Immigrant Women: Our Courageous Ancestors
The book Immigrant Women, By Maxine Seller gives insight into the first impressions, hard lessons, joys and sorrows experienced by women who immigrated during the 19th and 20th centuries. In a collection of memoirs, oral histories, diaries and stories, the book records the specific struggles of women striving to build a new life in a new land.
Most of the time we can only imagine what challenges our immigrant grandmothers faced and what they thought of their new home. Genealogy can only tell us so much: it is a treasure to read it in their words.
In her own words Marie Prisland, an immigrant from Slovinia, describes her arrival at Ellis Island in 1906. Her entry includes an eye opening description of what it was like the first time she became aware of cultural differences.
“An English speaking immigrant asked the near-by guard where we could get a drink of water. The guard withdrew and returned shortly with a pail of water, which he set before the group of women. Some men stepped forward quickly to have a drink, but the guard pushed them back saying: “Ladies First!” When the women learned what the guard had said, they were dumbfounded, for in Slovinia as in all Europe, women always were second to men.”
Leaving behind friends and family could lead to a lonely existence for many women as can be seen in this Norwegian immigrant women’s song.
Farewell, my old spinning wheel. How I shall miss you;
The thought of leaving you breaks the heart in my breast.
No more in the evening will we sit by the fireside, old friend of mine
and gossip together.
Ah, all that I see has its roots in my heart. And now they are torn out
Do you wonder it bleeds?
Immigrant Women, speaks in the voices of our grandmothers, engaging us in a narrative that opens a window into the past.
You can read Immigrant Women, free on Google books.