What would compel people to move to a new place?
Iowa has been the destination for immigrants since it began welcoming settlers in the 1830s. The origins of those new arrivals changed significantly over the past 175 years and can be roughly divided into three waves. In each case, they came in response to a combination of “push/pull” factors. Push factors like wars or persecution at home or poverty and lack of economic prospects forced them to seek a new homeland. Pull factors included the advantages they saw in relocating in Iowa. The rich farmland and economic opportunities were the major factor in early Iowa.
Iowa's Early Settlers
Following the Black Hawk War when Native Americans were pressured to relinquish title to a significant portion of eastern Iowa, pioneers headed for the “land across the river.” Most early settlers were attracted by the acres of cheap government land. Small farmers from the Ohio River Valley furnished a large share of the early population. The states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri were stopping points along the way for many families who had begun in New England or the states of the upper South like Virginia, Maryland or Kentucky.
Europe also began its contribution to the Iowa scene. Political revolutions and repressive reactions swept central Europe in the late 1840s. Germany supplied the largest contingent, with a tidal wave following failed revolutions in 1848. Many Germans settled in the Mississippi River towns like Dubuque and Davenport where they formed strong ethnic communities. However, Germans were a sizable presence in many Iowa communities and rural neighborhoods. The potato famines of the 1840s forced many Irish families to seek a new home in America, promoting Ireland as the second largest source of early European immigrants. Great Britain, Canada, Holland and the Scandinavian countries also contributed residents to early Iowa. Railroads and the state itself promoted foreign immigration. They developed and distributed brochures throughout northern and western Europe in native languages describing the climate, economic prospects and practical information on how to reach Iowa.
In the late 1800s and until World War I, immigrants from Italy, Russia and Eastern Europe began showing up in the census. Because most of the land was now privately owned and no longer available at cheap prices from the government, it was early Iowa industries that attracted these new arrivals. Coal mining was important in drawing Italians and Croatians. Often a single male would arrive and get a job in a coal mine. When he had saved enough, he would sponsor a brother, son or nephew who would then also contribute to the migration costs of other family members. World War I fostered distrust of these later immigrants and efforts were made to “Americanize” them and to limit the numbers of future arrivals. Mexican immigration also increased with the demand for farm labor during the war.
Beginning in the 1970s, a third wave of immigrants began to enter the state and this immigration continues today. These individuals were often the victims of civil wars or natural disasters. The Vietnam War created thousands of displaced persons confined in refugee camps in Southeast Asia. In 1975, President Gerald Ford urged the nation to help to resettle refugees here, and Iowa’s Governor Robert Ray responded by setting up a state agency to work with private organizations. As a result, many Vietnamese arrived in the state, learned English and became productive citizens. Wars in their homelands also “pushed” Bosnians, Ethiopians and others from Africa and Asia to seek new homes in Iowa. Hispanics from Mexico, South America and the Caribbean were drawn here by work in Iowa's meatpacking plants and became a significant segment of the population in several Iowa communities including Perry, Storm Lake, Marshalltown and Denison.
Iowa boasts several nationally-recognized museums that pay tribute to Iowa immigrant groups: Vesterheim for Norwegians in Decorah; The Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids; the German Heritage Center in Davenport; and the Danish Museum of America in Elk Horn.
Why do people move or choose to immigrate?
- Sivell Family Passengers' Contract Ticket, 1852 (Document)
- Sivell Ship's Manifest, 1852 (Document)
- The Great Bartholdi Statue, 1885 (Image)
- Statistical Atlas of the United States' Population, 1898 (Map)
- Emigrants coming to the "Land of Promise," 1902 (Image)
- Railroad Workers in Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1920 (Image)
- "What is the Difference between Immigrants and Refugees?" 2003 (Document)
- "Get The Facts: Refugee Resettlement in Iowa," 2018
- "Definition of a Refugee" from Iowa PBS, 2007 (Video)
What did refugees and immigrants experience when they arrived in America?
- Inspection Room, Ellis Island, New York, between 1900 and 1915 (Image)
- Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] Landing at Ellis Island, 1903 (Video)
- Immigration Figures for the United States, 1903 (Document)
- Immigrants' Landing at Ellis Island, between 1910 and 1920 (Image)
- Language Proclamation Concern Letter, June 6, 1918 (Document)
- Revocation of Babel Proclamation, 1918 (Document)
- "Strong Ties” Article from The Goldfinch, April 1991(Document)
- Mario Ruiz Ronquillo Interview about Mexican Immigration and Workplace Culture in the Midwest, December 4, 2015 (Audio Recording)
- “Immigrant group works to help newcomers integrate in America” Newspaper Article, March 29, 2015 (Document)
- “Refugee from Congo speaks of challenges in Iowa City” Newspaper Article, August 17, 2016 (Document)
How does one's culture influence where they choose to live?
