Eastern and Southern European Immigration - late 19th century


Immigration is a prevalent issue in our society today, though a majority of the roots of our country and of many people today had arrived in the late 19th century, early 20th century. Many Europeans immigrated to the US during this time for various reasons and two specific groups in this large migration, is the Russian Jews and the Italians. Prior to the 1880's, there was an immense amount of revolution (i.e. the Revolutions of 1848) and unification of countries that created a significant amount of turmoil, economic and political instability, and chaos. As a result of this disorder and the corruption in the European countries, many people fled to the United States for safety and new opportunities.

Russian Jewish Immigration

  • Pogroms/kishnev pogrom:
    • Pogrom is defined as attacks performed by one population group against another. The word has been modified to signify the attacks and massacres inflicted on the Jews in Russia between 1881 and 1921. The Pogroms and the heinous and putrid treatment on the Jews, forced the Russian Jews to immigrate (many coming to the United States).
    • The political and social issues left the Jews at the benevolence of the masses of protestors and unsatisfied Russians. From the 887 major pogroms and 349 minor ones, a total of about 60,000 Russian Jew victims were accumulated.
    • The anxiety resulting from the assassination of Tsar Alexander II was instantly blamed on the Jews by the government. The Jews were used almost as a national scapegoat.
    • One of the major Pogroms was the Kishnev Pogrom, occurring on April 6-9, 1903, in the Bessarabia, Russia. The Kishnev Pogrom was an anti-Jewish riot in which the Russian government, police, and citizens terrorized and killed the Jews. The New York times stated that the Jews had been ,"slaughtered like sheep".

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Victims of Pogroms
Victims of Pogroms


  • Mass Wave of Immigrants:
    • Russia was the largest country in the world in the 19th century and suffered from overpopulation, widespread famines, and land shortages. The many poverty stricken people experienced severe starvation and envisioned a better life in the Americas. The conditions in Russia made it near impossible for many of the Empire's peoples, and therefore a vast group migrated to the New World.
    • Millions of Europeans set sail for the United States. The U.S. census of 1910 found 65,000 Russians had made the journey and arrived at Ellis Island.


Russian immigrant family 1918
Russian immigrant family 1918


  • Revolution 1917:
    • The Bolsheviks, who were socialist revolutionaries, overthrew the Russian government. The Empire underwent four years of bloody, destructive civil war. More than two million fled the country for salvation form the political distress and mayhem, 30,000 of which went to the United States.
    • The new Russian immigrants were referred to as "White Russians" because of their hatred to the "red" Soviet state.
  • Jobs in America:
    • The Russians took the work that they could find and took advantage of the economic opportunities presented. Many Russian Jews headed west to start family farms on the abundance of American plains.
    • Some Russian Jews worked in the mines, mills, and sweatshops of the East Coast.
    • Others worked as headwaiters and generals driving taxis. The jobs taken by the Russian Jews helped stimulate the American economy.

Russian farm children working in Colorado
Russian farm children working in Colorado

  • U.S. fear Communist Revolution:
    • The U.S. began to fear that it was vulnerable to a Communist Revolution.
    • The Russian immigrants were suspected as a political hazard and federal agents secretly investigated their unions, political parties, and social clubs.
    • In New York City beyond 5,000 Russian immigrants were arrested and thousands of others were deported without trial.

Italian Immigration

  • Italian Unification:
    • The Italian peninsula had been unified after years of revolutions and wars. Though, the people were not unified and the violence in Italy did not immediately cease after the declaration of the unification.
    • Social chaos and epidemic poverty suppressed the nation and its people.
    • Peasants had miniscule hope of life improving and disease was rampant in Italy. The novice government was unable to aid the people or adhere to the nations problems.
    • The rumor of thriving and successful American country and the increasing affordability of transatlantic travel brought many Italians to America.
  • Immigration:
    • Most Italian Americans arrived in the U.S. at Ellis Island.
    • In the 1880's the Italians numbered at 300,000.
    • In the 1990's they totaled at 600,000.
    • In the following decade the Italian Americans had reached more than two million.
    • More than four million Italians had migrated to the United States by 1920, making up more than ten percent of the nation's foreign-born population.

Passport used by Italian Immigrants in 1909
Passport used by Italian Immigrants in 1909

  • Jobs/ Stimulating the Economy:
    • This more modern generation of Italian immigrants did not consist as much of artisans and shopkeepers, but instead the majority was looking for steady work.
    • The Italian Americans were very profitable in their newfound home. In 1986, government commission on Italian immigratioin was estimated that the Italian immigrants sent or took home between four million to thirty million dollars.
    • "The marked increase in the wealth of certain sections of Italy can be traced directly to the money earned in the United States."
    • An unfortunate amount of Italian immigrants worked in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Many Italians worked on the growing city's project's, digging canals, laying paving and gas lines, building bridges, and tunneling out the New York subway system. Almost ninety percent of the laborers in New York's Department of Public Works were Italian Americans.
    • An abundant amount of children and women worked the dark, unsafe sweatshops.
    • Italians also made their income from other, safer jobs such as: shoemaking, masonry,bar-tending, and barbering.
    • The success of Italians still impacts us today. For instance, Amadeo Giannini was the founder of Bank of America, Domenico Ghirardelli is famous for the chocolate maker, and the Gallo and Mondavi families are major wine producers.



Italian American Grocery. Many Italian immigrants settled in New York City, where dozens of small Italian neighborhoods sprung up. New immigrants tried to settle in the same areas as their fellow townspeople, creating virtual replicas of Italian villages in the middle of the city. Italian American culture stressed hard work and family life, and it is likely that the Italian American grocery pictured here was a family-owned operation. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Italian American Grocery. Many Italian immigrants settled in New York City, where dozens of small Italian neighborhoods sprung up. New immigrants tried to settle in the same areas as their fellow townspeople, creating virtual replicas of Italian villages in the middle of the city. Italian American culture stressed hard work and family life, and it is likely that the Italian American grocery pictured here was a family-owned operation. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS


  • Italian Culture:
    • The Italian's did not separate from their culture and heritage when they immigrated.
    • One third of Italian immigrants settled in New York. The immigrants from the Southern Italian villages tended to isolate themselves in their new home from the other Italian Americans and almost every block had its own little village. They maintained many of the social rivalries, their practice and strong belief in Catholicism, and hierarchies previously distinguished in Italy.
    • Many American visitors observed the Italian's cultures. A renowned event that the Italians participated in was the festa. The festa was , "a parade celebrating the feast day of a particular village patron saint". Thousands of Italians would proceed through the streets celebrating this holiday.
    • This profound event was witnessed by New York commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.

Over all, the Italians and Russian Jews, as well as many other Europeans, played a significant role in the economic success in america. In addition, the United States gave the immigrants an opportunity to be successful politically, economically, and socially. These immigrants make up the foundation of our country and who we are today.