Ellis Island
The Trip Across the Ocean
 ___________________________
 Shipping-line ads promised a six-day trip
on a fine ship, “including a plentiful
supply of cooked provisions.”
 But often a week or more passed before
the ship managed to labor halfway
across the Atlantic.
 “Cooked provisions” were
 Soggy rye bread and a barrel of herring for
the Slavs, Swedes, Germans, and Jews
traveling on the northern routes
 Sardines and soggy wheat bread for the
Italians, Greeks, and Armenians who came
via the Mediterranean.
 Wise immigrants packed sausages and
loaves of brown bread for themselves,
not ___________________________.
 As on Hungarian immigrant later recalled,
“We brought a whicker basket with roast
chicken and cookies and apple strudel.”
The Cost
 One ticket to America was around $35.00
 This price paid for steerage quarters
 Immigrants could not afford anything better
 Children paid __________________
 Infants traveled
Steerage Quarters
 Steerage quarters below deck were
horribly crowded
 No portholes and little ventilation
 Skimpy and carelessly maintained toilet
 Most passengers didn’t wash, those who
did had to brave the freezing ocean water
that ran from faucets in the steerage
 Many passengers believed
 Even on easy passages – and most
journeys took place in the calm spring
and summer months – many were
“I couldn’t lift my head for days,” A
Czech immigrant later recalled. “I
thought I would never see the United
 In good weather, children were
allowed to play on deck, running
among the young people who sat
there singing and flirting with each
 But when, as so often was the case,
the weather turned bad and the
immigrants were indeed “tempesttost”, they were unable to get up onto
the deck to vomit overboard.
Stormy Weather
 In stormy weather, the steerage
hatchway door was locked and then
tied shut, to make sure that no
passenger reach the deck and got
swept overboard.
 Since the only drinking water available
was on deck,
Sleeping in Steerage
 2 or 3 tiers of bunks, equipped with
meager mattresses and populated by lice.
 ____________________________________
 Women traveling with babies, made sure
they got a lower bunk.
 It was difficult to sleep at all. Directly
beneath them, the noisy engine was
constantly pounding.
Arriving in New York
 Eventually, the water calmed as the ship
steamed into New York harbor.
 To prepare for landing, steerage
passengers got dressed in their finest
 From the harbor, the steamship sailed up
the Hudson to a pier where first and
second-class passengers, usually
natives returning home, debarked.
 Their passage through immigration
was quick and courteous.
 While these passengers where being
cleared off the boat, steerage
 Working a 12-hour day, Ellis Island
employees could process __________
 But some days, 2 or 3 times that many
arrived and had to wait on board the
ships that they traveled in.
Finally Debarking
 Immigrants were harshly commanded
to hurry.
 Bulky in their layers of clothing,
carrying infants, bedding, pots and
pans, even cuttings from a home
vineyard to plant in America, they
scrambled from the ship.
 “Good Riddance – Glad to leave it!!!”
“My mother had to try and keep track of
us and tied us all together so that we
would stay together. And that’s the
way we came off the boat.”
- Gertrude Schneider Smith, a Swiss
immigrant in 1921.
“Getting off on Ellis Island, my mother
was dressed up. She had been
making this suit for a year to land in.
And I was dressed up with handmade
lace and all. It was jam-packed with
mostly Europeans. And most of these
people were dirty, actually dirty. I was
-Ayleen Watts James, a Panamanian
immigrant in 1923
 They boarded the ferry that would
transport them to Ellis Island.
 Before the ferry moved, however, they
were required to wait again.
 An enormous crowd of them waiting 1
hour, 2 hours, or even much longer.
 _________________________________
 During all the hours they were waiting
on the ferry, there was plenty of time
to _______________:
 Will I get in?
 Will all of us get in?
 Even the child who keeps rubbing her
 Will we find a place to live?
 Will I find work?
 When immigrants were not obsessed
with such worries, they had plenty of
time to rehearse their answers to the
questions they knew would soon be
asked of them.
“I am a tailor.”
“I am a carpenter.”
“My husband will meet me.”
“No, I do not have a job waiting for me.”
“I have 23 rubles with me.”
“No, I did not buy my own ticket myself, my
uncle sent it to me. My uncle lives in
Landing on Ellis Island
 Finally, landing on the island, immigrants
were lined up in front of the main door,
to stand under an enormous metal
canopy that was about 50 ft. wide.
