Between the years of 1840 and 1914, about forty million people immigrated to the United States from foreign countries. Many of them came to find work and earn money to have a better life for their families. Others immigrated because they wanted to escape the corrupt political power of their homelands, such as the revolution in Mexico after 1911. Whatever the case, many found it difficult to begin again in a new country. Most immigrants lived in slums with very poor living conditions. They had a hard time finding work that paid enough to support a family. Not only was it difficult for immigrant men, but for women as well. Immigrant women faced many challenges including lack of education and social life as well as low wages and poor working conditions.
When families immigrated to the United States, men were primarily the ones who were expected to learn and bring in wages to support the family. While women did bring in wages as well, they were expected to care for the home and take care of the children. Because of this, women lacked the chance to go to school and become educated because it was boys who were mainly sent to school. Women were only expected to work and earn money to help support the family. In the novel Bread Givers, a book about an immigrant family in New York, one of the daughters named Sara explains her sister’s role by saying, “Bessie would rush home the quicker to help Mother with the washing or ironing, or bring home another bundle of night work, and stay up till all hours to earn another dollar for the house.” In this novel, Bessie’s duties are to help around the house and work all she can to earn money to support her family. She does not have the privilege to go to school and attempt to prepare for a better career because her family needs her to work and care for the home.
While women were expected to work and take care of the home, another reason they lacked education is because families simply could not afford it. When Sara is out selling herring to earn money for dinner, she says, “Nothing was before me but the hunger in our house, and no bread for the next meal if I didn’t sell the herring.” This shows just how desperate Sara and her family are for money to put food on the table. Many immigrant families struggled to make ends meet even with all the members of their families working. They had to live in tenements and endure poor living conditions because they used the little income that they received to pay for food. In the book, the family’s kitchen at dinner time is described by saying, “The stove was cold. No food was on the table.” The Smolinsky family struggles to put food on the table every night, so they could not think about sending one of their daughters to school when they desperately need money themselves. Women were simply not given the opportunity to educate themselves and therefore it was hard for them to pursue any sort of career in America.
With the lack of education for these women, it also...