ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Our American Dream

Updated on January 15, 2016

Past is Prologue

Immigration and the American Dream (updated 4/1/09)

As the centennial anniversaries of WWI and WWII grow near, and the number of people who remember those days dwindle, so too the human stories behind the most massive immigration of humans ever, and the largest re-peopling of our world, begins to fade. And much like those who immigrated in earlier waves the oral histories, and the lessons our ancestors have as yet to teach us, become lost.

..."those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it".

That is not a cliche! It is a fundamental truth.

..."how can you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?"

How indeed, but Isn't that saying the same thing?

... "Past is Prologue".

And there I go again! Three well known sayings each saying the same thing right off the top of my CRS (Cant Remember Stuff) suffering brain. There are dozens more quotes like these, and all of them are voices from the past saying the same thing, 'listen, we have something to tell you'.

We should indulge them! Their stories are more relevant than ever as we usher in a new year in a destabilized world, a world that is the product of our Great Grandfathers, a world we often scratch our heads over despite the unprecedented access we have to the written history of those who 'created' todays world.

In America we are asking difficult questions about our borders, immigration, and the issues of illegal, and undocumented aliens in our country, and it is a minefield of pride, prejudice, and protracted agendas. Talk radio screams at us, politicians rabble rouse us, zealots explode on 24 hour loops of network news, all while the voices of those with lessons yet to give us, the voices of the last great wave of immigration, is being drowned out.

It is of great value to document and study our individual immigration stories, to remember our families coming to America, and to pass on the knowledge of who they were and what they went through to our children, so that the voices of our ancestors can be honored, and so that we can all enter into the great human debate of what is truly past, and what is yet prologue.

Therefore I welcome you to the halls of my fathers!

Here I will be sharing bits and pieces of the story of the greatest wave of emigraton the world has known, and my families experience of it, the story of Our American Dream. I hope you enjoy this and are likewise moved to tell your story, Your American Dream! If you do, please leave me a link and a shout out below, and lets weave Our American Dreams together.

* All quotes and images are from www.ellisisland.org unless otherwise noted. The image above is of The American Immigrant Wall of Honor® at Ellis Island.

What's New (Update- April 1st, 2009)

My Great Grandmothers lessons about charity are with great joy published below. Click here or scroll to the bottom of the lens and read all about the amazing woman I've never met who has taught me so much about what matters.

Whats Next from this Lens?

I have more stories to cover in the coming months which I promise will be filled with unexpected twists and turns, and even a skeleton or two. Teasers below;

Lessons of Mob Honor

The Black Mask Gang

Lost and Found

and more!

Who Emmigrated and Why - Meet the family and learn the reasons why they came to America.

Until 1890 individual states regulated immigration, and in New York, Castle Garden in the Battery was the acting immigration station. Castle Garden processed 8 million people from 1855 to 1890. This first large wave of immigrants to America came mostly from Northern and Western Europe; England, Ireland, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.

For most of the 19th century, and especially the latter decades, political instability, restrictive religious laws, and poor economic conditions fueled the start of the largest migration of humans in history. Castle Garden could no longer handle the mass of people that came. So the Federal government stepped in, and the Ellis Island processing station was built.

"Annie Moore, a 15 year-old Irish girl, accompanied by her two brothers entered history and a new country as she was the very first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island on January 2, 1892."

Most immigrants entered America this way, via Ellis Island and New York Harbor, but it was not the only way, others were processed through ports in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Savannah, Miami, and New Orleans.

All of my Great Grandparents arrived by way of Ellis Island with the masses between 1902 and 1919. They came from Russia, Austria, and England on one side, and from Italy on the other side. I will simply refer to them by their titles or where they came from throughout this lens. Here is a bit of a family tree to give some context about whom my stories speak of. (Actual names, of course, I will keep to myself.)

My Fathers Mother's Family came from the Italian Provinces of Apulia

My Father's Father's Family came from the Italian Provinces of Frosinone

At the time Italy was considered one of the most overcrowded countries in the world. Corrupted government officials, low wages and high taxes afforded little opportunity for the young. Some took their chances and sought the American Dream. Around 40% of those who came to the States did not stay, or stayed just long enough to make a few dollars and then returned. But when they did they brought back with them stories of America, and that encouraged even more to emigrate.

