Connecticut History on the Web 

Teacher Guide

 Newcomers to the Land of Steady Habits


by Mark Williams


This guide contains the following sections. You may move directly to each section by clicking on the section's name, or scroll down through the guide from beginning to end. If you have not done so already, please read the General Introduction for the Teacher which discusses the philosophy behind these teaching units.
Unit Overview

Historical Background






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This site was created by Mark Williams, a history teacher at The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Some of the materials published here were originally created by Mark Williams as Connecticut Case Studies, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, and printed by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College, Ronald P. Dufour of Rhode Island College, Thomas P. Weinland of the University of Connecticut, Tracey Wilson of Conard High School, Robert K. Andrian of The Loomis Chaffee School, and State Historian Christopher Collier served as consultants. The Connecticut Humanities Council is the State Committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The viewpoints or recommendations expressed in the materials on this site of are not necessarily those of the Council or the Endowment. Teachers are encouraged to print and make copies of these materials for their students.

Unit Overview


Through the study of primary and secondary readings students are introduced to approaches to the history of immigrants to Connecticut. They develop questions about the immigrant experience, and then apply these questions and their understanding from the readings to an investigation into the experience of a living immigrant.

State Standards Addressed

St.1: see national standards on historical thinking below
St.2: Local and state hist./US and World: see national standards for particular eras below
St.3: causes of migration, impact of attitudes on ethnicity, cultural encounters and identities
St.4: initiate questions and hypotheses, active learning with local resources

National Standards Addressed (from the National Standards for History: Basic Edition)

Historical thinking: 1. questioning and hypothesizing 2. comprehension, 3. analysis and interpretation, 4. research.

U.S. History: Era 4: St. 2C antebellum immigration; Era 6: St. 2 post-1870 immigration; Era 10: St. 2B the new immigration (current)

Activity Types

raising questions, hypothesizing
primary source analysis (using statistical, architectural and pictorial sources as well as documents)
secondary source reading
presentation of oral history
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Historical Background

Like many of the urbanized, industrialized states of the east coast, Connecticut had, by the early 20th century, experienced dramatic changes in the composition of its population. Once a colony of people almost entirely English-born or of English descent, Connecticut's 1930 population was nearly two-thirds foreign born or native born of foreign or mixed parentage. In his 1938 WPA study of immigrant settlements in the state, Samuel Koenig wrote, "The casual traveler through the Connecticut countryside will hardly note that instead of Yankee farmers it is mostly former inhabitants of Russia, Poland, Italy, and their children who are tilling the fertile soil in the valleys and the less fertile land on the hills. Unless he pauses long enough to have a chat with a farmer or take a glance inside his home, which outwardly may be colonial in style, he may never become aware of this....The early religious homogeneity of Connecticut is also a thing of the past. Connecticut's present inhabitants worship their God and celebrate their holy days in a most diversified manner." While the old "Yankee stock" still held on to leadership in politics and business, "an increasing number of individuals of foreign extraction take prominent parts in guiding and determining the destinies of the commonwealth." Clearly, the transformation of Connecticut offers us a close view of one of the most significant trends of our national experience.

Who were the people "of foreign extraction" who were, apparently, pouring into Connecticut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? What were their backgrounds? Why did they come? Did they find what they were looking for? How did they adjust to their new environment, how were they received by those already here, and how did their arrival change Connecticut - and the nation? Was the experience of their children and grandchildren different from their own - was adjustment more difficult or less for succeeding generations? These are the questions that are central to this unit of Connecticut Case Studies, and ought to be central to any study of immigration in United States History.

As with the rest of the Connecticut Case Studies packages, the material included here is not presented so much to provide answers to the questions, as it is to provide a stimulus to ask them - and to learn how to go about finding the answers. Historians spend lifetimes trying to understand the immigrant experience, and still many of these questions remain complex puzzles. For example, of the acculturation process in Connecticut, Koenig wrote, "over and above all these diversities a remarkable unifying force is discernible, a force that seems to be constantly working towards an elimination of distinguishing peculiarities and which, under favorable conditions, may eventually lead to a certain degree of cultural homogeneity." More recently, however, historians have questioned the degree to which "the melting pot" has been a reality. As John F. Sutherland expressed it, "the only certainty is that diversity continues to characterize Connecticut's population. We remain a peoples rather than a people." Particularly in light of the continuing arrival of different people from all over the world, it is difficult to perceive a blending of cultural characteristics. We can perceive Koenig's own values, perhaps, shading the picture of the acculturation process he was seeing.

