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HIST 1152 American History since 1877 Primary Source Readings 3: An American Empire and Progressivism

HIST 1152 American History since 1877 Primary Source Readings 3: An American Empire and Progressivism


A collection of primary source readings for American History since 1877.

The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt

The primary source readings in this course align with  The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

Microsoft Word and PDF downloads of these readings are available.

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

The Strenuous Life

Teddy Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt, born in 1858, descended from one of the original Dutch families to settle in the colony of New Amsterdam, now Manhattan, New York City[1]. His mother, Marth Bulloch, grew up in one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in Atlanta, Georgia. The Bullochs owned a cotton plantation operated by over thirty enslaved persons (as well as a mansion in Atlanta) and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.


Roosevelt grew up with money, privilege, and pedigree. He graduated from Harvard University, then Columbia Law School. His political career began shortly after when he was elected as a New York State Assemblyman in 1881 as a Republican. He took on corrupt state politics and the power of the railroad monopolies in New York. As Civil Service Commissioner in the late 1880s, he tackled the patronage system which rewarded men loyal to the political party with Federal positions. During the 1890s, Roosevelt served as New York City Police Commissioner where he focused on ridding the city of “vices” like prostitution, saloons, and street fighting. He frequently walked the beat with police officers, usually late at night and always with the press in tow, invited by Roosevelt who understood the value of a public persona. He was Governor of New York before becoming Vice President in 1900.


Roosevelt took intermittent breaks from politics during the 1880s and 1890s to pursue other interests. He bought a ranch in North Dakota and trained with local cowboys, learning how to rope, steer, and herd cattle. He spent several years working as a rancher until he lost his entire herd during the winter of 1886, one of the most severe winters recorded in American history. He wrote dozens of books of history, primarily about the history of the West (he and Frederick Jackson Turner were friends), Naval history, subjects in British history and colonial American history, and of course, his own personal history. Roosevelt was a copious reader and writer throughout his life. He wrote 47 books and hundreds of thousands of letters. On average, he read a book a day, every day including while serving as President of the United States.


President William McKinley choose Roosevelt to run as his Vice President during his 1896 re-election campaign in large part because of Roosevelt’s new found fame as a hero of the War of 1898 (previously called the Spanish-American War). Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of War when the war broke out and received special permission from Army leadership to form a voluntary cavalry unit and join the fighting in Cuba. The regiment fought in a few battled during the war, which lasted from April to August, 1898. Buffalo Bill immediately borrowed the regiment’s nickname, the Rough Riders, for his Wild West shows.

Roosevelt staunchly advocated from westward expansion and American imperialism, which began with the Treaty ending the War of 1898 which established the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam as colonies of the United States, and Cuba as a protectorate of sorts. Shortly after Congress ratified the treaty, Roosevelt delivered his famous Strenuous Life speech to Chicago’s Hamilton Club on April 10, 1899. In the speech, Roosevelt arguments in defense of American imperialism are rooted in national self-interest and defense, but connected to American masculinity, racial fitness, and American Exceptionalism.


He delivered this speech a couple of months after the Senate had ratified the treaty with Spain that established the Philippines as a colony of the United States. The Strenuous Life, exuberantly defended American imperialism using arguments rooted not only in American economic self-interest but also in notions of masculine vigor, racial fitness, and national destiny. Roosevelt delivered this speech to Chicago's Hamilton Club on 10 April 1899.[2]



In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires more easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph[3].

A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself and from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes--to be the ultimate goal after which they strive? You men of Chicago have made this city great, you men of Illinois have done your share, and more than your share, in making America great, because you neither preach nor practice such a doctrine. You work yourselves, and you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and are worth your salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative [sic] work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research--work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation.

We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed[4]. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present merely means that there has been stored up effort in the past. A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright, and the man still does actual work, though of a different kind, whether as a writer or a general, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor as a period, not of preparation, but of mere enjoyment, even though perhaps not of vicious enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer of the earth's surface, and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.

In the last analysis a healthy state can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives; when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know how to wrest triumph from toil and risk. The man must be glad to do a man's work, to dare and endure and to labor; to keep himself, and to keep those dependent upon him. The woman must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children. When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.

As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation. It is a base untruth to say that happy is the nation that has no history. Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat…We of this generation do not have to face a task such as that our fathers faced, but we have our tasks, and woe to us if we fail to perform them! We cannot, if we would, play the part of China, and be content to rot by inches in ignoble ease within our borders, taking no interest in what goes on beyond them, sunk in a scrambling commercialism; heedless of the higher life, the life of aspiration, of toil and risk, busying ourselves only with the wants of our bodies for the day, until suddenly we should find, beyond a shadow of question, what China has already found, that in this world the nation that has trained itself to a career of unwarlike and isolated ease is bound, in the end, to go down before other nations which have not lost the manly and adventurous qualities. If we are to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world. We cannot avoid meeting great issues. All that we can determine for ourselves is whether we shall meet them well or ill. In 1898 we could not help being brought face to face with the problem of war with Spain. All we could decide was whether we should shrink like cowards from the contest, or enter into it as beseemed a brave and high-spirited people; and, once in, whether failure or success should crown our banners.

So it is now. We cannot avoid the responsibilities that confront us in Hawaii, Cuba, Porto Rico[5], and the Philippines. All we can decide is whether we shall meet them in a way that will redound to the national credit, or whether we shall make of our dealings with these new problems a dark and shameful page in our history. To refuse to deal with them at all merely amounts to dealing with them badly. We have a given problem to solve. If we undertake the solution, there is, of course, always danger that we may not solve it aright; but to refuse to undertake the solution simply renders it certain that we cannot possibly solve it aright.

The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man, and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills "stern men with empires in their brains[6]"--all these, of course, shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new duties; shrink from seeing us build a navy and an army adequate to our needs; shrink from seeing us do our share of the world's work, by bringing order out of chaos in the great, fair tropic islands from which the valor of our soldiers and sailors has driven the Spanish flag[7]. These are the men who fear the strenuous life, who fear the only national life which is really worth leading. They believe in that cloistered life which saps the hardy virtues in a nation, as it saps them in the individual; or else they are wedded to that base spirit of gain and greed which recognizes in commercialism the be-all and end-all of national life, instead of realizing that, though an indispensable element, it is, after all, but one of the many elements that go to make up true national greatness.

No country can long endure if its foundations are not laid deep in the material prosperity which comes from thrift, from business energy and enterprise, from hard, unsparing effort in the fields of industrial activity; but neither was any nation ever yet truly great if it relied upon material prosperity alone. All honor must be paid to the architects of our material prosperity, to the great captains of industry who have built our factories and our railroads, to the strong men who toil for wealth with brain or hand; for great is the debt of the nation to these and their kind. But our debt is yet greater to the men whose highest type is to be found in a statesman like Lincoln, a soldier like Grant. They showed by their lives that they recognized the law of work, the law of strife; they toiled to win a competence for themselves and those dependent upon them; but they recognized that there were yet other and even loftier duties--duties to the nation and duties to the race.

We cannot sit huddled within our own borders and avow ourselves merely an assemblage of well-to-do hucksters[8] who care nothing for what happens beyond. Such a policy would defeat even its own end; for as the nations grow to have ever wider and wider interests, and are brought into closer and closer contact, if we are to hold our own in the struggle for naval and commercial supremacy, we must build up our power without our own borders. We must build the isthmian canal[9], and we must grasp the points of vantage which will enable us to have our say in deciding the destiny of the oceans of the East and the West.

So much for the commercial side. From the standpoint of international honor the argument is even stronger. The guns that thundered off Manila and Santiago[10] left us echoes of glory, but they also left us a legacy of duty. If we drove out a medieval tyranny[11] only to make room for savage anarchy[12], we had better not have begun the task at all. It is worse than idle to say that we have no duty to perform, and can leave to their fates the islands[13] we have conquered. Such a course would be the course of infamy. It would be followed at once by utter chaos in the wretched islands themselves. Some stronger, manlier power would have to step in and do the work, and we would have shown ourselves weaklings, unable to carry to successful completion the labors that great and high-spirited nations are eager to undertake.

The work must be done; we cannot escape our responsibility; and if we are worth our salt, we shall be glad of the chance to do the work--glad of the chance to show ourselves equal to one of the great tasks set modern civilization. But let us not deceive ourselves as to the importance of the task. Let us not be misled by vainglory into underestimating the strain it will put on our powers. Above all, let us, as we value our own self-respect, face the responsibilities with proper seriousness, courage, and high resolve. We must demand the highest order of integrity and ability in our public men who are to grapple with these new problems. We must hold to a rigid accountability those public servants who show unfaithfulness to the interests of the nation or inability to rise to the high level of the new demands upon our strength and our resources.

…The army and the navy are the sword and the shield which this nation must carry if she is to do her duty among the nations of the earth. Our proper conduct toward the tropic islands we have wrested from Spain is merely the form which our duty has taken at the moment. Of course we are bound to handle the affairs of our own household well. We must see that there is civic honesty, civic cleanliness, civic good sense in our home administration of city, state, and nation. We must strive for honesty in office, for honesty toward the creditors of the nation and the individual; for the widest freedom of individual initiative where possible, and for the wisest control of individual initiative where it is hostile to the welfare of the many. But because we set our own household in order we are not thereby excused from playing our part in the great affairs of the world. A man's first duty is to his own home, but he is not thereby excused from doing his duty to the State; for if he fails in this second duty it is under the penalty of ceasing to be a freeman. In the same way, while a nation's first duty is within its own borders, it is not thereby absolved from facing its duties in the world as a whole; and if it refuses to do so, it merely forfeits its right to struggle for a place among the peoples that shape the destiny of mankind.

In the West Indies and the Philippines alike we are confronted by most difficult problems. It is cowardly to shrink from solving them in the proper way; for solved they must be, if not by us, then by some stronger and more manful race. If we are too weak, too selfish, or too foolish to solve them, some bolder and abler people must undertake the solution. Personally, I am far too firm a believer in the greatness of my country and the power of my countrymen to admit for one moment that we shall ever be driven to the ignoble alternative.

The problems are different for the different islands. Porto Rico is not large enough to stand alone. We must govern it wisely and well, primarily in the interest of its own people. Cuba is, in my judgment, entitled ultimately to settle for itself whether it shall be an independent state or an integral portion of the mightiest of republics. But until order and stable liberty are secured, we must remain in the island to insure them, and infinite tact, judgment, moderation, and courage must be shown by our military and civil representatives in keeping the island pacified, in relentlessly stamping out brigandage, in protecting all alike, and yet in showing proper recognition to the men who have fought for Cuban liberty.

The Philippines offer a yet graver problem. Their population includes half-caste and native Christians, warlike Moslems, and wild pagans[14]. Many of their people are utterly unfit for self-government, and show no signs of becoming fit. Others may in time become fit but at present can only take part in self-government under a wise supervision, at once firm and beneficent. We have driven Spanish tyranny from the islands. If we now let it be replaced by savage anarchy, our work has been for harm and not for good. I have scant patience with those who fear to undertake the task of governing the Philippines, and who openly avow that they do fear to undertake it, or that they shrink from it because of the expense and trouble; but I have even scanter patience with those who make a pretense of humanitarianism to hide and cover their timidity, and who cant about "liberty" and the "consent of the governed," in order to excuse themselves for their unwillingness to play the part of men. Their doctrines, if carried out, would make it incumbent upon us to leave the Apaches of Arizona to work out their own salvation, and to decline to interfere in a single Indian reservation. Their doctrines condemn your forefathers and mine for ever having settled in these United States[15].

