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We accept their labor in the building of our railroads. We accept their muscle in our factories, in the doing of our heavy work. We accept all these things from them and yet, unless we watch out, we are going to miss from them some of the best things they can give us, their long reserve of experience in lines such as we do not have. Unless we take some pains to teach them somewhat of our language and learn somewhat of theirs, a whole generation is going to die out without any special relation between us. -- Jane Addams, “Work and Play: Recognition Day Address By Miss Jane Addams, August 18, 1905.

Between 1890 and 1914, around 30 million people immigrated to the United States, mostly coming from southern and eastern European countries. Overpopulation, limited employment, a lack of resources, and religious persecution created instability in Europe, driving record numbers to migrate to the United States. These new immigrants were unskilled agricultural workers, mostly Catholics and Jews, whose culture and practices were alien to Americans. They came to a changing country, as the American economy was shifting from an agricultural base to an urban and industrial one. For some Americans these changes were too rapid, and many reacted to the changes by blaming immigrants for the problems of industrialization and urbanization.  

Jane Addams saw clearly that immigrants were not the cause of industrial problems but were instead its victims. When she selected the location for her settlement, Addams chose a vibrant ethnic neighborhood with immigrants from a variety of countries. For her, helping immigrants become full-fledged Americans, was a key mission of Hull-House. For Addams, the cultures and traditions that immigrants brought to America offered an opportunity to broaden American horizons and enrich our culture. This was a controversial view in a time when immigrants were often tarred as criminals, radicals, and degenerates. Working-class Americans feared that immigrants would take their jobs, because factory owners would hire them at cheaper wages than Americans were willing to work. Newspapers fueled fears by exaggerating stories about immigrants bringing radicalism, socialism, and anarchism to America. Addams believed that the fear and hatred that Americans held for immigrants came from ignorance. Few Americans made any effort to welcome, talk with, or help new immigrants, whose language, dress, and religions were different from their own. Even in the cosmopolitan cities, immigrants were often clustered in ethnic slums. When Addams opened Hull-House, she welcomed all, no matter their religion or ethnicity. She and the other residents worked to educate Americans about immigrant cultures as she educated immigrants about how things worked in America.  

Addams speeches on immigrants and immigration offer the best avenue to understanding her views on the role that immigrants could play in American life. Her efforts to change the way that Americans reacted to immigrants, to reform their views and educate them went side by side with the work that Hull-House did to help immigrants assimilate into Chicago. There are a few specific incidents that can help focus on this theme. The creation of a Labor Museum in 1901 and sponsoring Greek theater productions at Hull-House in 1902 helped to bring immigrant culture to Americans, and to encourage pride in immigrant cultures at a time when they were being encouraged to abandon their roots. In 1901 and 1908, Addams came to the defense of immigrants accused of crimes, working to tame the media and public hostility. In 1901, Abraham Isaak was accused of complicity in President McKinley’s assassination, and and in 1908, immigrant Lazarus Averbuch was killed by Chicago Police Chief George Shippy because he believed the immigrant sought to kill him in his home. In both cases the reaction was  hatred and fear of immigrants, and Addams publicly stood on the side of the immigrants, using her favorable public opinion to stop the reaction before they spilled into violence.

In an era where many reacted negatively to immigrants and immigration, Jane Addams envisioned and fought for an America where immigrants contributed as much as they received to the nation and where many voices together made the country stronger.

Recommended primary sources:

Jane Addams and Hull-House, “First Report of the Labor Museum at Hull House," 1902.

Jane Addams, “Recent Immigration: A Field Neglected by the Scholar," January 1905.

Jane Addams, “The Chicago Settlements and Social Unrest,” May 2, 1908.

Jane Addams, “Statement on Abraham Isaak," September 10, 1901.

Jane Addams, “Work and Play: Recognition Day Address By Miss Jane Addams," August 18, 1905.

Jane Addams, "The Possibilities of the American Immigrant," October 28, 1907 (excerpt)

Additional resources:

Analyzing Anti-Immigrant Attitudes in Political Cartoons,  Reimaging Immigration, UCLA.

Immigration. Library of Congress.

Immigration and Americanization, Digital Public Library of America.

Immigration and Citizenship in the United States, 1865-1924, Newbury Library Digital Collections for the Classroom.

The Lost Boy. Chicago Magazine.

Urban Experiences in Chicago: Hull-House and Its Neighborhoods, 1889-1963

Suggested subjects:

Addams Jane, and immigrants

Addams, Jane, relationship with Hull-House neighbors

Addams, Jane, views on democracy

Hull-House, and immigrants

Immigration reform

Immigrants and immigrant neighborhoods


Peopleassociated with immigration

Documents that mention the Averbuch Incident

Organizations associated with immigration

Photo Credit:

Grant E. Hamilton, Where the blame lies (1891) (Library of Congress).