Banner image            Home    What's New    Articles    Images    Subjects    Corrections    Advanced Search    Timeline    Maps    Multimedia    About
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

AMERICANIZATION - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

AMERICANIZATION. The heavy influx of immigrants into cities such as Cleveland before and after the Civil War tested the belief that America could easily assimilate foreign newcomers. Hector Crevecoeur, an 18th-century French writer, had popularized the image of America as a mix of races and nationalities blending into and forming a new culture. On the other hand, nativists who had organized the Know-Nothing Party before the Civil War feared that the foreign customs and "vices" of non-Anglo-Saxon people would destroy America. Anglo-conformists with a similar concern believed in less drastic solutions to make immigrants shed their foreign customs and assimilate into the Protestant, middle-class American mainstream. The public schools were especially burdened with this task.

One of the primary objectives of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS since their beginning in 1836 has been the assimilation of foreign-born immigrants into American society. The leaders of the city's schools before the Civil War were transplanted New Englanders who believed that the public or common school was a panacea for the social and economic ills of American society. They claimed, like educator Horace Mann of Massachusetts, that the compulsory attendance of all children in the public schools would educate children not only in the "three Rs," but also in the cultural values of Anglo-Saxon America. In 1835 Calvin Stowe, one of the most influential leaders of Ohio's public-school movement, told teachers that it was essential for America's national strength that the foreigners who settled on our soil should cease to be Europeans and become Americans. But the public school found that immigrant children needed specialized programs to succeed in the classroom. In Mayflower School, built at the corner of Mayflower (31st St.) and Orange in 1851, the majority of students came from Czech families (see CZECHS), and only 25% of the pupils could speak English by the 1870s. Teachers spent a portion of each day providing special lessons in the English language. In 1870 superintendent ANDREW RICKOFF† and the school board instituted the teaching of German, to successfully enroll the majority of the more than 2,000 children of German parentage (see GERMANS) who had previously attended PRIVATE SCHOOLS that taught subjects in German. Educational leaders in Cleveland before the turn of the century believed that the addition of different nationalities would strengthen Anglo-Saxon America, as long as the newcomers conformed to the dominant culture. The goal of mixing nationalities in the common schools was not endorsed by all immigrant groups in the 19th century. Cleveland's Irish Catholics followed the advice of Bp. RICHARD GILMOUR†, who condemned the public schools as irreligious and told his congregants that they were Catholics first and citizens second (see CATHOLICS, ROMAN). By 1884 123 parochial schools had enrolled 26,000 pupils (see PAROCHIAL EDUCATION (CATHOLIC)). Nationality churches served over 200,000 people by the turn of the century. Parochial schools of the Catholic diocese that taught foreign languages and customs flourished as Cleveland became the home of newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe. Described as "the new immigrants," they increased from 43,281 to 115,870 people between 1900-10.

School reformers questioned the effectiveness of the policy of Anglo-conformity in the face of the growing cultural diversity of the student population. Some celebrated the philosophy of the "melting pot," or the mixing of nationalities together. Brownell School on Prospect Ave. had enrolled, for example, over 30 different nationalities by the turn of the century. SETTLEMENT HOUSES, such as HIRAM HOUSE in the Central-Woodland neighborhood of Eastern European Jews and ITALIANS, provided the city's first citizenship and vocational-education programs, and became the social-service model for Cleveland's immigrants. In doing so, the settlements carried forward citizenship programs that had been instituted early in the century by patriotic societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1901 Harmon School provided "steamer classes," language instruction for foreign-born children. Evening schools taught adult immigrants civics and English, to help them pass naturalization exams. Schools also expanded social-welfare programs to meet the needs of immigrant, working-class children and youth. In 1907 a medical dispensary, the first of its kind, opened in LITTLE ITALY. Despite these efforts to reach immigrants, the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION's school survey of 1915 criticized the school system for not providing enough steamer classes and other specialized programs: among public school students, over 50% came from homes in which a foreign language was spoken. It was estimated that over 60,000 unnaturalized immigrants lived in Cleveland and that two-thirds of the student population left school before the legally required age of 16 for girls and 15 for boys.

