Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Americanization

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AMERICANIZATION. This term was brought into general use during the organization of “Americanization Day” celebrations in a number of cities for July 4, 1915. It properly refers to the “science of race assimilation” — the process of making an American people out of the vast army of immigrants who have come from every nation of the world to seek homes in the United States. The term has consequently been applied somewhat indiscriminately to a wide variety of activities among the foreign born on the assumption that such programs contribute to the process of race assimilation in America.

Interest in this fundamental problem of American democracy had been increasing for many years before such programs were designated “Americanization.” The publication of the report of the United States Immigration Commission in 1911 marked the culmination of an attempt to formulate a constructive national policy toward immigration and naturalization and has been the basis of many of the programs adopted since.

Public interest in the foreign born was quickened by the outbreak of the Great War which revealed the intense nationalistic feeling of many foreign-born groups in America and their utter ignorance of and even estrangement from the daily life of the American people. This situation came to be seriously considered as a problem of national defense when it became clear that the United States would enter the conflict, and a systematic campaign of patriotic education among the foreign born was commenced at once by the Councils of National Defense, the United States Department of the Interior, the Food Administration and other Government agencies charged with the task of uniting the American people in support of the war aims of the nation. The emphasis was gradually shifted from emergency propaganda to a long-time educational program, when a study of conditions in the draft army made by the Surgeon-General's Office showed conclusively that from 18 per cent. to 42 per cent. of the men in army camps were unable to read a newspaper or to write a letter home, and that in the Northern and Middle Western States these illiterates were almost entirely foreign born whites. Indications were that barriers to any understanding of American aims and interests were even more marked than this among the older men and the women in the foreign colonies within America. The whole nation was aroused to the situation and hundreds of Americanization agencies sprang up overnight.

National Program. — The leadership in the national movement was assumed by Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, who enlisted the co-operation of the National Council of Defense and the National Americanization Committee, through the Bureau of Education, In March, 1919, connection with the National Americanization Committee was severed and a Federal Division of Americanization, headed by Mr. Fred C. Butler, was organized as a part of the Bureau. Eleven “regional directors” represented the Washington division throughout the United States. Permanent financial support of this division was provided for in the Smith-Bankhead Americanization bill, but the failure of this measure to pass caused the discontinuance of the division at the close of 1919. Interest in Americanization legislation was again roused by the investigation of the steel strike in the fall of 1919 by the Education and Labor Committee of the Senate. This committee became convinced of the need of education of the adult foreign born and introduced the Kenyon bill which (amended) provided for an appropriation of $6,500,000 for the year 1920-1921 for the purpose of educating illiterates and non-English-speaking adults. This sum was to have been spent through the various States, on condition that each State should appropriate a sum equal to its share of the Federal grant and should make attendance at classes compulsory for illiterate and non-English-speaking persons from 16 to 45 years. The measure passed the Senate in January, 1920, but was not voted upon in the House.

Simultaneously with the Americanization program of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Labor, through its Bureau of Naturalization, has been active in stimulating a program of education in citizenship throughout the country, working through State and local boards of education, as well as through the courts and the industries.

State and City Programs. — Prior to the war, practically nothing had been done in the individual States toward developing a definite policy toward immigration. Notable exceptions to this rule were California and New York, where permanent Commissions on Immigration have been functioning for some years. During 1917 and 1918, thirty States organized Americanization committees — usually as a part of State Defense Council programs — and six had appointed State directors of Americanization. A large number of these States passed laws providing facilities for the education of adult immigrants; a few made attendance at school compulsory for non-English-speaking adults under 45. Most of these State committees went out of existence with the Defense Councils, but a number have been continued and developed, either as departments of State Divisions of University Extension (e. g. Massachusetts, New York) or as separate departments, attached more or less closely to the State Boards of Education (e. g., Connecticut Delaware, Maryland). A number of city Americanization committees survived the armistice and developed constructive programs. Outstanding features of typical State and city programs follow:

(1) The drive against illiteracy (as in New York State, where the elimination of illiteracy has been adopted as a definite goal).

(2) Improvement of facilities for immigrant education (as in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Ohio, California, and other States, where teachers have been given special training, methods have been standardized, attendance stimulated, and definite studies of results made).

(3) Intensive training of aliens in constructive citizenship — particularly in Massachusetts, where standards have been greatly improved.

(4) Home classes for immigrant women — particularly in California, where teachers are paid by the State to teach groups of women in their own homes.

(5) Industrial classes in which immigrant workers are given lessons in English and citizenship in factories and shops, either on their own time, or on the employer's, or both. This work is usually run under private auspices, but is often under the direction of State or city educational authorities, as in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, and other States.

(6) Prevention of exploitation of the immigrant, handled by private agencies in many States and cities, but an integral part of the Americanization programs of California, Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, and other States.

(7) Stimulation of self-expression of the foreign born and of mutual sympathy among all groups through pageants, parades, homeland exhibits, etc. This has been done by scores of city committees and notably by the New York State Division of University Extension.

(8) Recreational work and community organization. (Chiefly by city committees and boards of education, but sometimes as a part of a State program, as in Delaware.)

Private Organizations. — Huge sums have been raised by numerous religious and patriotic organizations for various activities among immigrants. In some instances the contribution made by these programs to the process of Americanization, or race assimilation, is necessarily subordinated to the special aims and interests for which these groups were organized; in other cases the work is exactly similar to the public programs outlined above. Among the religious groups carrying on systematic programs of work among immigrants are most of the larger Protestant denominations, the National Catholic War Council, the Y. M. C. A., the Y. W. C. A., the Knights of Columbus, the Y. M. H. A., and the W. C. T. U. Extensive campaigns have been conducted by such patriotic organizations as the National Security League, the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Colonial Dames of America. The National Chamber of Commerce and hundreds of city chambers have done systematic and successful work. The National Federation of Women's Clubs and the National Council of Jewish Women have adopted definite and comprehensive programs of work. Incidentally, the contribution to the process of race assimilation made steadily for many years by the public libraries, countless social settlements, immigrant aid societies, and legal aid bureaus has been more widely recognized as the Americanization movement developed.