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The Petticoat Inspectors: Women Boarding Inspectors and the Gendered Exercise of Federal Authority1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2013

Jessica Pliley*
Affiliation:
Texas State University–San Marcos

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, anti-white-slavery activists sought to construct a new position for women inspectors in the Immigration Bureau. These activists asserted that immigrant girls traveling without a family patriarch deserved the U.S. government's paternal protection, yet they argued that women would be best suited to provide this protection because of women's purported maternal abilities to perceive feminine distress. By wielding paternal government authority—marked by a badge, the ability to detain, and presumably the power to punish—these women could most effectively protect the nation's moral boundaries from immoral prostitutes while also protecting innocent immigrant girls from the dangers posed by solitary travel. In 1903 the Immigration Bureau launched an experiment of placing women among the boarding teams at the port of New York. The experiment, however, was short-lived, as opponents of the placement of women in such visible positions campaigned against them. This episode reminds us that the ability to represent and exercise federal authority in the early twentieth century was profoundly gendered; and women's increased participation in government positions during the Progressive Era was deeply contested.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2013

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Footnotes

1

For their ongoing encouragement, I would like to thank Susan M. Hartmann, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Audra Jennings, and Michelle Wolfe. I also thank the two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

References

2 “Girls Sold in Slavery,” Evening Gazette (Cedar Rapid, IA), Nov. 21, 1902; “Disorderly Houses,” Lowell Sun (MA), Nov. 22, 1902; and Cordasco, Francesco and Pitkin, Thomas Monroe, The White Slave Trade and the Immigrants: A Chapter in American Social History (Detroit, 1981), 12Google Scholar.

3 The women had been released because the warrants for arrest had been improperly issued. “The Philadelphia Vice Case,” Titusville Morning Herald (PA), Nov. 29, 1902.

4 The WCTU had a long history of advocating against white slavery. A WCTU investigator, Dr. Katherine Bushnell, first uncovered the existence of white slavery on U.S. shores in her investigation of the lumber camps in Wisconsin and Michigan in 1889. Marion Horan, “Trafficking in Danger: Working-Class Women and Narratives of Sexual Danger in English and United States Anti-Prostitution Campaigns, 1875–1914,” (PhD diss., State University of New York, 2006), 142–92; Pivar, David J., Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868–1900 (Westport, CT, 1973), 116–17Google Scholar, 137.

5 “Women Immigrant Inspectors,” The Philanthropist, Apr. 1903, 1.

6 Margaret Dye Ellis took credit for convincing the president to authorize the inspectors in much of the reform press and in her correspondence with government officials, whereas Sadie American took credit within the meetings of the Council of Jewish Women. There is no record of American being present at any of the January meetings. Rather, it appears she was included in the drive to keep the women inspectors from being fired, which was initiated in the spring of 1903. Val Marie Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain’: The Moral Citizenship of Jewish Women in New York City, 1890–1920,” Journal of Urban Studies 31 (July 2005): 668–69.

7 “Organization of the U.S. Immigrant Station at Ellis Island, New York, Together with a Brief Description of the Work Done in Each of Its Divisions [October 23, 1903]” in Unrau, Harlan D., Ellis Island Statue of Liberty National Monument: Historic Resource Study (Historical Component), vol. 2 (Washington, 1984), 320Google Scholar.

8 Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration (Washington, 1903), 66–69.

9 Ellis, Margaret Dye, Statement Concerning Women Immigration Inspection, (WCTU, 1903)Google Scholar, 2, in case file 52541/41, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Series A: Subject Correspondence Files, Part 3: Ellis Island, 1900–1930, ed. Kraut, Alan (Bethesda, MD, 1995)Google Scholar, roll 5 (hereafter INS.A.3.Ellis).

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13 Ibid., 127; Sklar, Kathryn Kish, Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work: The Rise of Women's Political Culture, 1830–1900 (New Haven, 1995), 212–15Google Scholar, 228–30.