"An investigation carried out in 1978 revealed that since 1820 over 5,294,000 people emigrated to the United States from Italy. This amounted to 10.9 percent of the total foreign immigration during this period." **

My Great Grandparents; despite leaving behind their families, despite struggling with English, (my Great Grandmother never spoke it so my memories of her are all silent), and despite the hostility they at times found in America, they all stayed. They visited their family in the old country, and they sent money back to the old country to help their families survive, but they stayed.

"In the United States, Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During the 1800s and early 20th Century, Italian Americans, being seen as non-Anglo and non-white, were the second most likely ethnic group to be lynched." ***

My Great Grandparents never 'adapted' or 'melted' into the 'pot'. Instead they lived and died in a tightly knit immigrant community a stones throw from Ellis Island, and surrounded themselves with other Italians. Highly religous, extremely distrusting of the authorities, and full of pride for the old country, they raised their children to be Italian, to speak the language, and to stay and marry within 'their' isolated community.

Today if you tune into talk radio or spin tv you are bound to hear someone using the very same language I just used to describe my family but in a negative manner against 'illegals' and immigrants in general. It's the same exact claims that were made against earlier immigrants; 'these people will never assimilate', 'they refuse to learn English', 'they are a drain on social services (institutions back then)', and that 'these immigrants are different and somehow inferior immigrants'. I think they say this because they are not 'listening to the lessons of their own immigrant ancestors' who at some point were similarly described by someone who got here before them.

There is though something else to be said about these usurping, invading, unassimilating Italians, that their current day counterparts are also guilty of. They love(d) America, they raise(d) their children to be patriots, and they sacrifice(d) the blood of their sons in every war America has had to face since their immigration. That is what every immigrant generation in essence had done in America, and what every generation after us will do. No differences really in the people today and yesturday, they live, they breath, they eat, they migrate. Human nature is still human nature.

The other side of my family are far more problematic to talk about, having repeatedly emigrated across Europe through the ages, there are few trails to follow to learn of them. For example In researching my Italian family I could go back to the church in Italy where the family was baptized and trace the family tree back some three centuries to the very founding of the church and beyond. One can imagine my family living in this town all the way back to the Roman heydays, of course I don't know if they actually did, Italy too has had many waves of invaders and migrations over the millennia. At least one of the surname though is Roman, and does appear all along the lines of Roman conquest. In contrast the Jews of Europe repeatedly fled oppression and pogroms****, migrating again and again across Europe. Their trail is obscured and compounded by the fact that many of them had seen such horrors that they would not share in an oral history with their children, wishing to protect them from the painful truths of an unforgiving world. My Great Grandmother would not talk to her children about 'the old country', and therefore we know virtually nothing of what happened to her or her family there.

My Mother's Mother's Family came from Minsk Russia and Vienna Austria

My Mother's Father's Family came also from Russia and we think England

Both sides came as teenagers after loosing their entire families, and all that they knew to mob violence, riots, or the outright theft of their assets by the authorities. I cant begin to imagine (from the perspective of my relatively charmed life, pun intended) what they went though or what they had to do to win their freedom and passage to the States. But I can understand why they might not want to talk about it. But in doing so the trail of their emigration runs cold, and the stories passed down are few.

What is gleanable though is how well they 'assimilated' as compared to the Italian side of the family. The Jewish side came to the States with a higher education than the Italian side who were lucky to have made it past 3rd grade. An education certainly helped them to learn English faster, and to gain skilled employment sooner.

** source: www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk

*** source, Anti Italianism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Italianism

**** I have included more information on pogroms toward the bottom of this lens.

An Italian family emigrates. c. 1905

An Italian family emigrates. c. 1905
An Italian family emigrates. c. 1905

The Great Steam Ships - How our immigrant ancestors traveled.

R.M.S. Laconia (1912)

Photo courtesy of the Steamship Historical Society of America, Inc.

In looking at the passenger manifests for these early ships (1890's), one might be struck by the column for date and cause of death. Could conditions have been that bad? Did it really require an entire column on the forms? Later manifests no longer contain the column. So perhaps conditions on ship improved or the column on the manifest was a throw back from an even earlier age, when sailing ships dominated the seas, and it could take many harrowing months to cross if you were lucky enough to make it. Abigale Adams our second first lady, was so fearful of the crossing she sooner separated for years from John Adams than make the journey to England with him.

