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
- 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.
- 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.
- You were very likely to have lost track of your luggage, including the feather bed you’d brought with you.
- 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.
- 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.