14 Stead, W. T., “The Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon” (July 6–10, 1885) in Josephine Butler and the Prostitution Campaigns: Diseases of the Body Politic, vol. 4: Child Prostitution and the Age of Consent, ed. Jordan, Jane (London, 2003), 115234Google Scholar (quotation 119); Walkowitz, Judith R., City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Some key works from the vast literature on white slavery: Bristow, Edward J., Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight against White Slavery, 1870–1939 (New York, 1982), 233–35Google Scholar; Guy, Donna J., Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina (Lincoln, NE, 1991)Google Scholar; Cordasco and Pitkin, The White Slave Trade and the Immigrants; Donovan, Brian, White Slave Crusades: Race, Gender, and Anti-Vice Activism, 1887–1917 (Urbana, 2006)Google Scholar; Grittner, Frederick K., White Slavery: Myth Ideology and American Law (New York, 1990)Google Scholar; and Langum, David J., Crossing over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act (Chicago, 1994)Google Scholar.

16 Peffer, George Anthony, If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration before Exclusion (Urbana, 1999)Google Scholar, 35; Yung, Judy, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley, 1995)Google Scholar.

17 Torrie Hester, “Deportation: The Origins of an International and National Power,” (PhD diss., University of Oregon, 2008), 104; Gardner, Martha, The Qualities of a Citizen: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870–1965 (Princeton, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 61, 80.

18 Simmerson, Mary, Logan, Cunningham, and Logan, John A., The Part Taken by Women in American History (Wilmington, DE, 1912), 666–67Google Scholar; Foster, Gaines M., Moral Reconstruction: Christian Lobbyists and the Federal Legislation of Morality, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill, 2002), 113Google Scholar; and Kramer, Paul, “The Darkness that Enters the Home: The Politics of Prostitution during the Philippine-American War” in Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History, ed. Stoler, Ann Laura (Durham, 2006), 366404CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Department of State Memorandum, Dec. 17, 1904, 43886/3, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Series A: Subject Correspondence Files, Part 5: Prostitution and “White Slavery,” ed. Alan Kraut (Bethesda, MD, 1997), roll 1 (hereafter INS.A.5.PWS); Collin, Richard H., Theodore Roosevelt and Reform Politics (Lexington, MA, 1972)Google Scholar; Hawley, Joshua David, Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness (New Haven, 2008), 5257CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 91–93; and De Santis, Vincent P., The Shaping of Modern America, 1877–1920, 3rd ed. (Wheeling, IL, 2000), 173–74Google Scholar.

20 “Governor Roosevelt on Regulation,” The Shield, Aug. 1900, 64.

21 Maurice Gregory, “Visit to the United States,” The Shield, Dec. 1901, 82–83; “The United States,” The Shield, Mar. 1902, 14.

22 “Hearing given to Mrs. Margaret Dye Ellis, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Sadie American, and Josiah Strong, May 22nd, 1903, by Hon. George B. Cortelyou, Secretary, Department of Commerce and Labor,” case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

23 Koven and Michel, “Womanly Duties,” 1079. For more on maternalism, Gordon, Pitied but Not Entitled.

24 Margaret Dye Ellis to William Loeb, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

25 Ellis, Margaret Dye, Statement concerning Women Immigration Inspection (WCTU, 1903)Google Scholar, 1 in case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

26 Allan McLaughlin, “How Immigrants Are Inspected,” Popular Science Monthly, Feb. 1905, 357–58.

27 Brownstone, David M., Frank, Irene M., and Brownstone, Douglass L., Island of Hope, Island of Tears: The Story of Those Who Entered Ellis Island—In Their Own Words (New York, 1979), 140–41Google Scholar.

28 Horan, “Trafficking in Danger,” 218–19; Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain,’” 668–69.

29 William Williams to Frank Sargent, Mar. 9, 1903, No. 9189, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

30 “Women Want the Job of Boarding Liners,” New York Times, Jan. 25, 1903.

