Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries

I just picked up Vol. 16 of the 1911 Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office).  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s up on Google Books yet, but your local university library should be able to get a copy.

Anyway, the report comes from a 1907-1910 investigation by the U.S. Immigration Commission into immigration trends and statistics.  Volume 16: Immigrants in Industries looks in part at anthracite coal mining.  It looks at mining as an industry, and the industry in a representative community, “Community A” from the middle coal field (shown in red, below).

The Anthracite Fields of Pennsylvania (from Barendse (1981) Social Expectations and Perception: The Case of the Slavic Anthracite Workers. University Park: Penn State Press)

The more general overview focuses on nameless collieries from the upper and lower fields (orange and blue, respectively, right)  as cases with which to examine numbers of workers, working conditions, workers’ occupations and wages, literacy rates, home ownership trends, and perhaps most importantly, what it calls “race.”  Race is a concept applied to nearly every section of this report (in all volumes), equated by the Commission with an immigrant’s country of origin (e.g. Poland, Lithuania, etc.).  There was great concern over recent immigration at that time (largely from Southern and Eastern Europe), so the Commission examined just about all aspects of Industrial-era American life through a racial (i.e. ethnic or nationalistic) lens.  “White” people seem to have been native (i.e. American)-born people with native-born fathers.  Generally these were people of British, Irish, Welsh, and sometimes German descent.  Non-white people, in this report, are foreign-born people–“Polish, Ruthenian [Ukrainian?], Slovak” and so forth.  The term “negro” is used for African Americans, although they are rarely mentioned.

What the report tells about its concept of race and racial tension in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania says a whole lot about the conditions that existed at the time of the Lattimer massacre.  The victims were, of course, “non-white” and largely non-English speaking, while the Sheriff and deputies were all “white” English-speakers.  Lattimer was generally a sort of microcosm of the larger Immigrants in Industries story.  Unfortunately the immigration issues addressed by the Commission (below) were just fuel for the fire caused by hard work for low wages and other miseries that accompany coal mining.

So, I thought it might be interesting to share a few pieces of the Commission’s report here, to serve as a backdrop for the Lattimer massacre, and maybe a bit of a backdrop for today as well….

Source: U.S. Immigration Commission (1911) Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigrants in Industries. Vol. 16, part 19.  Presented by Mr. Dillingham. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

“The most remarkable process from a sociological view point which is occurring in Community A is the rapid displacement of the earlier by the more recent settlers of the community.

The displacement is taking place through the operation of two forces–the pull of industrial and social ambition and the push of racial friction.  Distaste for mine work since the immigrants entered it, as well as dissatisfaction with wages, is inducing the English-speaking miners to change their occupations, and is preventing them from allowing their children to enter the industry.  The prosperous miner educates his children for softer-handed work, and they have to move away from Community A to find it.  The well-to-do storekeeper and the professional man moves away to find a more suitable environment for his growing children.

A night-working immigrant shoemaker or thrifty saloon keeper busy close in between two ancient householders, and they, disturbed by the nocturnal hammering of the vociferous joviality, quickly place their property on sale and as quickly find foreign buyers, whereupon they leave the community” (pp. 661-2).

The inevitable result to the American workingman of indiscriminate immigration

"The inevitable result to the American workingman of indiscriminate immigration" (by Victor, from the Southern Labor Archives at GSU)

“The social and moral deterioration of the community through the infusion of a large element of foreign blood may be described under the heads of the two principal sources of its evil effects: (a) The conditions due directly to the peculiarities of the foreign body itself; and (b) those which arise from the reactions upon each other of two non-homogeneous social elements–the native and the alien classes–when brought into close association.

Among the effects under the first-named class may be enumerated the following:

  1. A lowering of the average intelligence, restraint, sensitivity, orderliness, and efficiency of the community through the greater deficiency of the immigrants in all of these respects.
  2. An increase of intemperance and the crime resulting from inebriety due to the drink habits of the immigrants.
  3. An increase of sexual immorality due to the excess of males over females. …
  4. A high infant mortality, due largely to the neglect and ignorance of hygiene and sanitary surroundings on the part of the immigrant mothers. …

Before discussing the effects due to the heterogeneity of the social elements, it may be well to mention the more striking characteristics which separate the recent immigrants from the natives and earlier settlers.  These may be roughly catalogued as follows:

(a) Differences of language, religious faith, and degree of literacy. (b) A lower standard of comfort and a less fastidious manner of living…. (c) A different standard of modesty…. (d) A different manner of observing Sunday…. (e) A greater possession of sheer physical strength and a greater willingness to accept employment requiring nothing but brawn. (f) A more habitual indulgence in intoxicating beverages with apparently less permanent physical injury.

The chief effects of a social and moral character arising from the friction and interactions between the native element and the large foreign body possessing the above peculiarities may be summarized as follows:

  1. A general loosening of the forces of social cohesion.  The inability, owing to the lingual and educational barriers, of understanding the other’s viewpoint prevents the development of sympathy and engenders a disintegrating hostility….
  2. A civic demoralization of the ruling class.  The venality of the immigrants overcomes the scruples of the politically ambitious and they succumb to the temptations of bribery.  This reacts upon the efficiency of the local government.  The more scrupulous citizens shrink from participation in municipal affairs, which are controlled largely by the worst element in the community.
  3. An enfeeblement of the power of public opinion through the weakness of the public press.  There is only one English daily in Community A….
  4. A general stimulation of the cupidity and avarice of the local business and professional men by the tempting prey of the ignorant foreigner.
  5. A growth in the number of saloons…to satisfy the immigrant appetite….
  6. A coarsening of the fiber of the native-born through contact with the immodesties of the immigrant” (pp. 671-2).

I would love to read your thoughts about how this informs your thoughts on the Lattimer massacre, and/or on immigration today!

– Kristin

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About LM Project
The LMP is a collaborative endeavor which aims to recognize the events surrounding the Lattimer Massacre, an incident that changed the labor movement and impacted the world by bringing to light economic disparities and ethnic tensions in the anthracite region of PA.

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