When we think of Ellis Island, we tend to think of either the Statue of Liberty or the immigrants that came through the island, to freedom. The 12 million immigrants didn't just show up - there were the people who worked there, who made it happen, like a well-oiled machine.
I think I would have loved having a job on Ellis Island during the peak of Immigration. There were the inspectors, interpreters, nurses, doctors, social workers, and many others. As a large federal facility employing approximately five hundred employees at a time, Ellis Island was a well-organized workforce. Combined, these workers processed thousands of immigrants a year, and they contributed to the primary function of the Immigration Station on Ellis Island -- to make sure that newcomers to the United States were legally and medically fit to enter the country.
The United States Immigrant Inspector's job was to conduct face to face interviews with all immigrants in a crucial proceeding known as immigrant inspection. Every single foreigner that entered the Port of New York was questioned - either on board ship or at Ellis Island itself. Sitting at a high "rostrum desk" in Ellis Island's Registry Room, the inspector consulted the official list of a ship's passengers called a Manifest of Alien Passengers.
In questioning the newcomer, the Immigrant Inspector verified the immigrant's answers given by checking them against what had been originally recorded on the ship's passenger manifest at the port of departure. Since he was only allowed to admit persons who were "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to enter the United States," he had to be absolutely certain the person he was examining was not a member of one of the classes of persons barred from entering the country under the various US immigration laws, such as contract laborers, polygamists, paupers, convicted criminals, anarchists or anyone "likely to become a public charge."
I bet they could have used computer technology back then! Mounds of paperwork that needed to be processed at Ellis Island. They needed many clerks and stenographers! The clerks - both male and female - kept a running number of immigrants coming to the island for inspection each day, the disposal of their cases and their subsequent departures. Clerks kept the steamship passenger manifests, completed detention and deportation cards, wrote reports and dossiers, and filed away and retrieved warrant case records. stenographers - each of them an expert in writing shorthand script and using the typewriter - were essential participants during immigration hearings of the various Boards of Special Inquiry.
Interpreters translated for immigrants who could not communicate in English. Interpreters not only needed strong linguistic skills in one or more foreign languages, but they also needed to understand the most common dialects in a given language. The common languages spoken at Ellis Island included: Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, German, Yiddish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Swedish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Czech, Spanish, Armenian, Arabic, Dutch, Norwegian and Chinese.
DOCTORS AND NURSES
The doctors of Ellis Island were commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service. Officially known as surgeons, they were in charge of the Ellis Island Hospital and the medical examination of immigrants in a routine procedure called the line inspection. As long lines of immigrants slowly entered Ellis Island's Registry Room, they were examined swiftly and expertly by the doctors for any sign of disease or signs of physical or mental weakness. In 1913, there were more than 25 nurses employed in the hospitals and wards. They worked under the supervision of the doctors, as well as their own hierarchy of chief and head nurses.
IMMIGRATION AID WORKERS
Many organizations during this time, offered aid to immigrants at Ellis Island. Known under several titles, including missionary, chaplain, agent, port worker, matron, and social worker, the dedicated men, and women of these organizations provided many things, from counseling, guidance, information, translation, money, food, clothing, reading material, gifts, and religious instruction and services.
Organizations assisting immigrants on the island included the
Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)
the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)
the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)
the Salvation Army
Traveler's Aid Society.
Additionally there were culturally specific needs met by ethnic Italian, German, Polish, Lithuanian and Spanish branches of the Roman Catholic church's St. Raphael's Society, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and National Council of Jewish Women, the White Rose Mission, specifically for Caribbean women, and various other societies exclusively for Belgians, Bulgarians, Dutch, Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Poles and Russians.
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