31 “Women as Inspectors,” New York Tribune, Jan. 21, 1903, 7.

32 “Ladder Rungs No Bar,” New York Tribune, Jan. 28, 1903, 7.

33 “Women Want the Job of Boarding Liners,” New York Times, Jan. 25, 1903.

34 “Ladder Rungs No Bar,” New York Tribune, Jan. 28, 1903, 7.

35 Ibid.

36 “Women as Inspectors,” New York Tribune, Jan. 21, 1903, 7.

37 William Williams to Frank Sargent, Dec. 1, 1904, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

38 In addition to English, Lassoe spoke French, German, and Swedish and had experience in “rescue work” in New York City and Brooklyn. Batchelder was a college graduate who was pursuing post-graduate work in sociology at Columbia University. She was fluent in French and German and had substantial experience in settlement house work. Margaret Dye Ellis to George B. Cortelyou, May 25, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

39 “Busy Women Inspectors,” The Janesville (WI) Daily Gazette, Feb. 14, 1903, 7.

40 “Up Ship's Side in Skirts,” New York Times, Feb. 12, 1903, 16.

41 Margaret Dye Ellis, “Women Immigrant Inspectors,” The Women's Journal, July 18, 1903, 232.

42 Margaret Batchelder to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

43 Hard Lot for Women Inspectors,” New York Tribune, Jan. 22, 1903, 6.

44 “Women Climb Ladders,” New York Tribune, Feb. 12, 1903, 7.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Gardner, The Qualities of a Citizen; Luibhéid, Eithne, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border (Minneapolis, 2002)Google Scholar.

48 On the intersection of class, race, and sexuality, Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks, “African-American Women and the The Metalanguage of Race,” Signs 17 (Winter 1992): 251–74Google Scholar.

49 Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain,’” 657.

50 “White Slave Trade,” Galveston Daily News, Nov. 17, 1907, 9.

51 Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain,’” 674.

52 Lee, Erika, At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (Chapel Hill, 2003), 8797Google Scholar.

53 Gardner, Qualities of a Citizen, 19.

54 Margaret Dye Ellis to George B. Cortelyou, May 25, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

55 Ibid.; Mathide Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, Dec. 23, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

56 Cordasco and Pitkin, The White Slave Trade and the Immigrants, 4; “Women Inspectors’ Term to End in Ninety Days,” New York Times, Mar. 19, 1903.

57 Mathide Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903; Margeret Batchelder to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

58 Sarah Harrison to Theodore Roosevelt, June 17, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

59 Ibid.

60 In Buenos Aires, a similar Jewish criminal/benevolent society flourished under the name the Zwi Migdal society. See Vincent, Isabel, Bodies and Souls: The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women Forced into Prostitution in the Americas (New York, 2005), 1215Google Scholar; Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires; and Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice, 165–70. Also, Van Onselen, Charles, The Fox and the Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath (London, 2007)Google Scholar.

61 On the narratives of sexual danger, Peiss, Kathy, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia, 1986)Google Scholar; Meyerowitz, Joanne, Women Adrift: Independent Wage Earners in Chicago, 1880–1930 (Chicago, 1988)Google Scholar; Alexander, Ruth, The Girl Problem: Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900–1930 (Ithaca, 1995)Google Scholar; and Donovan, White Slave Crusades.

