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Immigrant labor in 1910

Published November 27. 2010 09:00AM

In 1910 the immigrants were primarily male, with about 131 men per 100 female immigrants. almost 6 percent of them that year were under the age of 15 while only 9 percent were over 65. About 87 percent of all immigrants entering the U.S. in 1910 came from Europe.

America's developing economy presented job opportunities for the foreigners, many of whom had hoped to later return to their native countries. Mining also lured large numbers of unskilled immigrants to Pennsylvania's large coalfields.

Immigration became so important to our society that on October 21, 1909, a special meeting was held at the Presbyterian Church in Tamaqua to help local residents learn more about the different nationalities that were entering the region. Featured speakers included a group of men who had spent a year and a half in eastern and southern Europe to study the manners, languages and customs of the various groups which were emigrating to the U.S.

In his address that night, "Mr. Boner" stated that much of the prejudice against the immigrant was the result of "misunderstanding and ignorance."

"Prejudice and antagonism will never make a good citizen of a foreigner," he said. "We must make a good citizen of him or he willl influence our national life for evil. Our antagonism must be substituted by kindness and sympathy, and our prejudice by knowledge."

One of the larger foreign groups entering the United States between 1901 and 1910 were the over 2.1 million Austrians. The influx was so heavy that the wave of immigration from 1880 to about 1915 was called the Great Economic Immigration for Hungarians.

The were many reasons for the mass exit from their motherland but overpopulation and a poor economy were foremost. Many farmers being displaced by industrialization felt that there would be farmable land and new opportunties in the United States. Some of those would-be farmers, however, looked for larger paydays seeking work in the cities. The steel industry, the stockyards, and machine factories all provided jobs in the larger metro areas.

In mid-November 1910, an article in the Tamaqua Courier told how Hungarian women were being used on Columbia County farms around Bloomsburg.

"Since so many young men are leaving the farms to work in cities, farmers in Roaring Creek Valley have found a new method to help them out," the article stated. "Hungarian women from the coal-region towns have been secured and it is nothing unusual to find as high as a dozen of them at work in a field. That they are good workers goes without saying."

In many instances, the writer explained, the women did better than the men they were replacing in the fields.

"These hardy girl-and-woman farmers work in groups and, judging from their singing and happy air while at work, are a happy lot," the writer explained.

The contentment with their work seems incredible by today's standards, especially given the fact that each woman was paid between 75 cents and a dollar for a day's labor in the field which usually also included two meals.

The fact that immigrant women with menial, low-paying jobs like field work could be content and happy in their work is surprising in today's society. The time when woman entrepreneurs such as Meg Whitman would be managing billion dollar corporations like eBay was still a century away. Still, the American woman was beginning to see some progress in 1910. These bold new steps were noted by a Tamaqua Courier opinion writer that summer.

"Long ago the idea was born in the minds of a good many women that they should strive toward a greater independence, that while remaining gentle and loving-the ministering angel of the household, they should get away from the "clinging vine idea." That is to say they should cultivate their minds until they possess an actual earning capacity. There are more women who possess good mental equipment in the world than ever before."

He pointed how the business woman was a rarity in post-Civil War America.

"Today, you find her on every side, shrewd and careful and at all times ready to measure steel with men," he noted. "She keeps well-booked on the current events and the men whose company she craves are the men who are doing big things in life. They do not look at the woman as an interloper; in fact they admire her for her sagacity and quick intuition."

He ended with a forecast for women who persevere in the "man's world" to achieve their goals.

"A woman who tries to do what is generally termed 'a man's work' usually bungles at first, and in addition is subjected to not a little taunting and, perhaps, ridicule. But it is the rule that she remains at the tasks unafraid and unashamed and that is why the historian of the days to come cannot, if he be fair and truthfuil, pass lightly over the work she is doing today."

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