Digital Files Depicting Nativism

      Comments Off on Digital Files Depicting Nativism

Membership in the Ku Klux Klan

This source is an advertisement that encouraged people to join the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century, a time when immigration was beginning to become more apparent in the United States. Unlike other sources from this exhibition that show the influence of immigration on America and its citizens, this source shows another aspect of nativism, depicting hatred against Americans who were not white Anglo-Saxon protestants (Higham 1958). This advertisement speaks against “impure Americans,” not giving people who believed in different gods and faiths as many  opportunities and resources as those who were “pure” Americans. This source is somewhat of a pre-curser to the high levels of nativism seen in later years, as issues with ‘impure” American citizens evolved into worse views of people who were not from America at all (Higham 1958). The thinking shown in this advertisement that expresses nativist views towards people who are not American contributed to the nativist tendencies of Americans for decades to come.

Flyer from the Ku Klux Klan promoting “pure Americanism” in 1850, taken from Duke University Libraries .

No Irish Need Apply

This source is a song written and performed by Kathleen O’Neil. At the top of the lyric sheet, there is an advertisement for work, looking for a small girl that can cook and clean. However, it states that “No Irish Need Apply.” This song is a response to that line, saying that the writer fits all of the requirements for the job, has the time, and needs the money. However, she is an Irish girl, meaning she is not allowed to apply to the job. The song says that there is no reason for her not to be able to apply for the job, as she is in the “land of the ‘Glorious and Free.’” This song shows a direct form of nativism, as employers in the late 1800s did not want their businesses or jobs to become “impure” by having an immigrant working there (Decker 2014). At the time this song as created, there were millions of Irish coming into the America, which escalated nativism in the years to follow (Decker 2014). This source shows the discrimination and prejudice felt by immigrants as a result of nativist tendencies, contributing to less opportunities and resources for foreigners in the late 1800s.

Song written by Kathleen O’Neil in 1862 expressing one of the hardships of being an immigrant. Full image found at

How the Other Half Lives

This source is an image of immigrants taken by Jacob Riis in the late 1800s. At the time of this picture, millions of immigrants from Europe were coming to the United States for work and did not have enough resources to afford daily necessities. Because of this, immigrants lived together in tenements, paying nightly to sleep in crowded rooms with many other immigrants in similar situations. This picture is an indirect form of nativism, as big business owners in the United States exploited immigrants for cheap labor (Aaronovich Hourwich 1912). While immigrants lived in squalor with little to no resources available, the owners of these companies were living in extreme wealth (Aaronovich Hourwich 1912). Similarly to the messages conveyed in “No Irish Need Apply,” European immigrants living in tenements were not given the same opportunities as American citizens due to their ethnicities. This once again shows how American’s believed they were superior to immigrants, by believing that they deserved more than the immigrants did, solely based on the fact that they were born in the United States.

Immigrants stuffed into tenements, taken by Jacob Riis in 1889. Photo taken from San Francisco MoMA.

Ford English School

The 1920s were met with long periods of mass immigration into the United States due to a rise in industry. The creation of new industries and big business opened up thousands of blue-collar jobs, jobs in which Americans believed they were above. So, immigrants began to work for the new industries for low wages. As seen in the photos taken by Jacob Riis, these immigrants were living in very poor conditions, as the industries were paying them very low salaries to do their work. While these new workers were good for the business owners in the sense that they had unlimited cheap labor, things became difficult due to the fact that none of the immigrants spoke English, as well as the fact that the immigrants spoke different languages form one another (Baron 1990). One company, the Ford Motor Company, decided to open up an English school that would teach the immigrants working at the Ford company aspects of American culture and of course, English (Baron 1990). This process is known as Americanization and was widely used to “Americanize” immigrants in the 1920s. This source is a photograph of one class of immigrants graduating from the Ford English School, showing little to no remnants of their native culture.

The “Melting Pot Ceremony” at Ford English School in 1917, taken from The Henry Ford Collection.

Ku Klux Klan Letter Promoting American Businesses

This source is a letter written by the Ku Klux Klan asking store owners to put a “BUY CHRISTIAN” sign in their windows to ensure that only pure American citizens are allowed. This source was created due to the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan. In the 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan resurfaced due to the large increase in immigration and industrialization seen in America (MacLean 1995). The reemergence of the Klan was a way for Americans to try to hold onto their culture in a time where immigrants seemed to be becoming the majority. As opposed to the source taken from the Klan in the 1850s, this source preaches hate on immigrants rather than natives that were not considered to be WASPs. This source was a way for Americans to try and reestablish themselves as dominant over the foreign people that were consuming America in the early 1900s (MacLean 1995). This source describes not wanting foreigners to be able to take over certain aspects of everyday life. There are very clear aspects of nativism in this source, as it shows how American citizens wanted their societies to be, free of foreigners. Klan members hoped that if they got enough people to refuse service and basic goods to foreigners, they would have no choice but to leave, making America a pure country once more.

Letter written by the KKK in the 1940s asking people to only “buy American” and not give money to immigrant businesses, taken from Collections at Georgia State.