62 Margeret Batchelder to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

63 William Williams to Commissioner-General of Immigration, Apr. 16, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

64 The importance of female virginity prior to marriage and female chastity within marriage had long been an expectation within heteronormative societal relations. See Bloch, Ruth, “Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America,” Signs 13 (Autumn 1987): 3758CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kerber, Linda, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (New York, 1986)Google Scholar; Odem, Mary E., Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1995), 4344Google Scholar; and Robertson, Stephen, “Making Right a Girl's Ruin: Working-Class Legal Cultures and Forced Marriage in New York City, 1890–1950,” Journal of American Studies 36 (Aug. 2002): 199230CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In countries with a civil code and clear paternal obligations, scholarship about paternity, virginity, and protection from seduction tends to be stronger. For example, Caulfield, Sueann, In Defense of Honor: Sexual Morality, Modernity, and Nation in Early-Twentieth-Century Brazil (Durham, 2000)Google Scholar; and Findlay, Eileen Suárez, “Courtroom Tales of Sex and Honor: Rapto and Rape in Late-Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” in Honor, Status, and Law in Modern Latin America, ed. Caulfield, Sueann, Chambers, Sarah C., and Putnam, Lara (Durham, 2005), 201–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

65 Ellis, Margaret Dye, Statement concerning Women Immigration Inspection, (WCTU, 1903)Google Scholar, 1 in case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

66 Clement, Elizabeth, Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900–1945 (Chapel Hill, 2006), 8992Google Scholar.

67 Mathilde Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5. Stephen Robertson finds that shotgun marriage was a common NYC working-class response to the sexual activity of young girls. Robertson, “Making Right a Girl's Ruin,” 201–03.

68 Mathilde Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid.

72 Elizabeth Zanoni, “‘In the Guise of Immigrants’: Women Social Reformers, Immigration Policy, and the Gendering of the Transatlantic Voyage,” paper presented at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Minneapolis, June 14, 2008.

73 Josepha Lassoe to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

74 Mathilde Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

75 Ellis, Margaret Dye, Statement concerning Women Immigration Inspection, (WCTU, 1903)Google Scholar, 4, in case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

76 William Williams to Commissioner-General, May 8, 1903; William Loab to George Cortelyou, Mar. 25, 1909, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

77 Gardner, The Qualities of A Citizen; Deirdre M. Moloney, “Women, Sexual Morality, and Economic Dependency in Early U.S. Deportation Policy,” Journal of Women's History 18 (Summer 2006): 95–112.

78 Leslie Shaw to William Williams, May 14, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

79 “Women Inspectors Fail,” New York Times, Mar. 14, 1903.

80 “Women Inspectors Retained,” Atlanta Constitution, Apr. 5, 1903.

81 For a more detailed discussion of American's activities for the NCJW, Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain.’”

82 Bristow, Prostitution and Prejudice, 233–35; Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires, 8–12; Kuzmack, Linda Gordon, Woman's Cause: The Jewish Woman's Movement in England and the United States, 1881–1933 (Columbus, OH, 1990), 6974Google Scholar; Rogow, Faith, Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women, 1893–1993 (Tuscaloosa, 1993), 136–38Google Scholar; and Kaplan, Marion A., The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany: The Campaigns of the Jüdischer Frauenbund, 1904–1938 (Westport, CT, 1979), 108–13Google Scholar.

83 “Hearing given to Mrs. Margaret Dye Ellis, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Sadie American and Josiah Strong, May 22nd, 1903, by Hon. George B. Cortelyou, Secretary, Department of Commerce and Labor,” case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

84 Ellis, “Women Immigrant Inspectors,” 232.

85 Smith, Darrell Hevenor and Herring, H. Guy, The Bureau of Immigration: Its History, Activities, and Organization (Baltimore, 1924), 1011Google Scholar.

86 Ellis, “Women Immigrant Inspectors,” 232.

87 “Hearing given to Mrs. Margaret Dye Ellis, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Sadie American and Josiah Strong, May 22nd, 1903, by Hon. George B. Cortelyou, Secretary, Department of Commerce and Labor,” case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

88 Mathilde Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903, Sarah Harrison to Theodore Roosevelt, June 17, 1903, Josepha Lassoe to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, and, Margaret Batchelder to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

89 Mathide Wichmann to Theodore Roosevelt, May 26, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

90 Josepha Lassoe to Theodore Roosevelt, June 18, 1903, case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

91 Ellis, Margaret Dye, Statement concerning Women Immigration Inspection, (WCTU, 1903), 34Google Scholar in case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5; “Women Immigrant Inspectors,” The Philanthropist, Apr. 1903, 1.

