3 Ellis Island (19th century mass immigration from Europe)

Situation in 19th century Europe.

  • Europe in the 19th century didn't use to be the good place to be ! Wars, diseases, poverty or famine used to be very frequent. Many people were not able to have a good life.
  • So, what did many Europeans dream of ? They dreamt of a better life, but not in Europe, no. They wanted to go to the new country and to settle where everything was possible: America !
  • So, Europeans fled en masse (= they left Europe en masse).
  • We can imagine if countries in Europe had given a better life to people, nobody would have wanted to emigrate to the USA !

Crossing the Atlantic: a long voyage.

The crossing of the Atlantic was long and dangerous. The American Dream was not easy to get !

On the ships, all immigrants hoped for a better future in the new world. If they had stayed in their country in Europe, they would probably have been poor.

The arrival in America ? No ! Ellis Island first

  • In 1892, the US government opened an immigration centre on a small island in the Bay of New York, near Liberty Island: Ellis Island.
  • Between this date and 1954, more than 12 million immigrants were obliged to go through Ellis Island BEFORE going to the USA.
  • Ellis Island used to be the gateway to liberty. In America, people had the possibility "to make it" (= to make their dreams come true, to become rich), but not always.

Watch this video about Ellis Island (2.38)

Ellis Island past and present.

  • Two views of Ellis Island Great Hall: past and present. Here all immigrants used to wait long hours. Why ? Because they had to take two tests.
  • You can imagine the sounds: people spoke all languages of Europe, everybody was tired, stressed or hungry. Young children probably cried.

Test number one: the literacy test.

  • The literacy test was easy for immigrants from the British Isles (Ireland, England, Scotland...). But you can imagine it was not so simple for a person who came from Finland, Italy, Russia or Poland !
  • US officials asked 29 questions ( Where do you come from ? Why do you want to come to this country ? Have you got a job here ? Have you got family in the USA ? How much money do you have ? Did you kill someone ? Are you an anarchist ? Do you want to kill the American President ?). Some Europeans were not able to understand: there used to be people to help.

test number two: The health test (a frightening exam for many immigrants).

  • In this test, American doctors used to examine the immigrants: they were able to detect a contagious disease in the eyes.
  • If the doctors had detected the disease in the immigrant's eyes, American officials would have┬árejected him / her back to Europe ! America wanted people, but people with no infectious disease ...

Annie Moore: the first person to set foot on Ellis Island.

  • When Ellis Island opened for the first time (on January, 1st, 1892), the first person to come was young Annie Moore. She came from Ireland with her two brothers to join their parents (they were already in New York).
  • Because Anna was the first to come out of the boat on Ellis Island, the US authorities gave her a 10 $ gold coin ! Anna lived all her life in New York. If she had stayed in Ireland, she would have had a poor life.

The Annie Moore Statue (Cork, Ireland): the place she had to leave with her two brothers for a better life in the USA.

Ellis Island today.

  • Ellis Island is now a museum. Many Americans visit it: they can imagine where their family members arrived first, before coming to the USA.
  • People can check on computers the name of their ancestors (grand-parents, great-grand-parents, etc) with the country of origin, the profession, the name of the boat, the date of arrival on Ellis Island, etc.
  • On the "Wall of Honor", you can watch for the name of your family !

ABOUT 40 % OF AMERICANS HAVE PEOPLE FROM THEIR FAMILY WHO WENT THROUGH ELLIS ISLAND.

ABOUT 5000 PEOPLE WERE PROCESSED EVERY DAY BETWEEN 1892 AND 1954.

ONLY ABOUT 2 % OF ALL IMMIGRANTS WERE REJECTED AND WERE SENT BACK TO EUROPE

Welcome to Ellis Island !

Watch this video about Ellis Island (2.38)

The USA: "a nation of immigrants"

Created By
Thierry Raguier
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