England's rule in India and Egypt has been of great benefit to England, for it has trained up generations of men accustomed to look at the larger and loftier side of public life. It has been of even greater benefit to India and Egypt. And finally, and most of all, it has advanced the cause of civilization. So, if we do our duty aright in the Philippines, we will add to that national renown which is the highest and finest part of national life, will greatly benefit the people of the Philippine Islands, and, above all, we will play our part well in the great work of uplifting mankind. But to do this work, keep ever in mind that we must show in a very high degree the qualities of courage, of honesty, and of good judgment. Resistance must be stamped out[16]. The first and all-important work to be done is to establish the supremacy of our flag. We must put down armed resistance before we can accomplish anything else, and there should be no parleying, no faltering, in dealing with our foe. As for those in our own country who encourage the foe, we can afford contemptuously to disregard them; but it must be remembered that their utterances are not saved from being treasonable merely by the fact that they are despicable.

When once we have put down armed resistance, when once our rule is acknowledged, then an even more difficult task will begin, for then we must see to it that the islands are administered with absolute honesty and with good judgment. If we let the public service of the islands be turned into the prey of the spoils politician[17], we shall have begun to tread the path which Spain trod to her own destruction. We must send out there only good and able men, chosen for their fitness, and not because of their partizan [sic] service, and these men must not only administer impartial justice to the natives and serve their own government with honesty and fidelity, but must show the utmost tact and firmness, remembering that, with such people as those with whom we are to deal, weakness is the greatest of crimes, and that next to weakness comes lack of consideration for their principles and prejudices.

I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.


[1] Teddy Roosevelt’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Claes Maartenszen van Rosenvel arrived in New Amsterdam in 1650.

[2] Teddy Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life, 1899.

[3]The highest right of man is the right to be a man, with all that this involves,” Merrill Gates, Land and Law as Agents in Educating Indians, 1885.

[4] Do not copy this sentence in your responses.

[5] Please spell Puerto Rico by it’s correct contemporary spelling.

[6] Quote from American poet, James Russell Lowell’s satirical work, The Biglow Papers, series 2 (1862-66).

[7] The Cuban people were in a decades long battle for independence from the Spanish Empire before their independence movement because the War of 1898.

[8] Con-man

[9] The Panama Canal. As President (literally two years after he gives this speech), Roosevelt oversaw a covert operation to destabilize the ethnic state of Panama then part of the country of Colombia. When Panama demanded independence from Colombia, Roosevelt threatened to send troops in support of the revolution. Once Panama was declared an independent state, political leadership gave the United States rights to construct and control a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. 

[10] Cities in The Philippines and cites of major battles during the War of 1898.

[11] “Medieval tyranny” refers to the Spanish Empire, long considered the most violent and brutal of the European Empires. In an effort to paint British colonialism as more humane than previous empires, English writers and explorers created what was known as the “Black Legend,” which presented the Spanish as pagan (Catholic), naturally violent, and incapable of managing a true empire. The Black Legend remained part of how historians and intellectuals thought about European colonialism well into the twentieth century. Most people listening to Roosevelt understood “Medieval tyranny” represented the “Black Legend.”

[12] Absence of government or state authorities resulting in disorder and chaos.

[13] The Philippines, Puerto Rice, and Guam, and Cuba to a certain extent.

[14] The Philippines is an archipelago consisting of over 7,000 islands, in Southeast Asia (south of China and Vietnam, and Japan, north of New Zealand and Australia). Filipinos are overwhelmingly Catholic, a legacy of Spanish colonialism, and Muslim.

[15] What this about the Apache? Remember Wounded Knee was nine years before this speech.

[16] Resistance must be stamped out.

[17] Reference to Roosevelt’s earlier campaigns against doling out federal positions to political cronies.

Image: On the Ranche. [Between 1900 and 1910?] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>. In the public domain.

The Philippines Tangle by William James

Head and shoulder image of William James wearing a full goatee
William James


The Philippines Tangle

William James


The American Anti-Imperialist League formed shortly after the outbreak of the War of 1898. Founding members included the novelist Mark Twain, noted sociologist William Graham Sumner, Samuel Gompers, and Andrew Carnegie[1]. The group opposed American imperialism, particularly the escalating war in the Philippines.


William James, a prominent psychologist and philosopher during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, was a founding member of the League.  Born into a wealthy, prominent albeit somewhat exoteric New York City family, James travelled around the world, studied medicine and art, wrote poetry and painted. James taught at Harvard from 1873 (still Reconstruction) through 1907. He started in the physiology and anatomy department before creating the psychology Department, one of the first in the country. James trained four generation of psychologists. Teddy Roosevelt took James’ class while at Harvard. So did W.E.B. Du Bois.


The Anti-Imperialist League argued that the War in the Philippines was inhumane and betrayed the principles of the country for nothing more than greed. James published this essay in 1899 as the War in the Philippines escalated[2].



An observer who should judge solely by the sort of evidence which the newspapers present might easily suppose that the American people felt little concern about the performances of our Government in the Philippine Islands, and were practically indifferent to their moral aspects. The cannon of our gunboats at Manila and the ratification of the treaty have sent even the most vehement anti-imperialist journals temporarily to cover, and the bugbear of copperheadism[3] has reduced the freest tongues for a while to silence. The excitement of battle, this time as always, has produced its cowing and disorganizing effect upon the opposition.


…The process of education has been too short for the older American nature not to feel the shock. We gave the fighting instinct and the passion of mastery their outing; we let them have the day to themselves, and temporarily committed our fortunes to their leading last spring, because we thought that, being harnessed in a cause which promised to be that of freedom, the results were fairly safe, and we could resume our permanent ideals and character when the fighting fit was done.


We now see how we reckoned without our host. We see by the vividest of examples what an absolute savage and pirate the passion of military conquest always is, and how the only safeguard against the crimes to which it will infallibly drag the nation that gives way to it is to keep it chained forever, is never to let it get its start. In the European nations it is kept chained by a greater mutual fear than they have ever before felt for one another. Here it should have been kept chained by a native wisdom nourished assiduously for a century on opposite ideals. And we can appreciate now that wisdom in those of us who, with our national Executive at their head, worked so desperately to keep it chained last spring.


But since then, Executive and all, we have been swept away by the overmastering flood. And now what it has swept us into is an adventure that in sober seriousness and definite English speech must be described as literally piratical. Our treatment of the Aguinaldo[4] movement at Manila and at Iloilo is piracy positive and absolute, and the American people appear as pirates pure and simple, as day by day the real facts of the situation are coming to the light.


What was only vaguely apprehended is now clear with a definiteness that is startling indeed. Here was a people towards whom we felt no ill-will, against whom we had not even a slanderous rumor to bring; a people for whose tenacious struggle against their Spanish oppressors we have for years past spoken (so far as we spoke of them at all) with nothing but admiration and sympathy. Here was a leader who, as the Spanish lies about him, on which we were fed so long, drop off, and as the truth gets more and more known, appears as an exceptionally fine specimen of the patriot and national hero; not only daring, but honest; not only a fighter, but a governor and organizer of extraordinary power. Here were the precious beginnings of an indigenous national life, with which, if we had any responsibilities to these islands at all, it was our first duty to have squared ourselves. Aguinaldo's movement was, and evidently deserved to be, an ideal popular movement, which as far as it had had time to exist was showing itself "fit" to survive and likely to become a healthy piece of national self-development. It was all we had to build on, at any rate, so far—if we had any desire not to succeed to the Spaniards' inheritance of native execration.


And what did our Administration do? So far as the facts have leaked out, it issued instructions to the commanders on the ground simply to freeze Aguinaldo out, as a dangerous rival with whom all compromising entanglement was sedulously to be avoided by the great Yankee business concern. We were not to "recognize" him, we were to deny him all account of our intentions; and in general to refuse any account of our intentions to anybody, except to declare in abstract terms their "benevolence,"[5] until the inhabitants, without a pledge of any sort from us, should turn over their country into our hands. Our President's bouffe-proclamation[6] was the only thing vouchsafed: "We are here for your own good; therefore unconditionally surrender to our tender mercies, or we'll blow you into kingdom come."


Our own people meanwhile were vaguely uneasy, for the inhuman callousness and insult shown at Paris and Washington[7] to the officially delegated mouthpieces of the wants and claims of the Filipinos seemed simply abominable from any moral point of view. But there must be reasons of state, we assumed, and good ones. Aguinaldo is evidently a pure adventurer "on the make," a blackmailer, sure in the end to betray our confidence, or our Government wouldn't treat him so, for our President is essentially methodistical[8] and moral. Mr. McKinley must be in an intolerably perplexing situation, and we must not criticize him too soon. We assumed this, I say, though all the while there was a horribly suspicious look about the performance. On its face it reeked of the infernal adroitness of the great department store, which has reached perfect expertness in the art of killing silently and with no public squealing or commotion the neighboring small concern.


But that small concern, Aguinaldo, apparently not having the proper American business education, and being uninstructed on the irresistible character of our Republican party combine, neither offered to sell out nor to give up. So the Administration had to show its hand without disguise. It did so at last. We are now openly engaged in crushing out the sacredest thing in this great human world—the attempt of a people long enslaved to attain to the possession of itself, to organize its laws and government, to be free to follow its internal destinies according to its own ideals.


War, said Moltke[9], aims at destruction, and at nothing else. And splendidly are we carrying out war's ideal. We are destroying the lives of these islanders by the thousand, their villages and their cities; for surely it is we who are solely responsible for all the incidental burnings that our operations entail. But these destructions are the smallest part of our sins. We are destroying down to the root every germ of a healthy national life in these unfortunate people, and we are surely helping to destroy for one generation at least their faith in God and man. No life shall you have, we say, except as a gift from our philanthropy after your unconditional submission to our will. So as they seem to be “slow pay" in the matter of submission, our yellow journals have abundant time in which to raise new monuments of capitals to the victories of Old Glory, and in which to extol the unrestrainable eagerness of our brave soldiers to rush into battles that remind them so much of rabbit hunts on Western plains.


It is horrible, simply horrible. Surely there cannot be many born and bred Americans who, when they look at the bare fact of what we are doing, the fact taken all by itself, do not feel this, and do not blush with burning shame at the unspeakable meanness and ignominy of the trick?


Why, then, do we go on? First, the war fever; and then the pride which always refuses to back down when under fire. But these are passions that interfere with the reasonable settlement of any affair; and in this affair we have to deal with a factor altogether peculiar with our belief, namely, in a national destiny which must be "big" at any cost, and which for some inscrutable reason it has become infamous for us to disbelieve in or refuse. We are to be missionaries of civilization, and to bear the white man's burden, painful as it often is. We must sow our ideals, plant our order, impose our God.


The individual lives are nothing. Our duty and our destiny call, and civilization must go on.

Could there be a more damning indictment of that whole bloated idol termed "modern civilization" than this amounts to? Civilization is, then, the big, hollow, resounding, corrupting, sophisticating, confusing torrent of mere brutal momentum and irrationality that brings forth fruits like this! It is safe to say that one Christian missionary, whether primitive, Protestant or Catholic, of the original missionary type, one Buddhist or Mohammedan of a genuine saintly sort, one ethical reformer or philanthropist, or one disciple of Tolstoi[10] would do more real good in these islands than our whole army and navy can possibly effect with our whole civilization at their back. He could build up realities, in however small a degree; we can only destroy the inner realities and indeed destroy in a year more of them than a generation can make good.


…The issue is perfectly plain at last. We are cold-bloodedly, wantonly and abominably destroying the soul of a people who never did us an atom of harm in their lives. It is bald, brutal piracy, impossible to dish up any longer in the cold pot-grease of President McKinley's cant at the recent Boston banquet surely as shamefully evasive a speech, considering the right of the public to know definite facts, as can often have fallen even from a professional politician's lips. The worst of our imperialists is that they do not themselves know where sincerity ends and insincerity begins…The impotence of the private individual, with imperialism under full headway as it is, is deplorable indeed. But every American has a voice or a pen, and may use it. So, impelled by my own sense of duty, I write these present words. One by one we shall creep from cover, and the opposition will organize itself. If the Filipinos hold out long enough, there is a good chance (the canting game being already pretty well played out, and the piracy having to show itself henceforward naked) of the older American beliefs and sentiments coming to their rights again, and of the Administration being terrified into a conciliatory policy towards the native government.