"Steerage or third class passengers traveled in crowded and often unsanitary conditions near the bottom of steamships with few amenities, often spending up to two weeks seasick in their bunks during rough Atlantic Ocean crossings."

Some times it took longer. One story Great Grandmother told us of her passage was how her ship had been battered in storm and rough seas and was taking on water, and how they managed to limp into port a week late despite being labeled as lost! This was in March, the water would have been cold. I saw Titanic and sinking in cold water is clearly a bad way to go.

Despite such fears I have made this historic crossing of the Atlantic by ship in 10 days (Ft. Lauderdale to Southampton UK). Unlike my ancestors I went by luxury liner in May. Unfortunately just like my ancestors we hit rough seas, which to me is a huge understatement when the waves are licking balconies normally twenty feet above the water line. We were battered, beaten, and pulverized in our cabin for two days, but the adventure had only begun. Someone took ill and required a medevac by helicopter, for which the ship had to rendezvous with the Canadian Coast Guard just off the coast of Nova Scotia to make happen. Yes that would be north of where the Titanic sunk! It was an adventure! But oh what my poor Great Grandmother must have gone through!

"Upon arrival in New York City, ships would dock at the Hudson or East River piers. First and second class passengers would disembark, pass through Customs at the piers, and then were free to enter the United States. The steerage or third class passengers were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island, where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection. "

An Immigrant ship heading for the Port of New York circa 1892

An Immigrant ship heading for the Port of New York circa 1892
An Immigrant ship heading for the Port of New York circa 1892

About Ellis Island - American Immigration and Ellis Island, you cant talk about one without the other.

"Between 1880 and 1930 over 27 million people entered the United States - about 20 million through Ellis Island. But after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, American attitudes toward immigration began to shift. Nationalism and suspicion of foreigners were on the rise, and immigrants' loyalties were often called into question. Through the early 20s, a series of laws was passed to limit the flow of immigrants. "

This sounds so much like this quote from yesterdays paper....

"Between 1965 and 2005 over 25 million people entered the United States - about 20 million through our Mexican borders illegally. But after the 9-11 attacks, American attitudes toward immigration have begun to shift. Nationalism and suspicion of foreigners are on the rise, and immigrants' loyalties are questioned. There are a host of laws congress is being pressured to pass to limit the flow of immigrants."

Ok maybe not yesterdays paper, but I think you'll agree it has plausibly appeared in some paper somewhere recently, and that it is in part and parcel exactly the same issue, be it from a century ago or a year ago. Sure we can tack on the illegal label and run with it, but we need to keep in mind that people (especially desperate people) would have freely lied about their health and political affiliations at Ellis Island in order to gain entry into the country, and that too was and still is illegal. Sure people were found out to be lying and later tracked down and deported, but most immigrants who got past the inspections at Ellis Island then disappeared into the fabric of our country. Well, sort of disappeared, we are their children.

Looking at the chart above is like looking at my family tree, immigrants one and all who arrived between 1902 and 1919 from Italy, Russia, Austria and England and from my spouses side of the family we add Germany, Lithuania, Ireland. I think they all entered here legally. Who though can now speak for the actions of our desperate families over a hundred years ago?

...Interpreter: Are you an Anarchist?*

Great Grandma: Nein.

...Are you a Polygamist?

Nein.

...Do you have money on your person?

Nein!

...How much do you have?

Nein!!

...Are you ill, diseased, crippled, or mentally unfit?

Nein, nein, nein, nein!

I can imagine my Great Grandmother who having fled Vienna after seeing her home, her family, everything she knew taken and destroyed in a State pogrom, and after surviving the lower class holds of a ship, that she would have been coached by someone on board who'd passed through before, as to exactly what she needed to say to the interpreters. Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein. But was it true?

Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be asked those questions, by strangers in an alien land amidst such an intimidating era and after having everything taken from you, by people you did know, back in the land you did call home. How can you ever trust the intentions of others again? I am astounded by the thought.

