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Citizenship Survey (1914)

A Citizenship Survey in Chicago

by Philip L. Seman. 1914 for the Chicago Hebrew Institute.

In accordance with the original suggestion made two years ago at the Baltimore conference, the Chicago Hebrew Institute began a house-to-house survey, the object being to ascertain the citizenship status of the residents as well as their literacy, particularly with reference to English.

Preparedness is a vital necessity for any social institution in its critical times. The Institute, facing the difficult situation of a rapidly changing neighborhood and constantly meeting new problems which increase in exact proportion to its activities, has added this survey department in connection on with its Bureau of Civics and Citizenship, the main purpose of this department being the research and study of the Jewish community life in Chicago.

The Institute deals with the American born, the naturalized and the unnaturalized. The chief interest of the Institute lies in the latter.

The Survey had a double purpose of securing data regarding individuals and of a publicity and educational campaign. Literature in English and Yiddish was left in each home, advising the family visited of the various opportunities to be found at the Institute. The questionnaire was simple and direct, every item having a bearing upon the all-important question of citizenship.

While the investigator took pains to make general notes on conditions, there was no confusing of the objective of the survey with health or reform work as such matters were always reported to some other agency. Her calls into the home were in the nature of a friendly visit. Only one investigator was employed for this work. An effort was made, however, to secure a worker who had been previously engaged in similar work and in the same district. She came to the work with the open mind of a student, without prejudice or the bias of professional social workers.

Scope—The field for survey, as before mentioned, included the whole of the 19th Ward, bounded by the Chicago River on the east and Hermitage Avenue on the west and from Van Buren to Taylor, from Hermitage to Loomia Street, then Twelfth Street as far east as Halsted, the boundary then following Taylor Street to Desplaines Street, going south to DeKoved and Bunker Streets to the river on the eastern boundary.

The district east of Halsted is now largely given over to factories and places of industry. Very few Jews were found in this mile square. The Italians, Greeks and Poles have been crowding the Jews out for years, and only a few isolated families are still to be found in their own homes. The school census record shows that in the Dante School, 15 years ago, there were 95% of Jewish pupils. In this survey we find that in the very same school, 99% are Italians.

The majority of the Jewish families are engaged in business on Halsted Street. These families lived in back or over their stores. Now, the more prosperous among them have moved into the Lawndale district and have gone as far as Fortieth Avenue.

The very heart of the district, bounded by Blue Island Avenue, Taylor Street and Racine Avenue, and extending almost to Van Buren Street, is now inhabited by other nationalities. The Jackson School on Polk and Sholts Streets, formerly almost exclusively Jewish, is now largely attended by Italians. Six years ago the first Italian child was graduated from the eighth grade. These facts are of great significance not only to the Institute, but to other social agencies and to the public school itself.

From Taylor Street to Twelfth Street, and from Loomis to May, is the most densely populated area and has the largest population of Jews in the field canvassed. Here, too, we find the greatest number of aliens. This is in the immediate neighborhood of the Institute, and no doubt similar facts will be ascertained when a survey is made of the adjoining 10th and 20th Wards.

The most important grouping of Jews, as shown on the spot map, is that surrounding Ashland Boulevard. This neighborhood is bounded by Laflin, Harrison, Hermitage and Taylor Streets. Ashland Boulevard, formerly, was one of the most beautiful and fashionable streets on the West Side. In the last few years it has become the happy camping ground for cheap rooming houses, boarding homes and college fraternities, housing hundreds of students from the local medical and dental colleges.

Method—The survey was practically completed as it progressed, that is, a running file was made with the tables, so that the tabulations might be kept up-to-date and the spot map was made street to street. In this manner it was possible to compare sections and to make an intelligent estimate of the results.

The investigator worked only part time. While it would have been highly desirable to have had a nearly instantaneous picture of the situated, which would be possible only if a dozen or more investigators were working simultaneously, confusion of ideas and duplication were avoided. The fact that one person was doing the work made it possible to continue it under the circumstances, with the enthusiasm and interest which would not have been possible with a change day after day.

The human interest value of the survey to the Institute is as great as its practical ends, namely, the possession of definite facts. Whenever literature was left in the home, an attempt was made to find the attitude of that home towards the question of the survey, and information was offered regarding societal and educational opportunities given at the Institute, that the individual members of the family might benefit by.

Considerable information of timely interest was brought to light, especially in regard to the social attitudes of the people.