The programme for the opposition should, it seems to me, be radical. The infamy and iniquity of a war of conquest must stop…Until the opposition newspapers seriously begin, and the mass meetings are held, let every American who still wishes his country to possess its ancient soul—soul a thousand times more dear than ever, now that it seems in danger of perdition—do what little he can in the way of open speech and writing, and above all let him give his representatives and senators in Washington a positive piece of his mind.





[1] Mark Twain wrote such classics as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; William Graham Sumner was the first professor of sociology in the United States. He taught at Yale from 1876 to 1909. Like James, he trained 4 our generations of sociologists; Samuel Gompers was one of the founders, and long-time President. of the American Federal of Labor; Andrew Carnegie, we know.

[2] William James, "The Philippines Tangle,", Boston Evening Transcript, March 1, 1899.

[3] Copperheads were Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War. James’ implies that opposition to war was out of favor as a political position by the late nineteenth century.

[4] Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964), was a Filipino resistance leader, who fought against Spain alongside US soldiers during the War of 1898. US military leaders, particularly Navy Admiral George Dewey, supported Aguinaldo’s election as President of the Philippines in 1899, and promised Filipino independence. By 1901, the United States was at war with the Philippines to stop their independence. Aguinaldo was captured by US troops in 1901, and the war ended in 1903. The United States retained imperial control of the Philippines until after WWII, in 1946.

 [5] President William McKinley called his agenda for US control of the Philippines “benign assimilation.”

 [6] Bouffe refers to a comical opera, or, a farce. The implication here is that McKinley’s declaration of benign assimilation was comically melodramatic.

[7] The Treaty of Paris formally ended the War of 1898, and the US assumed formal control of Spain’s former colonies – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. This should be in your notes.

[8] Metodistical means “pertaining to Methodists,” or in this case, the inference is that McKinley thinks like a Methodist/Protestant, and thus, trustworthy.

[9] Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was Chief of the General Staff for Germany from 1906 until his death in 1916 (The US office of “Joint Chiefs’ of Staff” is based on Moltke’s position). Moltke was the architect of Germany’s military operations during the first years of WWI and as a result, is held largely responsible for Germany’s loss in the war by military historians. This was evident early on – the first major battle of the Western Front, the Battle of Marne in 1914 (the first year of the war), was led by Moltke, and resulted in a major loss for the Germans. Some historians - Moltke himself - argue that Germany never recovered from this early strategic loss (which prevented Germany from taking Paris in WWI). The war went on for another 4 years despite the German loss at Marne.

[10] Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer, best known for War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). During the 1870s, Tolstoy had an existential awakening of sorts, and embraced Christian ideology and pacificism, but rejected organized religion, especially the Russian Orthodox Church. Tolstoy was an outspoken critic of imperialism, including the US war in the Philippines.  

Image: William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910). MS Am 1092 (1185), Series II, 23, Houghton Library, Harvard University. In the public domain.

Black Migrants' Letters Home

A group of African Americans, six adults and two children, all wearing hats pose with their suitcases
The Great Migration



During the twentieth century, millions of African Americans left the South for cities in the Midwest, East Coast, and West Coast, collectively referred to as the Great Migration. The first wave of migration occurred roughly between 1900 and 1925. Migration peaked during World War I (1914-18) as war production required a massive increase in industrial workers. The second wave of the Great Migration occurred during the 1940s and 50s, spurred by the economic expansion caused by World War II.


Many African Americans moved from rural areas to southern cities like Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis. Many more left the South for industrial work in northern cities. Like most migrants, black southerners tended to follow friends and family who already relocated to northern cities. Patterns of migration emerged quickly: migrants from the Upper South -Virginia, the Carolinas - tended to move East to cities such as New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia; migrants from the Deep South – Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana – moved straight up North to Cleveland, Detroit, and especially, Chicago; African Americans from the Border South – Tennessee, Texas, Missouri – start moving Westward to Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle.


The first wave of migration consisted primarily of black southerners from the Deep South, particularly Mississippi to Chicago. African Americans hoped to escape segregation and the violence that came with it, find better work than sharecropping, and provide better education for their children. While northern cities did provide more employment opportunity and a reprieve from the oppressive system of segregation found in the South, black southern quickly learned that “the North” was far from integrated. African Americans were concentrated in particular neighborhoods like the Southside of Chicago, known as Bronzeville by the 1920s. Same with Harlem in New York City and the Hough neighborhood in Cleveland. Black migrants encountered segregation, employment discrimination, and threats of violence in northern cities, albeit somewhat less intense than in the South. Black migrants also faced resentment from African Americans born the North who thought black southerners were ignorant and unprepared for life in the North.


African American newspapers and other publications, like the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, reported on the many aspects of the Great Migration as it was happening. The Journal of Negro History[1], the first academic journal dedicated to African American history and culture, started publishing in 1916, partially inspired by the rapid changes brought on by the Great Migration. The Journal was founded by Carter G. Woodson, the second African American man to earn a PhD in History at Harvard University (you will remember that W.E.B. Du Bois was the first)[2]. Woodson later served as Chair of the African American Studies department at Howard University. In 1925, Woodson organized the first “Negro History Week” to encourage public schools to include African American history in their curriculum[3]. Woodson started collecting letters and oral histories from the migrants the same year the Journal began publishing. In 1919, Woodson edited a special issue of the Journal focused entirely on the Great Migration, including a large selection of the letters he had collected over the last four years. The letters below are part of Woodson’s collection. Journal editors did not include names of the individual people mentioned in the letters, primarily to protect African Americans still living in the South from white southerners looking for retribution. The letters retain the spelling and grammar used in the original letters.[4]



Primary Source


PHILADELPHIA, PA., Oct. 7, 1917

Dear Sir: I take this method of thanking you for yours early responding and the glorious effect of the treatment. Oh. I do feel so fine. Dr. the treatment reach me almost ready to move I am now housekeeping again I like it so much better than rooming. Well Dr. with the aid of God I am making very good I make $75 per month. I am carrying enough insurance to pay me $20 per week if I am not able to be on duty. I don’t have to work hard. dont have to mister every little white boy comes along I havent heard a white man call a colored a nigger you no now—since I been in the state of Pa. I can ride in the electric street and steam cars any where I get a seat. I dont care to mix with white what I mean I am not crazy about being with white folks, but if I have to pay the same fare I have learn to want the same acomidation. and if you are first in a place here shoping you dont have to wait until the white folks get thro tradeing yet amid all this I shall ever love the good old South and I am praying that God may give every well wisher a chance to be a man regardless of his color, and if my going to the front would bring about such conditions I am ready any day—well Dr. I dont want to worry you but read between lines; and maybe you can see a little sense in my weak statement the kids are in school every day I have only two and I guess that all. Dr. when you find time I would be delighted to have a word from the good old home state. Wife join me in sending love you and yours.

I am your friend and patient.



Dear Partner: You received a few days ago and I was indeed glad to hear from you and know that you was well. How is the old burg and all of the boys. Say partner is it true that T———— M—————— was shot by a Negro Mon. It is all over the city among the people of H’burg[5] if so let know at once so I tell the boys it true. Well so much for that. I wish you could have been here to have been here to those games. I saw them and beleve me they was worth the money I pay to see them. T.S. and I went out to see Sunday game witch was 7 to 2 White Sox and I saw Satday game 2 to 1 White Sox[6]. Please tell J————— write that he will never see nothing as long as he stay down there behind the sun there some thing to see up here all the time. (tell old E——— B——— to go to (H——-) Tell B———— he dont hafter answer my cards. How is friend Wilson Wrote him a letter in August. Tell him that all right I will see him in the funny paper[7]. Well Partner I guess you hear a meny funey thing about Chicago. Half you hear is not true. I know B———- C———- hav tole a meny lie. Whenever you here see them Pardie tell them to write to this a dress. Say Pardie old H————- is moping up in his Barber shop. Guess I will come to you Boy Xmas. I must go to bed. Just in from a hard days work.

Your life long friend.



Mr. H————-

Hattiesburg, Miss.

Dear M—————: Yours received sometime ago and found all well and doing well. hope you and family are well.

I got my things alright the other day and they were in good condition. I am all fixed now and living well. I certainly appreciate what you done for us and I will remember you in the near future.

M—————, old boy, I was promoted on the first of the month I was made first assistant to the head carpenter when he is out of the place I take everything in charge and was raised to $95. a month. You know I know my stuff.

Whats the news generally around H’burg? I should have been here 20 years ago. I just begin to feel like a man. It’s a great deal of pleasure in knowing that you have got some privilege. My children are going to the same school with the whites and I dont have to umble to no one. I have registered—Will vote the next election and there isnt any ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’—its all yes and no and Sam and Bill.

Florine says hello and would like very much to see you.

All joins me in sending love to you and family. How is times there now? Answer soon, from your friend and bro.


EAST CHICAGO, IND., June 10, 1917

Dr. ——————,

Union Springs, Ala.

Dear Old Friend: These moments I thought I would write you a few true facts of the present condition of the north. Certainly I am trying to take a close observation—now it is tru the (col)[8] men are making good. Never pay less than $3.00 per day or (10) hours—this is not promise. I do not see how they pay such wages the way they work labors[9]. they do not hurry or drive you. Remember this is the very lowest wages. Piece work men can make from $6 to $8 per day. They receive their pay every two weeks. this city I am living in, the population 30,000 (20) miles from Big Chicago, Ill[10]. Doctor I am some what impress. My family also. They are doing nicely. I have no right to complain what ever. I rec. the papers you mail me some few days ago and you no I enjoyed them reading about the news down in Dixie. I often think of so much of the conversation we engage in concerning this part of the worl. I wish many time that you could see our People up there as they are entirely in a different light. I witness Decoration Day on May 30th, the line of march was 4 miles. (8) brass band[11]. All business houses were close. I tell you the people here are patriotic. I enclose you the cut of the white press. the chief of police drop dead Friday. Burried him today. The procession about (3) miles long. Over (400) auto in the parade—five dpt—police Force, Mayor and alderman and secret societies; we are having some cold weather—we are still wearing over coats—Let me know what is my little city doing. People are coming here every day and are finding employment. Nothing here but money and it is not hard to get. Remember me to your dear Family. Oh, I have children in school every day with the white children. I will write you more next time. how is the lodge.

Yours friend,


This work by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0, except where otherwise indicated.


[1] Now known as The Journal of African American History, published by the University of Chicago Press.

[2] Interesting that both Du Bois and Woodson earned their PhDs in History. Why do you think that is?

[3] Negro History Week was the predecessor of Black History Month in February.

[4] Emmett J. Scott, Letters of Negro Migrants, 1916-1919, in the Journal of Negro History, Vol 4, No 3, July 1919, believed to be in the public domain. (The entire journal is digitized if you are interested in seeing the other articles that are part of the Great Migration issue, including Woodson’s editorial about the project). This issue was published only weeks before the Chicago Race Riot in July, 1919, one of the worst riots of Red Summer.

[5] Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

[6] The White Sox started as a minor league team in Sioux City, Iowa. Former baseball player and head coach of the Cincinnati Reds, Charles Comiskey, bought the team during the 1890s, moved the team to Chicago, and built a new stadium for the White Sox on the Southside of city called Comiskey Park. The already established Chicago Cubs baseball team played at Wrigley Field in the northern part of Chicago. Wealthier (and whiter) neighborhoods in Chicago tended to support the Cubs. The White Sox, however, were the team of immigrants, African Americans, and working-class people living on the Southside. Interestingly, the same year these letters were published, 1919, the White Sox played Cincinnati in the World Series. The heavily favored White Sox lost by one game. Soon after, several White Sox players were charged with fixing the 1919 World Series, i.e., deliberately throwing the game to Cincinnati in exchange for money. The press called it the “Black Sox Scandal.” The whole thing was orchestrated by gambling kingpin and racketeer, Arthur Rothstein, who later joined Italian Mafia bosses, Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello, and Jewish Mob boss, Meyer Lansky, in turning the sleepy desert town of Las Vegas into a gambling paradise. Eight White Sox players were indicted in the scandal and banned permanently from professional baseball. Most notably, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, still considered one of the greatest players of all time. As a result, Shoeless Joe will never be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, although his family has tried to have his name cleared for decades. The 1919 World Series was exactly 100 years ago. My guess for the 2019 World Series is the Yankees (of course) and the Washington Nationals. They have a very good team this year. Of course, my team, the Boston Red Sox, did horribly this year and didn’t even make it to the playoffs.

