Introduction

The USA Constitution states that everyone is equal, but many groups in America in the 1920s were not treated fairly. There was a great deal of prejudice against those who were not considered 'real' Americans.

Problems faced by immigrants

At the end of the nineteenth century, the USA had an Open Door policy which encouraged immigration.

By 1920, more than 40 million people had arrived. As a result, there was a mixture of people from different races, cultures and religions living in America. The term used for this blend of 130 different nationalities was the 'Melting Pot'.

The races living in America during this period included:

  • Native Americans;
  • black Americans;
  • Europeans;
  • Hispanics;
  • Asians.

Reasons for people coming to the USA

A combination of push and pull factors made people emigrate to the USA. The push factors made people want to leave their own countries, and the pull factors attracted them to the USA. The main reasons were:

  • escaping from poverty in their own country;
  • escaping from political persecution;
  • the religious tolerance promised in the American Bill of Rights, for example the Jews wanted to escape the pogroms in Russia;
  • a plentiful supply of land and the hope of owning property;
  • massive industrialisation in the USA meant the possibility of jobs with higher wages than in their homeland;
  • the adventure of going to a new country;
  • the hope of equality of opportunity.

Most of the immigrants travelled to the USA by sea, and more than 70 per cent arrived on Ellis Island near New York.

During the busiest periods, as many as 5,000 people arrived every day. They underwent a series of medical tests and anyone suffering from a disease was kept on Ellis Island for days or even weeks, or else returned to their own country.

Anyone suffering from a disease was kept on Ellis Island for days or even weeks, or else returned to their own country.

Immigrants were also questioned about their work and financial situation, and were given literacy tests to ensure they could work and not be a burden on society.

Young women were detained until a relative came for them because they might become destitute and resort to prostitution.

Some had to wait for money from relatives before they could leave the island.

The immigrants hoped for a better life in America, but for many the motto on the Great Seal of the USA, “From the many: one” did not happen.