Harassment in Steerage

[Unpleasant steerage conditions often extended to sexual harassment and abuse, as described by a female government inspector, disguised as an immigrant aboard ship, reporting in 1909 to the Dillingham Immigration Commission.] “From the moment we boarded the steamer until we landed, no woman in the steerage had a moment’s privacy. One steward was always on … More True Immigrant Tales: Sexual Harassment in Steerage

True Immigrant Tales: “Are you a polygamist?”

[In 1913, Scottish travel writer Stephen Graham (1884-1975) left Liverpool, England, as a steerage passenger. This is another excerpt from his book, With Poor Immigrants to America (1914). In the previous installment, he described events leading up to his inspection at Ellis Island. Here, he tells of his observations on the island itself.] “Once more, … More True Immigrant Tales: “Are you a polygamist?”