[7] The “funny papers/pages” refers to the comic strips and cartoons published in newspapers. Traditionally, the daily papers carried a few comic strips, while the Sunday editions had a whole section dedicated to comics and cartoons. “See you in the funny papers” was a lighthearted way of saying “see you later.”

[8] Colored.

[9] Interesting comment. Why would he point this out?

[10] Bronzeville is about 5 miles from downtown Chicago and 12 miles from Wrigley Field on the Northside. Public transportation did not run from the Southside to Downtown until after WWII, so it probably seemed like 20 miles.

[11] Decoration Day was the predecessor to Memorial Day. Before WWII, celebrations recognizing veterans were organized by local communities, and later, by state governments. As a result, Decoration Day occurred on different days in different places– although almost all were during the last few weeks of May – and celebrated differently from community to community. Chicago had one of the biggest Decoration Day celebrations complete with parades, picnics, speeches from city leaders and veterans, and general joviality. Congress designated the last Monday in May a federal holiday called Memorial Day in 1967, during the height of Vietnam War.

Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. (1922). A negro family just arrived in Chicago from the rural South. Retrieved from In the public domain.

We Thought State Street Would be Heaven Itself: Charles Johnson Interviews with Black Migrants

Charles Johnson sits, hands folded, wearing round spectacles.
Charles S. Johnson


The National Urban League started in New York City in New York City specifically to aid recent black southerners moving into city neighborhoods like Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen, as well as the growing boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The Urban League helped black southerners find employment and housing, and provided healthcare and other social services. The League also instructed new arrivals in how to dress, talk, and act in “the North.” The Urban League quickly opened chapters in northern cities where the African American population was rapidly growing as a result of the Great Migration[1].

Charles S. Johnson graduated from the University of Chicago with a PhD in sociology in 1917, after which, he worked as a researcher for the National Urban League. Following the Chicago Race Riot in 1919, Johnson arrived in the city to investigate what happened and why. Johnson interviewed nearly one hundred black migrants living on the Southside of Chicago as part of his investigation. He published his report, The Negro in the City: A Study of Race Relations, in 1922. The Negro in the City remains a pioneering sociological study, especially Johnson’s research on the 1919 riots. Below are Johnson’s notes from some of his interviews.[2]

Primary Source


R.S. Horton, wife and daughter.

Proprietor Hattiesburg Barber Shop 35th st near Rhodes[3]. Came to Chicago in January 1917. For 19 years he had been awaiting what he would regard the right time to move. 19 years ago he had occasion to learn something of the North thru a brother who came up and wrote back. His particular interest and grievance was in politics. It was not so much that he couldn’t vote there that made him “mad” but the fact that colored people not only could vote in the North, but in Chicago could elect whom they wished. Learned much of this thru the Defender. In his barber shop he did “some dangerous talking himself” when he saw that it was coming time for Negroes to learn. Would buy 40 and 50 copies of the Defender and sell them without profit just for the sake of distributing the news of a “fearless paper”. Didn’t need to move for money, because he was making as much there as he could make in Chicago. Went over to New Orleans one day to the graduating exercises of his daughter at Straight University[4]. While waiting around worked in a barber shop. Labor agents came in presenting this argument.


Besides that there were free trains. He declined the free transportation. When he went back to Hattesburg he was more dissatisfied than ever. His friends leaving, he began to encourage the movement. He was a deacon in the Church. He and pastor in exciting argument in deacons meeting. The pastor discouraged the movement. He pointed out the fact that people had stopped coming to Church because they did not want to be discouraged. Finally he got up a club of about 40 and left. Telling them that he had gone on to “prepare a place for them”, etc. Has heard from the pastor since establishing himself here. The Hattesburg settlement has offered to bring him up to shepherd them. He has agreed to come (Rev. Perkins, Pastor First Baptist Church).


Religious significance attached to movement.


Firmly believes this an act of God. Told the labor agent that he was an instrument in Gods hands. The fact that the movement was universal was what overwhelmed him. God was stirring them up. Had been praying for that time to come. The “Northern fever” a term used to indicate those who intend come north. When such a person is hailed this is the expected answer— “Yes and only the waters of Lake Michigan can cure me.”


Mr. Hunter, mother, wife, 6 children from Meridian, Miss.

Man came to Chicago in December. Wife in April, mother and children in July. Man a laundryman in South earning 9 dollars per week. Last year in the fall, when Mrs. Hunter, his mother, was traveling around thru States as district writer of Court of Colanthe[5], she had occasion to go to Birmingham. There the people were leaving in large numbers for the North, mostly men. She asked why. They said, higher wages. Yet she knew that wages in Birmingham were twice as high as in Meridian. The people in her home town had been approached by agents but doubted. She herself could not believe. Went home and told her son of Birmingham and urged him to go and see for himself. He left in December, in 3 weeks he wrote home. “Everything is just like they say, if not better.” Then he sent money for his wife in April. She remained to attend to the children and to rid the selves of their property. They owned 2 houses, one valued at $1,500, she only received $700 for. Would not see the other.


Meanwhile excitement at home was waxing warm. Her neighbors daughter ventured North. She had been receiving at home $2.00 per week. Worked in the Stock-yards at $2.00 per day. Wrote home. People at first said she was merely lying. Then she paid a visit and the people were convinced. They made such remarks as, “If she can make $2.00 per day, I can make $3.00 because I have always been able to do more work than she” or, “If she can make $2.00, I can at least make $1.50.” etc. When the girl went back she promised to send for her mother within a month. She did and the people were overwhelmed. No effort is made in stating wages to explain expenses. It is merely assumed that if a person can earn those wages they can certainly live.


Meetings grew frequent, stories began to circulate, and parties began to leave. The pastors at first tried to talk against it knowing that their salary was fast sinking. This, however, only resulted in drawing from the Church those who did not want to hear their movement discouraged. The Educational Conference formulated reasons for leaving. Poor Educational facilities, first among them: better wages, better treatment etc. The state attorney, Lawyer Miller agreed with them saying that if the I. C. Railroad[6] offered him more money for his services he would go to them.


The white people in general had men going around disuading Negroes from leaving—saying that the South was the best place for them, among friends: that the Northern man is their enemy: Cold: danger of freezing.


When they say they are killing people in E. St. Louis, they answer that they are going to see[7]. One or two persons have come back and reports ill success. They answer that their failure is no sign that everybody is ill paid; that they were no good before they left. Dr. Webster, Negro physician, says, the North is no place for them.


A woman was lynched in Louisiana. Everyone began to circulate the story. Men feared for their wives and women feared for their lives.


The Chief of Police took the Chicago Defender away from her son and a number of other dealers. The people determined to have it if they must have it mailed.


When she looked around her and watched her friends leaving, she felt something like she imagined she would feel on Judgement day.


Decided that she had as well die in one place as in another. “Might as well die with an ache as die with a fever.”


The length of school term, 6 months. Salary of teacher $30. and $35.00.


St. Lukes Church was started in her neighborhood (35th st) more than 50 Mississippian members. Moved their quarters Sunday, Oct. 14 to South Park Ave. to accommodate increasing membership. Rev. Bryan.


The parties or clubs were most active in July 1917. 20 to 60 the usual number. Mr. Bowman had a party of 200 and was refused. First demanded that he deposit $1,000 for use of 2 cars. He did; then they said there were no cars.


The shortage of crops brought hard times. The boll weevi[8]l caused the crop panic could not be stopped. Credit and advances were refused. There was really nothing to do.

Letters to her from her friends in the South report that everything is dull. Can see no one but strangers. Country people moving in.


The total present income of family of 3 adult workers is $7.00 per day. Everybody’s going and I’m going too.


We people from Mississippi stick together - I guess its because they have made us stick together down there.


(3612 Rhodes) Man from Hattiesburg in September. Woman from Hattiesburg in October.

Keep boarders here. Kept boarders at home. Their first boarders here were old ones at home. They came up because they had been promised privileges. Husband a railroad man at home. Working here at Indiana Harbor.


She writes to friends at home telling of Chicago and offering a place to stop. At one time she had two houses. Mr. Horton also gives her names and address to persons who write him, planning to leave the South. Has a record of 698 persons who have come to her during November, December and January from Laurel, Hattesburg and Meridian. They usually live with her until a place can be secured in the near vicinity. In one house of 7 rooms she had 21 men. 5 or 6 came in on every train.


Mrs. Lynch, husband, 7 children, 1 boarder, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Husband, 2 grown sons and 1 boarder and wife came in Jan. Wife and children followed in May. Husband been employed at Stockyards[9]—two sons in foundry at Gary, girl at stockyards for short while. Wages at home $1.25 per day. Husband now in hospital. Boarder working with Gas Company.


White people don’t treat them as the Chicago Defender promised that they would. It was November 1916 that her husband first heard from agent of people leaving New Orleans. No interest at first. Finally when some of the men with whom he was working left, he decided to make the venture himself. He wrote back that Chicago was the place for them and they joined him in a few months. They could hardly wait for the money for transportation. The paper was “just stirring things up so we thot State Street would be heaven itself.” Came in party of 80. Has not had any trouble in the South. Her daughter worked out in service under excellent conditions. When she worked over time was sent home in a carriage. Here she is thrown in bad company at the stockyards. She doesn’t like the North. People here, “don’t love God.” and, “aint sociable.” This accounts for the close association of Mississippi people on Rhodes and in this community.

Just can’t keep well here; knows that they will contract pneumonia when winter comes. 120 Persons from their home have died since coming here. Thinks expenses outrageous. Too many people.

They are from Meridian, Mississippi. Mr. Cole came to Chicago in May. Family came in August. At home he earned 1.00 per day. Here he now makes $3.75 a day, at Marks Mfg. Co., Indiana Harbor.


Kept reading the Defender and finally subscribed to it. Labor agents were arrested in his home town and heavily fined. He slipped away to Hattiesburg, 85 miles, and left there for Chicago. 28 in party.


Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, 3550 Rhodes

Been in Chicago one year. Came from the hills in Southern Mississippi. He was a railroad man, a fireman, for 15 years at a salary of $125.00 per month, and knew that he could not better that by coming North. His railroad life gave him a chance to make some comparisons. Owned 100 acres of land and a house. Had been to points in North on passes issued by road. When he had over seen a difference he could never feel completed satisfied, but when he balanced the comforts of having a home and wages that could not be beat with the uncertain labor conditions of the North, he decided he would wait his chance. His discontentment had been growing on him for 15 years.


These facts forced a decision: A few years ago a Negro killed a policeman 3 miles from his home. Mob killed the Negro and destroyed 5,000 worth of Negro property around him. He began to feel the insecurity of living there. Three months before he left a white man called at the home of the Mulatto bride of a railroad man, while on a run, his friend and attempted to force an entrance with the avowed intention of “having a good time.” He began to feel anxious about leaving his own wife at home. While waiting in Mobile on a run a Negro came up to him crying and begging a ride away from that town in the direction of the North. The incident was occasioned by a white transfer mans forcing this Negro transfer man to move his stand across the railroad tracks beyond reach of station, and taking that position himself. The utter helpness of man in being forced away from means of living had effect. A friend of his had gone North and sent back 1/2 rate ticket to his wife. Station agent refused to accept it. It occurred to him that he had been working for 15 years and company was not granting him his seniority right to what he was entitled. He would have argued for them before but then the North was not so inviting in the matter of wages, to encourage him to take a chance. He contended for seniority rights and was discharged without an investigation. He carried the matter up to the Supt. In Chicago and was offered a chance at reinstatement and refused. Knowing the consequences he moved North.

