Improvements At Ellis Island Inaugurated By Frederic C. Howe
The industrial relations for millions of American citizens and workers begins at Ellis Island. This is New York's great port of entry for immigrants. Through that gateway have poured the greatest number of those men and women and children from Europe who have peopled this great republic. tilled its fields, opened its mines, established its factories and made them productive, made its laws, elected its public servants, and created a nation distinctive and great in its achievements and more distinctive and great in its promises.
To have charge at this gateway and to safeguard the rights of the people already here and to safeguard in equal measure the rights and interests of the new workers and citizens and their families President Wilson. appointed Frederic C. Howe. It was one of those appointments, like the appointment of Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court, that MIS hailed everywhere among the plain people as a pledge that the administration intended a government of the right kind of men to carry on a government of the right land of laws.
Among all informed and forward looking people, and especially among the producers and toilers, many of whom had passed through Ellis Island and knew from experience what was wrong with it and what should be made right with it, Mr. Howe's appointment gave the chiefest satisfaction.
The finest and greatest proof that in his place of trust at Ellis Island Frederic C. Howe vindicated and upheld the national and international reputation he had earned as a writer of fundamental democracy and as an official and unofficial servant in action of the public has been given lately by a member of Congress. named W. S. Bennet, of New York.
This Congressman was irresponsible because he was privileged to make the most unfounded accusations against any public or private citizen without any responsibility in a court of law or in any other tribunal for his statements. This Congressman exercised this privilege against a public official, who had not the privileges of the floor of Congress, as the result of the action of Commissioner Howe in having advised that the government should not continue a contract with a firm of former clients of the Congressman for feeding the immigrant men, women and children confided to the government's care.
Mr. Howe's recommendations were that the contract, involving the expenditure of one-half million dollars a year, in time of normal immigration, and being very profitable, should not be renewed, and that, instead. the authorities at Ellis Island should purchase the food and prepare and supply it to the immigrants at cost.
For this Mr. Howe was assailed. For this unfounded rumors of "immorality" among the thousands of men and women of all nationalities who are detained at the island were misstated as facts. That they were misstated was proved by an investigations begun at once by the Committee on Immigration of the House of Representatives, cooperated with by Mr. Howe himself and the Department of Labor.
The report of Secretary Wilson and Solicitor Densmore. adopted unanimously by the committee of Congress, after inquiry proved that a notable condition of moral cleanliness prevailed when it was considered that the exigencies of the European war and the impossibility of deporting many of the undesirables had crowded the island's grounds, hospitals and detention rooms far beyond any provision that had been made for ordinary or fore-seen occasions.
The acts of kindness and humanity and necessary common sense in the emergency which Mr. Howe had done. and which had been approved by the Secretary of Labor, were misrepresented in themselves and distorted from the surrounding facts and conditions which inspired or compelled them.
No public servant who "steps on the toes" of takers of profit where there should be no profit, no official who takes seriously the law's mandate to safeguard the weak and oppressed who are in his care; no man in public or private life who has stopped exploitation by greed of the poor and unsophisticated immigrants. as Commissioner Howe has stopped it, could escape such an attack.
From this attack Commissioner Howe emerges not only completely vindicated. but with this statement of the Secretary of Labor made to Congress concerning the things he had done:
"The following substantial achievements in the efficient administration of the station have been effected by Commissioner Howe:
- "A thorough investigation with experts was made of the cost of hospitals which were alleged to be self-sustaining. The commissioner found that the hospitals were losing over $100,000 a year, which loss was being paid by the government for the benefit of the steamship companies. He secured an increase in hospital charges to steamship companies which has increased the earnings of the hospitals by approximately $100,000.
- "He re investigated requests for money for permanent appropriations and after investigation reduced such request. in 1915. by $300,000.
- "He reduced, in response to war conditions, the operating salary costs of the Ellis Island station by approximately $100,- 000 a year.
- "He investigated the many immigration lodging houses and homes in New York and brought about a clean-up in a number of them.
- "He secured the cooperation of the commissioner of police to clean up the conditions which surrounded the barge office, and by so doing protected the incoming immigrants at New York from the individuals who had previously preyed upon them.
