The Immigrants and American Charities, October 24, 1905

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(By Miss Jane Addams, Hull House, Chicago).

In speaking about the immigration, recent immigration, and American charities, I feel that I have taken a very large subject, and perhaps you won't mind if I treat it from a somewhat personal point of view. We are all accustomed to repeat to each other, from time to time, that immigrants are coming into the United States at the rate of almost one million a year. We like to dazzle each other, I think, by repeating that very large number, and we do not stop always to analyze the people who are coming, or to find out how many of them are also going back; in other words, how many of them are repeaters and how many of them are new and untried. In 1903, some attempt was made to find out concerning the latter. It was then discovered that forty per cent of the Italians who come in every year have been here before, – that is, almost half as many Italians went back every year as those who came. They would go back perhaps for a few months, perhaps for the winter, perhaps for a year. Among my own Italian acquaintances, especially when coal was so high a few years ago, many scuttled off to Italy, in order to keep warm for the winter, saying very truthfully that it cost less to pay $18 for the passage from Chicago to Naples than it did to buy three or four tons of coal at the high rate at which coal was then selling.

We also do not try very hard to discover in what way the American people, as such, – and of course we all call ourselves American people if we have been here a generation or two, – in what way the American people as such, are trying to find out, by personal knowledge and by kindly intercourse, something about the immigrants who come at the rate of a million a year. It is, I think, true that the people who are engaged in charitable enterprises, especially in New York and one or two of the other great cities, are those who have first come to know the immigrants. And I believe that our treatment of them is going to be seriously modified, and is being seriously modified, by the attitude of these charitable people. When I say charitable people, in this connection, I mean those who are professionally in charitable [page 2] societies. In New York, where most has been done by charitable people in relation to the immigrants, some of their best and most needed legislation has been a direct result of this constant intercourse, and it largely occurs because charitable effort as it now goes forward, day after day and year after year, [presupposes] somewhat of a new personal relation between the benefactor and the beneficiary. We might take, for instance, the attempt made in New York on so splendid a scale to control tuberculosis, which is so prevalent among workers in tobacco, sweat shops, and other kindred industries. It was found that tuberculosis cannot be controlled by going to people's houses once or twice, or by giving printed instructions, or by doctors' or nurses' visits. It can be controlled only when the hardy cooperation is secured of every man working in a certain shop, and every man, woman and child living in certain tenement houses supposed to be infected. This [presuppose]s a kindly fellowship, and a real understanding of what the doctors and nurses and people back of them are trying to do, and it can only be reached after a long and intimate acquaintance between the people who are subject to tuberculosis, and the people trying to help them. In other words, the present charitable effort is so founded upon this newer attitude that that in and of itself, has brought about a new understanding of the immigrants. Let us take another problem which has been attempted in New York, – the better housing which has gone forward there with great strides. This was started, I think no one in New York would care to question, first, by the investigations of The Charity Organization Society. This Society finally made a department, for the betterment of tenements, which gradually grew, until now the government of the City of New York itself has its tenement house department, very carefully managed, with a corps of at least 48 inspectors.

Now, this has come about because the immigrants were crowded into insanitary tenements of the sort no one else would endure. They did not know enough to complain about them; they did not know how to reach the board of health. They could only be helped by people of public spirit, who knew the rights of the tenants, and who were ready to secure those rights for the [maladjusted] immigrants. These public-spirited people in turn could only carry forward the reform with the constant [cooperation] of the people living in tenement houses. We might take half a dozen other illustrations, – the colony started for the Russian Jews in New Jersey, or the colony started for Italians in southern California. The people who initiate these colonies see the ill-effect of crowding country people, with country habits and a knowledge of farming, into American cities, when they might be very comfortable out on the land. A systematic attempt was made by the society for the protection of Italian immigrants to place them on the soil. This could only be done when certain concessions were made to the Italian habits, and these could only be understood by the people who knew the Italian, who were willing to learn their [page 3] language, and to study seriously into their past history. The earlier attempts tried to put Italian farmers on isolated farms in the good old American fashion, left over from the pioneer days. These attempts placed an Italian on 40 acres or more, and told him to farm the farm and take care of himself, which of course he had never done before. From the time of [medieval] incursions, the Italians have lived in little villages. An Italian woman does not know how to bake bread. She has always taken her bread, mixed, to the village bake oven to back, having no fire of her own. She does not know how to wash in a tub, because she has always washed in the streams or in the wash houses provided for the use of the village. An Italian man is accustomed to walk out to his fields by day and to return to the village at night. If he can't have the village companionship and good cheer from a little group of people, he won't go to his fields at all. He looks forward to that as the natural end of his day. It was only when the charitable people in New York were willing to go back into Italian history and customs that they could adapt these colonies, now so successful in southern California, to well established Italian habits. It could only be done and was done only by people who approached them first in a charitable relation. This interpretation of the immigrants by the charitable people has come about largely because we have refused to meet them in other relations. We do not, for the most part, know them socially. We do not, for the most part, care to know the various languages they speak, or even the one language which our nearest neighbors may speak. We do not take very much pains with the history they represent, or the traditions they bring here, and it is only when we are forced into contact through our sympathies, upon the humanitarian side, that any real intercourse is established. If one goes back to the earlier pioneers of America, – those we now refer to as the earliest immigrants, we find that the approach to them was made often on the social side, and always on the political side. It is only in later years that we refuse to meet them except through the humanitarian appeal. We wait until the people are so crowded in the cities that something must be done for their better housing, in the name of decency and health. We wait until they are so ravaged by disease that large societies must be formed to protect them. We wait until they become a menace in the city, before an intelligent effort is made to scatter them into the country. It is an entirely different method of approach from that of the earlier day and it ramifies through all our legislation for them, as well as in determining our attitude towards them.

