By 1900, the Lower East Side had 700 people living per acre, making it the most crowded neighborhood on the planet. (For comparison, in 2010, there were 136 people per acre in the Lower East Side.) Over 50% of Eastern European immigrants worked in manual industries (especially the garment industry) for literally pennies a day. Some worked in sweatshops such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which caught on fire in 1911, killing 123 women and 23 men and injuring 71 people. Most victims were Jewish women from age 16 to 23. Peddling offered freedom from workplace dangers and discrimination for many Jewish immigrants. At least 1/3 of Jewish immigrants worked in retail, and 10% of these at some point worked as peddlers.
80% of Italian immigrants came from Southern Italy, 50% were literate, and 30% were women. There were at least 50 lynchings of Italian immigrants between 1890 and 1920. The largest lynching in US history took place in 1891. Sicilian immigrants were blamed for the murder of some policemen. 19 Sicilians were put on trial, though none were convicted. Taking the law into their own hands, a mob of 10,000 broke into the jail and lynched 11 of the prisoners. While Roman Catholicism was common in America at the time, "Mediterranean" Catholicism was seen as foreign. Anti-capitalist anarchism was often associated with Italian immigrants.
Under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the immigration of Chinese laborers was made illegal. The law was renewed with the Geary Act in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. This is the first time a law prohibited a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States; upon the impending creation of Trump's so-called Muslim Ban, it will not be the last. This was also the first time that illegal immigration was punishable with extreme consequences. For example, if Chinese laborers were found without a certificate of residence, they could be arrested, forced to perform hard labor, or even deported. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943.
Dramaturgy for the Ragtime musical and novel.
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