In his book, A Nation of Immigrants, John F. Kennedy writes, “There were probably as many reasons for coming to America as there were people who came. It was a highly individual decision.” Historians agree that three social forces were the chief motivators for the mass migration to America: religious persecution, political oppression and economic hardship. It is, however, almost impossible to relate such a combination of overwhelming circumstances to the experience of one immigrant, or even of one family.
Although more than 12 million people passed through Ellis Island on their way to the promise of a better life in America, they walked through its gates one at a time, individual by individual. Once the decision to leave had been made, what was the journey like?
Family - Affair - Advice - Help - Mothers
For many, it was a family affair. Advice was sought and help was freely given by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends and even entire villages. It was not unusual for an entire family to work to earn the money for a single family member who wanted to make the trip.
The practice of one member of a family going to America first and then saving to bring the others over was common. From 1900 to 1910, almost 95 percent of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were joining either family or friends. Sometimes the father would come alone—to see if the streets really were paved with the gold of opportunity—before sending for his wife and family. Sometimes the eldest son immigrated first and then sent for the next oldest, until the entire family was in America. Often those who arrived first would send a prepaid ticket back home to the next family member. It is believed that in 1890, between 25 and 50 percent of all immigrants arriving in America had prepaid tickets. In...
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