Reading the Pamphlet
"Americanization: What is It? -- What to Do" exhibits the nationalism and classism one might expect from a political organization funded by financial elites. The pamphlet warns businesses to "stop anti-American propaganda and agitation the instant it raises its head," implores immigrants to "learn English, the mother tongue of over seventy millions of our native and foreign-born," and advises parents to "discourage any tendency to accept gratuitous benefits" and to "teach that it is un-American to ask charity or to accept tips." The pamphlet even closes with appeals to "Colonial Ancestors"-including Benjamin Franklin by name-to preach the virtues of industry and frugality.
However, as a piece of propaganda literature created by a committee of aristocrats, this pamphlet contains features that might surprise contemporary readers.
First, the structure of the pamphlet assumes that "Americanization" is not the responsibility borne by the immigrant alone; rather, the pamphlet addresses constituents it deems responsible for assimilation: teachers, parents, women, children, businessmen, patriots, cities, churches, and neighbors. In this sense, the pamphlet supports the agendas of Progressive reformers, who sought to improve immigrant lives in cities.1 Within this network of shared interest, the immigrant is one participant, addressed directly on just one page in the middle of the pamphlet.2 Examining that page underscores the extent to which the process has complicated for new immigrants. For example, the fifth point advises: "Take out your first papers and declare your intention to become a citizen of the country, if you are eighteen years old. It costs only one dollar."
Second, while it was published during a period of widespread anti-immigrant sentiment one hundred years ago, this pamphlet’s language may sound familiar to contemporary readers. Various constituencies are counseled to "understand," "respect," and to recognize the shared humanity of immigrants. Young people are encouraged to, "Learn the names of the heroes, statesmen, artists, and musicians of immigrant races and look them up in biographies so that you may appreciate the traditions of the immigrant. Neighbors are asked to "Share the burdens, privations and self-sacrifice with them." And every American is challenged to "Win your way with our new American neighbors. Do not force yourself upon them. Help them to understand you while you try to understand them. Foster the trust of all and let them see in your fairness, sincerity and toleration." Parents are asked to instill in their children a "scorn of waste whether of material, effort, or energy." And American women – who receive their special address – are spurred to "Get together. America is a weak nation so long as class and racial lines prevail."
Finally, despite the National Security League's aristocratic reputation, this pamphlet includes populist prescriptions. Businessmen are challenged to "Develop incentives through wages, hours, bonuses, insurance pensions, safety, profit-sharing and co-operative management." Parents are asked to instill in their children a "scorn of waste whether or material, effort, or energy." And American women-who receive their special address-are spurred to "Get together. America is a weak nation so long as class and racial lines prevail."
In practice, naturalization was not always as easy as this pamphlet made it sound. Where you came from and whether you were man or woman shaped whether you could become a citizen.3 This pamphlet was published in the wake of World War I during a period of restrictive U.S. immigration policy and a rising tide of nativism, xenophobia, and the First Red Scare. Fears of Communist and anarchist action led to raids and deportation of immigrants with ties to radical organizations (most famously, Emma Goldman). Fears of radical organizing animated the National Security League's publications, many of which can be read in the Digital Public Library of America.
Two major pieces of federal immigration legislation - The Immigration Act of 1917 and the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 - bookended its circulation.
The Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Literacy Act) restricted immigration by imposing literacy tests, barring immigration from the Asia-Pacific, and creating expansive physical (e.g. "feebleminded persons"), moral ("prostitutes" and "vagrants"), and political ("political radicals") categories for exclusion.4
Two years after its publication, the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 (also known as the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921) instituted a quota system that placed numerical limits on immigration.5 Because that formula, known as the National Origins Formula, restricted the number of new immigrants to three percent of the nationality currently residing in the U.S., northern European immigrants, which had previously immigrated in high numbers, were favored over new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. Robert K. Murray found that the Emergency Immigration Act effectively cut immigration by two-thirds.6 These quotas were further reduced in the subsequent Immigration Act of 1924 (also known as the National Origins Act).7