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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

Adaptation and Assimilation

Arrival of emigrants, Ellis Island

The Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle in a nation lacking modern industry. Many immigrants found themselves unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States. Though these immigrants were not the poorest people in Ireland (the poorest were unable to raise the required sum for steerage passage on a ship to America), by American standards, they were destitute.

They often had no money beyond the fare for their passage, and, thus, settled in the ports of their debarkation. In time, the sum total of Irish-Americans exceeded the entire population of Ireland. New York City boasted more Irishmen than Dublin, Ireland.

The Irish established patterns that newcomers to the United States continue to follow today. Housing choices, occupations entered, financial support to families remaining in the homeland, and chain immigrations which brought additional relatives to America, are some of these patterns.

New York, NY, yard of tenement (between 1900 and 1910)

Impoverished Irish immigrants often crowded into subdivided homes that were intended for single families, living in tiny, cramped spaces. Cellars, attics and make-do spaces in alleys became home.

A lack of adequate sewage and running water in these places made cleanliness next to impossible. Disease of all kinds (including cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, and mental illness) resulted from these miserable living conditions. Irish immigrants sometimes faced hostility from other groups in the U.S., and were accused of spreading disease and blamed for the unsanitary conditions many lived in.