Section: Italian Immigration Page

Directory: New York City History

 Summary: Click on the link to view the complete article.  NOTE: May open in new window and leave The History's Website
Section: Immigrant Information, History


Ellis Island




Immigrants on Atlantic Liner


Photo Credit: Edwin Levick photo. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540. LC-USZ62-11202.



Upon being released from the Ellis Island processing the newly Italian immigrants would fan out to the areas of New York City that consisted of crowded and neglected tenements in the lower part of Manhattan. Immigrants had to live in damp smelly cellars or attics, or up to six or 10 people, men, woman and children packed into crowded single rooms where "filth for so many years reigned undisturbed and pestilence wiping out hundreds of lives annually.

These tenement buildings were dangerous firetraps, as well as a breeding place for murderous rodents that would kill babies in their cribs. The poor did not have the luxury of water, especially if they lived on the upper level. Water had to be carted from the fire hydrant in the street and carted upstairs. The Italian immigrants would come to the dumps to search for rags. They would bring their food with them, squatting down in the filth to eat their lunch.

Italian immigrants tended to do whatever they had to do, accepting the jobs that other Americans didn't want to do, just so they could support themselves. There were many  that were not as fortunate to find steady work that returned back to their native Italy discouraged and with empty pockets. These Italian immigrants, tricked by the stories told to them in Europe about plentiful work and big wages, in America, were induced to leave their native land, only to find suffering and hunger as a result of the deception told by the steamship agents.

Most of the Italian immigrants settled in cities, establishing their own communities, where they could be free to speak their own language, eat their own ethnic foods, practice their customs and religion as if back in their homeland, without any hindrance. These communities were designated as "Little Italy". The early Italian immigrants were not welcomed in America; they would be verbally abused by name calling such as "wop," "guinea," and "dago." In the face of such hostility, the Italian immigrants,  disregarding their differences, would find  themselves drawn together, mingling  language, worship and traditions, thus  creating a sense of security among themselves,  in their  new environment.

A large number  of southern Italians that arrived in NYC during the last quarter of the 19th century from the regions of Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily established their communities in East Harlem which became the largest Italian settlement in the city. The annual celebration of their patron saint would become a gala event to all over the decades and till this day  continues to be  practiced faithfully .

In 1901 The Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants was founded. In his annual report, Eliot Norton, president of the society made this statement regarding the conditions in which Italians find themselves on arrival: "These immigrants are landed at Ellis Island, where they are examined by United States officials. From there some go into the interior of the country and some remain in New York. Almost all of them are very ignorant, very childlike, and wholly unfamiliar with the ways, customs and language of this country. Hence it is obvious that they need friendly assistance from the moment of debarcation at Ellis Island. Those who go into the interior of the country need to be helped in getting on the right train, without losing their way or money; while those coming to New York city need guidance to their destination and, while going there, protection from sharps, crooks and dishonest runners, and thereafter to have advice and employment." (excerpt from Antonio Mangano's article: "The Associated Life of the Italians in New York City.")


                                 Immigration Through Ellis Island-Award Winning Documentary


Special Mention The Italian Immigrant Experience  by Miriam Medina                               Posted 1/10/08     

Article: Tid-Bits About the Early Italian Immigrant and the Padrone System                Posted 6/23/09
Article: The Padrone System and Padrone Banks                                                       Posted 6/23/09
Web Link: The Italian Immigrant Experience in America (1870-1920) by Joan Rapczynski
Web Link: Description of a "Soup School" for Italian Immigrants (c1900)
Web Link: Southern Italian Immigration by Nicola Colella
Web Link: Immigrating to the U.S.A.
Web Link: Italian Immigrants in New York in the 1890s
Web Link: Italian Immigration
Web Link: Italian Immigration in New York
Web Link: Milestones of the Italian-American Experience
Web Link: The Story of Italian Immigration
Web Link: Italian Americans-Overview history
Web Link: Italians in the United States
Article Name: The Immigrant Coming Here To Suffer 1900                                               Posted 1/12/08
Article Name: Italian Immigration Abuses                                                                          Posted 1/12/08
Article Name: The Danger Encountered by Girl Immigrants 1880                                     Posted 1/12/08
Article Name: Italy and It's Emigration Pre-1900
Article Name Injustice to Italian Laborers: A Deplorable Lynching-Presidential Papers

Section: A Visual look at how  the Early Italian Immigrant lived  In New York

Special Mention: Please visit's Tenement Life Photo Gallery for pictures of that era .

Pictures: The Marchand Collection At The University of California on the Italian Immigrant

Web Link: Italian Immigrants in the Sleeping Quarters that New York offered the Newcomers.
Web Link: Dining room filled with Immigrants on Ellis Island c.1905
Web Link: Three boys sleeping in a corner by a sewer grating.
Web Link: Immigrants on Ellis Island wait for the ferry after disembarking from their ship, 1911
Web Link: Immigrants with suitcases
Web Link: Immigrants buy railroad tickets to the U. S. hinterland. Ellis island
Web Link: A Ludlow Street Tenement Sweat shop
Web Link: Immigrant factory workers outside a plant about 1910
Web Link: Intelligence testing of immigrants, Ellis Island, N.Y. 1910
Web Link: Immigrants crowd deck of Atlantic liner 1906
Web Link: Children on Street, Lower East Side, NYC c.1906
Web Link: Children Playing in Street Sprinkler 1915
Web Link: Father, mother and daughter work together sewing clothing at home."
Web Link: An Italian family and five bunches of artificial flowers in its New York City Home, 1908.
Web Link: Hester Street, c. 1903. The heart of New York City's Lower East Side
Web Link: Child tenement dwellers on a fire escape
Web Link: An alley strewn with bottles and trash, 1889
Web Link: Mother with infant and children in sleeping area of a crowded tenement apartment, c.1910
Web Link: Immigrants making clothing at a shop, 1912
Web Link: Mother and children in a tenement kitchen, 1915
Web Link: Immigrant family working on sewing at home: the Romana family, New York City, 1912.
Web Link: Pushcart peddler in Lower East Side, New  York, early 1900s.
Web Link: Crowded Hester Street, early 1900s.
Web Link: A Street in the Five Points district of New York City, 1870. The slum streets were narrow, crowded and strewn with garbage.
Web Link: Steerage passengers. The "huddled masses," steerage passengers who came by the thousands between 1880 and 1914 to escape the unbearable conditions in Eastern Europe.
Web Link: Immigrants penned up by nationality on Ellis Island c. 1910.      

All these links are working properly a/o 2/17/2012

Pictures: University of Virginia Slide-show of how early  immigrants lived

Pictures: Miscellaneous
Web Link: Italian Street People during 1889-1935  (although these are pictures from a Chicago area, it gives an insight into how the Italian people looked and lived during these years) Click on image to see a larger version.

Section: You-Tube Videos Presents: "Italians in the  World" A Documentary in Eight Parts. The Narration is in Italian, with English sub-titles.


               "Italians in the World"  Part I  The Beginning




                                Part 2  1887-1906




                               Part 3 1914-1925




                               Part 4  1929-1932




                               Part 5  1940-1948




                              Part 6   (post-war period) 



                                 Part 7  Famous People


                                  Part 8  The End









                For more information on the Italian Community visit the Harlem-Italian page.
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