Connecticut History on the Web 

Teacher Guide



The Immigrant's America: Finding the Promised Land in Connecticut?

by Edward Dorgan

Windham R.V.T.S.  


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


A set of primary sources from the Works Project Administration, Ethnic Group Survey (circa 1938) with a brief background of the program, as an introduction. Students will use some examples of the W.P.A. survey to analyze the accepted assumption then (and now) of America as 'the land of opportunity,' whereby all are accepted and treated as equals, with the present view of immigrants. The documents will explore the prejudices against, sense of superiority toward, and limited acceptance of immigrants by other Americans in the later years of The Great Depression.

State Standards Addressed


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


Activity Types
   Document Analysis
Analytical and narrative writing
Raising questions/issues
Oral presentations
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Historical Background


This is a unit analyzing the history of ethnic strife between immigrants in the early half of the twentieth century in Connecticut. The majority of the materials in the unit are oral histories recorded in the late 1930s specifically in the Bridgeport and New Haven areas. Teachers of American history and/or of sociology courses could use this unit during a survey of The Great Depression by studying the socialization among different ethnic groups in Connecticut.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the presidency in early 1933, he had to act swiftly to show the American electorate that at the height of the Great Depression action was needed to begin the process of rebuilding our nation's economy. Instead of doling-out money to the unemployed, Roosevelt decided to establish a federal works program that would employ some of those disposed workers. One of the federal employment programs established under Roosevelt's 'New Deal' plan was the Works Project Administration [WPA].

By searching through these documents I believe students will acquire a better understanding of the social relationships between some of American's ethnic groups in the late 1930's. In addition, they could consider the advances made in ethnic cooperation and the schism caused by the continuation of discrimination towards different ethnic groups in America.

Moreover, I believe the reader of these WPA documents will be surprised at the glaring prejudicial remarks made to the interviewers, who were government officials working for the WPA. "Practically all of the immigrants confronted prejudice and discrimination from old-stock Americans. That division intensified as a consequence of interethnic rivalry. While examples exist of unity among immigrant groups, frequently they battled each other for the limited resources that society had to offer, particularly during the Great Depression"(Stave & Sutherland, xviii).


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Although the strategies and materials are presented in a teaching format, other teachers may want to supplement with other primary sources and educational strategies to meet the specific needs of their own students. The following themes should be considered concerning the relevance of the ethnic surveys to today's views of racial harmony and disharmony. The participating students should consider the following possibilities:

1. To understand that views of racial prejudice increased during a period of economic turmoil ( i.e., The Great Depression).

2. To understand that immigrants faced discrimination and prejudice from of Americans whose ancestors had come in earlier generations, and, moreover, from other recent immigrant groups.

3. To become aware of the differences and similarities of racial and ethnic intolerance experienced in America today and America in the late 1930s (specifically 1938).

4. To understand the impact that the immigration laws that were passed during the 1920s had on the view/values of immigrants in the late 1930s ( & to research the immigration laws passed since the end of the U.S. Great Depression).

5. To understand the economic impact that the Great Depression had on labor conditions and the increase of animosity between ethnic and racial groups during this period.

6. "To introduce students to the discipline of history by having them play the role of the historian and work with primary sources"(M. Williams).

7. To introduce students to the wealth of Connecticut's historical past, "that exists in their own backyard"(M. Williams).

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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.

1. Using the primary sources provided in this lesson, students are to construct a narrative of immigration experiences in Connecticut in the early twentieth century, for a new teaching unit on Connecticut History (for an elective secondary course).

2. Students will role play in an activity where they are editors of the Connecticut Historical Society newsletter, and are required to write both a PRO & CON persuasive letter on the effectiveness of immigrants assimilating into the social and economic communities of the state. [The format of the assessment will be based on the CAPT Interdisciplinary Assessment activity].

3. Students will conduct oral interviews with first and/or second generation immigrants to Connecticut. They will complete an interview questionnaire and then compile a critical summary based on three other students' interviews from their classmates.

4. [An optional assessment: The use of a debate on the immigrant experience today (and of the past) in Connecticut].

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The Promised Land in Connecticut?: Background Reading for Students

Works Project Administration (W.P.A.) Sources:

The unit consists mainly of primary source documents from the WPA Ethnic Group Survey grouped in the following sequence:

I. Immigrants & Second Generation Americans (WPA Interviews of the Irish in Bridgeport):

a] Mrs. Mary F..... was interviewed by M.V. Rourke (date uncertain, but found amongst interviews conducted in 1938).

b] Mrs. Murphy was interviewed by Elizabeth M. Buckingham on Dec. 4, 1939.

II."Yankees" (WPA Interviews of the English & Scottish in New Haven):

a] Mr. K.... was interviewed by Marjorie Earle on March 27, 1940.

b] Mr. Kenneth B. Morgan was interviewed by John P. Kilgore on July 8, 1940.

c] Mr. Henry A. Marshall was interviewed by John P. Kilgore on Aug. 12, 1940.

III.Second Generation Americans (an interview of a Jewish man and of an Afro-American in Bridgeport - WPA Interviews of two minorities traditionally persecuted in the United States):

a] Mr. Raphael Korff was interviewed by Edward Reich on July 7, 1939.

b] Rev. Aaron J. Cuffey was interviewed by George A. Fisher on Jan. 18, 1939.

