Dictionary of Races or Peoples - US Immigration Commission
“For the first time, the government tries to find out, not what nations but what races are pouring into America, and It reaches some conclusions that will make the average man stare.” —from “The races that go into the American melting pot,” New York Times, May 21, 1911
In the early 1900s, US immigration changed dramatically. Not only did the annual immigration levels soar to over one million a year, resulting in an immigrant population of 10 million, but the origin of immigrants was changing greatly as well. In the 1880s, 87 percent of the immigrants came from northern and western Europe, while by the early 1900s, 81 percent came from southern and eastern Europe. From 1899 on, immigrants were no longer classified by country of birth, but according to race or people. This was due to the many new immigrants, from the Austro-Hungarian or Russian empires, who could not easily be distinguished by country of birth.
In 1907, the US IMMIGRATION COMMISSION (a.k.a. the Dillingham Commission), a joint House and Senate commission, was formed to study these changes in immigration. The commission’s chairman, the Republican Senator William P. Dillingham (1843–1923) and a Progressive reformer, was a vocal advocate of restriction of immigration. As part of its 41-volume report on immigration, the commission released the Dictionary of Races and Peoples in 1911. It was written by the commission’s senior researcher Daniel Folkmar with his wife Elnora, and became a crucial source of anthropological, cultural, historical, and geographical information about the many races entering the US. Although it consisted of many cultural stereotypes, it was initially well received and only from the early 1950s on did it receive widespread criticism.
The Dictionary of Races and Peoples and the commission’s overall findings, including that the “new” immigration formed a serious threat to American society and should be greatly reduced, were later used in 1920s legislation reducing immigration.
Students of immigration, academics, journalists, and anyone interested in the history of US immigration and solutions for 21st century America will find this controversial dictionary a vital background reading.