Thus, it is the questions, the challenges of varying perspectives, and the process by which answers are sought, which students need to understand first. With these materials they can make a beginning toward understanding the state's diverse population and the complexities of interaction that have occurred and continue to occur in the present day. It is sufficient that they discover the staggering demographic changes that occurred in the century after 1830, the diverse origins of people coming to find a better life, and the fact that the immigrants were not the only ones doing the adjusting.

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While each teacher will want to define his or her own purposes in using these materials, depending on the context in which they are used and the overall goals of the course, the following are some possibilities for which these materials are particularly well suited:

(1) To understand that large-scale immigration of people not born in England began with the Irish, and to some extent, the Germans, in the 1840's and 1850's, and that, in the latter part of the century and the early twentieth century, people began coming in large numbers from eastern and southern Europe, particularly from Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. This was consistent with the trend nation-wide. That is, there was the "old immigration" before Civil War, consisting of immigrants from Ireland, England and western Europe, and the "new immigration" of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, consisting of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. John Sutherland discusses this distinction in his essay.

(2) To be exposed to some of the nativist reaction to immigrants in Connecticut, which was also similar to the anti-immigrant and ethnocentric sentiment nationwide.

(3) To be able to articulate the principal issues regarding immigration, as stated in the introduction above, and to transform those general issues into specific questions to be addressed to primary sources, preferably living sources.

(4) To develop hypotheses on the immigrant experience, on the basis of analysis of a few documents, and to derive questions from those hypotheses for further investigation in other sources.

(5) To understand that immigration into Connecticut continues to be a vital issue today, and that the experience of today's immigrants and their children and grandchildren follows a pattern similar to that of immigrants throughout the history of the state.

(6) To develop hypotheses on the contributions made by diverse peoples to the history of our state, as well as on the complexity of the forces behind nativist sentiment.

(7) To be introduced to the discipline of oral history, and to consider the advantages and disadvantages of using interviews for historical analysis.

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The student handouts and rubrics for these assessments are described on the assessment page. You may go directly to this unit's assessment by clicking here.

Students complete a portfolio on their study of immigration in the course of their survey of United States history. The portfolio, to be added to periodically during their U.S. history course, begins with questions and hypotheses developed when first studying the wave of Irish immigration in the early 1800s. It will include notes on documents, further questions and hypotheses and revised hypotheses, a typescript of an interview with a living immigrant, and an overall set of hypotheses on "the immigrant experience." Finally, the portfolio will conclude with an explanation of a few "unresolved questions" about which historians may debate.

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You may go to particular documents directly by clicking on their names.

§ "Newcomers to the Land of Steady Habits, 1860-1930" - a handout of charts and tables showing the change in the composition of Connecticut's population and the country of origin of the newcomers.

§ "The Coming of the Irish" - a series of excerpts from newspapers and other sources of the 1840's and 1850's, documenting the wave of Irish immigrants during those years and the reaction of some of Connecticut's leading citizens.

§ "Cheap Labor" - a segment of a report from the Connecticut Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1885, suggesting one reason for increased immigration, and making reference to Italian immigration.

§ "Life in the Old Eastside" - excerpts from Take a Number, by Armando Perretta (used with permission of the author's family), which describe life among Italian Americans in the 1920's in Hartford.

§ "Immigration to Connecticut," by John F. Sutherland - an essay discussing the many peoples who have come to Connecticut.

§ "Interview with an Irish Immigrant" - a sample transcript of excerpts from an interview conducted by John F. Sutherland of a woman who came to Manchester as a child from Ireland.

§ "Suggestions for Successful Interviewing" - a checklist for students who want to do an interview of their own.

[Note: I wish to thank my students Kwanza Butler, Julie Choi and Lynwood Stagg for their assistance in identifying sources for this unit.]

