From the Pale to the Golden Land
The Galveston, Texas Immigration Movement

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The Galveston Movement was a program operated between 1907 and 1914 to divert Jews fleeing Russia and eastern Europe away form crowded East Coast cities. Ten thousand Jewish immigrants passed through Galveston, Texas during this era, approximately one-third the number who migrated to Palestine during the same period. New York financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff was the driving force behind the effort, which Schiff supported with nearly $500,000 of his personal funds. B'nai Israel's Rabbi Henry Cohen was the humanitarian face of the movement, meeting ships at the Galveston docks and helping guide the immigrants through the cumbersome arrival and distribution process.1

Read about the Galveston Movement below in two articles that appeared in Houston's "The Jewish Herald," and learn about the movement and read the words about the movement as written by Rabbi Henry Cohen.


DATELINE: November 12, 1908. The Jewish Herald, Houston, Texas.

The Galveston Movement.
Movement to Divert Jewish Immigration from New York is Interesting.

The so-called Galveston movement to divert Jewish immigration from New York to the gulf port has attracted wide attention. The doubt has been as to the feasibility of the plan. "Wood not the newcomers," it has been asked, "be dissatisfied in the West and drift back to the Eastern settlements of their own nationality?"

The plan has been effective for a short time that sufficient data to answer the question positively have not yet accumulated. Still the experience of one of the most important distribution centers for the Galveston movement is instructive. Of approximately 1,000 immigrants who landed in Galveston in the six months following the establishing of the Jewish Immigrants Information Bureau, July 1, 1907, about 10 per cent, were sent to Kansas City, where they came under the care of the United Jewish Charities and of Jacob Billikopf, superintendent.

An individual record of each of these hundred persons has been kept by him. It was rarely necessary to furnish board longer than a week at an individual cost of between five and six dollars Within that time positions were almost invariably found. The period covered includes the months of financial depression which made employment uncertain. Mr. Billikopf found 375 jobs for his hundred charges. In most instances positions were lost through no fault of the employees. Rarely have more than half a dozen men been out of work at one time, for the West has not been so seriously affected by the financial depressions as the East.

All sorts of occupations are represented among the immigrants. There are tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers, tinners, blacksmiths, butchers, bookkeepers, locksmiths, woodworkers. Wherever possible the men have been provided with work at their own occupations. In many cases, however, this has proved impossible and hey have taken whatever offered. At present the tailors are making the highest wages. In some instances their pay has gone to $17 and $18 and even $20 a week. Of the eighty-eight persons listed as at work May 1, forty-eight were receiving wages under $10 a week, with $5.50 as the minimum. Thirty-six were getting between $10 and $15, and four were making $15 or more, the maximum being $20.

The record kept at the office of the United Jewish Charities in Kansas City makes interesting reading. There is W. B., for instance, soapmaker, who arrived July 1, 1907. He is working in a packing house for $9 a week. Since his arrival he has saved $175 and has sent for his family in Russia. N. P., a tailor who is making $16 a week, has saved $100 and expects to send for his family. I. Z., a laborer in a junk yard at $9 a week, has sent more than $100 to Russia. M. G., who arrived August 6, out of his salary of $10.50 a week as a sash and door maker, has saved $100 and has sent for his oldest daughter from Russia. M. B., an iron worker, on $12 a week saved $110, and now has taken a small farm.

So it goes down the list, with only two discouraging entries--one man who was implicated in a theft and left town, and another who is listed as an undesirable citizen, working only occasionally. But fourteen of the immigrants, working for the most part at meager wages, are credited with having saved $1,265 since their arrival in Kansas City.

The movement has not yet attracted the serious attention of the unions, possibly because it is not on an extensive scale. In one instance it was found possible to place a cornice worker in a union shop with the acquiescence of the union's business agent. It was pointed out to him that the newcomer would probably become sufficiently proficient within a few weeks to earn the union scale. As soon as he should reach that point the man promised to take out a card. The agent took the position that it was better to encourage such a man to enter the union than to force him into the ranks of the non-union forces. Therefore he consented that he should work in the shop on probation. Before the expiration of the period allotted the immigrant was able to join the union.

Apparently the immigrants diverted to the West through Galveston are not going to drift eastward. At least that is the Kansas City experience. Only half a dozen of those who have come to Kansas City have left town, and while the movement has not been of sufficient duration for a test, there seems no reason to suppose that the new arrivals will not be satisfied with the opportunities offered in the West.