The entrance of America into World War I increased anxiety over the effectiveness of the public schools' Americanization program in securing the loyalty of foreign-born immigrants and their children. RAYMOND MOLEY†, a political science professor from Western Reserve Univ. (see CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY.), was hired to direct its activities. On 6 April 1917, Mayor HARRY L. DAVIS† appointed the MAYOR'S ADVISORY WAR COMMITTEE, which created a "Committee of the Teaching of English to Foreigners," with business leader HAROLD T. CLARK† as chair. Renamed the Cleveland Americanization Council, the organization, coordinated 68 local groups and worked with state and federal programs. The Board of Education trained language teachers, and the Citizens Bureau at city hall supplied instructors of naturalization. Both programs were offered at schools, factories, libraries, social settlements, churches, and community centers. Naturalization classes enrolled 2,067 students during the fall of 1919. The council launched a citywide publicity campaign, which included posters in different languages and advertisements in 22 nationality newspapers. The ideology of social efficiency, often used with employers, stressed that the Americanization of foreign workers would increase their punctuality, orderliness, and productivity. Moley wrote Lessons in Citizenship, a civics handbook, to help immigrants pass naturalization exams. The War Advisory Committee asked ELEANOR LEDBETTER†, a foreign-language librarian for the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY (CPL), and other researchers to write a series of sympathetic studies of the city's nationality cultures and neighborhoods. The library also provided newspapers and books in over 20 different languages to reach the foreign-born. Despite this advocacy of cultural pluralism as the basis for mutual exchange and respect, the bitter controversies and feelings aroused during wartime America caused many Americans to lose faith in public school assimilation.

Superintendent FRANK SPAULDING† and the majority of the school board supported the removal and prosecution of a socialist board member who publicly opposed America's participation in World War I, under the Espionage Act of 1917. The board also terminated the teaching of German and required a loyalty oath from teachers as part of the wartime campaign for "100% Americanism." Events surrounding the MAY DAY RIOTS and Red Scare of 1919-20 aroused public anger against foreign immigrants who supported radical or progressive causes. On 1 May 1919, the Socialist party's march in support of the Russian Revolution on Cleveland's PUBLIC SQUARE incited a riot and the arrest of 116 demonstrators. Local newspapers quickly pointed out that only 8 of those arrested had been born in the U.S. The city government immediately passed laws to restrict parades and the display of red flags. Newspapers and business, labor, and civic organizations called for the deportation of foreigners not wanting to become Americans. Others called for stronger Americanization programs.

Harold T. Clark asked for the passage of a law to compel young people to attend school until the age of 21, and for the adoption of methods used by the army to teach soldiers English. Allen Burns, former director of the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION's survey program, conducted a series of studies to improve Americanization programs for the Carnegie Foundation. Cleveland educators and social workers complained about the postwar financial cuts in, citizenship training. The PLAIN DEALER alarmingly reported that the city's immigrant population contained over 85,000 unnaturalized men, and if their families were counted, the number of unnaturalized foreigners rose to approx. 212,000 out of a total residential population of 796,841. The postwar arrival of millions of Southern and Eastern Europeans created a sense of panic throughout America. Schools were judged incapable of assimilating what were seen as biologically inferior groups of immigrants. In 1924 Congress passed a quota law that drastically reduced the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe to 3% of their prewar level, and in effect banned Asians from coming to America.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, immigrant neighborhoods and organizations responded to the needs of the second generation. Often the American-born and -educated children clashed with the values and customs of their parents and moved from their ethnic neighborhoods. Intermarriage between individuals of the same religious faith but different ethnic background created the triple melting pot among Catholics, Jews, and Protestants (see RELIGION). Ethnic parishes and newspapers began to communicate in English as the second and third generations lost the urgency to speak their mother tongue. LA VOCE DEL POPOLO ITALIANO, an Italian nationality newspaper, advertised in English and urged its readers to naturalize. Some ethnic groups controlled assimilation by modifying and adapting their organizations. The Polish immigrant parish gradually changed, for example, to the hyphenated parish of the Polish-American community, and finally to the American parish of Polish ancestry (see POLES). The nationality parish declined in membership in the central city and became a rarity in the SUBURBS because of restrictive immigration laws and demographic changes. Between 1930-40, Cleveland's foreign-born population decreased by 51,763, or 22.2%, and dropped to a total of 179,183. The proportion of foreign-born in the city's total population declined from 30.1% in 1920 to 14.5% in 1950. As the second and third generations became more successful economically and more Americanized, or less dependent on nationality organizations, they moved into what were once Protestant-dominated suburbs after World War II.

