Scare Mongering About New Immigrants

New Immigrants

New Immigrants

The early 1900s saw a wave of immigration to America from Europe, particularly Italy, Poland, the Balkans and Ireland. The majority of these immigrants passed through Ellis Island and then set about to carve out a small piece of the American dream for themselves and their families. Most of these new immigrants repaid their adoptive country with hard work and an enthusiastic desire to become part of the society which had offered them a chance for a better life.

Romanian Immigrants

Romanian Immigrants

Unfortunately, not all Americans welcomed these new arrivals with open arms; they looked upon the new immigrants as an invading force that would corrupt traditional American values, and spread criminality, superstition and vice. In one book entitled THE OLD WORLD IN THE NEW THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PAST AND PRESENT IMMIGRATION TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (available online at, the author Edward Alsworth Ross,  Ph.D., LL.D. — a Professor of Sociology in the University of Wisconsin —  states categorically that immigrants are more likely to end up in insane asylums, that they commit more crimes, that they are a drain on the public purse because they require more social assistance, that they abused their children, and were prone to vices such as gambling, drinking and prostitution.

Italian Family

Italian Immigrant Family on Social Assistance

Ross also describes an achievement gap between immigrant children and “true Americans”. Immigrant children were said to be dull behaviour problems, trailing behind genuine “Americans”,  defined by the Mr. Ross as people of German or British descent. Immigrant children were supposedly less intelligent and fit mainly to go into simple menial work.

This same book, which is a cornucopia of jaw dropping racism and invective against new Americans, spends a lot of time worrying about the danger of the higher birth rate among immigrants, and the danger that they will squeeze out the old population, turning huge sections of the nation into copies of their old countries.

The author goes on to state:

“Our descendants,” a social worker remarked to me, “will look back on the nineteenth century as our Golden Age, just as we look back on Greece.” Thoughtful people whose work takes them into the slime at the bottom of our foreignized cities and industrial centers find decline actually upon us.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Immigrant Worker

An Exhausted Immigrant Worker

It is interesting to read some of the anti-immigrant publications that were published during the early 1900s; a lot of the things that you hear today said against new immigrants and the need for a rational immigration policy are not new at all, and the same dire warnings about immigration were uttered over a century ago about different ethnic groups. Ironically some of the same people who now want to limit immigration to America because of its supposed ill effects and costs, are the descendents of the same immigrants who were vilified when their grand parents and great parents came to America.



learning English

New Immigrants Attending English Classes

Perhaps the next time we hear someone railing against immigration and the supposed ill effects of new comers on American society, we should reflect that there is nothing new about this kind of scare mongering.



The Great Chicago Fire

Great Chicago Fire

Illustration of the fire that destroyed most of Chicago in 1871.


The Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of the Chicago in the space of just under 3 days. It started some time on Sunday October 8, 1871 and raged until early Tuesday, October 10, 1871. An ill prepared response to the fire allowed it to consume nearly 3.3 square miles of the city, killed over 300 people and rendered over 100,000 people homeless. The Chicago fire remains one of the single worst disasters in American history.

Destroyed Part of Chicago After the Fire

After the Great Chicago Fire: Drawing Showing the Area that Was Destroyed


According to popular history the fire was caused when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern and set fire to the barn. In those days it was not unusual for cities to have a blend of agricultural and residential neighborhoods within their boundaries, and Chicago was no different, so it is not implausible that a cow might have been the culprit. However, a reporter later admitted that he had made the story up. In addition, pinning responsibility on a woman with an obviously Irish, and therefore Catholic, last name played into public mistrust and xenophobia against Irish Catholics.

Chicago Court House

Aftermath of the Chicago Fire: The Ruins of the Court House

In fact, while one fire did start in a shed near Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, several other fires started throughout the city at the same time. Interestingly, other great fires erupted in the region at the same time, leading some to speculate that the Great Chicago Fire was caused by a meteor shower or fragments from a comet that passed the earth’s orbit at the time.

After the Chicago Fire

Two Men In Front of the Ruins of Chicago. The man on the right is wearing a top hat and tuxedo jacket but no pants. I am sure there is an interesting story behind this.


Whatever the cause, the fire spread quickly. Most buildings were made of wood and were covered in flammable tar paper, as embers were carried by the wind and air currents generated by the growing fire, they quickly ignited neighboring buildings . Even the sidewalks helped spread the flames as they were made of wood. The small fire department was quickly overwhelmed and the center of one of the largest and most economically important cities in the United State was razed.

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