Profound economic, social, and cultural transformations of the nineteenth century destabilized empires throughout Europe, giving rise to revolutions from which several new nation-states emerged. In combination with industrialization, the instability put thousands of people across the continent on the move, particularly those from rural areas in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Over 20 million European immigrants arrived to the East Coast between the end of the Civil War and 1924, seeking refuge and opportunities to rebuild their lives in the U.S.
European immigrants struggled to find housing and good-paying jobs, most settling in densely crowded, racially segregated urban neighborhoods. While some Americans worked to feed impoverished immigrants, many others relied on pseudo-scientific arguments about racial purity to argue that hunger in immigrant neighborhoods proved the new arrivals were “unfit” for citizenship. Fears that the number of immigrants threatened to overwhelm the capacity of the U.S. to feed its citizens resulted in the 1924 National Origins Act, which imposed strict quotas that sharply curtailed immigration from Europe and effectively banned immigration from Asia.
“Street Arabs in Sleeping Quarters,” Jacob A. Riis Museum of the City of New York.
Galleries & Exhibits
- 11865-1925: Hunger in the Industrial City
- 21929-1940: America in Crisis and Recovery
- 31945-1965: WWII and the Paradoxes of the Postwar Era
- 41955-1980: The Fight for the Right to Food
- 51975-1996: The Unmaking of the Great Society
- 61997-Present: How It Is — And How It Should Be