Believes the hand of God is working in this movement. Familiar with biblical story of children of Grail—Wilderness and finds comparisons in the two exoduses. He makes one exception. The migrants haven’t any Moses but God. It is not safe to be a Moses in his part of the state.



(Mr. & Mrs. Martin)

Husband came up in March to look over the field. Wrote back to sell everything and join him. Stated that wages were high and that for the first time in his life he had felt like a man. She showed her letter to her closet friends and became the captain of a club of 10. Owns a home in Hattesburg. Sold her chickens, a cow and that part of her furniture for which she could get any money. Lost money in her haste. Thinks they said that wages were about $2.10 a day. Know that her husband was making almost that amount at home but did not at the time think about the difference.

A newspaper, the name of which she did not recall, had been “stirring things up,” for a good while. Her pastor talked against the movement but she paid him no heed whatever.


Man, wife and child from Laurel, Mississippi

Came in March, Mother and child in June. Husband a car repairer at home at $1.50 per day. She sold vegetables. They own property and have bank account. Did not come here for more money. Just wanted to come after the people had stirred her up so. First heard of the movement when her husbands brothers wife brought in a letter that had been sent over from Georgia. The letter had been received from the North and was being passed around. Letter said, “For all of us to let go.” The Sisters Home Mission Meeting, the B.Y.P.U. advertised it[10]. Letters were read before these bodies. The Defender stirred them up. They subscribed. A letter from Augusta said that 900 had left in one night. Just couldn’t stand it. “You want the children to feel free in every particular. Lots of things we had to undergo. ”We can get better schooling. I have it in mind that I will like this place when I get better acquainted. The bad houses and alleys at home. You got no freedom to express yourself when you want to." I’m writing a letter now trying to get a family to come.



This work by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0, except where otherwise indicated.



[1] The National Urban League still exists. The Columbus chapter of the National Urban League is right around the corner from campus at 788 Mt. Vernon Street.

[2] Charles S. Johnson, “Chicago Study, Migration Interviews,” [1917], Box 86, Series 6, Records of the National Urban League records, Library of Congress. Believed to be in the public domain.

[3] Address of Horton’s barbershop, named after his hometown in Mississippi.

[4] Straight University was an HBCU in New Orleans from 1868 until it closed in 1934.

[5] In 1864, a group of African American women living in Dallas, Texas established a mutual-aid society called The Grand Court Order of Calanthe (Calanthe is a type of orchid). They provided small loans, and property and life insurance to African Americans who were barred from other financial institutions. The Grand Court still exists in some southern states, mostly focused on community aid programs.

[6] Illinois Central Railroad.

[7] East St. Louis, Illinois (a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri) was a center of industrial production during World War I and a major destination for African Americans looking for industrial work outside of the South. In 1917, white union workers at the Aluminum Ore factory voted to strike for higher wages. Management brought in hundreds of African Americans to cross the picket line, resulting in violent conflict between white strikers and black strikebreakers. In response, mobs of angry white men set fires in black neighborhoods and shot African Americans as they tried to escape the fire. For over a week in July, mobs of armed white men roamed the city killing black men, destroying back businesses and homes, and sexually assaulting black women. The police and National Guard were at best indifferent to the white mobs, and in many cases, aided white rioters. African Americans could not leave the city without meeting a white mob. Newspaper reporters who witnessed the riots reported on one particularly horrific night when white men stationed themselves throughout downtown East St. Louis and shot any black person walking in the area. The current estimate is close to 250 African Americans were killed during the riots. When the riots finally subsided, the state of Illinois charged 12 white and 25 black men with inciting the riot. In the end, nine white men and 12 black men went to jail, and the Special Report on the riots concluded that the riots were caused primarily by black men taking jobs away from white men. In other words, the Report blamed black southerners for inciting white men to violence. The East St. Louis riot remains one of the worst race riots in US history. Ida B. Wells visited East St. Louis after the riots and subsequently wrote a series of scathing articles about what really happened during the riots.

[8] The boll weevil is a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and flowers. Between the 1892 and 1932, dozens of boll weevil infestations spread throughout the South, destroying the entire cotton harvest for the season. Not just individual cotton harvests, but all of the cotton planted in the Mississippi Delta, for example. Not only did the boll weevil outbreaks leave individual cotton growers without any annual income, it also lowered property values and made sharecroppers and tenant farmers more dependent on white landowners. Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and immediately implemented new programs to offset the suffering caused by the Great Depression. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1932 provided states with new pesticides and techniques to curb the boll weevil population, although many southern states refused federal funding, claiming it was too much federal interference. In truth, southern democrats resisted any program that provided aid, employment, or relief to African Americans, even at their own peril. After World War II, the Department of Agriculture developed a a program to eradicate the boll weevil, although southern democrats continued to resist federal assistance that benefitted African Americans.

[9] The Union Stockyards was next to the processing plant where Jurgis and Ona worked in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. This interview was about a decade after Sinclair published his expose.

[10] B.Y.P.U. = Baptist Young People’s Union.

Image: Portrait of Dr. Charles Johnson, sociologist at Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee from Library of Congress. In the public domain.

Twenty Years at Hull-House

Twenty Years at Hull-House

Jane Addams


Jane Addams, born in 1860 (the year before the Civil War began), grew up in an affluent middle-class family outside of Chicago. She graduated from Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford University) in 1881 and moved to Philadelphia to attend the Women’s Medical College at the University of Pennsylvania. When her own health issues prevented her from finishing her medical degree, Addams turned her attention to social activism. In 1889, Addams and her friend Ellen Gates Starr visited one of the first settlement houses, Toynbee Hall, located in London’s Eastend, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.


Before the Progressive Era, churches were the only place poor, destitute people could turn to for relief. Settlement Houses marked a new type of poor relief, offering housing, food, education, healthcare, and other services for the poorer classes. In 1889, Addams and Starr opened their own settlement house in an abandoned mansion built by industrialist Charles Hull in 1856. By the 1880s, the once affluent Westside neighborhood was filled with immigrants and industrial workers from the stockyards and meatpacking plants. Jurgis and Ona (from Sinclair’s The Jungle)  lived on the Westside, not far from Hull House. By the 1890s, Hull House encompassed 13 buildings and offered comprehensive services to residents and new arrivals on the Westside. Hull House operated one of the first kindergartens in the country and one of the first to build a playground for the neighborhood children. They offered free daycare, a 24-hour soup kitchen, laundry facilities, and free classes in English, cooking, music, art, and crafts (textiles, pottery, etc). Ellen Gates Starr opened one of the first prenatal clinics in the country and tirelessly advocated for more comprehensive – and affordable – health care for everyone, but most especially women and children. Addams and Starr also fought to criminalize domestic violence at a time when most people believed men had the right to do as they pleased in their own homes.


Addams, Starr, and other staff lived at Hull House and embedded themselves in the community, which quickly became known as the “Hull House neighborhood.” Appalled by the unsanitary and dangerous living conditions in the neighborhood, Addams ran for City Council and lobbied politicians for improved infrastructure and social services in blighted neighborhoods like the Westside. Young reformers from all over the world flocked to Hull House to receive training and inspiration. Addams and her associates were also heavily involved in campaigns for the prohibition of child labor, sanitation, and workers' rights. The following excerpt comes from Addams’ autobiography, “Twenty Years at Hull House,” published in 1910[1].



It is easy for even the most conscientious citizen of Chicago to forget the foul smells of the stockyards and the garbage dumps, when he is living so far from them that he is only occasionally made conscious of their existence, but the residents of a Settlement are perforce constantly surrounded by them. During our first three years on Halsted Street, we had established a small incinerator at Hull-House and we had many times reported the untoward conditions of the ward to the city hall. We had also arranged many talks for the immigrants, pointing out that although a woman may sweep her own doorway in her native village and allow the refuse to innocently decay in the open air and sunshine, in a crowded city quarter, if the garbage is not properly collected and destroyed, a tenement house mother may see her children sicken and die, and that the immigrants must therefore not only keep their own houses clean, but must also help the authorities to keep the city clean. Possibly our efforts slightly modified the worst conditions, but they still remained intolerable, and the fourth summer the situation became for me absolutely desperate when I realized in a moment of panic that my delicate little nephew for whom I was guardian, could not be with me at Hull-House at all unless the sickening odors were reduced. I may well be ashamed that other delicate children who were torn from their families, not into boarding school but into eternity, had not long before driven me to effective action. Under the direction of the first man who came as a resident to Hull-House[2] we began a systematic investigation of the city system of garbage collection, both as to its efficiency in other wards and its possible connection with the death rate in the various wards of the city…


During August and September, the substantiated reports of violations of the law sent in from Hull-House to the health department, were one thousand and thirty-seven…


Still the death rate remained high and the condition seemed little improved throughout the next winter. In sheer desperation, the following spring when the city contracts were awarded for the removal of garbage, with the backing of two well-known business men, I put in a bid for the garbage removal of the nineteenth ward. My paper was thrown out on a technicality but the incident induced the mayor to appoint me the garbage inspector of the ward. The salary was a thousand dollars a year, and the loss of that political "plum" made a great stir among the politicians. The position was no sinecure[3] whether regarded from the point of view of getting up at six in the morning to see that the men were early at work; or of following the loaded wagons, uneasily dropping their contents at intervals, to their dreary destination at the dump…


With the two or three residents who nobly stood by, we set up six of those doleful incinerators which are supposed to bum garbage with the fuel collected in the alley itself. The one factory in town which could utilize old tin cans was a window weight factory, and we deluged that with ten times as many tin cans as it could use-much less would pay for. We made desperate attempts to have the dead animals removed by the contractor who was paid most liberally by the city for that purpose but who, we slowly discovered, always made the police ambulances do the work…


Nevertheless many evils constantly arise in Chicago from congested housing which wiser cities forestall and prevent; the inevitable boarders crowded into a dark tenement already too small for the use of the immigrant family occupying it; the surprisingly large number of delinquent girls who have become criminally involved with their own fathers and uncles; the school children who cannot find a quiet spot in which to read or study and who perforce go into the streets each evening; the tuberculosis superinduced and fostered by the inadequate rooms and breathing spaces…


It is these subtle evils of wretched and inadequate housing which are often the most disastrous. In the summer of 1902 during an epidemic of typhoid fever in which our ward, although containing but one thirty-sixth of the population of the city, registered one sixth of the total number of deaths, two of the Hull-House residents made an investigation of the methods of plumbing in the houses adjacent to conspicuous groups of fever cases…


The careful information collected concerning the juxtaposition of the typhoid cases to the various systems of plumbing and non-plumbing was made the basis of a bacteriological study by another resident, Dr. Alice Hamilton[4], as to the possibility of the infection having been carried by flies. Her researches were so convincing that they have been incorporated into the body of Scientific data supporting that theory, but there were also practical results from the investigation. It was discovered that the wretched sanitary appliances through which alone the infection could have become so widely spread, would not have been permitted to remain, unless the city inspector had either been criminally careless or open to the arguments of favored landlords. The agitation finally resulted in a long and stirring trial before the civil service board of half of the employees in the Sanitary Bureau, with the final discharge of eleven out of the entire force of twenty-four…


We were amazed at the commercial ramifications which graft in the city hall involved and at the indignation which interference with it produced. Hull-House lost some large subscriptions as the result of this investigation, a loss which, if not easy to bear, was at least comprehensible. We also uncovered unexpected graft in connection with the plumbers' anions, and but for the fearless testimony of one of their members, could never have brought the trial to a successful issue. Inevitable misunderstanding also developed in connection with the attempt on the part of Hull-House residents to prohibit the sale of cocaine to minors, which brought us into sharp conflict with many druggists…


For many years we have administered a branch station of the federal post office at Hull-House, which we applied for in the first instance because our neighbors lost such a large percentage of the money they sent to Europe, through the commissions to middle men…We find increasingly, however, that the best results are to be obtained in investigations as in other undertakings, by combining our researches with those of other public bodies or with the State itself…


The investigations of Hull-House thus tend to be merged with those of larger organizations, from the investigation of the social value of saloons made for the Committee of Fifty in 1896, to the one on infant mortality in relation to nationality, made for the American Academy of Science in 1909…


I have always objected to the phrase "sociological laboratory" applied to us, because Settlements should be something much more human and spontaneous than such a phrase connotes, and yet it is inevitable that the residents should know their own neighborhoods more thoroughly than any other, and that their experiences there should affect their convictions.