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Historians who are deeply interested in studying the immigrant experience would probably protest the publication of a single unit on immigration, since, for them, the history of immigration is United States History. The people who created and sustained the nation were immigrants and descendants of immigrants - thus, a single unit should, perhaps, concern itself not with the comprehensive topic, but with one event, or one group in one place, to serve as a window into the larger experience. This unit takes neither the specific nor the general course, but rather aims at an "introductory" approach. That is, students should be introduced to two things: the main issues and questions addressed by historians studying immigration, and a different sort of technique - the interview - used by many historians in their investigations.

The statistical handout, "Newcomers to the Land of Steady Habits" is a good place to start. Students should study it and try to articulate how Connecticut was changing and from where the "newcomers" were coming. This should lead to a flood of questions and hypothesizing about the reaction of the "natives," the reasons for the waves of immigration, the kind of life people led after they arrived, and the degree to which they found what they were looking for. Also, students should try to identify with the children of the immigrants and wonder whether the young people were seeing the process of adjustment to a new world differently from their elders. It would be good to list these questions, and to spend some time hypothesizing to have a base to work from in the succeeding investigation.

Next have students read about the Irish. These documents provide information that may call for some revision in the hypotheses, and, in addition, they bring some reality into all the theorizing. The lengthy narrative of the ocean voyage should stimulate some thinking about the commitment of people to their decision to start a new life, and the hazards that such a decision implied. The collection of documents on the native response show the confusion that the "Yankee" elite was feeling - some feared the "onslaught" of different kinds of people, while others made good use of it. Meanwhile, how are all these poor "huddled masses" feeling themselves? Students should not we do not have a great deal of material here expressing the feelings of the immigrants - with the exception of the bitterness expressed by Captain Cahill. The Census listing brings this question to the forefront even more intensely, as students get a glimpse of real people with real families, struggling to adapt to a world that was changing even as they came (and because they came). To save time, one group of students could study these and report on the Irish documents, while another group studies "Cheap Labor" and "Life in the Old Eastside," which focus on the Italian immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th Century. A good class period could be spent, putting together all that students have learned from these sources, and beginning to form some theories on patterns common to all immigrant experiences. The teacher should note that the Irish represent the "old immigration" while the Italians are part of the newer "wave" after the Civil War.

At this point you could go one of two ways. Students could read John Sutherland's essay "Immigration to Connecticut" to "fill in the gaps," or that could be delayed until after an oral history investigation of their own. The materials here would certainly be of value, simply ending with this essay, and the whole exercise would consume no more than two days, providing adequate introduction to the subject matter. It might also be good to have students read the essay first, even if they were going to do some interviewing, just to get more of an idea what sorts of issues their own investigations should address.

My own inclination would be to hold off on the essay until after students have done some interviewing of immigrants currently living in Connecticut, and have had a chance to share and analyze the data in class. Then the essay brings closure to the study by providing a model for synthesizing the sort of raw material they, themselves have developed, using a variety of sources.

Two items are provided to help students get involved in an oral history project on immigration: "Suggestions for Successful Interviewing," and a sample transcript of an "Interview with an Irish Immigrant." With these items and all the issues and questions that have come out of the documents, students could spend some time talking about topics worth discussing with immigrants, finding subjects for their interviews, and sharing tapes or transcripts after they have actually done the interviewing. The pamphlet Talking about Connecticut: Oral History in the Nutmeg State, available from the Center for Oral History at the University of Connecticut, the Institute of Local History at Manchester Community College, or the Connecticut Humanities Council, offers in-depth counsel on the discipline of oral history.

In terms of finding subjects for interviews, teachers should encourage students first to think of their own families, neighbors or friends' families (or the friends themselves). Religious institutions are often good sources for contacts with immigrants; and a perusal of the telephone book would reveal local ethnic organizations, such as Italian-American or Polish-American Clubs, that could be helpful in locating willing interviewees. I would probably avoid saying any of that to students until they appeared absolutely helpless in figuring out how to find subjects on their own - it's amazing how much young people can do on their own when it's clear they're expected to be independent. Students should not overlook the possibility of interviewing American-born persons whose parents were immigrants. Ideal would be an interview with an immigrant, and a separate interview with one of the immigrant's children. The different attitudes toward Americanization as opposed to maintenance of tradition can be fascinating to explore.