Different generations of immigrants continued to search for an identity that balanced both their ethnic heritage and the American environment. A conscious celebration of nationality cultures counteracted American ethnocentrism. Folk festivals, sponsored by the CLEVELAND FOLK ARTS ASSN., nationality holidays, fraternal organizations, the All Nations Festival, and the CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDEN FEDERATION all celebrated immigrant contributions to the city. In 1948 the Mayfield Merchants' Assn. in LITTLE ITALY sponsored a banquet to honor Miss Florence Graham. Of Irish descent, she had faithfully served and fought discrimination against the city's Italian-American community since 1908, during her tenure as teacher and principal in the neighborhood's Murray Hill School. The Intl. Institute of the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. (YWCA), organized in 1916, trained older immigrants to work with recent arrivals. The Citizens Bureau, with the support of the Welfare Federation, supplied aid, advice, and naturalization classes. The bureau also cooperated with the citizenship and English classes for foreign-born pupils in the public schools, classes which 130,000 foreign-speaking students had attended by 1929.

Eleanor Ledbetter, in addition to building a foreign-language collection at CPL, compiled a volume of Czech fairytales and a bibliography of Polish literature. HELEN HORVATH†, who had immigrated from Hungary in 1897, began mothers' clubs and educational programs for foreign newcomers. The public schools asked to incorporate her efforts, and she spoke about immigrant education at many universities. John Dewey, the leading philosopher and proponent of progressive education, praised the work of Verdine Peck Hull, who had pioneered a course in interracial tolerance in the public schools in 1924. He declared that the program's emphasis on mutual understanding represented true Americanism. In 1973 the city created Senior Ethnic Find, a program to help elderly immigrants use available social services. The Nationalities Services Center (see INTERNATIONAL SERVICES CENTER), created by a merger of the Intl. Institute and the Citizens Bureau in 1954, and the LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (est. 1934) helped immigrants displaced by totalitarian regimes and World War II. The Cleveland Immigration & Naturalization Service has helped residents sponsor the immigration of relatives, friends, and refugees from other countries and assisted newcomers in becoming citizens.

With the decline in European immigration after World War I, Cleveland employers looked to the American South as a source of cheap labor. Over 100,000 Appalachians and 200,000 blacks migrated to the Greater Cleveland area in the ensuing years (see AFRICAN AMERICANS). The URBAN LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND helped blacks find jobs and housing and, assisted by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (NAACP), to fight discrimination. A plethora of black churches, KARAMU HOUSE, and fraternal organizations helped rural black newcomers adjust to the urban environment. In the 1960s, public schools began remedial and special education programs for minorities or others described as culturally disadvantaged. Cleveland's post-World War II population became even more diverse with the addition of Asians, Russian Jewish refugees (see JEWS & JUDAISM), and Spanish-speaking people from Puerto Rico and Central or South America, Cuba, and Mexico (see HISPANIC COMMUNITY). Displaced persons from Eastern Europe were the major foreign group in English classes, which enrolled over 2,000 students in the public schools in 1949. The Nationalities Service Center flew 270 Cuban refugees into the city as thousands fled Fidel Castro's victory in 1959.

In 1965 Congress changed the immigration law. With ethnic origin no longer a factor in admittance to the U.S., preferential treatment was given to people with relatives living in America or occupational skills that America needed and refugees from Communism. People from the Far East and India were allowed to enter in large numbers. By the mid-1970s, almost one-third of America's immigrants came from Asia. Filipinos (see ), Chinese, KOREANS, VIETNAMESE., and Cambodians swelled the population of cities. In 1975 the greatest proportion of the 400,000 immigrants came from the West Indies and Mexico. New and old organizations developed programs to meet the needs of Cleveland's changing immigrant population. Cleveland's Islamic Center (see ISLAMIC CENTER OF CLEVELAND) built a mosque in PARMA to serve the needs of the Arab community. The city's Vietnamese people opened a Buddhist Temple in Cleveland's near west side. A refugee resettlement office was started to serve approx. 1,500 Vietnamese as well as Laotian and Cambodian immigrants by providing social, employment, and translating services. Approximately 10,000 Asian Indians, of whom the majority were educated professionals, were dispersed throughout the metropolitan region. Cleveland's Asian community constructed a new addition to the city's Nationality Gardens in Rockefeller Park near UNIVERSITY CIRCLE and held an annual festival celebrating the diversity of their cultures. The U.S. State Dept. asked the JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE ASSN. to adapt its methods of resettlement to other groups. JFS helped more than 600 Indo-Chinese as well as 1,500 Russian refugees to resettle locally.