As it is, they are rapidly being transformed into Americans. The great social service of the organized Jewish charities in this transformation process is self-evident. If these Russian Jews, ignorant of the language and with their low standard of living, were plumped down into the West--into Kansas City, for instance--with no one to look after them, they would starve for a few days and then would drift into the ranks of unskilled labor, with the chances against their ever rising. With the aid of the Charity Organization Society they are able to start above the poverty level. So they have a chance to look about with a view to improving their condition. First they see the need of learning English. This is provided for by the night schools of the Jewish organization--which ought to be supplanted by public night schools. And then they begin to look for a better job.

A capmaker, who in Russia had made only a few dollars a month, when he could get work was started in Kansas City at $10 a week, which soon was raised to $12. That was opulence, and he lived with the joy of a millionaire until he made a discovery. Then he went to Mr. Billikopf with a grievance.

"What's the matter?" inquired the superintendent. "Are you getting on all right?"

"Yes," was the reply, "only I have heard that Cohen, who isn't any better capmaker than I, is getting $18. When she I be getting $18?"

That discontent was the evidence of the Russian capmaker's Americanization. And that is one of the fruits of the Galveston movement. -- H. J. Haskell, in Kansas City Star.

DATELINE: February 5, 1909. The Jewish Herald, Houston, Texas.

The Galveston Immigration Movement


To dignify the question of Jewish immigration by the term problem is incorrect, for this country could, without the least violence to itself, assimilate the world's Jewish population and then have room for three times that number, exclusive of the regular quota of other foreign settlers. With all the recent immigration consequent upon the brutal persecution in Russia and Roumania, together with the native-born children of the voluntary immigrants of normal times, the United States of America has no more than 1,500,000 Jewish residents. The Galveston movement, then, is not the outcome of a problem, but a question of expediency brought about by special conditions. To divert Jewish immigration from the Northern ports, notably New York, where there are about 800,000 Israelites, an interested committee bent its endeavors; and of the gulf ports, as points of entry, chose Galveston. Contiguous to and to direct railroad communication with the large country west of the Mississippi, scarcely touched by the newer immigrants--this Texas port offered excellent advantages for a point of distribution. The general scarcity of labor in the South and West under normal conditions would be counteracted if a steady flow of the able-bodied could be maintained, and to this end the Jewish artisan and laborer, fortified by industry and abstemiousness, and well-disciplined by salutary religious laws and customs could contribute in measure with the Teuton and the Slav, as well as with the scions of the Latin races, he would make excellent citizenship--with no possible chance of his returning to his mother country--step-mother country, rather--when he had accumulated a little money. So be it.

In the spring of 1907 the Jewish immigrants' information bureau was opened in Galveston to supply that machinery which would advise intelligently the already carefully selected alien how to work at his own trade or profession--or at general labor necessary for his livelihood--thereby serving two purposes: his own maintenance and the crying need of American industries. The present was all-important--the future would take care of itself. For just as soon as a man would save sufficient from the work of his hands to bring his family or his friends to his side, he would do so, and this committee knew by experience. A thousand immigrants the first of the year meant 5,000 a few years later. The un-uttered prophecy has been verified, for although our first group of immigrants arrived on July 1, 1907, and subsequent groups at three weeks' interval, family, relatives and friends have already joined the pioneers; the traveling expenses having been paid by the latter. The Galveston movement bids fair to remain a success as long as the powers that be think its continuance a necessity; and apart from such financial crisis with its consequent depression, as now obtains, there is no reason to believe but that its work will be uniformly appreciated.

The modus operandi of the bureau is interesting, but there is scarcely need to dwell upon the work in detail. The medical examination by the port marine surgeon, the interrogation by the immigration inspectors and the examination of baggage by the custom house officers is followed by the removal of the immigrants and their baggage in large wagons from the docks to the bureau headquarters--about half a mile. Then the distribution of mail long looked for by the aliens, the refreshing bath and the wholesome and generous meal; the facilities for writing home and for reading Yiddish papers published since the passengers' embarkation; the questioning of the individuals and the filling out of the consignee's record by the office management; the selection of localities according to the requisitions of the interior agents, and the purchasing of railroad tickets; and then, supper; the apportionment of food sufficient to last each immigrant for the whole up-country journey and a little longer; then the baggage wagons for the neighboring depot, and the departure from the bureau of those who are to leave on the night trains; the checking of baggage o destinations, and the leave-taking from one another after a month's constant companionship--often pathetic; the comfortable placing of the travelers in the railroad caches by the bureau's employees, then telegrams to the interior committees notifying them of the departure of their allotment, so that the latter should be met at the station; the retiring of the remainder to bed (what a change from the steerage bunks!) to leave on the morrow or thereafter, according to circumstances--all this and more must be seen to be realized.