The interviewing project is obviously a long-term affair, since locating a subject, arranging the interview, and, if you require it, typing the transcript, take weeks. The time-span of this unit is a hundred years, though, and probably immigration is a subject that comes up again and again in an American history survey course. With a bit of planning, the various checkpoints of this project could be integrated into several appropriate places in the course.

One final note should be made about conclusions. Sutherland's summary essay about immigrants in Connecticut shows how a historian has synthesized mountains of material into a coherent chronological study. It is important, however, that students read the essay not only for the exposure to that synthesis, but also to pick out issues that Sutherland leaves unresolved. For example, the question of acculturation referred to in the introduction above is still open for a good deal of discussion, as is what Oscar Handlin once called "The question never asked" - that is, was all the suffering immigrants endured in vain - was America really worth it? While students used to textbook reading may be a bit frustrated, it's best to end with unresolved issues, where the subject of immigration is concerned.

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Some of the items listed below are good for background for teachers, but all of them are listed in hopes that at least some students will go beyond the suggestions and activities of this unit and do major research projects individually.

Abrahamson, Harold. Ethnic Diversity in Three Connecticut Cities, Preliminary Findings. Storrs: Institute of Urban Research, 1975. This and the author's earlier Ethnic Pluralism in the Central City (1970) are studies of recent Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport concerning occupation and educational mobility, among other things.

Blejwas, Stanislaus A. A Polish Community in Transition: Origins of Holy Cross Parish, New Britain, Connecticut. Chicago: Polish-American Historical Association, 1978. This is a study of a rival Catholic parish being established in New Britain, and reveals a good deal about the acculturation process occurring in Connecticut.

Bucki, Cecelia. Metal, Minds, and Machines: Waterbury at Work. Waterbury: Mattatuck Historical Society, 1980. The focus of this work, written to go with an exhibit of the historical society, is business and labor. However, it is also valuable for the study of immigration as Waterbury continued to draw on immigrants for cheap labor for over a century.

Duffy, Joseph W. "Congregational Clergy and the A.P.A.: The Growth of Religious Toleration in Connecticut." Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, 48 (Winter, 1983), 11-23. The American Protective Association as an anti-Catholic group of the late nineteenth century. Duffy shows how many Protestant clergymen found it too bigoted for their taste, thus ushering in a new era for Connecticut's Irish population.

Fraser, Bruce. "Yankees of War: Social Mobilization on the Connecticut Home Front." Unpub. PhD. dissertation, Columbia University, 1976. This may be found at the Connecticut Historical Society, and contains a good deal of material concerning the attitudes of the Yankee elite towards the immigrants - indicating at first apathy, and later fear. Less optimistic, overall, than the Duffy article cited above.

Koenig, Samuel. Immigrant Settlements in Connecticut: Their Growth and Characteristics. Hartford: Works Progress Association and the State Department of Education, 1938. This depression-era monograph is especially insightful, although a bit optimistic at times regarding the success immigrants to Connecticut were having in assimilating. It is short and contains a good many charts and tables.

Noonan, Carroll J. Nativism in Connecticut, 1829-1860. Washington: Catholic University, 1938). A good source to begin research into Yankee reaction to the large-scale immigration before the Civil War. Noonan shows how that reaction was a major factor in politics of the time.

Silverman, Morris. The Hartford Jews. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1970. Includes a history of Hartford's Jews to 1955, some biographical information, and some interesting documents illustrating the subject.

Stone, Frank A., general editor and director of the World Education Project. The Peoples of Connecticut. 8 volumes. Storrs: University of Connecticut, 1975-1983. Beginning with his own volume, The Irish: In Their Homeland, In America, in Connecticut, Frank Stone has inspired various authors to write these short but substantive curriculum guides on all of the leading ethnic groups of Connecticut. They would be good starting places for further research by interested students on specific groups.

Sutherland, John F. "'Cheney Brothers was the World': Migration and Settlement in Manchester, Connecticut, at the Turn of the Century." Proceedings of the New England-St.Lawrence Valley Geographical Society 10 (October, 1980), p. 10-14. This article is not only good for its insights into immigrant labor issues, but also its choice of local subject matter and investigation of the experience of ordinary people.

Thernstrom, Stephen, editor. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. A large reference work that makes a good starting place for research into immigration into the United States in general.


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