Samantha Riley

Major: M.A. in Applied Anthropology
School of Liberal Arts

The Challenges of Resettlement: Stories of Early 20th Century Jewish Immigrants to Indiana

The U.S. has long been hailed as a melting pot, or a land where people of all cultures and backgrounds could come together to develop a diverse and harmonious nation. This ideology, however, disregards a history of the mistreatment of many immigrants, including Europeans who, despite myths to the contrary, were often subjected to such hardships as labor exploitation, social exclusion, xenophobia and nativism. These difficulties can be seen in the experiences of Jewish immigrants, who arrived in large numbers during the early 20th century. In response to this mass migration, an agency called the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) was established in New York by well-settled and successful German-Jewish Americans. They feared that if these new arrivals, most of whom hailed from poor communities in southern and eastern Europe, were to congregate along the east coast, this would spur outbreaks of anti-Semitism. The IRO dispersed new arrivals around the U.S., including to several communities in Indiana, with the hopes that they would quickly assimilate. In their new settings, these immigrants faced daunting challenges including job loss, unfair wages, difficulty adapting to their new environments, and even spousal desertion. Our goal in this project is to reveal these stories of earlier immigrant communities in Indianapolis, illustrating that the adversities of relocation that continue to affect immigrant groups today have a long historical trajectory, as does the work of social reformers, who continue to seek to mitigate the worst effects of these privations.