*The questions in my mock interview are real. The passenger records containing the answers each immigrant provided are available for your free perusal on www.ellisisland.org. I have this way found the records for most of my family. Which by the way informed me that Great Grandma had $20 on her person, which this nifty little Inflation Calculator tells me is the equivalent of $237 today. Which also means that Great Grandma would have been throwing fits over paying 30 cents for her Starbucks Mocha Latte.

Arrivals & First Impressions

Often set the tone for the entire discourse.

The image I've selected here is a guardian eagle* that sits atop the main entrance of Ellis Island. I can imagine both my great grandmothers passing beneath the watchful glare of this creature, and they are both terrified!

"If the immigrant's papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall), where doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these "six second physicals." By 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anemia to goiters to varicose veins) just by glancing at an immigrant. The ship's manifest log (that had been filled out back at the port of embarkation) contained the immigrant's name and his/her answers to twenty-nine questions. This document was used by the legal inspectors at Ellis Island to cross examine the immigrant during the legal (or primary) inspection."

It is the dawning years of the 20th century, the events that lead to the outbreak of WWI are in motion, the Titanic has not yet sunk. The women come by two separate ships, from opposite ends of Europe, and their reasons for coming could not be more different, and yet they are both sharing the same hopes and the same fears. They are both 19 years young, unmarried, and alone in an alien country. They do not speak the language, they do not trust the interpreters that ask them personal questions, nor the guards who watch them as they are processed through long lines, screening them for any sign of lameness or illness which justifies denying them entrance. And they fear more than anything else getting to the head of the long lines only to hear 'the quota from your country of origin has been reached', and be sent back to the places they fled.

What tears of relief must have fallen as the ferries filled with those who made quota left Ellis Island, (also know as the Island of Tears), for Manhattan. How heartbreaking for those who didn't make quota, who were rejected, or found themselves suddenly separated from a family member that was denied entrance.

"From the very beginning of the mass migration (1880 to 1924), an increasingly vociferous group of politicians and nativists demanded increased restrictions on immigration. Laws and regulations such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Alien Contract Labor Law, and the institution of a literacy test barely stemmed this flood tide of new immigrants."

"It reached a crescendo with the passage of the Quota Laws (1921) the National Origins Act (1924). These restrictions were based upon a percentage system according to the number of ethnic groups already living in the United States as per the 1890 and 1910 Census. It was an attempt to preserve the ethnic flavor of the "old immigrants", those earlier settlers primarily from Northern and Western Europe. The perception existed that the newly arriving immigrants mostly from southern and eastern Europe were somehow inferior to those who arrived earlier. "

Welcome to America!

* source: www.sxc.hu

A 46-star American flag dates this photo of the Great Hall between 1907-1912.

A 46-star American flag dates this photo of the Great Hall between 1907-1912.
A 46-star American flag dates this photo of the Great Hall between 1907-1912.

The Orphans from Russia - A picture is worth 10,000 tears.

Eight orphan children arrive from Russia in May 1908 on the SS Caronia.

I could be staring at the face of my Great Grandfather and not know it. He came from Minsk Russia after his family was destroyed in the pogroms. He would find here a life, and have 5 children of his own, only to watch his wife die too young and in turn to have no choice but to orphan his own children. That or watch them starve! Remember these were the days before social security, disability, unemployment, welfare or food stamps. You either begged for charity, stole from others, or orphaned the children you could not feed.

A simpler time sure, but not a better one.

The orphanages are gone now and that is a good thing. Public services, social welfare programs, and the prosperity of our nation have all played a part in that. So please, let us remember these faces, and not be too hasty when we consider what services we will cut in the tough times ahead.

Polling: Our American Dream - A poll of my readers immigration demographics.

I thought it would be interesting to learn the immigration demographics of those who visit this lens.

Did your ancestors come to the United States through Ellis Island?

See results

Talk Back - In America we are all illegal invaders.

Even the Native Americans came from elsewhere uninvited by the locals, who happened to be the four legged kind, but still.

Who did your ancestors usurp so you could call yourself a legal citizen?

