Immigrants, Nativism and Americanization

Americanism" or "Nativism," the belief that native-born Americans, especially if of Anglo-Saxon extraction, have superior rights to the "foreign-born," intensified during the "Red Scare" of 1919-1920. Nativist emotions were compounded by the association of immigrants with anarchists, Socialists and Communists, and figured prominently in the notorious 1920s trial of the foreign-born Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Also during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan reappeared for the first time since Reconstruction, targeting Catholics and Jews -- who were among the largest groups of ethnic immigrants -- as well as blacks.

Nationalist sentiment resulted in the passage of highly restrictive immigration laws that imposed quotas by national origin, stemming the flood of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe seeking to enter the United States in the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The Emergency Quota Act, passed in 1921, was signed by President Harding. The National Origins Act, passed in 1924, also penalized Japanese would-be immigrants in addition to southern and eastern Europeans. One result of the restrictions was the emergence of a national labor force largely without foreign-born workers beyond those who already were here, a turn of events that ultimately favored African-American workers. (INTRO NOTE African Americans)

Immigrants who already were in the country were subjected to a barrage of "messages" from society and government "educating" them in how to become assimilated, aiming, in effect, to "Americanize" them. The United American. A Magazine of Good Citizenship, published in Portland, Oregon "in the interest of Americanization and Adult Education," billed itself as "Devoted to the Cause of Americanization, Assimilation and Group Elimination; Pointing the way to a Constitutional Americanism, to Equality in Citizenship, and a better understanding between Native born and Foreign born." Credit Unions: Their Operation and Value (1926), which discusses the credit union as a type of consumer cooperative, focuses on these credit-giving institutions as an instrument of immigrant "Americanization."

One of the most important ways in which immigrants received training in Americanization was, thus, through the consumer society, particularly through efforts encouraging foreigners to own, furnish, maintain and inhabit homes in keeping with "American" ideas of cleanliness, decoration, nutrition, recreation, and so forth. Americanization through Homemaking (1929), published by the Department of Americanization and Homemaking of the Covina (California) City Elementary Schools, a syllabus aimed at Mexican immigrants of elementary school age, incorporated lessons in how to live in the American consumer economy that were driven home in spades in Thrift Education: Being the Report of the National Conference on Thrift Education, Held in Washington, D.C., June 27 and 28, 1924 by the National Education Association. (INTRO NOTE Thrift)

In the December 1924 issue of Merchants Record and Show Window, a trade journal serving merchants, display managers and advertising men, the article "Dollars and Sense" focuses on the need to survey the market and trends in home ownership, including trends among German and Polish immigrant groups, in order to achieve "scientific selling." ("Scientific selling" among immigrants and others meant cashing in on the "growing influence of children in the purchases of parents [which] has led to the sending of appeals to the 'little folks' as an effective approach to the family purse.")

Articles and "Advance Record Bulletins" in the January 15, 1926 and February 15, 1926 issues of the trade journal Talking Machine World, which served dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers of phonographs and radio products, provide a picture of healthy sales to immigrants of that all-important, relatively inexpensive consumer product, the phonograph recording.

Immigrant consumers were a more significant factor in the 1920s economy than our sparse offering of journals suggests. Much of the advertising directed at new arrivals from Europe and elsewhere appeared in newspapers, especially the foreign-language press, which also contained some articles on standard of living issues. For the most part, the resources available to the Coolidge-Consumerism project were not sufficient to permit the canvassing of this literature. In addition, technical impediments related to page dimensions and scanning from microfilm made it difficult to digitize foreign-language and immigrant newspapers at the time that the Coolidge-Consumerism collection was in production, in 1995.

There is also immigrant material in the Coolidge Papers case file Labor Department 1923-29, including exchanges between President Coolidge and Labor Secretary James Davis over immigration restrictions and the belief that immigrants threatened the standard of living of American workers. Material in the Coolidge Papers case file Advertising - General, 1923-28 also suggests that anti-foreigner sentiment bore fruit in the American Trademark Association and its "'MADE IN THE U.S.A.'" advertising campaign. (DETAIL NOTE Trademarks)


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