It is also curious, I think, that we believed in the early days that people became Americans somewhat in proportion as they knew about the constitution of the United States; that they came to our shores in search of religious or civil liberty. Now we discover people become good Americans somewhat in proportion as they are able to conform their lives to this legislation which has [page 4] been secured for them, and that they come to America quite simply in search of work. Perhaps I can illustrate. A judge of the county court told me a while ago of an Italian who came before him for his last naturalization papers. He put the old question: What is the constitution of the United States. The man replied, "Illinois Central." The judge was a little surprised but firmly concluded that the corporation which had given the man work represented Americans to him much more naturally than the abstract constitution. I have known Italian parents to get their first test of American law, of belonging, as it were, to American institutions, as they have made a valiant effort to conform to the child-labor law, [although] it demanded a sacrifice of the much needed wages of their children, or as they have desperately tried to live up to the compulsory education law, and have kept their children in school.

These laws touch his family life very closely, and in conformity to them he must enlarge his conception of what life means to an American child, of the education and care it implies. Making this effort tests his patriotism, and these are the laws to which he must conform, if he is, in any sense, apprehending the duties which lie before him. Democracy and self-government have always cost blood and treasure, and it may be the immigrants will have to pay in the old coin, and that it cannot be handed down in the form of written constitutions, or even of sworn allegiances. I have know Italians who picked olives and oranges from the time they could toddle, who saw no harm in a boy's going to work at the age of six or eight, – and there was no harm in Italy, under the conditions in which they and their brothers had worked, – really trying very hard to understand the basis for what seemed to them the very unreasonable child-labor law of Illinois. This law was America to their minds, and they finally began to see that the pressure of life is a very different thing in Chicago from what it is in an Italian village; that the sort of work a boy does in the factory from morning to night, monotonous and wearing, is a very different sort of thing from the work a boy does out of doors, with the interests varying according to the seasons. They began to see what are the requirements of life in America, as they were brought into contact with the law which affected their families and daily living. The child-labor law has been secured in almost all states, in the first instance, largely through the agitation of people who knew the immigrant, how prone he was to exploit his child, how loath he was to keep him in school the proper length of time. We have a law now in force in Illinois which has been in actual operation two years, – secured three years ago, – that no child can go to work until he can read and write simple sentences. To an Italian who would put his child to work, quite naturally, as soon as he can earn money at all, this requirement of Illinois seems strange. Perhaps he, himself, can neither read or write, and yet he has made his way in the world. But because he wants the child to go to work as soon as [page 5] possible, and find the absurd law in the way, the father accordingly comes to the belief that, for some reason or another, while an illiterate can get on in Italy, or among other Italians, if his boy is going to enter into the life of Chicago, then he must come up to this strange and weird American requirement of reading and writing, and so he makes his supreme effort to keep him in school. I think the records of the schools in Chicago bear us out in the increased attendance in the upper grades since the law went into effect. This compulsory education law was secured by the people who know the immigrant on the charitable side.

This charitable interpretation would not be so necessary if he had a wider life in America. If the Italian met Americans every day of his life, if he saw the necessity of literacy, if he saw the difference between the American boy or the boy of foreign parentage whose parent realized the value of an education, and the deficiency of his own child, he could draw his own conclusions.

