Five Historic Tidbits on a Friday

Been deep in lovely research all week. Here are a few things I’ve learned about being an immigrant on your way to Chicago in the early twentieth century

  1. You might not make it. The Immigrants’ Protective League kept stats on how many girls were supposedly put on a train to Chicago, from their port of entry, and didn’t get there. Some they found. Some they didn’t.
  2. The address you had for your family might not be real, might be wrong, or might have had a change of residents three times over since you got it.
  3. You were very likely to have lost track of your luggage, including the feather bed you’d brought with you.
  4. You were put on a train to be “fair” to the railways, even if it meant a few extra days of travel. Say there were 10 railways with trains leaving your port of entry and going to Chicago, with various and sundry stops along the way. Say there were 500 immigrants that day on their ways to Chicago. 50 immigrants went on each train, even if it meant heading down to Norfolk, Virginia, then back up to Chicago. If you didn’t bring enough food for the extra legs of the journey, oh, well.
  5. If you were one of the lucky ones, someone from the Immigrant Protective League was at the station, or across the street in their offices, to greet you in your own language and help you find your way through the maze of confusion to your new home. With a bed to stay in for a few days, if needed, while they tracked down that address or that family. And found you a job.

Because, at that point, the government sure wasn’t going to help you.


  1. Shawna says:

    My family settled in Boston when they came over from Ireland. I don’t know much about what they did while they were there but these historic tidbits make me curious.

    By theway, why did so many immigrants go to Chicago?


    • beckylevine says:

      When did they come over, Shawna?

      Chicago was a huge crossroads by the end of the 19th/beg of the 20th ctry. People came through, but it was also growing incredibly fast, so I guess there were lots of jobs. It’s where my grandmother’s parents came–not sure why, and they were in the music biz. There was just a whole lot going on there!


  2. Kelly Fineman says:

    Interesting stuff, Becky. Sounds like you’re having fun with it. Hopefully the sad bits aren’t weighing you down too much.


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Kelly. Hopefully, it’s making me feel some of the anger that my MC needs to feel. 🙂


  3. I cannot imagine traveling with a feather bed…that tidbit piqued my interest when you first wrote about it; I mean, can we really begin to understand keeping up with a feather bed? It’s all fascinating, thank you for sharing as you are studying!


    • beckylevine says:

      It may have been a feather comforter, but I’m still not sure. I just can’t imagine traveling with ANY version of what it might have been.


  4. I’m loving hearing about this great facts you keep finding. You work is going grow even richer as a result.


  5. Jenn Hubbard says:

    #4 reminds me of a business trip I once scheduled. I needed to fly from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, an approximately 50-minute flight. The airline wanted to route me through Chicago. They couldn’t understand why I might have a problem with that.

    Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.


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