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Immigrant Women

Immigrant Women

Copyright Date: 1985
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 303
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  • Book Info
    Immigrant Women
    Book Description:

    Describes the daily experiences of Jewish and Italian immigrant women in New York City.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-371-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 11-18)
  5. 1 A Tale of Two Cities
    (pp. 19-28)

    In 1895 a young jewish girl migrated to the united states with her mother. Her name was Maria Ganz and she was five years old. She had come from Galicia to join her father in New York City. One day her mother sent her out into her Lower East Side street to play. There she saw a stranger who was “wearing a cap and long coat and was standing behind an empty carriage and a pair of horses: I stopped to stare at him for he did not look as if he belonged to our neighborhood: there was too prosperous...

  6. 2 In the Old World
    (pp. 29-48)

    Most native-born americans at the turn of the century lumped all incoming foreigners together as “immigrants.” Yet the particular cultures of the immigrants shaped their experiences in intimate ways. While in the European context the lives of Jewish and Italian women had little in common—save that both were immersed in a preindustrial world of home production—they found themselves living together on the Lower East Side, sharing neighborhoods, work, and their “immigrant” status.

    To unravel the world of these immigrant women—their own particular cultural positions, attitudes, and beliefs—as they stepped onto American soil, we must briefly examine...

  7. 3 Steerage to Gotham
    (pp. 49-58)

    By the late nineteenth century, industrialization and urbanization had upset the already precarious economic relationship between peasant agriculture and domestic handicrafts in southern Italy. The unification of Italy under northern control in mid-century had severely affected the ability of the southern Italian peasants to maintain themselves on the land. Increasingly dominated by their landlords by an elaborate system of taxation, mortgage payments, and competition over small landholdings, peasant families found it more and more difficult to maintain themselves. Artisanal activities that had supplemented agricultural production began to disappear. An agricultural depression, caused partially by increased cereal and citrus production in...

  8. 4 First Encounters
    (pp. 59-74)

    On a sizzling hot day in the summer of 1895 maria Ganz and her mother walked off the boat onto a New York City pier. They had left their comfortable farmhouse in Galicia to join Lazarus Ganz, who had recently rented a rear tenement apartment in the Lower East Side. For weeks he had been busy preparing their new home; he was flushed with anticipation. Maria’s mother walked into her new apartment, looked around slowly, turned to her husband and cried: “So, we have crossed half the world for this?” Maria recreated the scene in her memoirs:

    I can see...

  9. 5 Agents of Assimilation
    (pp. 75-92)

    As the new immigrants settled into their neighborhoods and began their search for America, what they found was each other. Their lives were touched by the images and products of the New World, but they came into contact with precious few “Americans”—middle-class America had fled its old neighborhoods, and the new immigrants were more likely to meet working-class Irish or Germans than people who were “native born.” There was, however, a small group of Americans—mostly women—who eagerly sought out the immigrants, hoping to influence their attitudes and beliefs about America. These were the social workers; their mission...

  10. 6 Our Daily Bread
    (pp. 93-110)

    If the children of immigrants received a daily dose of new American values at school and in the factory, their mothers were the least drawn into the new public world. Their lives posed a visible dichotomy: they seemed to have little direct contact with American institutions, but they had the most contact with their families and the ethnic community.

    Social workers focused on mothers precisely because of this. They were concerned because these women were not subject to a daily infusion of American values, and feared their influence on the first generation of “real” Americans, the children. Caught in the...

  11. 7 How Many Tears This America Costs
    (pp. 111-128)

    If the New World tried to feed immigrant families with dreams and visions, reality attested to constant sorrow. The America experienced by first-generation immigrant mothers made insistent economic demands, demands that had to be balanced against the obligations of the past and the requirements of the present. Americanization impinged on the world of immigrant women economically and culturally. While there was a constant interplay between these two, the economic was primary and shaped the contours of family life and the role of women in it. Yet the domestic experience of immigrant women, from the payment of rent to the bearing...