The local manager of the bureau, or general agent as he is officially designated, was Morris D. Waldman formerly the assistant manager of the industrial removal office of New York, and now the superintendent of the United Hebrew Charities of the same city. He came to Galveston with all the ripe experience of his metropolitan tasks, and very soon his fingers touched the pulse of labor conditions from the gulf ports to Seattle, carefully responding to the industrial heartbeat of that vast territory. Holding well in hand the helpful agencies of various towns, he with his office staff was able to distribute the newcomers to the best advantage for all concerned. Mr. Waldman left Galveston in March for his new field of labor; and while his successor is not yet in charge--for stated reasons this summer the emigration is unusually light--the work is receiving the attention of L. Greenberg of the office staff, aided by the local committee. From exact information--for there is constant communication between the bureau in Galveston and all agencies--the failures have been but a small proportion, and this is all the more remarkable in the light of the following statistical table of arrivals:

(Jewish immigration direct to Galveston before this date was inconsiderable.)

Steamer. Date. No. arrivals.
Cassel Jul. 1 60
Frankfurt Jul. 14 26
Hanover Aug. 6 70
Chemnitz Aug. 24 89
Frankfurt Sept. 14 80
Koein Oct. 5 77
Chemnitz Oct. 26 9
Frankfurt Nov. 18 184
Hanover Dec. 7 102
Chemnitz Dec. 30 161
Frankfurt Jan. 20 20
Hanover Feb. 9 1
Koein Mar. 9 12
Frankfurt Mar. 31 12
Rhein Apr. 5
Frankfurt May 24 26

In accordance with the laws of the United States, there are, for good and sufficient reasons, occasional deportations---and the work of the inspector of immigration at this port E. B. Holman, and the United States marine surgeon in charge. Dr. A. Corput, is to be highly commended. Where the American people are not affected--either by risk of contagion or by the enforced support of public wards by reason of disease or indigence caused by poor physique or senility--the immigrant, under proper restrictions has been given the benefit of the doubt. The above representatives of the United States government have always endeavored to fulfill their duties in the spirit of the law as well as in the letter.

The Jewish deportations from the date of establishment of the bureau are here recorded:

Steamer. Date. Cause.
Hanover Aug. 6 3, Trachoma
Frankfurt Sept. 14 1, Poor physique
Koein Oct. 5 3, Tuberculosis
Koein Oct. 5 1, Poor physique
Frankfurt Nov. 18 2, Poor physique
Hanover Dec. 7 1, Trachoma
Chemnitz Dec. 30 1, Trachoma
Total cases   12

(None deported in 1908 till date.)

The local and general newspaper comments on the establishment of the Jewish immigrants' information bureau in Galveston were unanimously appreciative, editorially and as news--the Galveston daily publications vying with one another in their enthusiasm. The Galveston News of July 2, speaking of the arrival of the North German Lloyd steamer Cassel, the day before, bringing sixty Jewish immigrants, described fully the workings of the bureau, from its culinary arrangements and conveniences for lodging, bathing, etc., to the detailed distribution of the immigrants as observed by an intelligent reporter, laying stress on Jewish citizenship and highly commending the mayor, H. A. Landes, for his visit to the bureau headquarters and his warm welcome to the aliens. The scene was well worth recording! After a few well chosen words of welcome, wherein he took occasion to descant upon the privileges of American citizenship--interpreted in Yiddish by an interested bystander, the mayor shook hands with all present--to the extreme surprise and evident gratification of the immigrants. Upon the spur of the moment a young fellow, whose hand was still tingling from the hearty greeting, stepped forward and in halting, though grammatical English thanking the mayor for his courtesy. "In our country, Russia," he said, "the scene could not be possible! The majors of our cities would take absolutely no notice of us, or of any people of our station. You have welcomed us, Mr. Mayor, and we are grateful. There may be a time when the American people will need us, and then we will serve them with pure blood!" The same interested bystander interpreted these few words to the other immigrants and their acquiescence was proven by a resounding hurrah!

The intelligence of the large majority of the aliens is marked. One has but to observe the general vivacity at the first meal at table after the usual twenty-five days form Bremen to appreciate this. Quick to understand their minds run in the groves of intelligent thought. At the first opportunity they ask for newspapers--Yiddish, German or Russian; and then follows another question--as to the possibility of procuring a Yiddish-English or a Russian-English dictionary! A request came to me from the detention hospital where a few of the immigrants were awaiting further examination--would I kindly send them a game of chess? Verbum Sapienti Sat! This country need have no fear of this class of alien and if all signs fail not, the brawn and sinew, and for that matter the brain of the United States will be mightily strengthened by those Jews that pass through its Galveston portals!

Detailed distribution of immigrants arriving at the port of Galveston under the auspices of the Jewish immigrants' information bureau from July 1, 1907, till May 25, 1908:

Number of people distributed.......934
Number of men............................729
Number of women.........................73
Number of children......................133
Number of wives joining husbands....8

     1 - From Wikipedia.






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