 Manifest lists
 Immigrants waiting to enter the building
were formed into groups by manifest
 Directly inside the entrance there was
a stairway.
 Immigrants could leave heavy
baggage on the ground floor while
they went upstairs for questioning and
 They left their baggage with a prayer
for its safety;
 A great many prayers were recited on
that stairway, God, the Virgin Mary,
and various saints were implored to:
 Watch over the safety of their luggage
 To blind officials to the immigrants’ flaws
 To open their eyes to the immigrants’
 To bring the immigrants to their final
 At the top of the stairway, they could
 After a slow and laborious climb,
immigrants finally reached the Great
Hall of Judgment.
 50 ft. high & thronged with people
moving slowly ahead along aisles
separated from each other by iron
Children and Babies
 Babies could be carried, but if a child
had reached the age of two, he/she
had to walk by him/herself to prove
that he/she they could.
 Bored with waiting, children chinned
themselves on the iron bars.
 They ducked in and out under iron
railings, despite orders not to.
 Children and babies had to undergo a scalp
 Adolescents and adults had their eyes,
ears, limbs checked for health.
 Those who did not pass, received a big
white “X” written in chalk on their chest.
 They would go to a different section for
further medical testing.
 If they failed again,
“We were on Ellis Island 22 days. They
took all us men to one section of the
room, and they stripped us. They took
all our clothes and they only left our
papers in our hands. We went through
something like a cattle booth. At all of
these booths there was a doctor who
examined you. If you were a sick
person, they told you to wait. If you were
alright, you continued with the rest of the
examination. They looked at your whole
body – the eyes, the heart, the teeth.
They brought us
into a big hall. All of a sudden they called
your name and your clothes appeared. All
clean and packed and smelling nice.
Because, to tell you the truth, I’ve got to be
honest about it, they deloused us. As I
said, the ship we came over on wasn’t a
clean ship. You couldn’t clean yourself
anyway because even the water from the
fountains was frozen. In order to drink
some water we had to break the ice with
something and melt it. So how can you
keep yourself clean?”
- Rocco Morelli, Italian immigrant at Ellis
Island in 1907, age 12.
The Dining Room
 The food may have been plentiful, it may
have tasted alright, but still, in those early
years, it left much to be desired.
 The dining room was filthy and dinner
bowls were used again and again without
being washed.
 Finally, after 1901, Theodore Roosevelt
 “No charge for meals here” said a
sign on the dining room wall.
 That comforting message was
translated into numerous languages.
 After 1901, immigrants were fed well.
 They were served white bread which was
totally new to them, tapioca pudding, and
most astonishing of all bananas which
they had to be taught to peel.
“So when I came to Ellis Island, my gosh,
there was something I’ll never forget. The
first impression – all kinds of nationalities.
And the first meal we got, fish and milk. Big
pitchers of milk and white bread, the first
time I saw white bread and butter. There
was so much milk and I drank it because we
didn’t have enough milk in my country. And
I said ‘my God, we’re going to have a good
time here. We’re going to have plenty to
- Marta Forman, Czechoslovakian at Ellis
Island, 1922
Passing Inspection!
 After leaving the primary inspection &
answering all the questions as well as
going through medical examinations,
immigrants went back to the baggage
room to pick up their belongings.
 Then they proceeded to a room where
a sign said “Money Exchange” in
many different languages.
 With their papers stamped at the
primary inspector’s desk, immigrants
were now free to enter the United
 At this point, some immigrants went
 Or they themselves took a boat over
to Manhattan where they could go
directly to the subway.
“When my father, who was 2 years old,
arrived in Boston, the relative who met
him and my grandmother, scooped off
the European-style schoolboy’s cap
he was wearing – only greenhorns
dressed like that!- and flung it into
Boston Harbor.”
-the son of a Polish immigrant.
 Sometimes children were meeting a
parent for the first time because he
had come to America earlier:
“I saw this man coming forward and he
was beautiful. I didn’t know he was
my father. Later on I realized why he
looked so familiar to me. He looked
exactly like I did. But that’s when I
met him for the first time. And I fell in
love with him and he with me.”
- Katherine Beychok, a Russian Jewish
immigrant in 1910.
All Photographs & quotes courtesy of:
Moreno, Barry. Encyclopedia of Ellis Island; 2004, Greenwood
Publishing; New York, NY
Sherman, Augustus F. Ellis Island Portraits, 1905 – 1920; 2005, Aperture
Publishing; New York, NY
The Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/070_immi.html

Ellis Island & Immigration