Ben Lomond Manor House

Ellis Island part 2

Immigrants arriving on Ellis Island from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century faced an often-humiliating inspection process, which sometimes included physical and psychological examinations, as well as literacy tests and questions about the immigrants' political views. "Ellis Island", the second in the three-part series focuses on the expanding federal bureaucracy on Ellis Island, the gateway to America for more than 12 million immigrants.

Through the voices of some of the millions who were processed in the federal facility in New York harbor, the documentary recounts the immigrants' hopes for a new life and fears of deportation. It is recommended for middle and high school students.

Curriculum links: immigrant history, women's history, geography, civics, American history, civil rights, urban culture.

Vocabulary: bureaucratic, steerage, manifest, ethnic, integrated, deportation, venereal disease, epidemics, contagious, scarlet fever, eugenics, bigamist, anarchist, irony.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe the process people faced when arriving on Ellis Island. Why were they inspected?

  2. Why were first and second class passengers inspected on board the boat? Why were steerage passengers sent to Ellis Island?

  3. Why did some immigrants kiss the ground when they arrived on Ellis Island?

  4. What was the purpose of the bureaucratic processing on Ellis Island? Why were some immigrants intimidated by that process?

  5. The narrator quoted an old immigrant saying, "America beckons, but Americans repel." What did immigrants mean when they said that?

  6. What did chalk marks on an immigrants' clothing mean? Why did the doctors use those marks? Which diseases in particular were the doctors seeking to identify?

  7. What was the purpose of the immigrant aid societies? How did they assist the immigrants?

  8. What would happen if a child was rejected by the health inspectors?

  9. One woman remembers, "My aunt told my mother they asked her this funny question, 'How many feet does a horse have?'" Why would the inspectors have asked this question? Describe some of the other psychological tests. Why were immigrants alarmed by these questions?

  10. Why were people deported if they said they already had a job waiting for them? Why were women who traveled without an escort more likely to be questioned or detained by inspectors?

Research Activities:

  1. Imagine you are an immigrant arriving on Ellis Island around 1910, or choose 1925. Write a journal entry describing your experiences with the health inspectors and the other bureaucrats on the island. How would you feel if you were questioned about your political beliefs? How would you feel if you were pulled aside and placed in the hospital for several days?

  2. Research a case in which a potential immigrant challenged the results of a medical exam. Write a paper in which you describe the issues in the case and consider health care policies for immigrants in general. Was the immigrant in your case ultimately deported? Why or why not? Do you agree with the outcome of the case? What was the purpose of the medical exams on Ellis Island? Which diseases posed the greatest threat to the health of the American public? Do you believe the health inspections prevented the outbreak of epidemics in New York City? Or do you think some people were unfairly deported?

  3. Draw a map of Ellis Island, locating it in New York harbor and identifying all the buildings on the island.
Go To Part 3