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Twenty Nationalities, But All Americans

This slideshow contains 19 items
1
Woolston School, Portland, 1922

Woolston School, Portland, 1922

Item 41789 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In 1920, close to 4,000 immigrants in Portland came from countries where English was not the primary language: Italy, Russia, China, Syria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Greece.

About 20,000 Portland residents had at least one parent born outside the United States. The 1920 census counted 1,453 foreign-born whites as illiterate.

This was Clara Soule's target population.


2
Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 43309 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Many of the immigrants came through the Immigration Inspection or Quarantine Station at House Island in Casco Bay, where in 1913 alone 26,421 people first landed in the United States.


3
Ku Klux Klan procession, Portland, ca. 1923

Ku Klux Klan procession, Portland, ca. 1923

Item 1265 info
Maine Historical Society

The same change in demographics that inspired Clara Soule to start the Americanization program also provoked other responses.

For example, the Ku Klux Klan was quite active in Portland and other northern cities, expressing opposition to immigrants and Roman Catholics as well as to African-Americans.

In Portland, the Klan supported a successful 1923 referendum that eliminated the popularly elected mayor and reduced the size of the City Council, concentrating power in the hands of the city's established Protestant elite.

The Jewish and Catholic members of the City Council were not re-elected.


4
Uncle Sam and Miss Liberty, Portland, 1922

Uncle Sam and Miss Liberty, Portland, 1922

Item 41788 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In the early years of Americanization, the Portland Sunday Telegram published photographs of foreign-born students and praised student effort and achievement.

These photographs are not objective records of what was happening in the classroom, but instead tell us what the newspaper wanted readers to think about education for immigrants.

Although the text and images may now seem patronizing, at the time there was no national consensus that immigrants from Asia or Eastern and Southern Europe were fit for American citizenship.

These photographs sent a message that public education was an effective tool of assimilation. At the North School, the paper reported, there were students of "twenty nationalities, but all Americans."


5
Chapman School patriotism, Portland, ca. 1920

Chapman School patriotism, Portland, ca. 1920

Item 10587 info
Maine Historical Society

Before the Americanization program, school-aged students, regardless of their language abilities, were placed in classes with native English speakers.

In the semester before the program was implemented, the Sunday Telegram published a photograph of four Armenian students with the caption, "Four arguments for the erection of a wing to the North School Building."

The paper called for a separate room and a "competent teacher" to accommodate "the increasing number of children annually coming to this school from foreign lands."


6
Americanization class, Boys Club, Portland

Americanization class, Boys Club, Portland

Item 122 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

The first Junior Americanization class, shown here, was held in the library of the Portland Boys' Club.

Students came from Isabella Garvin, North, Staples, and Woolson schools, all located in the eastern or central parts of the Portland peninsula where many immigrants settled.

The 19 students in the first class spent one to two hours in the Americanization class learning English before returning to their regular classroom.


7
Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 48819 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Although the newspaper frequently featured the junior classes, Clara Soule chose the education of immigrant mothers as one of her primary goals. Eight of the ten classes in 1922 were "mother's classes;" 99 women were enrolled.

If a woman did not work outside the home, she was less likely than her husband or children to learn English and American habits.


8
Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 48818 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Soule's decision to focus on women may have been motivated by the passage of the Cable Act in 1922, which separated a woman's naturalization status from that of her husband.

Women no longer were granted automatic citizenship following a husband’s naturalization. If she wanted to be naturalized, she needed to attend a program like Soule's.


9
Portland Americanization class, 1924

Portland Americanization class, 1924

Item 48820 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Like many progressive reformers of this period, Soule saw education as a way to restructure the lives of immigrants outside of the classroom.

Several of the mother’s classes were held in private residences in the students' neighborhoods, and Americanization teachers occasionally invited students for meals at their houses. In 1923 teachers made more than 500 home visits.

Soule also oversaw the creation of a Social Service Bureau designed to provide information on "immigration law, naturalization, citizenship, taxation, insurance, compensation, local ordinances, and on many personal matters."


10
Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 43314 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

"The term Americanization, as applied to our work," Soule wrote in the 1926 Annual School Report, "means the educating of the illiterate and the foreign born in the use of the English language, in the manners, customs, government, history and ideals of America, as well as the industrial and social privileges of American citizenship and fellowship."


