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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Women and the Lattimer massacre: Mary Septak

A bit more on the interesting but perhaps not unusual women of the Lattimer massacre–this time, “Big” Mary Septak, a Polish immigrant, miner’s wife, mother, and caretaker of several boarders.  Evidently she not only took care of all these people, but the men in the mines, too.  She seemingly had no fear of the National Guard and local police, leading women on marches, and calling men up from the mines to fight for their rights.

I’ll report more in on Mary as I find it – she’s quite the character and is bound to appear again.  This entry comes from The Century Vol. 55(6), April 1898: “A Pennsylvania Colliery Village. An Artist’s Impressions of the Colliery” by Jay Hambidge (available online at the Cornell University Library).  Mr. Hambidge also illustrated an article before this in that edition of The Century. I recommend reading and looking at it to get a feel for the local sentiment at that time.  It’s interesting stuff!  Anyway, here’s a bit about “Big Mary”:

Mary Septak

Mary Septak by Jay Hambidge

“‘Big Mary’ is for the time the object of our search, and we finally find her cleaning a goose for her Sunday dinner.  Mary is by far the most forcible and picturesque character in all the mining region.  In her peculiar way she is a queen, and rules things with a high hand.  During the strike Mary was the most troublesome of all the foreigners.  No professional agitator had half the force for mischief that this woman exerted.  One day she led seventy-five women of the patch in a charge on the troops.  At that time these amazons were armed with clubs and pieces of scarp-iron, and they stopped only when they felt the bayonets of the immovable line of soldiery.  One would not imagine her such a character from the smiling greeting she gave us.  With her husband, she keeps a sort of boarding house for other miners; and in the living-room of the shanty were seven beds and eight trunks.  Probably from twelve to fifteen men occupy the same room with this man, his wife, and daughter, a large-boned girl of fourteen.  …

In a bed at one end of the room two men are sleeping with their clothes on.  They work on the ‘night shift’ in the mines, and sleep during the day.  These men belong to the class which was most active during the strike.  Mary the mother rattles along in conversation with her husband and daughter, her talk being punctuated with profanity.  Suddenly she turns to me with a demand to know if I eat meat on Friday.  I answer in the affirmative.  ‘Jesus kill you some day,’ she says, and laughs.

The amazon loves her husband, she asserts, and the affection is evidently mutual, for as he passes  her from time to time, he says some pleasant words or pats her cheek.  They have been married thirty years, and the daughter Mary is the only living one of ten children.  ‘When I ‘way from my man I cry all time, and when he ‘way from me he cry all time’ is the way the woman puts it.  In all their  years of married life he had never once struck her.

This is the woman who has the reputation of being a veritable tigress.  The men in the mining company’s offices are afraid of her, and give her a wide berth.  The trolley-car conductors tremble when she hails a car, and not one of them has ever been known to collect a fare from her except when she felt disposed to pay.  She has a contempt for American women.  They are not strong, she says, and cannot work in the fields.  The food they eat is too sweet; they would be better off if they ate sour soup and sour cabbage.” – p.826

Women and the Lattimer massacre: Mrs. Gallagher

There are some really interesting female figures associated with the Lattimer massacre trial and aftermath.  They showed a great deal of strength in the face of authority at a time when women couldn’t even vote.  Take for example Mrs. Mary Gallagher of Harleigh, who lived about a mile from Lattimer.  In the Hazleton Plain Speaker (02/21/1898) Mrs. Gallagher made quite a stir when she turned the defense into a laughingstock with her damning testimony and wit:

“Mrs. Gallagher seemed somewhat annoyed at [Defense Attourney] Lenahan’s questions and her tilt with Lenahan caused some amusement.

She replied to Lenahan’s laughter: ‘I did not think I came to a theatre.  You seem to be the principal actor.’  The woman said: ‘The wounded man lay about 500 feet from where the deputies stood.  I did not see any weapons on the man.  Going down farther I saw another wounded man.  He was about 400 feet away from the deputies’ position; the man was terribly wounded in the stomach.  He was dying.’  She continued: ‘The next man was lying near by, and was wounded directly in the back.  he was about 400 feet away from the deputies.  I saw a man lying on the embankment.  He was bleeding from the arm.’

Lenahan and the woman had another tilt and she seemed to have the best of it, so the attorney appealed to the court to compel her to respect his objections.  Their tilt caused considerable amusement in the court room.

Mrs. Gallagher continued:  ‘I furnished bandages for that man and then went down and found another who was lying along the trolley tracks.  He was only about 19 years old and all my sympathy went out to him.  I said it was red handed murder.’

Lenahan objected again and there was more laughter.  Referring to a man she said: ‘He was not the sheriff.  He was a very respectable looking man.’ (Loud laughter)

She said: ‘I spoke my mind rather freely and denounced them all.  I suppose I am not allowed to tell what I said.’

During her testimony there was frequent bursts of laughter and even the court smiled.

Lenahan seemed afraid to cross examine the witness and said: ‘You can go Mrs. Gallagher.’

There was more laughter as the witness swept out fo the court room.  As she passed she said: ‘It was a massacre, Mr. Lenahan.  Thats is what it was.  You are a very good lawyer for a damn bad man.'”

Hazleton Plain Speaker & Wilkes-Barre Record, 1898

Source: Hazleton Plain Speaker, 02/02/1898, p. 10 (available on microfilm at the Hazleton Public Library)

“While the prosecution will be impaired by a lack of funds, the defense, backed by the coal companies, is prepared to stay here all summer.  The deputies are not hampered in the least, for they stay at a first class hotel, attend the theatre during the evenings and circulate among the Wilkes-Barreans in the saloons and restaurants.”