- Sokol Festival, July 4-6, 1911 (Image)
- Sauerkraut Day, September 7, 1912 (Image)
- Bettendorf Foundry Workers, ca. 1920 (Image)
- Wedding of Cruz and Esperanza Martinez in Kansas, 1920 (Image)
- Celebrating Mexican Independence Day in Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1926 (Image)
- Italian Immigrants in Iowa, April 15, 1942 (Image)
- Sudanese Immigrants in Iowa, late 1990s (Image)
- “Why Do Immigrants and Refugees Come to Iowa?” 2003 (Document)
Sivell Family Passengers' Contract Ticket, August 20, 1852
The passengers' contract ticket highlights how the John Sivell family immigrated to the United States from the United Kingdom in 1852 aboard the ship, "Margaret Evans." The ticket references names, ages and food and water accommodations that will be given while in steerage.…
Sivell Ship's Manifest, 1852
This ship’s manifest shows names, ages, gender, ports, country origins and ethnicity of passengers. The Sivell family is listed on the manifest from 1852.
The Great Bartholdi Statue, Liberty Enlightening the World: The Gift of France to the American People, 1885
The Great Bartholdi Statue, Liberty Enlightening the World: The Gift of France to the American People was erected on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor.
Statistical Atlas of the United States' Population (excluding Indians not taxed), 1898
A statistical atlas of the United States is based upon the results of the 11th census, completed in 1890, showing the population of the U.S. in 1830 and 1860. The atlas does not include the population of Native Americans who were not taxed.
Emigrants coming to the "Land of Promise," 1902
The 1902 photograph captures emigrants huddled together on their journey to the United States. The image was taken by American photographer William Herman Rau.
Railroad Workers in Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1920
This photograph shows Latino railroad workers employed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in Fort Madison, Iowa, in the 1920s. The first Mexican people to settle in Iowa worked as traqueros (railroad track workers) who repaired and laid tracks…
“What is the Difference between Immigrants and Refugees?” 2003
This adapted document explains some of the differences that separate immigrants from refugees. The document content was adapted from The New Iowans, A Companion Book to the PBS Miniseries The New Americans that was published in 2003.
"Get The Facts: Refugee Resettlement in Iowa," 2018
This document was distributed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds administration in regard to the state’s refugee resettlement. Under former President Donald Trump, there was an executive order that required states to consent to the continued resettlement of…
“Definition of a Refugee” from Iowa PBS, 2007
In this video from Iowa PBS, Wayne Joshnon, former Chief of the Bureau of Refugee Services in Iowa, defines the term “refugee.”
Inspection Room, Ellis Island, New York, between 1900 and 1915
The inspection room was where new arrivals waited to be inspected and registered by immigration service officers. On many days, over 5,000 people would file through the space to undergo medical and legal examinations.
Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] Landing at Ellis Island, 1903
"Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island," a contemporary Edison film, shows a large open barge loaded with people of many nationalities, who just arrived from Europe. The immigrants are disembarking at Ellis Island in New York. The film opens with a view of the steam ferryboat "…
Immigration Figures for the United States, 1903
This source from 1903 highlights the number of immigrants coming to the United States who were illiterate in their native language in reading and writing.
Immigrants' Landing at Ellis Island, New York, between 1910 and 1920
More than 12 million immigrants made their first stop in America at the Ellis Island Immigration Station between 1892 and 1954.
Language Proclamation Concern Letter, June 6, 1918
This is a letter from Pastor Gavert to Governor William Harding pleading for church services to be spoken in their native language, which would go against Gov. Harding's proclamation that states, "Only English was legal in public…
Revocation of Babel Proclamation, 1918
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The Babel Proclamation was issued by Iowa's Governor William L. Harding. He took the anti-German sentiment in the wake of World War I further…
“Strong Ties” Article from The Goldfinch, April 1991
This Goldfinch article focuses on the journey of the Tai Dam (pronounced “tie dom”) of Vietnam, who began to arrive in Iowa in 1975. The Tai Dam refugees had been invited to resettle in Iowa by Governor Robert Ray. They originally were from northwestern…
“Immigrant group works to help newcomers integrate in America” Newspaper Article, March 29, 2015
This Cedar Rapids Gazette article focuses on the work of the CongoReform Association, a local Iowa group comprised mostly of East African immigrants. The organization's members work to help new arrivals to the area to find jobs, enroll their children in…
Mario Ruiz Ronquillo Interview about Mexican Immigration and Workplace Culture in the Midwest, December 4, 2015
This audio interview is of Mario Ruiz Ronquillo, who was born outside of Mexico City, Mexico in 1974. He was one of 10 children who worked to support his parents' subsistence farm. In the late 1980s, his brothers began to leave the farm in search of work…
“Refugee from Congo speaks of challenges in Iowa City” Newspaper Article, August 17, 2016
This article from The Cedar Rapids Gazette focuses on an event in Iowa City in 2016 that provided a platform for people who arrived as refugees in Iowa. Community leaders gathered to discuss better ways to assist the growing number of…
Sokol Festival, July 4-6, 1911
This image shows a drill team performing during the Sokol festival and tournament at Alamo Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sokols were gymnastics and drilling clubs that originated in the country formerly-known as Czechoslovakia.
