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Prior to 1871, most immigrants to America came from Northern and Western Europe (Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, and Sweden). During the half-century from 1871 until 1921, most immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe (Italy, Greece, Poland, Russia, present-day Hungary, and former Yugoslavia), as well as Asia (China and Japan).
Like earlier immigrants, these immigrants came to America seeking freedom and better lives for their families.
Immigrants made valuable contributions to the dramatic industrial growth of America during this period. Chinese workers helped to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Immigrants worked in textile and steel mills in the Northeast and the clothing industry in New York City. Slavs, Italians, and Poles worked in the coal mines of the East. They often worked for very low pay and endured dangerous working conditions to help build the nation’s industrial strength.
During this period, immigrants from Europe entered America through Ellis Island in New York harbor. Their first view of America was often the Statue of Liberty, as their ships arrived following the voyage across the Atlantic.
Immigrants began the process of assimilation into what was termed the American “melting pot.” While often settling in ethnic neighborhoods in the growing cities, they and their children worked hard to learn English, adopt American customs, and become American citizens. The public schools served an essential role in the process of assimilating immigrants into American society.