“District Attorney Martin [for the prosecution/strikers] asked that the witness be allowed to answer through the interpreter when the cross examination began but this was not allowed on the ground that it would be unfair to have the question asked in one language and answered in another language.”

W-B Record 1897

Wilkes-Barre Record, 09/11/1897 (not quoted here)

Source: Wilkes-Barre Record, 3/10/1898, p. 4 (available on microfilm at the Osterhout Free Library, Wilkes-Barre, PA)

“The jury the Lattimer case required very little time to reach a verdict.  That the sheriff and his deputies would be acquitted very few persons doubted….  It can never be truthfully alleged that this trial was not fairly and impartially conducted.  Every particle of evidence presented by the prosecution that could properly be admitted was allowed to go to the jury….  The ignorant foreign elements that have become so numerous in some sections of the State [PA] must be disabused of the false theories, instilled into their minds by both political and labor leader demagogues, that all authority in this land is controlled by corporations and capitalists and is therefore the enemy of labor and of the poorer classes generally.  They must learn that the civil authority recognizes neither class nor condition, creed nor color, and that it compels all alike to be obedient to law.”

Journal of the Senate of PA, 1897 & the Yale Review, 1898

I’ve decided to start posting bits of what I’m reading/researching about the Lattimer massacre on any given day.  I definitely have strong opinions about some of this stuff, but will try to keep these in check; however, I hope you share yours in the comments below!

The quotes aren’t necessarily meant to go together.  They’re just what I think are interesting!  Anyway, here’s a start:

Source: Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1897 Vol. 2

http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol3/harvan/images/others/map.jpg

The PA Anthracite Region, image from http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/

“One of the primary objects of the investigation [into anthracite mining conditions] was to establish the facts with respect to the condition of the miners and men employed in and about the mines, it being set forth in the preamble and resolution that a condition bordering upon starvation existed among the above named class of people.  The testimony  shows conclusively the deplorable condition of affairs for a period covering about two years, and particularly since the first of January of the present year [1897], since which time the men in and about the collieries have been employed not more than two or three three-fourth days per week, earning on an average $4 per week, upon which, in many instances, they were compelled to support large families, in some cases as high as eleven members, paying house rent and coal and the necessities of life, which to this committee seems an impossibility” (page 1826).

“While the country has always encouraged foreign immigration, yet since the time mentioned [1875], a class of foreigners have been coming in to which particular objection is made on the part of those employed in the anthracite mining regions [e.g. earlier immigrants – English, Irish, Welsh, etc.], namely the Poles, Hungarians, Italians and Slavs.  At first, doubtless, they were all employed as laborers, but gradually they became miners and in many instances the former employe [sic] was confronted by his foreign laborer as a rival for  his own position.

It is claimed that this class of people are un-American in every way, adopting none of our ideas of citizenship and living in a manner unknown to us as a people.  In most cases their objects and aims are to secure sufficient to enable them to return to their native lands or to assist in bringing others of their kin to this country.  Unless a change is speedily made, the time is not far distant when the miners of the anthracite region will be composed entirely of these people to whom they now so strenuously object.  Such a condition of affairs is not conducive to safety in the mines.  … The committee has referred to the undesirability of this class of people….  The committee is of the opinion that there will be no general prosperity among the miners of the anthracite regions and the laborers employed in and about the mines until the national Congress shall pass and provide for the rigid enforcement of a restricted immigration law” (pages 1831-2, 1838).

“You will observe that the average excess charged by the company stores over the independent stores is 30 per cent. which, of course, indicates that some of the prices are most intolerably high.  Indeed some of them charge as much as 35 per cent. higher than their neighboring independent stores, and when it is taken into consideration that the independent stores have a probable profit of 25 per cent. you will observe that it makes in the worst places a total profit of 60 per cent. in the company stores” (page 1840).

Source: The  Yale Review: A Quarterly Journal for the Scientific Discussion of Economic, Political and Social Questions. Vol 6, May 1897-February 1898. “An Impression of the Anthracite Coal Troubles” by J.G. Brooks

“Here is obviously a tap root of much of the difficulty.  Immigration has been purposely stimulated by these coal owners to the specific end that an adequate supply of the cheapest labor might be at hand for every rising exigency of business.  It is extremely ignorant and easily a prey to the agitator.

In the enforced periods of idleness which come with the shifting conditions of the market innumerable occasions for troubles like those at Lattimer may at any moment appear.  ‘What can you do with such wild beasts when they get off their heads but shoot ’em?’ were words which the writer heard, and it may be, in any given moment, that the social safety demands quick, sharp and bloody enforcement of the law.  It is, however, a very sinister state of affairs when conditions, which have been definitely encouraged by the mine owners and by our general policy of immigration, have come to be such, that, in their very nature, they are certain to breed chronic outbreaks like this in the Hazleton district.  A mine manager of twenty years experience said, ‘The truth is that the time came when somewhere hereabouts we had got to do some shooting.  It could not be put off much longer.’ The question was put to him, ‘When will you have to do some more shooting?’  The reply was, ‘In hard times, it is likely to come at any moment'” (p. 307).

“For any future worth discussing, no effective organization [of mine workers] seems possible.  The difficulties with a homogeneous population in English mines have been great.  What shall be said of the difficulties to be faced in t case of fourteen or fifteen nationalities?  The question of race enters here with almost terrific force.  The least adroit of employers can play upon these race prejudices so effectively as to weaken the strongest trade union in times of excitement.  It is this fact of race differences which baffles the student of trade unions in this country” (p. 308-9).