The majority of those who migrated were between the ages of 15 and 45. The strength of ethnic ties competed with the powerful desire for assimilation into American society.
Many of the immigrants came to the United States with a romanticized image of the country, and although many realized America wasn't what it was hyped up to be, the majority of all immigrants fully became Americans and many even worked to "rid themselves" of their old cultures. First and second generation immigrants alike attempted to "Americanize" themselves to the extent that they looked with contempt on parents and grandparents who preserved their old ethnic values and traditions.immigration_to_us.jpg
Immigrants from the 1880s and before are considered "old" immigrants and mainly came from northern and western Europe. They were mostly Protestants and usually spoke English and could read and write. These immigrants could easily blend into American society. In the 1890s and on, however, more ethnicities began to migrate to the United States and caused a surge of anti-immigration sentiments among native-born Americans (see Exclusion below).

Changing Gender Roles
Either out of necessity or by choice, immigrant women began working outside of their traditional family roles and developed friendships, interests, and attachments outside of their families. This did not result in a collapse of the family-centered cultures of many immigrants but instead helped to give women a little more mobility within their communities.

Native-born Americans encouraged assimilation both inadvertently and deliberatly. For example, public schools taught children in English and employers insisted that their employees speak English while working. Most stores sold American products, which forced immigrants to adopt American diets, wardrobes, and lifestyles. Church leaders who were often Native-born Americans or well-assimilated immigrants encouraged recent immigrants to adopt to American culture. Some immigrants even went as far as reforming their religions to make them seem less foreign to Americans (Christians made up a majority of the U.S. population).


As mentioned above, there were two groups of immigrants. It was more difficult for the "new" immigrants to adjust to and adopt American traditions because of language barriers, illiteracy rates, and major cultural differences. These immigrants came from a variety of (mainly southern and eastern) European nations including Italy, Greece, Croatia, Slovakia, Poland, and Russia. Unlike the Protestant "old" immigrants, the majority of "new" immigrants were Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Jewish.
This is an image of a group of immigrants at Ellis Island, a major immigration center in New York.

Although assimliation was present in American society, exclusion of immigrants was often prevalent. The arrival of immigrants created fear and resentment among many Americans, known as nativism. On the West Coast, native-born Americans rejected the Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants who were common there while on the East Coast European immigrants were looked upon with distaste by some Americans.
Many Americans also detested the immigrants because they would accept lower wages for working than most natives, taking valuable jobs away from native-born Americans.

Attempts at Limiting Immigration
In 1887, Henry Bowers founded the American Protective Association, a group that was committed to stopping the immigration tide. It had chapters throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Bowers was a self-educated lawyer who had prejudices against Catholics and foreigners.
A slightly more "genteel" organization, the Immigrant Restriction League, was founded by five Harvard alumni. The league pushed for the right to screen immigrants through literacy tests to seperate the "desirables" from the "undesirables." Because of the more moderate approach to nativism compared to the American Protective Association, the league garnered the support of more educated, middle-class people.

Politicians struggled to find answers to the "immigrant question." In 1882, Congress responded to anti-Asian sentiments in California by restricting Chinese immigration. Congress also denied entry into the country to "undesirables" (criminals, paupers, and the mentally incompetant) and placed a 50-cent tax on each person admitted.
Legislation in the 1890s barred more people from immigrating and also increased taxes.
In 1897 President Grover Cleveland vetoed a literacy requirement for immigrants as a result of the belief that restricting immigration limited success. Although there were many restrictionists (Americans who did not support immigration), the majority of Americans believed that immigration provided a rapidly growing economy with a cheap and plentiful labor source, and many argued that the United States' industrial development (as well as agricultural development) would be impossible without the workforce of the immigrants.

AMSCO textbook
American History textbook (Alan Brinkley)