Becoming American

For many immigrants to this country, becoming “American” was a top priority. While some

longed for the ways of the old country, many embraced the new ways America had to offer.

In her study of German-Russian immigrant women in Lincoln at the turn of the century,

University of Nebraska sociologist Hattie Plum Williams found that many women learned

new ways working in “American” homes. Her manuscript on file at the State Historical

Society notes “this day labor in American homes is one of the greatest assimilative forces

which exists. Its chief influence is on the language, the increase of desires, and the position

of women in the homes. There are few women in the settlement (except new immigrants)

who have gone out to work who cannot speak English intelligibly, and most of them can

speak far better than their husbands because many of the latter work in groups of their own

countrymen and speak only German.

“The introduction of new desires and their rapid multiplication is one of the means of

progress for the immigrant. It raises his standard of living, transforms his environment, and

broadens his mental and spiritual horizon by tempting him to choose among a vast array of

things set before him. The democratic constitution of our society places no limits upon the

satisfaction of these desires. If ‘Katie’ wants a fur coat like her employer’s or window curtains

or rugs, there is no sentiment in the community to hinder her from having it; it all depends

upon whether she wants to spend her money that way. Mahogany tables and chiffonniers,

brass beds, walnut bedroom sets, and other luxuries of the best homes in Lincoln are

duplicated in homes of the settlement. The excellent taste in color and floor furnishings and

furniture testify to the teachableness and keen observation of these women.

“The place of women in the American home is as carefully noted as are her household

possessions. Women who were accustomed to accept beatings from their husbands as the

natural order of events find out that the practice is not tolerated in this country, and soon

learn to call the police and have their belligerent husbands given thirty or ninety days in jail.

If conditions in the home become intolerable (from the American viewpoint) it is not

infrequent to find the employer ushering the Russian-German woman through the mysteries

of police or divorce court and securing her rights under the law. It is this ‘evil’ influence upon

their women folk which leads the older Russian-German men to base their chief objection to

America, on the grounds that ‘the women in this country have too much say about things.'”


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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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