  12. 8 In Sickness and in Health
    (pp. 129-146)

    In the old country medical knowledge was rudimentary, doctors rare, life expectancy short, and infant mortality high. Women, to the best of their ability, delivered babies, nursed young children, ministered to the sick, and, through the application of folk medicine, intervened against the ravages of nature. In sickness and in health, women depended on each other: health and hygiene, childbirth, and infant care were in their hands.

    The urban environment challenged this culture in many, often contradictory, ways. On the one hand, women were plunged into neighborhoods that were dirty, unsanitary, and disease ridden. For people of all ages, death...

  13. 9 House and Home
    (pp. 147-164)

    Immigrant women coming to the united states left behind a world to which they were accustomed, one they took for granted and felt comfortable with. Both Jewish and Italian women had the benefits of household training, of mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who passed down a known system of housework and home production. But the costs of migration usually prohibited bringing the entire family group, and it was particularly grandmothers and unmarried aunts, who traditionally had shared the housework, who were left behind. Mothers were subjected to a strange and unknown domestic world without the assistance of the women they had...

  14. 10 The Land of Dollars
    (pp. 165-184)

    The pace of life took women out of their houses into the streets, markets, and other gathering places in their neighborhoods. The streets of the Lower East Side were constantly filled with women shopping, running errands, and exchanging news and gossip. To some social workers, who had no street life of their own, this appeared to be idle activity:

    In the woman this apathy shows in an air of leisure. It might be thought that the care of four or five children, and the maintenance of a home in three rooms, would furnish the average woman with occupation for most...

  15. 11 New Images, Old Bonds
    (pp. 185-206)

    With these satiric words, two new york social workers characterized the making of new Americans. The American way of life gave these Eastern and Southern European pilgrims little support for cultural assumptions that had formerly bound them together. New tensions erupted within the family, as old-world assumptions failed to find nourishment in American soil. Fathers were pitted against sons, mothers against daughters, and even parent against parent. Where paternal authority had once been a keystone of village life, here the money economy imposed a new authority on the family. In how many homes did the following scene, recorded by Leonard...

  16. 12 City Lights
    (pp. 207-224)

    If the older generation had difficulty accepting new ways, for their daughters contact with American culture at work, at school, or in the street created new definitions of femininity that led to a rejection of the constriction of family bonds. Ready-made clothes, makeup, dance halls, movie theaters, amusement parks, all were part of a cultural environment that assumed greater individual freedom and a less formal relationship with the opposite sex.

    Immigrant mothers feared the pull of the new life. They came from cultures where both work and recreation were organized in family groups. As a report by Sophinisba Breckenridge put...

  17. 13 The Ties That Bind
    (pp. 225-240)

    While outings and movies became an integral part of immigrant life in the early decades of this century, family celebrations remained the main form of recreation for the women. Weddings, holidays, Sabbath suppers, fiestas, christenings, bar mitzvahs, and even funerals were social and familial events that demanded celebration and festivity. The daily experience of suffering and isolation was temporarily forgotten; passionate joy or passionate mourning were the order of the day. And for poor communities with scant resources, these celebrations also provided a way of sharing food, wine, and social life, a mode of redistributing what little wealth there was...

  18. 14 Sweatshops and Picket Lines
    (pp. 241-262)

    The factory, that outer world through which new immigrants were introduced to American industry, separated the experience of daughters from the homebound history of their mothers. While the home had encompassed the mothers’ labor, concerns, and vision of womanhood for generations, the experience of being “factory girls” provided a different, wider, world view for their daughters. Social theorists and social workers often interpreted this as a sign of a developing modern consciousness. InThe New Basis of Civilization, a book based on a series of lectures given at the New York School of Social Work in 1905 and reprinted eight...

  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 263-270)

    Throughout American history the idea of progress has persisted as a national destiny and a personal dream. The story of American life often resembles a Hollywood narrative, a miraculous metamorphosis in which people of humble origins, using simple implements, ascend to a “city on a hill.” Through the elixers ofvirgin land, streets of gold, industry, enterprise, andopportunity, common folk become comfortable residents in paradise. The past is left behind. A new world is born.

    The tale of theimmigrantis a particularly ubiquitous variation on this myth. Despised refugees from misery and want reach the borders of the...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 271-294)
  21. Index
    (pp. 295-303)