11
Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1925

Adult Americanization class, Portland, 1925

Item 43316 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Most Americanization classes included students of multiple nationalities, although Clara Soule's report notes separate classes for Italian mothers and Chinese men.

Soule started a class for Chinese restaurant workers in March 1924, after talking to the managers of the Empire and Oriental Restaurants, located at 573 Congress Street and 28 Monument Square.

Unlike many other male immigrants, waiters were unable to regularly attend Evening School classes because of their work schedules.


12
Americanization class, Portland, 1925

Americanization class, Portland, 1925

Item 43317 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Both Henry Wong and Dan Wong, shown here, came to Portland as young teenagers to work for their uncle Charles Tuck Wong in the Oriental Restaurant.

Although the Chinese students seem to have been greatly invested in their education, many students left for job opportunities in other cities.


13
Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 43318 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In Portland and across the nation, historical pageantry was frequently incorporated into the Americanization curriculum as a way to teach immigrants and their children about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. The newspaper often printed photographs of these pageants.

The Americanization students in this photograph are reenacting immigration to the United States in a pageant called "Uncle Sam's Problems."

According to the Sunday Telegram, the pageant would be "depicting some perplexing questions, and concluding with a discussion of many truths of vital interest to the thinking citizens of today."


14
Americanization pageant program, Portland, 1927

Americanization pageant program, Portland, 1927

Item 49572 info
Maine Historical Society

The school pageants photographed for the newspaper also were performed for the public. "Uncle Sam's Problems" accompanied the Portland Evening School graduation, and this program was created for a similar production two years later.

"Immigrants," Soule wrote in the program’s conclusion, "seeking better life conditions, freedom of religion, and better remuneration for their services, come to the United States and, while they love the land of their birth, they give their brain, brawn, loyalty and their children to the land of their choice in return for the opportunities and privileges given to them."


15
Portland Schools Americanization Classes, 1926

Portland Schools Americanization Classes, 1926

Item 96 info
Maine Historical Society

The newspaper made certain that readers understood the purpose of these re-enactments. "Patriotic teaching by means of plays, pageants and drills has proven most effective in many of the local schools," the Telegram wrote.

"Pageants, plays and festivals will be emphasized during the coming years as part of the effort to imbue children with the spirit of democracy. These presentations will abound in symbolisms of Nation ideals, events and progress."


16
Americanization colonial pageant, Portland, ca. 1926

Americanization colonial pageant, Portland, ca. 1926

Item 48823 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

The Americanization movement was closely linked to the Colonial Revival, when some New England residents sought moral and aesthetic inspiration in the early national period.

The rediscovery and restoration of Paul Revere's home in Boston and the House of Seven Gables in Salem were due in part to the perceived threat posed by new immigrants in the heart of Anglo-Saxon New England.

Both of these historic homes ran Americanization programs, using the well-established history of the region to educate and assimilate newcomers.


17
Thanksgiving pageant, Woolson School, Portland, 1923

Thanksgiving pageant, Woolson School, Portland, 1923

Item 48822 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In the pageants, immigrant students often acted out iconic American scenes like the First Thanksgiving or the creation of the American Flag, which demonstrated their grasp of both national history and democratic ideals. In spite of the inclusive spirit of Soule's program, the strict categories of race typical of the period shaped the curriculum.

The Chinese students are dressed in Indian costumes, while the Russian students, classed as "white" in the 1920 census, play the Pilgrims.


18
Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 43285 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Occasionally the paper published writing by the Americanization students. This writing was always about patriotic subjects that matched the pageant photographs.

Nathalie Westwig, shown here at far right of the back row, had lived in the United States for only seven months when her essay, "What We Must Do to Show Our Gratitude to America," was printed the week after Thanksgiving.

"We must respect our Flag of beautiful colors, red, white and blue," Westwig wrote. "We must be kind to all creatures that God has made."


19
Junior Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Junior Americanization class, Portland, 1924

Item 48821 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

By the end of the 1920s, the Sunday Telegram had stopped covering the Americanization classes in such depth.

The program was dismantled in 1945, although the Evening School still offered English and citizenship classes.


This slideshow contains 19 items
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