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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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Black "Exodusters" Explain their Reasons for Leaving the South

Beginning in the mid-1870s, as Northern support for Radical Reconstruction retreated, thousands of African Americans chose to leave the South in the hope of finding equality on the western frontier. Taking their cue from the Book of Exodus in the [...]

An Irish Emigrant to New York Writes Home

This letter home from 23-year-old Irish emigrant Margaret McCarthy captures both the opportunity and adversity awaiting arrivals to a new land. McCarthy sailed from Liverpool on the Columbus on September 7, 1849, and arrived in New York on October [...]

A Letter from Ireland Tells of the Suffering Caused by the Potato Famine

This 1847 letter from Hannah Curtis to her brother John, who had emigrated from Queen's County, Ireland to Philadelphia some years earlier, gives a sense of the deprivation of those who remained behind during the time of the Irish potato famine. The [...]

An Immigrant Writes a Letter Home to Ireland

Mary Ann Rowe emigrated to America from Ireland in 1888 because her father promised to leave his farm to her younger sister as a marriage dowry. Her letter to a friend back home in Dunnamaggan, suggests the homesickness experienced by millions of [...]

A Nativist New Yorker Disparages Irish Arrivals

The following are excerpts from the diaries of George Templeton Strong (1820-1875), a prominent New York lawyer. Written between 1838 and 1857, the entries reveal Strong's undisguised contempt for the Irish immigrants who were then flooding the [...]

An Irish Emigrant Writes to Relatives in County Donegal

In this letter to relatives back home in County Donegal, William Dever describes some of the obstacles faced by Irish immigrants in the antebellum period. In contrast to German and Dutch immigrants, who were often able to purchase farms, the Irish [...]

Anti-Chinese Prejudice and the "Six Companies"

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Francisco (commonly known as "the Six Companies") was an umbrella organization of several regional- and clan-based immigrant self-help societies in Chinatown. Such societies helped to get new [...]

An Illustrator Depicts Irish Ethnic Stereotypes

In this 1866 illustration, the Anglo-Saxon features of Florence Nightingale, the storied battlefield nurse of the Crimean War, are contrasted with those of "Bridget McBruiser," whose animal-like features and generally slovenly appearance are typical [...]

Table of the Quota System Targeting Specific Immigrant Groups

In the years after World War I, Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act. The 1924 Act established a quota for the total number of immigrants allowed per annum at [...]

Graph of "Social Inadequacy" Among Immigrant Groups, 1922

Proponents of eugenics believed that various forms of "social inadequacy", including mental illness, criminality, and physical handicaps, were the result of inherited genetic traits. Some studies, such as this one from 1922, attempted to link these [...]

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