- "He investigated and brought about many reforms in the protection of the aliens en route from Ellis Island, both at Jersey City and along the route.
- "He organized all of the employees at the station into an association for making the wants of the employees known and for securing the cooperation of all the employees in the administration of the station.
- "He brought about a reorganization of the purchasing of supplies for the hospitals at a great saving and improvement in the service.
- "He made an investigation of the conditions under which landing of first and second cabin aliens were made at the various piers around New York and ended many abuses and losses to which the aliens were exposed.
- "He brought about a change in the inspection of first and second cabin aliens on shipboard which greatly Improved the service.
- "He made a number of studies at the request of the department as to means for increasing the efficiency and the rating of the employees.
- "He greatly increased the output of the Division of Statistics and brought about a complete change in the filing system.
- "He worked in cooperation with the board of education of New York for the opening of the night schools for the education of adult aliens.
- "He organized a number of agencies looking to the protection of aliens in New York.
- "He organized a movement in 1916 for Americanization day celebrations
throughout the country, and over 100 cities held citizenship celebrations as a result of the commissioner's efforts.
- "During the past two years Ellis Island has been almost free from the constant
criticism on the part of foreign organizations and of the foreign press, which prior to his administration was continuous. It was directed at the alleged lack of kindness and consideration to incoming aliens. The non-foreign press of New York has been almost continuous in its approval of his administration and the many changes and improvements which he has brought about.
"I remain very respectfully yours,
"Secretary of Labor."
When one considers that the very first "industrial relations" with which the immigrants come in contact are the industrious activities of big and little interests to take their money away from them. it is easier to estimate the fined quality of public service that Frederic C. Howe has given. He has served the immigrants. He has added to the distinction of the present administration of the government.
He has made the property rights within his jurisdiction get in line with human rights. He has served constructive democracy. He has advanced the ideal of a public service that holds an even hand for fair play and honesty.
"Humanizing:" Ellis Island
New Spirit Injected into Immigration Service by Bro. Frederic C. Howe
Frederic C. Howe (Allegheny & Hopkins), the new commissioner of immigration at the port of New York, has set out to change some of the old traditions at Ellis Island and to make it a comfortable waiting place for those newcomers who are detained.
Already he has introduced a new spirit at the island. Clerks, attendants, and matrons tell the visitor that the commissioner is "humanizing" the place, according to a newspaper report by Miss Chamberlain of the Sage Survey.
Formerly husbands were shut up in one room, wives in another. Now a door is being broken through a wall and there will be adjoining rooms where men and women may mingle. Cheap sewing materials may now be bought by the women, foreign newspapers with lots of funny pictures are distributed, and there are toys for the children. Out on the piazza swings have been placed and there are more games.
Sunday afternoons there is a band concert of national airs and familiar songs. Soon Mr. Howe hopes to add folk dancing to the music of a Victrola.
Arrangements have been made whereby the school board will supply teachers for a school for detained children and classes for adults. Little change has been made by Commissioner Howe in the sleeping and boarding accommodations, which he considers not bad, but his reforms have been along the line of social innovations.
Outdoors the lawn has been transformed into a playground for the children, with a teacher to direct it, and plenty of benches for the elders to spend their hours in the open air.
Commissioner Howe has a big advantage over other commissioners, as the great falling off of immigration, due to the war, gives him much leisure for his improvements. Only 20,000 immigrants came during September, against 100,000 a year ago.
There are only 200 persons detained, as against the usual 2,000. Brother Howe has long been a student of conditions abroad and long a social expert, and it is questionable if there are few men better trained than he for the position. The start he has already made promises a bright future for this branch of government service—in New York, at any rate.
“Humanizing Ellis Island: New Spirit Injected into Immigration Service by Br. Federic C. Howe, The Phi Gamma Delta of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, December 1914, p. 235.
Dante Barton, "Many Substantial Improvements Inaugurated by Frederic C. Howe, The Leather Workers' Journal. Official Publication of the International United Brotherhood of Leather Workers on Horse Goods. Vol. XIX, No. 2, October 1916, p. 51-52.