Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-84b7d79bbc-fnpn6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-25T07:53:17.996Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

4 - Practical Aid and Sympathetic Understanding: Grace Abbott's Alternative to the Literacy Test

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2018

Jeanne D. Petit
Affiliation:
Hope College
Get access

Summary

When testifying against the Burnett literacy test bill in 1912, Grace Abbott refused to be baited. Everis Hayes, a California Republican and member of the House Immigration and Naturalization Committee, pushed Abbott to admit that the racial composition of immigration had changed, and not for the better. Abbott acknowledged that more immigrants had come from southeastern Europe, but she also challenged the notion that they were racially inferior. “Anyone who knows the family life of the newly arrived immigrant,” she claimed, “sees very little menace in the situation.” She spoke of the sacrifice young men and women made to save money and bring over relatives, and then concluded, “I have often wondered what the average American boy or girl could teach the foreign boys and girls in the matter of that fundamental Americanism—devotion to one's family.” For Abbott, proof of whether an immigrant was desirable was neither established in the manly conquest of a frontier nor in germ plasma that fathers passed on to sons. Instead, it emerged in the family and community, where men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters fulfilled their obligations to each other and to the larger society. A literacy test, she argued, was a false indicator of whether an immigrant could become a good citizen because it did not test whether immigrants could realize that “fundamental Americanism.”

It was not as though Grace Abbott devalued literacy. In fact, she promoted literacy as a positive good, much more so than the men of the Immigration Restriction League (IRL) or the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers (AAFLN). In 1911, she, along with Jane Addams, wrote to Democratic Representative Oscar Underwood of Alabama, a restrictionist member of Congress, and acknowledged that education was desirable among the citizenry, and that “much could be said in favor of an educational test as a requisite for naturalization.” For Abbott, though, using literacy as a test for admission was an improper use of government resources and did not get to the root of the “immigrant problem.”

Type
Chapter
Information
The Men and Women We Want
Gender, Race, and the Progressive Era Literacy Test Debate
, pp. 87 - 102
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×