Aim—The relation of the Institute to its neighbors is vitally associated with the relation of the immigrant to America. How permanently it does its work will largely depend on the farsightedness with which it plans its activities. This is not only true of the Institute, but of other social agencies which conduct work of an educational character in foreign localities. Here is not a problem of establishing the best classes or schools for developing the highest type of social and recreational technique, but of harmonizing a people with each other and their environment.

The time has come when groups and institutions should rise to a higher conception of citizenship. The Chicago Hebrew Institute, as an institution, is but fulfilling its mission in meeting the immigrant as a possible citizen and it must further be made clear to him that his coming has two sides—while it confers benefits, it also lays upon him the duties and the obligation of citizenship.

Citizenship and Naturalization of Jewish Residents

The fact that immigration has practically been suspended for two years makes this time a most propitious one for the study of the general situation and a vital study of the problem of Americanization before new problems and new issues arise with the greatest rushing of immigration which will undoubtedly follow the close of the European war.

The Nineteenth Ward—A Foreign Ward—The Nineteenth Ward is one of the most foreign wards in the city of Chicago, and it is probably second in the number of immigrant Jewish residents. The shifting of the population with the steady removal of the Jews westward as the Italians and East Europeans push in will not come in as a part of the discussion of the survey, but the facts, shown in the following tables, are given as being fairly typical of the conditions found in other similar districts.

Without going into a detailed study of the old and new immigration, we may take up briefly the points of significance from the standpoint of Americanization.

The first relates to the origin of the Jewish immigrant who now lives in the Nineteenth Ward.

As usual, the great majority were natives of Russia, and immigration has been comparatively constant for the last twenty-five years.

The ten to fifteen year period shows the largest immigration from Russia, also Romania and Austria-Hungary, while within the last five years increasing numbers have been coming from Germany, England and other lands, principally Persia and Palestine. Fewer become American citizens.

There are at the present time about twelve hundred adult Jews of foreign birth in the ward and of this number, nearly eight hundred have never even applied for first papers, and two hundred are not yet naturalized, although they have taken first papers, having been in the country over ten years. Nationality, apparently, plays little part in the relation to citizenship, the percentage of those who naturalized being about the same for all. Only five out of thirty-three from other lands have become naturalized, but comparison with the following table will show the cause for this in the short period of residence.

Political reasons might be ascribed to the 200 cases of men having first papers only although in residence in this country. Some will never take out the second. Others have been here fifteen or twenty years and have prospered, and through their business feel the need of citizenship.

The apparent inconsistency of the citizens who have been in America less than five years is to be explained by the fact that they were preceded by their fathers to this country and being under twenty-one on arrival were made citizens, through their fathers’ naturalization, by act of Congress.

The fact observed in the record table regarding the period of greatest immigration is shown in this table in relation to naturalization.

Further analysis of the table shows interesting facts. Three hundred and thirty residents have been in America less than five years, and if we add those from the fire to eight-year period we have a total of five hundred and eighty-three persons whom we can hardly expect to find naturalized. It is noteworthy that the number of aliens who have been here a greater length of time is almost equally as great.

This result is practically the same as that shown for all nationalities in the ten American cities having the largest foreign population in 1910. In recent years there seems to have been a decided change for the worse in this respect.

Chicago in 1900 had a percent of 28 of the foreign male population, 21 years and over, who had not taken out naturalization papers, and in 1910, this had risen to 41 percent. Chicago ranks fourth among the ten cities cited. “The School and the Immigrant.” Cleveland Foundation Survey, 1916, page 20.

The Children of Foreign Born—The second generation belongs properly to the nationality of their parents, but legally, if born in America, they are citizens here. It is both interesting and important to know something of the civic status of the home in relation to the child because of the far greater influence upon the future citizenship of child than the mere account of birth.

The Naturalization Law of 1906 practically eliminated the interest of the politician in his alien constituency. Most of the aliens in the vicinity, who had secured their papers through the effort of the local politicians, had been marched to courts in groups of fifty or one hundred. Under this law, the applicant must have had real preparation and his knowledge is carefully tested before papers are issued. This condition led to the establishment of free classes in naturalization and citizenship in most educational and social centers.

As evening school and citizenship classes for foreigners increase, it is to be hoped that naturalization officials will take increased interest in making naturalization on facilities as easy as possible. The working man who is not well established often does not dare to take a day off to go to court and if he dares, his witnesses cannot go. Until the citizenship of employees becomes of greater interest to employers, the night court session is practically the only solution.

The Attitude of the Jewish Immigrant Towards Citizenship

Americanization is more of a psychological process than a physical one. In the course of the investigation careful notes were made of the spontaneous expressions of those interviewed during the survey, with the idea that some general conclusions might be drawn regarding their attitude toward America and American citizenship. There was an attempt to classify with reference to common recurrence and table VI is the result.