[1] Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House, 1910.

[2] The first male resident at Hull House, Edward Burchard, was not an immigrant, but the son of a Congressman from Illinois. Burchard moved to Hull House in 1891 after hearing a public lecture by Jane Addams. He worked with Addams on a number of civic improvement projects, and later served as the executive secretary of the Chicago Recreation Commission.

[3] Job that requires little or no work.

[4] Dr. Alice Hamilton was the first woman appointed to the faculty at Harvard University, although unlike the male faculty, she was never granted tenure, promoted, allowed to walk with the male professors during Commencement, allowed in the Faculty Lounge, or given season tickets to the football games. After graduating from the University of Michigan School of Medicine, Hamilton moved to Hull House to work with Addams and Starr. Hamilton spent her career researching the impact of toxic substances in public and work spaces, making her one of the first medical professionals to talk about “public health.”

Conditions at the Slaughterhouse

Conditions at the Slaughterhouse

Upton Sinclair


During the 1860s, a group of railroad men bought a massive tract of marshland on the Southside of Chicago and built the Union Stockyards, a slaughterhouse for cattle and other livestock. The stockyards were almost 400 acres and employed 40,000 people. Philip Armour owned a small meat processing plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when the Union stockyards opened. He immediately opened a meatpacking plant next to the stockyards. Amour and Company quickly became the largest meatpacking plant in the world, and employed close to 30,000 people. Armour was the first company to produce canned meats, the first to use refrigerated train cars[1], and one of the first to adopt the assembly line for production. Neither the stockyards or meatpacking plant were subject to industry standards or regulations of any significance. The conditions were horrific for workers and animals. The quality of the meat was equally appalling.


In July 1904, 18,000 members of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union at Amour went on strike for higher wages. The company brought in unemployed African Americans to cross the picket lines and keep production moving. More than 4,000 union members rioted, assaulted the strikebreakers and destroyed property. The strike failed, and the company threatened to ban the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union until Jane Addams – who you will read shortly– met with J. Ogden Amour (son of Philip). Addams convinced Amour, Jr. to offer the union a “desultory contract,” which basically means everything in the contract is subject to change. While the terms of the contract were disappointing, Addams’ intervention saved the Union.


The same year as the meatpackers strike, writer and journalist Upton Sinclair received a five-hundred-dollar advance from “The Appeal to Reason,” the nation’s leading socialist newspaper, to write an expose about the miserable working conditions in meatpacking industry. Sinclair decided to go undercover at Armour and expose the poverty and exploitation of the workers. In 1906, he published “The Jungle,” an account of the five weeks he spent in at Amour. Sinclair worked at the meatpacking plant and spent time at home with the immigrant workers. The main characters in the book – Jurgis, Ona, and Elzbieta – are composites characters based on the workers Sinclair met while undercover.


Sinclair hoped the book would show middle-class Americans the suffering of the laboring classes and increase support for the labor movement. Middle-class Americans were not moved by the plight of immigrant workers. They were, however, concerned about the sanitary conditions of the meat-packing houses. Sinclair himself said that he had taken aim at America's heart and hit instead its stomach.

Initially, President Theodore Roosevelt dismissed Sinclair as a “socialist crackpot”- until he read the book.  Roosevelt sent a copy to every member of Congress, who immediately passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Acts of 1906[2].


The excerpt contains a graphic description of the mutilation of animals in early packing houses – it is violent and inhumane, and difficult to read.



Entering one of the Durham buildings, they found a number of other visitors waiting; and before long there came a guide, to escort them through the place. They make a great feature of showing strangers through the packing plants, for it is a good advertisement. But Ponas' Jokubas[3] whispered maliciously that the visitors did not see any more than the packers wanted them to. They climbed a long series of stairways outside of the building, to the top of its five or six stories. Here was the chute, with its river of hogs, all patiently toiling upward; there was a place for them to rest to cool off, and then through another passageway they went into a room from which there is no returning for hogs. It was a long, narrow room, with a gallery along it for visitors. At the head there was a great iron wheel, about twenty feet in circumference, with rings here and there along its edge. Upon both sides of this wheel there was a narrow space, into which came the hogs at the end of their journey; in the midst of them stood a great burly Negro, bare-armed and bare-chested. He was resting for the moment, for the wheel had stopped while men were cleaning up. In a minute or two, however, it began slowly to revolve, and then the men upon each side of it sprang to work.


They had chains which they fastened about the leg of the nearest hog, and the other end of the chain they hooked into one of the rings upon the wheel...neither squeals of hogs nor tears of visitors made any difference to the workers; one by one they hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. There was a long line of hogs, with squeals and lifeblood ebbing away together; until at last each started again, and vanished with a splash into a huge vat of boiling water. It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork- making by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs…


One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity and trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway.


…Looking down this room, one saw, creeping slowly, a line of dangling hogs a hundred yards in length; and for every yard there was a man, working as if a demon were after him. At the end of this hog's progress every inch of the carcass had been gone over several times; and then it was rolled into the chilling room, where it stayed for twenty-four hours, and where a stranger might lose himself in a forest of freezing hogs. Before the carcass was admitted here, however, it had to pass a government inspector, who sat in the doorway and felt of the glands in the neck for tuberculosis. This government inspector did not have the manner of a man who was worked to death; he was apparently not haunted by a fear that the hog might get by him before he had finished his testing. If you were a sociable person, he was quite willing to enter into conversation with you, and to explain to you the deadly nature of the ptomaines[4] which are found in tubercular pork; and while he was talking with you, you could hardly be so ungrateful as to notice that a dozen carcasses were passing him untouched. This inspector wore a blue uniform, with brass buttons, and he gave an atmosphere of authority to the scene, and, as it were, put the stamp of official approval upon the things which were done in Durham's.


Jurgis went down the line with the rest of the visitors, staring open-mouthed, lost in wonder. He had dressed hogs himself in the forest of Lithuania; but he had never expected to live to see one hog dressed by several hundred men. It was like a wonderful poem to him, and he took it all in guilelessly- even to the conspicuous signs demanding immaculate cleanliness of the employees. Jurgis was vexed when the cynical Jokubas translated these signs with sarcastic comments, offering to take them to the secret rooms where the spoiled meats went to be doctored. The party descended to the next floor, where the various waste materials were treated. Here came the entrails, to be scraped and washed clean for sausage casings; men and women worked here in the midst of a sickening stench, which caused the visitors to hasten by, gasping.


The visitors were taken there and shown them, all neatly hung in rows, labeled conspicuously with the tags of the government inspectors - and some, which had been killed by a special process, marked with the sign of the kosher rabbi, certifying that it was fit for sale to the orthodox. And then the visitors were taken to the other parts of the building, to see what became of each particle of the waste material that had vanished through the floor; and to the pickling rooms, and the salting rooms, the canning rooms, and the packing rooms, where choice meat was prepared for shipping in refrigerator cars, destined to be eaten in all the four corners of civilization. Afterward they went out-side, wandering about among the mazes of buildings in which was done the work auxiliary to this great industry.


…It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the department of Elzbieta[5]. Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor that ever was in a ham could make any difference. There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white-it would be dosed with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it.


It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one-there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there.


Such were the new surroundings in which Elzbieta was placed, and such was the work she was compelled to do. It was stupefying, brutalizing work; it left her no time to think, no strength for anything. She was part of the machine she tended, and every faculty that was not needed for the machine was doomed to be crushed out of existence. There was only one mercy about the cruel grind-that it gave her the gift of insensibility. Little by little she sank into a torpor-she fell silent.


She would meet Jurgis and Ona in the evening, and the three would walk home together, often without saying a word. Ona, too, was falling into a habit of silence. Ona, who had once gone about singing like a bird. She was sick and miserable, and often she would barely have strength enough to drag herself home. And there they would eat what they had to eat, and afterward, because there was only their misery to talk of, they would crawl into bed and fall into a stupor and never stir until it was time to get up again, and dress by candlelight, and go back to the machines. They were so numbed that they did not even suffer much from hunger, now; only the children continued to fret when the food ran short. Yet the soul of Ona was not dead - the souls of none of them were dead, but only sleeping; and now and then they would waken, and these were cruel times.


The gates of memory would roll open - old joys would stretch out their arms to them, old hopes and dreams would call to them, and they would stir beneath the burden that lay upon them, and feel its forever immeasurable weight. They could not even cry out beneath it; but anguish would seize them, more dreadful than the agony of death. It was a thing scarcely to be spoken-a thing never spoken by all the world, that will not know its own defeat. They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside. It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because it had to do with wages and grocery bills and rents. They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about, them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all gone-it would never be! They had played the game and they had lost. Six years more of toil they had to face before they could expect the least respite, the cessation of the payments upon the house; and how cruelly certain it was that they could never stand six years of such a life as they were living!


They were lost, they were going down - and there was no deliverance for them, no hope; for all the help it gave them the vast city in which they lived might have been an ocean waste, a wilderness, a desert, a tomb. So often this mood would come to Ona, in the nighttime, when something wakened her; she would lie, afraid of the beating of her own heart, fronting the blood-red eyes of the old primeval terror of life. Once she cried aloud, and woke Jurgis, who was tired and cross. After that she learned to weep silently-their moods so seldom came together now! It was as if their hopes were buried in separate graves. Jurgis, being a man, had troubles of his own. There was another specter following him. He had never spoken of it, nor would he allow anyone else to speak of it - he had never acknowledged its existence to himself. Yet the battle with it took all the manhood that he had-and once or twice, alas, a little more. Jurgis had discovered drink.


He was working in the steaming pit of hell; day after day, week after week-until now there was not an organ of his body that did its work without pain, until the sound of ocean breakers echoed in his head day and night, and the buildings swayed and danced before him as he went down the street. And from all the unending horror of this there was a respite, a deliverance-he could drink! He could forget the pain, he could slip off the burden; he would see clearly again, he would be master of his brain, of his thoughts, of his will. His dead self would stir in him, and he would find himself laughing and cracking jokes with his companions-he would be a man again, and master of his life.


[1] Philip Amour created the refrigerated train car in 1883. Armour owned the entire fleet of refrigerated cars, so much like George Rice and John Rockefeller, anyone who needed to use refrigerated had to deal with Amour.

[2] Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906.

[3] Ponas means Mister in Lithuanian. Ponas Jukubas is a neighbor and fellow immigrant who helped Jurgis and Ona get jobs at the packing plant when they arrived in Chicago.

[4] Ptomaines are bacteria that cause food poisoning.

[5] Elzbieta was Ona’s step-mother. She immigrated from Lithuania with Ona and her (then) fiancé Jurgis, bringing Ona’s six half-siblings with her. They all lived together, along with Jurgis’ father, in a two-room tenement apartment (a “kitchenette,” as they were known in Chicago) on the West-and-Southside of Chicago.