IV. Second Generation American: Marshall V. Rourke one of the WPA interviewer's, interviews himself on Jan. 4, 1939 (WPA Interview done by an Irish WPA Interviewer).

V. WPA Interview excerpts taken from From the Old Country: An Oral History of European Migration to America, ed. by Bruce Stave and John Sutherland (These include 1930's interviews of Sicilian-American, two Irish-Americans, and a Ukrainian-American).

"Immigration to Connecticut," by John F. Sutherland  


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As is always true of any teacher activities (and subsequent resource materials), those instructors using them should decide which materials are appropriate for their students and if they wish to supplement any other related primary sources. The important scholarly point is to use the WPA resources from the 'Ethnic Group Survey' for the teaching activity.

Before proceeding with the activity, students should have already studied and read the causes and consequences of the Great Depression. The next step is for students to read the Introduction and the section on Multiple Perspectives. (A note to instructors concerning the article entitled 'Immigration to Connecticut' by John F. Sutherland. The article should be used as a teacher's reference and by students only after completing the assessment activities. Otherwise if students read the article ahead of time it will diminish the process of discovery). Moreover, instructors should consider the impact of racism on how the immigrants assimilated into American culture and what they had to give up, regarding their past culture when becoming American citizens.

At this point, instructors should decide what assessment(s) they would like to accomplish. They may complete any one, all three, or decide to use the resources but to develop their own assessments to meet the needs of their own students.

As to the assessments provided in this unit, I will suggest a few strategies to reach the objectives stated earlier in this packet. (It is suggested that no matter what assessment used, the students should read through each of the WPA interviews).

As to the first assessment, on writing a narrative of the immigrant experience in Connecticut in the early twentieth century and their treatment by previous generations of Americans, students should have already discussed and completed a unit on the impact of immigrants on America during the industrialization era of the late nineteenth century. Their prior exposure to the story of the European immigrants, should include some type of activity that points out the mass exodus of specific nationalities from Europe, and their living experiences in The United States. Consequently, the students should be given the assignment that they are to write a narrative for a Connecticut History Survey course. (It is the teacher's prerogative whether or not to modify the narrative for a history course). The next step should involve the students reading each of the W.P.A. interviews and taking notes about their reaction to each interview. Then they should write a narrative about what was the "atmosphere" of the late 1930s in some of the major urban areas, regarding immigrant relations. The final step could involve the students reading and assessing each other's narrative (i.e., peer review evaluation activity) for a collective exhibit of the student's work. (Later the finished narrative would be placed in each student's portfolio).

Regarding the second assessment, instructors may feel this is an appropriate activity to reinforce the skill of writing a persuasive essay. This assessment is set up in the style of the CAPT Interdisciplinary Assessment. To begin, students should discuss and write down their thoughts (in small groups of three) of the positive and negative aspects of the issue of immigration to the United States. Next they should read the directions explaining how they are pretending to be student editors for the Connecticut Historical Society's newsletter (i.e., role playing) and are to write a persuasive essay evaluating the proposition: That America was the land of opportunity for immigrants in Connecticut in the late 1930s.

They should read all WPA interviews, highlight key information in each article, takes notes and take a position about the previous question. ( They may use scrap paper to organize their arguments and supporting details). Finally, they are to write their essay taking a clear stand and using supporting evidence from the WPA interviews. (The essays will be graded and placed in their portfolios).

The third assessment is an optional activity. If you choose to include this activity in your unit I have enclosed a sample interview questionnaire that may be used by the students to conduct an interview.

(After completing the assignment, the students may write a summary based on their own completed interview and two other immigrant interviews conducted by their fellow classmates. Finally these could be shared with the entire class and posted in a public display in a showcase or in the school library, demonstrating the impact of immigration on our society).

[As for the optional activity involving a student debate on the view/issue of immigrants in Connecticut today, I will leave it up to individual teachers to develop their own activities, that are appropriate for their students ].

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Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A history of immigration and ethnicity in American life. Harper Collins, 1990. A comprehensive overview of immigration to American from 1500 through the 1980s.

Parrish, Michael. Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. A comprehensive history of the causes of The Great Depression and the New Deal programs

Stave, Bruce & John Sutherland with Aldo Salerno. From the Old Country: An Oral History of European Migration to America. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994. An in-depth view of the importance of oral histories in Connecticut from the early twentieth century WPA accounts, up to the recorded histories of the 1960s and 1970s that the authors conducted and organized.

Related source materials:

Jacobson, Matthew. Whiteness of a Different Color. Harvard University Press.1999. A critical view of being Caucasian in America and how the perception of being 'white' has changed over our nation's history from strictly Anglo-Saxon to an eclectic grouping of all European American ethnic groups.

Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and The Deal: The Federal Writer's Project, 1935-1943. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972. This book explains in detail the WPA's Federal Writer's Project and its impact on literature and the arts in America.

Roth, David M. [ editor]. Connecticut History and Culture: An historical overview and resource guide for teachers. The Connecticut Historical Commission (The Center for Connecticut Studies Eastern Connecticut State University), 1985. An overview of 350 years of Connecticut history; from 1635 until 1985.


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