92 “Hearing given to Mrs. Margaret Dye Ellis, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Sadie American and Josiah Strong, May 22nd, 1903,” case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

93 Zolberg, Aristide R., “The Archeology of Remote Control” in Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period, ed. Fahrmeir, Andreas, Faron, Oliver, and Weil, Patrick (New York, 2003), 195222Google Scholar (quotation 210).

94 “Hearing given to Mrs. Margaret Dye Ellis, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Miss Sadie American and Josiah Strong, May 22nd, 1903,” case file 52541/41, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

95 George Cortelyou to Theodore Roosevelt, July 29, 1903, Cortelyou to Margaret Dye Ellis, July 28, 1903, William Williams to Frank Sargent, Dec. 1, 1904, and Williams to Chief of the Boarding Division, Jan. 23, 1905, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

96 William Williams to Frank Sargent, Aug. 26, 1903, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5. There were not enough women who qualified under the new civil service requirements within the tri-state area, therefore three of the five new boarding matrons had to be recruited from the West.

97 “Organization of the U.S. Immigrant Station at Ellis Island, New York, Together with a Brief Description of the Work Done in Each of Its Divisions [October 23, 1903],” 356.

98 Pitkin, Thomas M., Keepers of the Gate: A History of Ellis Island (New York, 1975), 102Google Scholar.

99 Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain,’” 669.

100 William Williams to Frank Sargent, Dec. 1, 1904, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5; Johnson, “Protection, Virtue, and the ‘Power to Detain,’” 675; and Barry Moreno, Encyclopedia of Ellis Island (Westport, CT, 2004), 156–57.

101 Ellis noted that the male inspectors continued to oppose the presence of women, and when one woman complained about her treatment, she was “at once transferred to Ellis Island for night duty.” Margaret Dye Ellis to Victor H. Metcalf, Feb. 2, 1905, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

102 Ibid.

103 William Williams to Frank Sargent, Dec. 1, 1904, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

104 Margaret Dye Ellis to Victor H. Metcalf, Feb. 2, 1905, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

105 Women's Journal, July 18, 1903, 232; also, Jan. 17, 1903, 24.

106 Abbott, Grace, The Immigrant and the Community (New York, 1917), 7879Google Scholar.

107 Quoted in Egal Feldman, “Prostitution, the Alien Woman and the Progressive Imagination, 1910–1915, American Quarterly 19 (Summer 1967): 204.

108 Moloney, Deirdre M., National Insecurities: Immigrants and U.S. Deportation Policy since 1882 (Chapel Hill, 2012), 6566Google Scholar; “Bullis Reports—Manuel P. Ostrow Appointment, etc.,” case file 51652/41-B INS.A.5.PWS, roll 1.

109 Anna Herkner, United States Immigration Commission (1907–1910), “Steerage Conditions,” vol. 37, Serial Set no. 5877, Senate Document 753/1 sessions 61–63 (Washington, 1911).

110 United States Immigration Commission, “Importation and Harboring of Women for Immoral Purposes,” Reports of the Immigration Commission (final), (Washington, 1911). For more on the U.S. Immigration Commission, Zeidel, Robert F., Immigrants, Progressives, and Exclusion Politics: The Dillingham Commission, 1900–1927 (DeKalb, IL, 2004)Google Scholar.

111 William Williams to Daniel Keefe, Aug. 10, 1909, case file 52541/41-A, INS.A.3.Ellis, roll 5.

112 Quoted in Unrau, Ellis Island Statue of Liberty National Monument, 224.

113 Harrison, Evelyn, “The Working Woman: Barriers in Employment,” Public Administration Review 24 (June 1964): 7885CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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