Ben Lomond Manor House

Elis Island part 3

The documentary, the third in a series, traces the history of Ellis Island, highlighting the shifts in immigration legislation and in public attitudes toward immigrants in the early and mid-twentieth century. Focusing on the health inspections and immigration boards, the show examines the process through which some immigrants were detained on the island, others were deported and many more were granted entry to a new life in America.

It depicts the often-conflicting feelings of people arriving on Ellis Island, their hopes for the future and fears of deportation. It is recommended for high school students.

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

Vocabulary: national origins, ambiguity, subversives, assimilate, anarchists, contagious diseases, cosmopolitan, Passover seder, eluded, deterrent, radical, alien.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might the dining hall have provided immigrants with their first American experience? What kinds of programs and activities were provided for those who were detained on Ellis Island?

  2. Why did many of those who appeared before the immigration boards consider the system severe or cruel?

  3. On what grounds were the boards expected to exclude people? What could a person do if the board ruled that he or she should be deported?

  4. "The Statue of Liberty was facing the other way, showing us her back." What did the man who said this mean? What did the statue symbolize to him?

  5. How did the outbreak of WWI alter American attitudes toward immigration? How was the experience on Ellis Island changed?

  6. Why were inspectors in the 1920s charged with excluding anarchists?

  7. What was the aim of the 1924 immigration legislation, the National Origins Quota system? How did it work? How did the immigration system change after 1924?

  8. How did the massive influx of immigrants during the first couple decades of the twentieth century alter or shape the American economy?

  9. Why did immigration to the U.S. drop in the 1930s? How did the drop in immigration change Ellis Island?

  10. Why do you think Ellis Island was restored and designated a national landmark?

Research Activities:

  1. Develop a national immigration policy for the U.S. in the 1990's. Consider the ways immigration legislation functioned earlier in the century and then develop new policies for today. Be sure to develop a rationale for your policies. Who should be allowed in to the U.S.? Who should be excluded? Why?

  2. Make a time line showing the history of Ellis Island, linking changes in the structure and processing of the island to larger political, economic and cultural changes in the United States and abroad.

  3. What does Ellis Island symbolize for Americans today? Write an essay in which you consider the significance of immigration in shaping an American identity. How did the period of immigration from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century change the character of the nation? How has the immigrant experience shaped the American experience?