Elis Island Documentary Video (Updated 2/28/09)

The Ghetto

The Lower East Side and The Henry Street Settlement

If you were an immigrant at the turn of the 20th century, especially a Jewish immigrant, and you came to Manhattan by ferry from Ellis Island, newly admitted to the country, you were most likely to head next to the Lower East Side of the Island. This area being one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City, as evidenced by its area code designation of 10001, was founded in the 1640's by one Jacobus van Corlaer. It became known as Corlaer's Hook, and in the 19th century the area was notorious for streetwalkers, who were called 'hookers'. It has through history also been home to a diverse list of ethnic groups, immigrants, and first generation Americans. But it is perhaps best known as having been the center of Jewish culture in early 20th century America. Today it is still known for its immigrant population. This is where the masses land.

This is where my great grandparents landed, (both sides, though the Italians soon moved out to Queens), and this is where they met their spouses and wed, raised their children, and ran their businesses, and for many, lived the entirety of their lives. One of these people is my maternal great grandmother who I know of only from my Grandmother who speaks often and gladly of her youth, and childhood in the 'projects'. She tells many stories of the 'lower east side', all with a certain sparkle in her eyes, and it is clear her childhood was a happy one despite or perhaps because of the horrors and hardships her parents endured. The place she grew up in she calls The Henry Street Settlement house. This strikes me as odd, because she explains that she lived in 'the Ghetto', nine plus people in a two and a half room apartment on the second floor. She tells me what a luxury it was to have had a bathtub in the kitchen as they did. I dared to ask where the toilet was. "Down the hall" she answers me, eyes twinkling, "we shared it with the other families on the floor".

The area (see: Explore the Lower East Side Below) is filled with buildings known as tenements exactly like the ones in the image above,(courtesy of Wikipedia). Tenements in late 19th and early 20th Century America referred to low class multi-unit multi-level (some as high as seven stories) apartment buildings or flats, typically walk-ups (no elevators), and with shared bathing facilities. Tenements have a sordid history, with cases of entire tenement squares (blocks of buildings) coming under the ownership of unscrupulous people. These Slum Lords committed rent gouging on properties which they stubbornly refused to maintain sometimes even the most basic of facilities like running water, instead seeking to increase their own wealth until ordered by the Board of Health to 'clean up'.

In 1901 Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis pushed for reforms in tenement housing and the New York State Tenement House Act was passed. This made indoor toilets, one for every two apartments mandatory. Prior to then out-houses in the alley behind the tenement served tenants needs. The act also required a light source be installed on each floor in the hall from sunset to sunrise. Gas lights were used at first, electric would not come to many tenements until the 1920's and 30's. To say these buildings were a fire hazards is an understatement, and many caught fire.

It was also one of the most densely populated square miles in the world. A typical 2-3 three room apartment housed mother, father, 7 or so kids, a couple of borders, and often a business. Humanity continued to pour into the area, and there was no place uninhabited. Even under the dump people made shelters in desperation.

In 1949 conditions would improve again when Harry S. Truman signed the Housing Act to clean up slums and reconstruct them for the poor. Some of these tenements, like the one at 97 Orchard Street, rather than modify to meet code, were sold or sealed by their owners after evicting tenants. In the late 1980's the building at 97 Orchard Street was named a National Historic Site, and the building was reopened, and found preserved as it was when it closed. It is now a museum with six restored apartments open for public tours. It gives a vivid sense of the deplorable living conditions experienced by its original tenants.

Some 7,000 people are believed to have lived in this one building (above, image courtesy of Wikipedia) between 1863 and 1935. There are many many tenements in the area and while I cant say for sure which one my family lived in, I can say there had to be more than meets the eye happening in these tenements, because well there is that twinkle in my Grandmothers eye when she speaks about it. Sure partly its just the fond remembrances of parents and siblings long committed to eternity, but there is also the life long friends that came out of the tenements with her and are still her friends till this day, and there were the summer vacations upstate, and the theater and the Visiting Nurse services.

What?

Its true that all of these things came of that time and place, and the deplorable living conditions of the tenements. Heath conditions in the tenements were also poor, as in any over crowded human 'ghetto', but one remarkable nurse Lillian Wald who believed poor health had underlying social causes, and seeing the desperate need for basic health care in the tenement and among the immigrant community founded the Henry Street Settlement, from which the visiting nurse service of New York, first of its kind anywhere, would spring.