I suppose we all despise our immigrants a little because of the economic standing of the newly arrived immigrant. He goes into unskilled work very largely; he builds the railroads, digs the sewers, he does the sort of work the English-speaking America soon gets rid of; and then, because he is in this lowest economic class and falls into need, from the very fact that his work is irregular and seasonal, we say that he makes the largest claim upon the public charitable funds. And yet in England, where immigration has counted for very little, in Germany, where it has counted almost not at all, we find the same claim upon the public funds by people who do the same unskilled work, who are paid the same irregular and low wages. And yet in Germany, where the subject is approached not by the charitable people, but from the patriotic side, we have a tremendous code of legislation, consisting of old age pensions and out-of-work benefits, for the protection of the men who hold to life by the most uncertain economic tenure. They have, in England, a very fine code of labor laws, protecting the laborer at all times from accidents, in ways unknown in America. We have here only the beginning of all that legislation, largely because we have not yet broken through the belief that the man who does this casual work is not yet quite one of ourselves, and is not quite yet entitled to the protective legislation other countries are securing for him. Here, I believe, is where the charitable interpretation of the immigrant breaks down, because the charitable people do not reach the men who keep in work, even in irregular work. The charitable workers see more of the families of those men who are out of work and who are beginning to break down. Our legislation fails in this protective legislation in which other countries are pushing forward, because we have left intercourse with the immigrants so largely to charitable people. One should like to make a plea that we take some pains to know immigrants as they are, in their ordinary occupations, to cultivate kind relations with them and not to turn them over so completely to [page 6] charity. Perhaps I have not make this clear, and perhaps it is difficult to make altogether clear, but I believe there is a distinction here which is perfectly valid, and which it would be well for us to think about, and to see whether we could supplement this charitable impulse with the larger, more general social impulse. I live in a community in Chicago which is largely made up of immigrants, of people who have come to Chicago only a little while ago. They are in the main, it seems to us, on the upward path. They have a very hard time, for the first few years, because they are poorly paid for their work, and because there is a curious holding away from them on the part of the bulk of the city of Chicago. But they do gradually move out of the poorest houses into better houses. The brighter children not only go through the common schools, but many of them attain professions, and the families in one way or another buy houses, and gradually move to better parts of the town. During all of that time, however, they see comparatively little of American people. We have clubs in Chicago which study the literatures and histories of various countries, clubs whose members go to Europe and visit its villages, and yet who have no intercourse with these large foreign colonies which are so interesting in themselves. Only lately men have come from Russia who had broken the fingers of their right hand or had broken a forearm, in order that they might not be captured and put into the Russian army. I say "captured," because it is captured in many cases. They left Russia during the period of actual war, and are only now beginning to reach Chicago through the roundabout route which many of them take. One may have one's own opinion of the patriotism of the young man who thus escapes the army of his country, but one can have no doubt of the genuineness of his desire to escape it. The most interesting [disquisitions] on the conditions in Russia are made by these same young men, and yet when they reach America they find a singular lack of the welcome they anticipated and hoped for. If Russia is at the present moment, as so many have believed, the most interesting spot on earth, from the point of view of the tremendous events which are going on there, it is rather stupid of the American people as a whole to have so little intercourse with the people who have just come from Russia, and who represent the oppression and the results of the long line of governmental action which has finally induced them to break their bones in order to escape service in the army of the government to which they belong. It is curious that we are so slow to approach the immigrant on his more interesting side, and that we are willing to turn him over so completely to the humanitarian line of intercourse. In Chicago every year now are coming many people from Asia Minor, and from the part of Europe which pushes itself into the Mediterranean Sea. They are perhaps more unadapted than the other Europeans, and they come singularly unable to cope with conditions as they find them. I believe they, [page 7] too, will have to be approached through the side of charitable effort; that they will have to be interpreted through that side, and then at last perhaps we shall wake up to the other line of intercourse and work out a mutual citizenship. We used to say in school, -– I admit it is a great many years ago since I said it under those circumstances, -– that the Crusades brought Europe in contact with the East and did much to wake up the intellectual life which had been dormant so long. It may be that the crusade has come to America the other way around, that the people from the East are coming to us with all sorts of problems, with all sorts of gifts, with all sorts of mental and temperamental differences between our lives and their lives, and that we can be waked up by it; that we can be stirred to moral adventure to a broader type of citizenship which shall fit and match them, these different peoples. On the other hand, we can easily remain indifferent to them, and put up curious tests, remote from their actual experiences, expecting them merely to learn the shibboleth, as it were, of patriotism. It may be that this great responsibility of leading into citizenship the newly arrived immigrants will remain with the charitable people; but I ought to make one exception, and that is the education system of America as represented in the public schools, and in the great educational institutions, such as the State University. The public schools are constantly making an effort toward adaptation, though making it somewhat slowly. The splendid night lecture system in New York, attended every evening literally by thousands of people, is the result of the effort to administer education to the people; the roof gardens, the play grounds, the recreation piers, the small parks of Chicago, are largely an attempt to give healthful recreation to the children of the pleasure loving immigrants of the South. And if we get into our somewhat stern Anglo-Saxon conception of what government ought to be, some of those kindly offices represented by the schools open at night and by the playgrounds, we may perhaps have to thank the immigrants for that. If we consider the best interest of them and their children, we may at last work out a government not only adapted to the Anglo-Saxon but to the Slav, the Latin, and all the other people who are crowding our shores in such great numbers; and perhaps in the highest as it has been up to this point. They will not only accomplish this, through their charitable societies, but through education and legislation, as they are doing every year in all of our great States. It has been well said that the charity of today is the justice of tomorrow.

One might, of course, with Judge Mack on the platform, and many other people who are interested in the Juvenile Court work in the audience, quite naturally mention the relation of the Juvenile Court with the immigrant, for it has come to deal very largely with the children of the bewildered foreigner, -– a child not in the least accustomed to city life, feeling very superior to his [page 8] parent because he can speak English and his parent cannot, and yet without the least judgement with which to carry out this sense of superiority. Perhaps this valuable modification of the old fashioned justice as it was meted out from the courts has come to us from the immigrant, and the fact that he is being [dealt] with by charitable people who are taking toward him the newer attitude of the charitable worker, -– an attitude of constant understanding, of constant intercourse, of constant attempt to get under the skin, as it were, of the people whom they are trying to benefit. (Applause).

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