The Passing of the Great Race


The Passing of the Great Race

Madison Grant[1]


Published in 1916, The Passing of the Great Race embodied the principles of Eugenics and Nativism. The author, Madison Grant - prominent lawyer, well-known big-game hunter, and public eugenicist – was born in New York City in 1865, the year the Civil War ended. Like many white Americans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Grant believed the New Immigrants of the era were of “inferior stock,” and posed a threat to American civilization. The Passing of the Great Race went through several editions and sold well through the 1920s. By 1937, the book is said to have sold 17,000 copies in the U.S. The book received positive reviews in the 1920s, but Grant's popularity declined in the 1930s. Among those who embraced the book and its message was Adolph Hitler, who wrote to Grant to personally thank him for writing it, referring to the book as "my Bible."



Democratic theories of government in their modern form are based on dogmas of equality formulated some hundred and fifty years ago, and rest upon the assumption that environment and not heredity is the controlling factor in human development. Philanthropy and noble purpose dictated the doctrine expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the document which to-day constitutes the actual basis of American institutions. The men who wrote the words, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," were themselves the owners of slaves, and despised Indians as something less than human. Equality in their minds meant merely that they were just as good Englishmen as their brothers across the sea. The words "that all men are created equal" have since been subtly falsified by adding the word "free," although no such expression is found in the original document, and the teachings based on these altered words in the American public schools of to-day would startle and amaze the men who formulated the Declaration.


…It will be necessary for the reader to strip his mind of all preconceptions as to race, since modern anthropology, when applied to history, involves an entire change of definition. We must, first of all, realize that race pure and simple, the physical and psychical structure of man, is something entirely distinct from either nationality or language, and that race lies to-day at the base of all the phenomena of modern society, just as it has done throughout the unrecorded eons of the past...


In many countries the existing classes represent races that were once distinct. In the city of New York, and elsewhere in the United States, there is a native American aristocracy resting upon layer after layer of immigrants of lower races, and the native American, while, of course, disclaiming the distinction of a patrician class, nevertheless has, up to this time, supplied the leaders of thought and the control of capital, of education, and of the religious ideals and altruistic bias of the community.


…In America we have nearly succeeded in destroying the privilege of birth; that is, the intellectual and moral advantage a man of good stock brings into the world with him. We are now engaged in destroying the privilege of wealth; that is, the reward of successful intelligence and industry, and in some quarters there is developing a tendency to attack the privilege of intellect and to deprive a man of the advantages of an early and thorough education…Mankind emerged from savagery and barbarism under the leadership of selected individuals whose personal prowess, capacity, or wisdom gave them the right to lead and the power to compel obedience. Such leaders have always been a minute fraction of the whole, but as long as the tradition of their predominance persisted they were able to use the brute strength of the unthinking herd as part of their own force, and were able to direct at will the blind dynamic impulse of the slaves, peasants, or lower classes.


True aristocracy is government by the wisest and best, always a small minority in any population. Human society is like a serpent dragging its long body on the ground, but with the head always thrust a little in advance and a little elevated above the earth. The serpent's tail, in human society represented by the antisocial forces, was in the past dragged by sheer force along the path of progress. Such has been the organization of mankind from the beginning, and such it still is in older communities than ours. What progress humanity can make under the control of universal suffrage, or the rule of the average, may find a further analogy in the habits of certain snakes which wiggle sideways and disregard the head with its brains and eyes. Such serpents, however, are not noted for their ability to make rapid progress.


…Vox populi, so far from being Vox Dei[2], thus becomes an unending wail for rights, and never a chant of duty. Where a conquering race is imposed on another race the institution of slavery often arises to compel the servient race to work, and to introduce it forcibly to a higher form of civilization. As soon as men can be induced to labor to supply their own needs slavery becomes wasteful and tends to vanish. Slaves are often more fortunate than freemen when treated with reasonable humanity, and when their elemental wants of food, clothing, and shelter are supplied….


…What the Melting Pot actually does in practice, can be seen in Mexico, where the absorption of the blood of the original Spanish conquerors by the native Indian population has produced the racial mixture which we call Mexican, and which is now engaged in demonstrating its incapacity for self-government.[3] The world has seen many such mixtures of races, and the character of a mongrel race is only just beginning to be understood at its true value. It must be borne in mind that the specializations which characterize the higher races are of relatively recent development, are highly unstable and when mixed with generalized or primitive characters, tend to disappear.


Whether we like to admit it or not, the result of the mixture of two races, in the long run, gives us a race reverting to the more ancient, generalized and lower type. The cross between a white man and an Indian is an Indian; the cross between a white man and a negro is a negro; the cross between a white man and a Hindu is a Hindu; and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew. In the crossing of the blond and brunet elements of a population, the more deeply rooted and ancient dark traits are prepotent or dominant. This is matter of everyday observation, and the working of this law of nature is not influenced or affected by democratic institutions or by religious beliefs…


The lowering of the birth rate among the most valuable classes, while the birth rate of the lower classes remains unaffected, is a frequent phenomenon of prosperity. Such a change becomes extremely injurious to the race if unchecked, unless nature is allowed to maintain by her own cruel devices the relative numbers of the different classes in their due proportions. To attack race suicide by encouraging indiscriminate breeding is not only futile, but is dangerous if it leads to an increase in the undesirable elements. What is needed in the community most of all, is an increase in the desirable classes, which are of superior type physically, intellectually, and morally, and not merely an increase in the absolute numbers of the population. The value and efficiency of a population are not numbered by what the newspapers call souls, but by the proportion of men of physical and intellectual vigor. The small Colonial population of America was, man for man, far superior to the average of the present inhabitants, although the latter are twenty-five times more numerous.


The ideal in eugenics toward which statesmanship should be directed, is, of course, improvement in quality rather than quantity. This, however, is at present a counsel of perfection, and we must face conditions as they are. The small birth rate in the upper classes is, to some extent, offset by the care received by such children as are born, and the better chance they have to become adult and breed in their turn. The large birth rate of the lower classes is, under normal conditions, offset by a heavy infant mortality, which eliminates the weaker children. Where altruism, philanthropy, or sentimentalism intervene with the noblest purpose, and forbid nature to penalize the unfortunate victims of reckless breeding, the multiplication of inferior types is encouraged and fostered.


Efforts to indiscriminately preserve babies among the lower classes often result in serious injury to the race. Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life, tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race…


A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit-in other words, social failures-would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated, and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever increasing load of victims of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.


Efforts to increase the birth rate of the genius producing classes of the community, while most desirable, encounter great difficulties. In such efforts we encounter social conditions over which we have as yet no control…Under existing conditions the most practical and hopeful method of race improvement is through the elimination of the least desirable elements in the nation by depriving them of the power to contribute to future generations…In mankind it would not be a matter of great difficulty to secure a general consensus of public opinion as to the least desirable, let us say, ten per cent of the community. When this unemployed and unemployable human residuum has been eliminated, together with the great mass of crime, poverty, alcoholism, and feeblemindedness associated therewith, it would be easy to consider the advisability of further restricting the perpetuation of the then remaining least valuable types. By this method mankind might ultimately become sufficiently intelligent to deliberately choose the most vital and intellectual strains to carry on the race…


The prosperity that followed the (Civil) war attracted hordes of newcomers who were welcomed by the native Americans[4] to operate factories, build railroads, and fill up the waste spaces - "developing the country" it was called. These new immigrants were no longer exclusively members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones who came of their own impulse to improve their social conditions. The transportation lines advertised America as a land flowing with milk and honey, and the European governments took the opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy, and hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and asylums.


The result was that the new immigration, while it still included many strong elements from the north of Europe, contained a large and increasing number of the weak, the broken, and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, submerged populations of the Polish Ghettos.


With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to reverse or obliterate immemorial hereditary tendencies, these newcomers were welcomed and given a share in our land and prosperity. The American taxed himself to sanitate and educate these poor helots, and as soon as they could speak English, encouraged them to enter into the political life, first of municipalities, and then of the nation. The result is showing plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of native Americans because the poorer classes of Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring children into the world to compete in the labor market with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian, and the Jew.


The native American is too proud to mix socially with them, and is gradually withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed. The man of the old stock is being crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners, just as he is to-day being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American; they wear his clothes; they steal his name; and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals, and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race. As to what the future mixture will be it is evident that in large sections of the country the native American will entirely disappear.


[2] “Vox populi, vox Dei” is a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”

[3] Grant is referencing the ongoing revolution in Mexico (1910-1920).

[4] Grant means native-born white, Protestant Americans.

The Free Vacation House

The Free Vacation House

Anzia Yezierska


Anzia Yezierska was born in Poland (then part of Russia) to an orthodox Jewish family who immigrated to New York City’s Lower East Side in 1885. Yezierska’s father, a scholar of the Torah and other sacred Jewish texts, was never gainfully employed (he was a scholar). As a result, Yezierska toiled away in sweatshops and industrial laundries instead of pursuing her dream of a college education. Her parents believed it was the role of women to support the pursuits of the men in the family (like her father). At the same time, her parents expected Yezierska to marry and have children. She married twice and had one daughter, although neither marriage (or parenthood for that matter) lasted long.


Yezierska wanted to write. She taught herself English, and started publishing stories about the poor immigrants living on the Lower East Side, especially the plight of women, in 1915. In her first story, “The Free Vacation House,” Yezierska painted the middle-class reformers working on the Lower East Side as meddling busybodies who disregarded the rights and dignity of the women they wanted to help. The story drew inspiration from her sister Harriet’s humiliating experiences with a local charitable organization.


Yezierska published a collection of her essays, Hungry Hearts, including “The Free Vacation House” in 1920. Her best-known book, The Bread Givers, was published in 1925, the same as the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, often touted as the “Great American Novel.” (It is not). The Bread Givers offered a very different interpretation of New York’s bourgeois white society than Gatsby. Much like Ella Deloria’s scholarship about the Sioux, Yezierska’s work would not garner the attention of serious scholars until after her death in 1970 (the year before Deloria) when (primarily women) academics started using her work to study Progressive Era reforms from a different perspective than people like Jane Addams[1].




How came it that I went to the free vacation house was like this: day the visiting teacher from the school comes to find out for why don’t I get the children ready for school in time; for why are they so often late. I let out on her my whole bitter heart. I told her my head was on wheels from worrying. When I get up in the morning, I don’t know on what to turn first: should I nurse the baby, or make Sam’s breakfast, or attend on the older children. I only got two hands.


“My dear woman,” she says, “you are about to have a nervous breakdown. You need to get away to the country for a rest and vacation.”


“Gott im Himmel!”[2] says I. “Don’t I know I need a rest? But how? On what money can I go to the country?”


“I know of a nice country place for mothers and children that will not cost you anything. It is free.”

“Free! I never heard from it.”


“Some kind people have made arrangements so no one need pay,” she explains.


Later, in a few days, I just finished up with Masha and Mendel and Frieda and Sonya to send them to school, and I was getting Aby ready for kindergarten, when I hear a knock on the door, and a lady comes in. She had a white starched dress like a nurse and carried a black satchel in her hand.


 “I am from the Social Betterment Society,” she tells me. “You want to go to the country?”

Before I could say something, she goes over to the baby and pulls out the rubber nipple from her mouth, and to me, she says, “You must not get the child used to sucking this; it is very unsanitary.”


“Gott im Himmel!” I beg the lady. “Please don’t begin with that child, or she’ll holler my head off. She must have the nipple. I’m too nervous to hear her scream like that.”


When I put the nipple back again in the baby’s mouth, the lady takes herself a seat, and then takes out a big black book from her satchel. Then she begins to question me. What is my first name? How old I am? From where come I? How long I’m already in this country? Do I keep any boarders? What is my husband’s first name? How old is he? How long he is in this country? By what trade he works? How much wages he gets for a week? How much money do I spend out for rent? How old are the children, and everything about them.


“My goodness!” I cry out. “For why is it necessary all this to know? For why must I tell you all my business? What difference does it make already if I keep boarders, or I don’t keep boarders? If Masha had the whooping-cough or Sonya had the measles? Or whether I spend out for my rent ten dollars or twenty? Or whether I come from Schnipishock or Kovner Gubernie?”[3]


“We must make a record of all the applicants, and investigate each case,” she tells me. “There are so many who apply to the charities, we can help only those who are most worthy.”