History of the Henry Street Settlement as quoted from the NY Visiting Nurses service website is below. Also see: www.vnsny.org/community/our-history/100-years-in-the-community

"Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement arranged for patients and neighbors to experience life beyond the crowded tenements and factories with country excursions, picnics, and concert tickets. Bank accounts were opened in children's names. After completing their afternoon visits, nurses taught classes in English or cooking. Eventually, the Settlement established or oversaw kindergartens, boys' and girls' clubs, scholarship funds, and classes in carpentry, sewing, diction, music, and dance---- by 1912, more than 28,000 took advantage of these programs."

I realize now that that sparkle in my grandmothers eyes is not the tenements or the magic of indoor plumbing, but the memories the Henry Street Settlement, (above image of 263-267 Henry St and 466 Grand St from Wikipedia), and Lillian Wald's vision of health care made possible for her and her family. She speaks of the boys and girls clubs, of trips to the mountains, of taking part in plays and musical productions in the community theater. She doesn't speak of negatives, like the horrors of sleeping on a tenement floor in fear of both rats and cats your whole childhood! She doesn't have too, she has the positives to dwell on, and they are many!

The Lesson

From my maternal Great Grandmother

IImagine now the depression. You are married, you have 7 children, and the good fortune of a tenement apartment. Your husband is a handyman, and a painter, and he manages to keep steady employ. You help him of course, you take in laundry of others to earn what you can, you sew also, you feed you family well. But so many people living in a small space makes everything harder to do, but you manage to keep well your home.

Many families also ran businesses out of their apartments, imagine one story of 10 people living in three rooms along side a dress factory that operated 15 or more hours a day, and well you like my Great Grandmother might feel rather blessed for all that you did have. But would you like her feel so blessed as to then invite strangers with no luck, off the streets and into your home to bathe and eat and wash their clothes while your children were in school and your husband at work. This is what my great grandmother would do. She felt that if she so much as had a potato to spare then she had a stew and a warm bath for someone who often times needed just that much charity to pick themselves up from the streets. These people she helped were immigrants, newly arrived, and we cannot help but think she felt the need to perform this charity because she owed her life and freedom to some stranger who once did the same for her as she fled Austria alone in her youth. She may also have been trying to return the charity of those she met in the US and coming to the Henry Street Settlement.

As I complain that my 2000 square foot ranch in the suburbs is too small for my family for the 1000th time I am humbled by the insanity of my claim. I imagine my great-grandmothers bafflement if I had to explain to her what of use I could own to fill 2000 square feet, why I wasn't using it to help the needy, and what the point of keeping two cats in a home with no rats is all about? But that's only part of the lesson. Whats most important is that from a great grandmother whom I've never met, even the smallest thread of a preserved memory or story is enough to pass on life long lessons on the meaning of charity, true charity. Anyone can give money to a cause, but very few can give of themselves to effect real change in peoples lives. Unfortunately my Great Grandmother's life and charity ended abruptly and too soon. At the age of 58 she fell backwards down the tenement stoop and she was gone.

Explore the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island - Google Maps

Historical Boundaries (quoted from wikipedia)

Originally, "Lower East Side" referred to the area alongside the East River from about the Manhattan Bridge and Canal Street up to 14th Street, and roughly bounded on the west by Broadway. It included areas known today as East Village, Alphabet City, Chinatown, Bowery, Little Italy, and NoLIta.

Although the term today refers to the area bounded to the north by East Houston Street, parts of the East Village are still known as Loisaida, a Latino pronunciation of "Lower East Side."

See the area as it was at the Museum of the City of New York website here in photographs from the renowned Berenice Abbott: www.mcny.org/museum-collections/berenice-abbott/lespage.htm

Explore The Tenements

The Tenement Museum of the Lower East Side and more...

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis was considered a pioneering work of photojournalism that focused on the plight of the poor in the Lower East Side. The images are amazing and worth taking a look, the read is informative though not politically correct! Oy Vey! www.authentichistory.com/postcivilwar/riis/contents.html

You can take an amazing virtual tour of the restored apartments at the tenement museum online here: www.tenement.org/Virtual_Tour/vt_hallruin.html

Henry Street Settlement was one of the first settlement homes founded in the United States (in 1895 by nurses Lillian Wald and Mary Maud Brewster). It provided assistance services, particularly health care services, for new immigrants and the poor. In 1986 it was designated a National Historic Landmark, and continues to provide services to residents to this day. Learn more about the Settlement here and on Wikipedia.

