The Galveston Movement

Bringing Eastern European Jews to the American West.

This piece was written in June 1914. The author, Jacob Schiff, was the driving force behind the Galveston movement. Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston led the efforts in Texas, meeting ships at the port and helping immigrants make their way to their destinations. Many of the Jewish populations in the western portion of the United States can trace their origins to this project.

This article is disseminated with the permission of the Jewish Communal Service Association, publishers of The Journal of Jewish Communal Service. Subscriptions are available on line at Provided by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive.

The so-called “Galveston movement” was initiated in 1907 for the purposes of deflecting some part of the large emigration which has been flowing practically exclusively into the North Atlantic seaports–notably into New York–and directing it toward the Gulf, with the view of distributing these immigrants over the American “Hinterland” west of the Mississippi. Galveston was chosen as the most available port of entrance and a Jewish Immigrants’ Information Bureau was established there under the auspices of a committee, which had its headquarters at New York and of which the writer of this was made chairman, with David M. Bressler as honorary secretary and managing director.

The “Ito”

The committee placed itself promptly after its organization into communication with the Jewish Territorial Organization, of which Israel Zangwill is the head, and an arrangement was entered into between that organization and the Galveston Committee, under which the former undertook to make propaganda in Russia and Roumania for acquainting intending emigrants with the advantages of going into the United States through Galveston, rather than to and through the overcrowded and congested North Atlantic ports.

family of Galveston immigrants

A family of Jewish Polish immigrants in Galveston

The Jewish Territorial Organization or “Ito,” as it is popularly called, to this end established a number of committees in Russia under the able management of Dr. Jochelmann, of Kieff, where the headquarters of the “Ito” Emigration Regulation Department became located. It was stipulated, and this was carried into effect throughout, that, as demanded by the laws of the United States, no pecuniary assistance was to be extended to emigrants, but that the “Ito” and its committees should limit their activities to efforts destined to smooth the way of the emigrant, through a perfected system of supervision and advice, from the moment he left his home until his arrival at Galveston.

Reaching Galveston, immigrants are taken under the care of the Jewish Immigrants’ Information Bureau. This bureau, originally established with Morris D. Waldman as its manager, who in turn was succeeded by Henry Berman and latterly by Maurice Epstein, gradually organized a system of agencies over the entire territory, extending from the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast, got in close touch with B’nai B’rith Lodges and kindred societies, from whom it obtained valuable support and cooperation, and thus it has been made possible to procure prompt employment for the immigrants, as these reached Galveston from time to time, and to distribute them over the large territory from the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast and from the Gulf to the Dominion boundary.

The expense of the Galveston establishment, the maintenance of immigrants’ until employment had been found for them, the cost of transportation from Galveston to places of destination were all borne by the Galveston Committee, a sum approaching $300,000 having been expended to date for the between nine and ten thousand immigrants which have come to Galveston and have been distributed by the committee.

Unexpected Challenges

This work, successful enough in itself, has, however, by no means been entirely smooth. The fact that only one line of transportation from Europe to Galveston was available–the North German Lloyd steamers from Bremen–placed the emigrant who wished to come to Galveston more or less at the mercy of this single steamship company, and while on the whole the accommodation the latter furnished was reasonably satisfactory’, a journey of 23 days in steerage quarters brought in itself discomforts, which frequently led to not always unjustified complaints on the part of emigrants.

But what has proved the greatest handicap was the attitude of the Federal Government, which, having an immigration station at Galveston, did not always show itself as sympathetic as the committee believed it was justified in expecting. The committee had assumed that its efforts to deflect immigration from the congested centers of the North Atlantic Coast and open a new route leading directly into the American “Hinterland,” where the laborer is still much in demand, would meet with every encouragement on the part of the Federal authorities, who, however, to the contrary in recent times, since immigration has been transferred from the Department of Commerce and Labor to the newly created Labor Department, have shown what must be called a repressive policy, which has become most marked at Galveston, where the law is being now applied with a rigidity and deportation ordered for such slight reasons that the proportion of the excluded whose prompt deportation is insisted upon by the Government equals 5% as compared with an average of 1.21%, at all other American ports.

Legacy of the Galveston Movement

Under such conditions, the committee, after careful deliberation, has concluded that it is useless to continue the effort for which it was organized–to deflect emigration from the congested centers at New York and other North Atlantic seaports–and it has decided to discontinue the Galveston Bureau after next September. By that time some 10,000 Jewish immigrants will have been established through the Galveston Committee at numerous points in the Far West, Southwest and Northwest, where most of these new arrivals have been able to found dignified existences and happy homes.

Centers have thus been created, to which many others are certain to be attracted from the more congested places in the Eastern states, and at the same time the existence of these centers will induce many in Russia and elsewhere, who are forced to emigrate, to avoid the congested American seaport towns, and to go direct to the places in the “Hinterland,” where their friends have already established themselves.

In this manner the “Galveston movement” is certain to continue and ultimately work out silently, but effectively, the problem for which it has been started.

While New York is already too overcrowded and the making of further larger additions to its Jewish population should obviously be sought to be avoided, there is considerable room yet in the comparatively thinly settled districts west of the Mississippi for those who wish to go there. To direct Jewish immigration into these districts will surely aid in promoting the happiness of the immigrant and prove a boon to the area in which he continues to be needed and where the immigrant will not only be able to find ready employment, but also more attractive surroundings than in the tenement districts of the Eastern city.

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