“Charities!” I scream out. “Ain’t the charities those who help the beggars out? I ain’t no beggar. I’m not asking for no charity. My husband, he works.”


“Miss Holcomb, the visiting teacher, said that you wanted to go to the country, and I had to make out this report before investigating your case.”


“Oh! Oh!” I choke and bit my lips. “Is the free country from which Miss Holcomb told me, is it from the charities? She was telling me some kind people made arrangements for any mother what needs to go there.”


“If your application is approved, you will be notified,” she says to me, and out she goes.

When she is gone I think to myself, I’d better knock out from my head this idea about the country. For so long I lived, I didn’t know nothing about the charities. For why should I come down among the beggars now?


Then I looked around me in the kitchen. On one side was the big wash-tub with clothes, waiting for me to wash. On the table was a pile of breakfast dishes yet. In the sink was the potatoes, waiting to be peeled. The baby was beginning to cry for the bottle. Aby was hollering and pulling me to take him to kindergarten. I felt if I didn’t get away from here for a little while, I would land in a crazy house, or from the window jump down. Which was worser, to land in a crazy house, jump from the window down, or go to the country from the charities?


In about two weeks later around comes the same lady with the satchel again in my house.

“You can go to the country to-morrow,” she tells me. “And you must come to the charity building to-morrow at nine o’clock sharp. Here is a card with the address. Don’t lose it, because you must hand it to the lady in the office.”


I look on the card, and there I see my name wrote; and by it, in big printed letters, that word “CHARITY.”


“Must I go to the charity office?” I ask, feeling my heart to sink, “For why must I come there?”

“It is the rule that everybody comes to the office first, and from there they are taken to the country.”

I shivered to think how I would feel, suppose somebody from my friends should see me walking into the charity office with my children. They wouldn’t know that it is only for the country I go there. They might think I go to beg. Have I come down so low as to be seen by the charities? But what’s the use? Should I knock my head on the walls? I had to go.


When I come to the office, I already found a crowd of women and children sitting on long benches waiting. I took myself a seat with them, and we were sitting and sitting and looking on one another, sideways and crosswise, and with lowered eyes, like guilty criminals. Each one felt like hiding herself from all the rest. Each one felt black with shame in the face.


We may have been sitting and waiting for an hour or more. But every second was seeming years to me. The children began to get restless. Mendel wanted water. The baby on my arms was falling asleep. Aby was crying for something to eat.


“For why are we sittin' here like fat cats?” says the woman next to me. “Ain’t we going to the country to-day yet?”


At last a lady comes to the desk and begins calling us our names, one by one. I nearly dropped to the floor when over she begins to ask: Do you keep boarders? How much do you spend out for rent? How much wages does your man get for a week?


Didn’t the nurse tell them all about us already? It was bitter enough to have to tell the nurse everything, but in my own house nobody was hearing my troubles, only the nurse. But in the office, there was so many strangers all around me. For why should everybody have to know my business? At every question I wanted to holler out: “Stop! Stop! I don’t want no vacations! I’ll better run home with my children.” At every question I felt like she was stabbing a knife into my heart. And she kept on stabbing me more and more, but I could not help it, and they were all looking at me. I couldn’t move from her. I had to answer everything.


When she got through with me, my face was red like fire. I was burning with hurts and wounds. I felt like everything was bleeding in me.


When all the names was already called, a man doctor with a nurse comes in, and tells us to form a line, to be examined. I wish I could ease out my heart a little, and tell in words how that doctor looked on us, just because we were poor and had no money to pay. He only used the ends from his finger-tips to examine us with. From the way he was afraid to touch us or come near us, he made us feel like we had some catching sickness that he was trying not to get on him.


The doctor got finished with us in about five minutes, so quick he worked. Then we was told to walk after the nurse, who was leading the way for us through the street to the car. Everybody what passed us in the street turned around to look on us. I kept down my eyes and held down my head and I felt like sinking into the sidewalk. All the time I was trembling for fear somebody what knows me might yet pass and see me. For why did they make us walk through the street, after the nurse, like stupid cows? Weren’t all of us smart enough to find our way without the nurse? Why should the whole world have to see that we are from the charities?


When we got into the train, I opened my eyes, and lifted up my head, and straightened out my chest, and again began to breathe. It was a beautiful, sunshiny day. I knocked open the window from the train, and the fresh-smelling country air rushed upon my face and made me feel so fine! I looked out from the window and instead of seeing the iron fire-escapes with garbage-cans and bedclothes, that I always seen when from my flat I looked—instead of seeing only walls and washlines between walls, I saw the blue sky, and green grass and trees and flowers.


Ah, how grand I felt, just on the sky to look! Ah, how grand I felt just to see the green grass—and the free space—and no houses!


 “Get away from me, my troubles!” I said. “Leave me rest a minute. Leave me breathe and straighten out my bones. Forget the unpaid butcher’s bill. Forget the rent. Forget the wash-tub and the cook-stove and the pots and pans. Forget the charities!”


“Tickets, please,” calls the train conductor.


I felt knocked out from heaven all at once. I had to point to the nurse what held our tickets, and I was feeling the conductor looking on me as if to say, “Oh, you are only from the charities.”

By the time we came to the vacation house I already forgot all about my knock-down. I was again filled with the beauty of the country. I never in all my life yet seen such a swell house like that vacation house. Like the grandest palace it looked. All round the front, flowers from all colors was smelling out the sweetest perfume. Here and there was shady trees with comfortable chairs under them to sit down on.


When I only came inside, my mouth opened wide and my breathing stopped still from wonder. I never yet seen such an order and such a cleanliness. From all the corners from the room, the cleanliness was shining like a looking-glass. The floor was so white scrubbed you could eat on it. You couldn’t find a speck of dust on nothing, if you was looking for it with eyeglasses on.

I was beginning to feel happy and glad that I come, when, Gott im Himmel! again a lady begins to ask us out the same questions what the nurse already asked me in my home and what was asked over again in the charity office. How much wages my husband makes out for a week? How much money I spend out for rent? Do I keep boarders? We were hungry enough to faint. So worn out was I from excitement, and from the long ride, that my knees were bending under me ready to break from tiredness. The children were pulling me to pieces, nagging me for a drink, for something to eat and such like. But still we had to stand out the whole list of questionings. When she already got through asking us out everything, she gave to each of us a tag with our name written on it. She told us to tie the tag on our hand. Then like tagged horses at a horse sale in the street, they marched us into the dining-room.


There was rows of long tables, covered with pure-white oil-cloth. A vase with bought flowers was standing on the middle from each table. Each person got a clean napkin for himself. Laid out by the side from each person’s plate was a silver knife and fork and spoon and teaspoon. When we only sat ourselves down, girls with white starched aprons was passing around the eatings.


I soon forgot again all my troubles. For the first time in ten years I sat down to a meal what I did not have to cook or worry about. For the first time in ten years I sat down to the table like a somebody. Ah, how grand it feels, to have handed you over the eatings and everything you need. Just as I was beginning to like it and let myself feel good, in comes a fat lady all in white, with a teacher’s look on her face. I could tell already, right away by the way she looked on us, that she was the boss from this place.


“I want to read you the rules from this house, before you leave this room,” says she to us.


Then she began like this: We dassen’t stand on the front grass where the flowers are. We dassen’t stay on the front porch. We dassen’t sit on the chairs under the shady trees. We must stay always in the back and sit on those long wooden benches there. We dassen’t come in the front sitting-room or walk on the front steps what have carpet on it—we must walk on the back iron steps. Everything on the front from the house must be kept perfect for the show for visitors. We dassen’t lay down on the beds in the daytime, the beds must always be made up perfect for the show for visitors.


“Gott im Himmel!” thinks I to myself; “ain’t there going to be no end to the things we dassen’t do in this place?”


But still she went on. The children over two years dassen’t stay around by the mothers. They must stay by the nurse in the play-room. By the meal-times, they can see their mothers. The children dassen’t run around the house or tear up flowers or do anything. They dassen’t holler or play rough in the play-room. They must always behave and obey the nurse.


We must always listen to the bells. Bell one was for getting up. Bell two, for getting babies' bottles. Bell three, for coming to breakfast. Bell four, for bathing the babies. If we come later, after the ring from the bell, then we’ll not get what we need. If the bottle bell rings and we don’t come right away for the bottle, then the baby don’t get no bottle. If the breakfast bell rings, and we don’t come right away down to the breakfast, then there won’t be no breakfast for us.


When she got through with reading the rules, I was wondering which side of the house I was to walk on. At every step was some rule what said don’t move here, and don’t go there, don’t stand there, and don’t sit there. If I tried to remember the endless rules, it would only make me dizzy in the head. I was thinking for why, with so many rules, didn’t they also have already another rule, about how much air in our lungs to breathe.


On every few days there came to the house swell ladies in automobiles. It was for them that the front from the house had to be always perfect. For them was all the beautiful smelling flowers. For them the front porch, the front sitting-room, and the easy stairs with the carpet on it.


Always when the rich ladies came the fat lady, what was the boss from the vacation house, showed off to them the front. Then she took them over to the back to look on us, where we was sitting together, on long wooden benches, like prisoners. I was always feeling cheap like dirt, and mad that I had to be there, when they smiled down on us.


“How nice for these poor creatures to have a restful place like this,” I heard one lady say.

The next day I already felt like going back. The children what had to stay by the nurse in the play-room didn’t like it neither.


“Mamma,” says Mendel to me, “I wisht I was home and out in the street. They don’t let us do nothing here. It’s worser than school.”


“Ain’t it a play-room?” asks I. “Don’t they let you play?”


“Gee wiss! play-room, they call it! The nurse hollers on us all the time. She don’t let us do nothing.”


The reason why I stayed out the whole two weeks is this: I think to myself, so much shame in the face I suffered to come here, let me at least make the best from it already. Let me at least save up for two weeks what I got to spend out for grocery and butcher for my back bills to pay out. And then also think I to myself, if I go back on Monday, I got to do the big washing; on Tuesday waits for me the ironing; on Wednesday, the scrubbing and cleaning, and so goes it on. How bad it is already in this place, it’s a change from the very same sameness of what I’m having day in and day out at home. And so I stayed out this vacation to the bitter end.


But at last the day for going out from this prison came. On the way riding back, I kept thinking to myself: "This is such a beautiful vacation house. For why do they make it so hard for us? When a mother needs a vacation, why must they tear the insides out from her first, by making her come down to the charity office? Why drag us from the charity office through the streets? And when we live through the shame of the charities and when we come already to the vacation house, for why do they boss the life out of us with so many rules and bells? For why don’t they let us lay down our heads on the bed when we are tired? For why must we always stick in the back, like dogs what have got to be chained in one spot? If they would let us walk around free, would we bite off something from the front part of the house?


“If the best part of the house what is comfortable is made up for a show for visitors, why ain’t they keeping the whole business for a show for visitors? For why do they have to fool in worn-out mothers, to make them think they’ll give them a rest? Do they need the worn-out mothers as part of the show? I guess that is it, already.” When I got back in my home, so happy and thankful I was I could cry from thankfulness. How good it was feeling for me to be able to move around my own house, like I pleased. I was always kicking that my rooms was small and narrow, but now my small rooms seemed to grow so big like the park. I looked out from my window on the fire-escapes, full with bedding and garbage-cans, and on the wash-lines full with the clothes. All these ugly things was grand in my eyes. Even the high brick walls all around made me feel like a bird what just jumped out from a cage. And I cried out, "Gott sei dank! Gott sei dank!"[4]


[1] Anzia Yezierska, “The Free Vacation House,” part of her collection of essays, Hungry Hearts, 1920.

[2] German expression meaning “good heavens!” or “oh my god!”

[3] Regions in Germany and Eastern Europe.

[4] German phrase meaning “thank god!”