Sauerkraut Day, September 7, 1912
A large crowd amasses on the town street during Sauerkraut Day in 1912 and are waiting in line for the celebrated food of finely cut cabbage. The town shown actually changed its name from Germania, Iowa, to Lakota, Iowa, in 1917 due to anti-German sentiment created by World…
Bettendorf Foundry Workers, ca. 1920
This photograph shows foundry workers in Bettendorf, Iowa, some of whom migrated from Mexico for work. To document Mexican immigrants in the upper Midwest for the U.S. Department of Labor, George Edson surveyed the HOly City barrio in 1926, located on the land owned by the…
Wedding of Cruz and Esperanza Martinez in Kansas, 1920
This is a wedding photograph of Cruz and Esperanza Martinez in Kansas in 1920. By the 1920s, over 2,500 Mexican people had settled in Iowa. In the following decades, Iowa's Latinx population continued to grow. Between 2000 and 2010, Iowa's Latinx…
Celebrating Mexican Independence Day in Fort Madison, Iowa, ca. 1926
This photograph shows people celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day in Fort Madison, Iowa. The celebrations include fireworks, parties (fiestas), food, dance and music on September 16. Flags, flowers and decorations in the colors of the Mexican flag red,…
Italian Immigrants in Iowa, April 15, 1942
Carmen Benardino places a service star for her brother, Luis, on a Sons of Aliens Service flag during a ceremony at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1942. Some U.S. communities viewed Italian-Americans as “enemy aliens” during the World War II and forced…
Sudanese Immigrants in Iowa, late 1990s
These Sudanese refugees received acculturation support at Hawthorn Hill Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Refugee assistance programs help refugees find a place to live, basic needs, jobs and lessons to learn the English language.
“Why Do Immigrants and Refugees Come to Iowa?” 2003
This adapted document explains some reasons why immigrants and refugees come to Iowa. The document content was adapted from The New Iowans, A Companion Book to the PBS Miniseries The New Americans that was published in 2003.
- The Goldfinch: Iowa History for Young People (Volume 12, Number 4, April 1991)
This Iowa history magazine for children was published quarterly by the State Historical Society of Iowa from 1975-2000. Each issue focuses on a theme and this particular volume highlighted immigration in Iowa and included articles, games, photos and fiction.
- Alicia Ostriker reads Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus"
Poet and professor Alicia Ostriker reads the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus as a donation to an auction of art and literary works intended to raise money to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. According to Ostriker, Lazarus was initially not interested in contributing a poem, but "a friend convinced her that the statue would be of great significance to immigrants sailing into the harbor."
- Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today
This online toolkit allows students to experience the process of immigration to America through the eyes of an immigrant. Students can take a tour of Ellis Island, explore an interactive immigration timeline and meet young immigrants through this online resource.
- Civics Test (2016)
This document is the "Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test," and is an oral exam that an USCIS officer will ask the applicant up to 10 of the 100 civics questions. Applicants must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test.
- Iowa Pathways: Oral History Videos
The media artifacts of this collection include videos and information about different groups of immigrants coming to Iowa, such as Jewish, Dutch and German settlers.
- Escaping to America by Rosalyn Schanzer
This book, written for children 8 to 12, is Rosalyn Schanzer recounting how her father traveled with his family in 1921 from Sochocin, Poland, to the United States. His family left Poland under rising violence against and persecution of Poland's Jewish population.
- How People Immigrate by Sarah De Capua
A civic book targeted as the elementary grade level that includes information about American history, government and politics.
- At Ellis Island: A History In Many Voices by Louise Peacock
The book follows the journey of different immigrants and their families as they recount their travels, struggles and wonders of coming to America.
- I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez
This children's book follows Libby's great aunt, Lobo, who is from Mexico. Lobo called the United States her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. At the end of the week, Lobo says the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. Libby is also learning the Pledge of Allegiance and she and Lobo practice together.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (3rd Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are elementary-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for third grade students.
|SS.3.16.||Describe how people take risks to improve their family income through education, career changes and moving to new places.|
|SS.3.17.||Explain an individual's responsibility for credit and debt. (21st century skills)|
|SS.3.20.||Describe how cultural characteristics influence people’s choices to live in different regions of the U.S.|
|SS.3.28.||Explain the cultural contributions that different groups have made on Iowa.|