There is a fascinating ebook about life in tenement housing here: The Tenement Saga, By Sanford V. Sternlicht

Thank you for your visit and support of this project!

I hope you found the information here useful and my story at least a little interesting. I will be adding new content soon and invite you to return.

The historical accuracy of this page is of primary importance to me, should you feel I have misquoted, misunderstood or otherwise messed up the facts, I would appreciate your feedback, so that I can correct them.

All comments are moderated, and may not appear immediately.

Reader Feedback - Do you have something you want to tell me?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      5*... what a wonderful insperational lens! I for one can claim to be a proud Naturalized Citizen, and I made a lens on that subject(still adding) your lens will be lensrolled to my new lens on "My Citizenship"...

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel for the work involved, it's a very beautiful lens.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      An amazing lens! So much American history right here to read. I am glad it has not been forgotten by everyone. It is so important to teach the real US history in generations to come.

      Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

      What a powerful and incredible account of your family's journey towards attaining the American Dream. Your great grandparents would've been proud, and I think it's wonderful that you are looking back and paying tribute to what they had to go through. *blessed by an angel*

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 8 years ago from Croatia

      You are one of March 2009 graduates! Come by and answer few questions to show the way to those who will follow! Wish you many, many more great lenses!

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      [in reply to a_willow] Wow, I am honored! Thank you so much!! I just updated it last night too. What timing, but ack, I know there are a few typos in the new material that I must run off and fix, stat! :)

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 8 years ago from Croatia

      This lens entered Fresh Squid Contest for April as one of lenses that joined Fresh Squid group in March 2009! Come by and cast a vote! And don't forget to have fun!

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      Fantastic, can't wait to see more!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I am in the midst of writing my Polish ancestors family history and am trying to make it "real" for those who may read it. Your story is wonderful and great inspiration for the direction I heading with my own story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 8 years ago from Croatia

      Good job! Welcome to Fresh Squid group! Glad to have you aboard!

    • Adrienne Jenkins profile image

      Adrienne Jenkins 8 years ago

      Welcome to Squidoo and for sharing your family's stories.

    • profile image

      Sojourn 8 years ago

      I spent months on ancestry.com. I could map their route but I had nothing to give voice to their travels. This was incredible and helped fill in that hole. Nicely done!

      Sincerely,

      Sojourn

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      Wow, so kind. Thank you both, seedplanter and OhMe. I am indeed working on my Great Grandmothers story.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This is truly an amazing read. You have put together a masterpiece and a treasure for generations. Thank you.

    • profile image

      seedplanter 8 years ago

      I love reading about family history, and you've really dove into this topic. I'm looking forward to reading your lens about your grandmother, too, so I hope you're working on that. Every one of us has someone who has influenced our life greatly. You are blessed to have known a grandmother like that.

      Keep up the good work!

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      [in reply to sandys5324] Thank you for visiting. I hope your family has documented what they found so as to preserve what you can.

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      [in reply to sandys5324] Thank you for visiting. I hope your family has documented what they found so as to preserve what you can.

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      [in reply to Allynray] Ally! It really means a lot to hear that from you! Thank you. *hugs*

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      [in reply to ElizabethJeanAllen] It is my pleasure to share this. Thank you for reading it and I am glad you found it of value.

    • sandys5324 profile image

      sandys5324 8 years ago

      Very interesting. It is hard to follow our histories any more, thankfully my mother and her family have put a lot of time and effort into it and we have some.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Your family has such a rich and interesting history. I loved the parallel between the two big waves of immigration to this country. I have never thought about it like that. Great read.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      We need to learn from the past, live in the present, and plan for the future.

      Great lnformation

      Thanks for sharing

      Lizzy

    • SixB profile image
      Author

      SixB 8 years ago

      Thank you BB. It means a lot to get such kind praise from someone I respect so much!

    • BlackroseBugg profile image

      Melanie Barniskis 8 years ago from Southern Oregon

      Brilliant lens, Six! Reads like a Discovery Channel documentary from top to bottom, clear, concise, accessible...awesome. Love the embedded links, so convenient!