The proportional number of aliens in this particular group is less disquieting than the attitudes in general which the data reveals. It is probably that the numbers representing those that do not expect to become naturalized are too low. Many foreign women wish to appear “American” even if exact truthfulness suffers in the consequence and some were especially reluctant to state that they were not naturalized and had made no effort to become so because of the present war in Europe and anything like a census filled them with instant suspicion.

The radical socialist and the occasional anarchist although constituting definite groups, are not indicated in this table. These figures are for the average immigrant, who is here permanently, and are taken at random from the whole district. They may be considered significant.

It is an interesting fact to record that almost without exemption those who are grouped together as having been American too short a time to be citizens had some definite ideas upon the subject and if first papers had not already been taken out, there was a good reason given, such as frequent change of address, no permanent home, etc.

The second classification of those who expressed a desire for citizenship, but had not acquired it because of ignorance of English or neglect, needs little explanation. As a class, they have been unfortunate in their new surroundings and have been slow to assimilate American ways. Of those in this group nearly all have their first papers but are afraid to pass the examination, having little confidence in themselves.

Poverty was given as the reason for failure to naturalize in only eleven cases, but it can be safely stated that it was a secondary cause in fully fifty of the cases cited in this table.

The unfavorable showing made by the facts in the second division of the table may be due to some slight inaccuracies in the replies of the individuals. The group classed under “general indifference” is so large that they deserve special comment. Very many of these, at one time, had first papers, but have lived in America for fifteen or twenty years without becoming citizens. The difficulties in adjusting themselves to America have been found too great. Taxed to the utmost to make a living for their families, under new conditions, the grind of endless drudgery left no time for education or mental development. In many cases their children are naturalized and they are proud of it, but isolated as they are from the world of modern life, they hardly know or care what the larger life means.

The illiterates belong to the same group, but are actually barred out by the reason of their ignorance and inability to acquire citizenship under the stringent examination system.

The number who openly gave expression to their discontent with America was very small. Their remarks were typical of the ex-patriot of Russia, who longs for the old idealism and materialism of our American life, keenly. He feels that in leaving Russia he deserted the cause of humanity.

Only a very few expect to go back to Europe. As a class, these men came to the United States without their families and as a rule possessed of more worldly goods. The process of assimilation in their case has been slow because of the less ardent need. Men who have been fairly well situated in the old country are accordingly apt to appreciate what American life has to offer.

Woman and Citizenship

The information gained in our canvas is largely by and through the woman. In most cases the information is considered in relation to the household as a unit, but for the group of unmarried, widowed and divorced women, this cannot properly be done. They represent only individual cases except where there are children.

It is of special interest for the study of citizenship to know more about the social and civic status of women who were interviewed in the survey canvass. Only one hundred and seventy-seven women over 21 years of age, out of twenty-one hundred cases, were reported as in this class.

The distribution with references to nationality shows a higher standard of literacy than would be true of the body of Jewish immigrant women. The illiterates, it may be said, do not belong to the new immigration and are, with no exception, woman over forty who came too late to learn. Nearly all are able to read and write in Yiddish. The two reported as illiterate from England were born of Russian Jewish parents, who stopped in England before coming to the United States.

The large number of unreported cases represents the boarders, or grown daughters employed away from home, whom it was impossible to interview.

It is significant that so large a number are not employed outside the home, but these are the group of widowed or divorced women. In many cases the women have left their homes, aided by parents or children.

This table gives no accurate idea of the occupations of the women in the neighborhood. The girls seek employment as soon as they are of working age. They may be found in the neighborhood factories and in downtown stores and offices, or in positions of temporary nature. Many of them will marry quite young and a number continue working after marriage. Few, indeed, seek the higher education not uncommonly given the elder sons.

Many married women engage in some business, such as running a small restaurant or store, in which both husband and wife work together, or she may make pretty articles or do plain sewing for some manufacturer. There is little specific information on the subject of homework, but the investigator who visited thousands of homes at various times of day found little evidence of such work in the homes.

General ignorance of English among immigrants has resulted in ignorance of the American press and a widespread reading of foreign newspapers. Even among the second generation there is a tendency to cling to that which is fast slipping away, as some member of each family is sure to take a foreign paper. The better educated Jews, as a rule, have their papers sent from abroad, and a still greater number subscribe to the New York City foreign publications, preferring to wait for the general news than to accept the local point of view.