By the 1980s, Cleveland's Spanish-speaking groups had more than 30,000 members in Cleveland. Already citizens of the U.S., Puerto Rican migrants were the largest group. They were assisted by a variety of civic and fraternal organizations, the Spanish American Committee (see SPANISH AMERICAN COMMITTEE), an official liaison at city hall, and an employment-service bureau. Spanish Catholics established SAN JUAN BAUTISTA on the city's near west side. The Hispanic community helped their young adults with scholarships and educational or cultural programs through the ESPERANZA, INC., Program and the Julia de Burgos, Cultural Center. Fifteen hundred Spanish-speaking students constituted the major group in the "English as a Second Language" program in the Cleveland public schools. Over 100 Vietnamese children were also enrolled in the bilingual course.

The PACE ASSN. (Program for Action by Citizens in Education), organized in 1963, developed a human-relations curriculum and trained teachers to increase multicultural understanding. The public schools also developed curriculum to promote an awareness of the history and contributions of minority groups. To combat prejudice against the city's newest immigrant groups, the Bilingual and Multicultural Education Program of the Cleveland Public Schools helped foreign newcomers learn English and to celebrate their cultural backgrounds. In 1981 it started an annual conference to promote multicultural education as part of the curriculum of the public schools. The program helps students live in a pluralistic world by fostering an appreciation and respect for people of different backgrounds.

Historically, the reaction of Clevelanders to immigrants and migrants has paralleled that of the country in general. Important differences between and among nationality groups have shaped their responses to the culture of the host country. "Birds of Passage," immigrants who came to America to earn as much money as quickly as possible before returning home, had little interest in becoming citizens or in being Americanized. Programs to assimilate immigrants depended heavily on the immigrants' reasons for coming to America, as well as the public's attitudes toward newcomers. When the economy of the city was expanding and in need of cheap labor, immigrants were seen as a vital part of the labor force and capable of becoming American. When the economy slumped in the 1890s and 1930s, or when the public became inflamed over patriotic unity, as occurred in the post-World War I and VIETNAM WAR eras, immigrants were viewed as threats to social harmony and incapable of assimilating. Native-born fears about new immigrants revealed a deep insecurity about American social life and were connected directly to cycles of economic growth and decline. Resentment against the racial backgrounds and illegal entry of foreign newcomers, job losses, and the rising cost of social-welfare and educational services also increased in the 1980s, as approx. 9 million immigrants arrived in America. The total surpassed all previous decades in American history.

Since the 1970s, the American public has seen the rise of a "new ethnic consciousness," a movement celebrated in Michael Novak's The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics. Novak believes that millions of ethnics who tried to become Americanized according to the norms of the dominant culture were delighted to find that they no longer had to pay that price. Ethnic pride in cultural differences provided not only a stronger sense of community for immigrant groups, but also an antidote to an age in which modern, systems of communication and commerce emphasized the greatest common denominators for a mass audience of supposedly like-minded individuals. This new attitude of cultural pluralism was quickly manifested in cities such as Cleveland. During the 1970s and 1980s, a series of programs began, including the Greater Cleveland Ethnographic Museum, Peoples & Cultures, the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY's Cleveland Regional Ethnic Archives Program, the Public Library's Cleveland Heritage Program, and CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE's Community Studies Program and Oral History Center, that reflected this change in American attitudes. They continued the celebration of regional cultural vitality begun by people such as Eleanor Ledbetter and Helen Horvath, who created a sympathetic understanding of immigrants as the basis for the Americanization of Cleveland.

Edward M. Miggins

Cuyahoga Community College

See also IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION and entries for specific ethnic groups.

Last Modified: 10 Jul 1997 11:42:50 AM

Related Article(s)
This site maintained by Case Western Reserve University