Life in America for “New” Immigrants

America is thought to be the world’s melting pot. In the late 19th and early 20th century, immigration to the United States drastically increased. Immigrants began coming from different parts of the world, and the U.S. struggled with how to absorb these new immigrants. Nativist sentiment pushed for limits to be placed on how many new immigrants could enter the country. At the same time, progressive reformers like Jane Addams worked to improve the lives of immigrants in the country. 

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

The student will:

  • Analyze political cartoons to determine nativist view on immigrants.
  • Describe the work of Jacob Riis and explain how urban poverty impacted immigrants.
  • Research and analyze sources related to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Gentlemen’s Agreement, and the work of Jane Addams.
  • Compare and contrast discussions around immigration from the early 20th century to contemporary immigration issues. 
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • Who were “old and new immigrants,” and what was life like for them as they entered the United States?
  • How did the nation respond to the massive influx of immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th century? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Students will analyze the political cartoon, “The Immigrant: The Stranger at Our Gate”. The teacher will lead a discussion about the definition of nativism. The teacher will list on the board the following terms: disease, superstition, poverty, anarchy, Sabbath desecration, intemperance and crime. Challenge students to find these terms on the immigrant at the gate. Have students describe the immigrant and Uncle Sam, and speculate about what is going on between Uncle Sam and the immigrant at the gate.
  • Analyze these additional cartoons related to “gatekeeping.” How does this relate to our modern debates around immigration. 

Helpful Hints


  • Venn Diagram
  • Library of Congress Political Cartoon Analysis Tool
  • Jacob Riis Worksheet
  • Chinese Exclusion Act Worksheet
  • Gentlemen’s Agreement Worksheet (pg. 7-8)
  • Jane Addams Worksheet (pg. 9-10)