A study of the relationship between occupation and citizenship is indicated in the following table, when a census was taken of 900 men in the neighborhood. (Table XII)

The professional class includes a number of Rabbis, also students from foreign universities, who are still engaged in study. The unprogressiveness of the former and the short length of residence of the latter account for the large number of aliens.

In the skilled class, the number of tailors increase the percentage of aliens. Their condition has had previous discussion. The small merchant and dealers (tabulated) include about half the whole number of peddlers. Not a few men, when they first come to the United States, take up some work as this because of their inability to follow their trades without knowledge of English and because there is greater opportunity to learn the language in this work.

In the miscellaneous class are found a great number who were educated abroad. They are the bankers’ agents and so-called advisors. They frequently need citizenship as a legal necessity in conducting their business.

Many of those reported as retired come here through the efforts of children who had preceded them to this country and were too old at the time of their arrival to learn a new language.

It is natural that the unemployed should be found in greater numbers among the alien population, not because of the attitude of the employer, but because of the instability of the individuals themselves.

Neighborhood Industry

The cooperation of seventy-five employers, representing almost every trade and industry on the West Side, which has in its employ any number of Jewish workers, made possible the summarized report regarding the citizenship of their employees.

Personal visits were made to the places of business in every case, and the information tabulated came directly from the manager or through the bookkeeper and timekeeper of each establishment. More than a hundred calls were made during the survey and besides gathering information an effort was made to secure the active cooperation of the firm for the Citizenship Bureau and literature was left for the employer—in Yiddish and English—wherever any number of Jews were employed.

Whenever practical, the investigator went through the establishment and talked with the employees individually. This was frequently allowed in the tailoring shops. Here the lack of organization among the men and their little contact with American people must be blamed for the very high percentage of aliens. It was not uncommon to find workers in whole departments all aliens although the average length of residence in this country was about ten or fifteen years. On the other hand, in the thirty or so small shops, restaurants, offices, etc., where the employees are daily in contact with outside people, the percentage of those were correspondingly high.

The members of the Association, organized for the benefit of the employees, seemed to be interested and intelligent about the situation. The social secretaries have fairly outlined their work and the West Side recreation rooms are a means of bringing the workers together. The Union men are generally opposed to this sort of activity on the part of employees.

Only two places of business were found where American citizenship was required; one was the brewery on 12th street and Sangamon street. The reason was given as—liquor question in politics. The other firm was a new bottling works also managed by an American who has been requiring citizenship of all employees hired within the last year. There are about a dozen of the old employees who are not naturalized.

The department stores and five tailoring establishments visited in the loop (not in tabulation) seem to keep well informed about their employees.

The conditions are entirely different because the majority of employees are young women who are American born or the children of immigrants.

Employers admitted that they knew nothing about the citizenship of employees. The general attitude expressed was that anyone unable to read and write in English and who was, in fact, unamericanized, was not desirable in any capacity.

There was a tendency to establish welfare work among the young women and educational classes have been organized at one store (Rothschild’s) where lectures on various topics are given, attendance being required. The plan was readily accepted of introducing naturalization matters at some of these lectures.


Men in touch with the situation from the employer’s standpoint feel that they must contribute certain things toward Americanization. The activity of the Y.M.C.A. in holding meetings for workers at the factories and stores could well be extended through the efforts of the Institute and such organizations as the Young Men’s Hebrew and Kindred Association.

A significant step toward wider civic education of the newly made citizen was taken at the Chicago Hebrew Institute when, at a meeting of 150 men and women who had recently acquired their naturalization papers, it was decided to form a new citizen’s club. The purpose of this organization will be to help members in the form of legislation enactment to encourage a spirit of civic interest and cooperation among them and further to conduct natural citizenship dinners and campaigns in order to impress on those who have delayed in coming to the Institute to become naturalized. This gathering took place at the instance of the Department of Civics and Citizenship, where speeches in English and Yiddish were given, which brought home to the new citizens that the privilege of citizenship in this great republic of ours means more than personal privilege which it might involve. There were certain important duties entailed, duties of cooperation with one’s officials toward the realization of purer ideals of government and for that, organization was necessary. The speakers for the organization referred to the restricted immigration legislation which was continually cropping up at the sessions of Congress. This new Citizenship Club will show the men at Washington who are responsible for the conduct of this government, that Jewish naturalized citizens do not stop at merely taking out their sheet of paper, but have the welfare of the country at heart and consider it their duty to assist in the administration of good laws and the duty to protest against the enforcement of poor laws.

Source: Merriam, Charles E. Papers, [Box 113, Folder 6], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.





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