American in the Making, Part Two (May 1948)
American in the Making, Part Three (June 1948)
MY PARENTS were immigrants. Mother was born in Trieste, and Father was born in Foggia, Italy. I came along some three or four years after their passage through Castle Garden. Father was a musician. From what I learned later, the family had a modest but comfortable apartment in New York when I was born. Mother was a pretty little immigrant girl and had made friends in the neighborhood.
Two of these friends my mother had made by the time I came along were the mothers of sons who became associated with my activities in New York City. Mrs. Charles Kohler's son Charlie became a Tammany leader and a great influence in that organization. We always remained good friends, though I did put Charlie out of business. My mother's other friend was the mother of Dr. John Wade, who became during my administration Superintendent of Schools in New York, the greatest school system in the entire world. I had nothing to do with his promotion, but we developed a sentimental feeling for each other, though I did not meet him until I became President of the Board of Aldermen in 1920.
Mrs. Kohler was a sweet lady of Swiss origin. She was most kind to me at a time when I needed it. When I was a clerk in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1906, at $10 a week, Mrs. Kohler managed to feed and house me within my modest income during the three months that I held that job. She also took up the cudgels in my behalf politically and otherwise. When I was running for Congress in 1910 from a district in Greenwich Village, Charlie Kohler was a Tammany big shot in that Congressional district. One Saturday night when nearly every corner was covered with a truck and red lights and a campaign meeting, Mother Kohler was coming home from her Saturday night shopping, loaded with bundles, bags, and baskets. She stopped at one of the street corner meetings to listen and heard a Tammany orator lambaste me, telling the people that I was an immigrant just arrived, nothing but a "wop," and not fit to represent the great Fourteenth Congressional District in Washington. My opponent, then representing that great district in Congress, was President of the National Liquor Dealers' Association. Mother Kohler shouted out: "That's not so, that's a lie! Fiorello was born right in this districtl And you wait till Charlie gets home, I'll fix him! Cut that out and tell the truth!" And did Charlie get it when he came home!
I was only a few months old when my father joined the Army. He was the leader of the 11th U.S. Infantry Band. We went through South Dakota, but of course I have very little recollection of our time there, just one hazy childhood memory of a prairie fire. From there the regiment was moved to Madison Barracks, Sackets Harbor, New York, and then to Arizona.
All my boyhood memories are of those Arizona days. To me that is truly God's country—I love everything about it. Perhaps my memories of Arizona are so pleasant because I had a happy, wholesome boyhood. My parents were of the doting kind—too much love for their children and not the best of judgment in guiding their education; something for which I paid dearly in later years when 1 had to make up the deficiencies.
Our first Army station in Arizona was at Fort Huachuca, where we arrived in the late eighties. Its location, miles and miles from urban civilization, its barren hills and bleak surroundings, made it exceedingly unpleasant and undesirable for grown-ups but a paradise for a little boy. We could ride burros. Our playground was not measured in acres or city blocks, but in miles and miles. We could do just about everything a little boy dreams of. We talked with miners and Indians. We associated with soldiers and we learned to shoot even when we were so small the gun had to be hold for us by an elder. My family had a two-room dobe house, with a detached kitchen. The kitchen had a canvas roof, and the house had plank sides and flooring. It sure looked great to a small boy.
From Fort Huachuca our regiment was moved to Whipple Barracks, near Prescott, Arizona. My memories of Prescott are that it was the greatest, the most comfortable, and the most wonderful city in the whole world, whatever anybody might say about New York or Paris. People were so nice. Father was popular in the town, and as children of the Army bandmaster, my sister and I, though little kids, performed for all sorts of benefits. I played the cornet; and Gemma the violin, while Father accompanied us on the piano.
Army life was quite different in the eighteen eighties and nineties from what it is today. The pay of an enlisted man was $9 a month. The food was real, honest-to-goodness he-man Army food. Soldiers were tough. They had to be to survive existing conditions. All the officers were West Point men. A first lieutenant was 'way past middle age before he was in line for promotion to a captaincy. The distinction between commissioned officers and enlisted men was great. And that distinction went all the way down to the kids on the Post. It never bothered me very much because I did not adhere to such rules. I would just as soon fight with an officer's kid as I would with anyone else. Many of my experiences as an Army brat were useful to me when as a legislator I had to study bills affecting our Army and could apply this firsthand knowledge.
I attended the public school in Prescott. I thought it was a grand school. At first we had three or four teachers and later on a staff of five or six. They came from various parts of the United States. From what I heard later, I was a headache to every one of them. I have had a great deal to do with teachers since then: twelve years as Mayor, with 38,000 of them in our school system. Maybe it is sentiment, but that bunch of Arizona public school teachers still seems to me about the best in the whole world. That does not mean that I was not walloped by them.
Lena Coover was my favorite, and I was taunted by the kids for being teacher's pet. She was the prettiest little thing. She looked so young. She came from Iowa Normal, and as the Prescott job was her first, she was jittery about it. We were quick to catch her nervousness. We made the most of it. She learned a lot from us, and I used to tell her in later years that we, and not the Iowa Normal School, made her a teacher. On the first day she corrected my arithmetic paper. Some of the examples were wrong, and she did not notice them. The next day I purposely gave some wrong answers. Again the paper came back marked correct. Like the fresh kid I was, I went up to her desk the next day and said, "Look here, teacher, you better learn arithmetic if you are going to teach us," and I pointed out the mistakes to her. Was her pretty little face red!
Well, she did learn arithmetic, and by the time we were through with her she could put us through the mathematical ropes. Miss Lena lives in Los Angeles, and I have seen her from time to time. The same mutual affection that existed during the time when I was the bane of her life exists today. She thinks I am a great statesman, and I think she is a great teacher, which just about makes us even.
WHAT I saw and heard and learned in my boyhood days in Arizona made lasting impressions on me. Many of the things on which I have such strong feelings—feelings which some of my opponents have regarded as unreasonable obsessions—were first impressed on my mind during those early days, and the knowledge I acquired then never left me. On some of those things I believe I am so right in my attitude that I remain uncompromising.
For instance, there is the professional politician. Though I have been in politics for well over forty years, I loathe the professional politician. I have never been a regular. I have fought political machines and party politics at every opportunity. This attitude had its origin in the loudly dressed, slick and sly Indian agents, political appointees, I saw come into Arizona. The first time I ever heard the word politician was at Fort Huachuca, when I was still a small child. The word was applied to those Indian agents. I learned afterwards that they got the jobs because they were small-fry ward heelers. I saw hungry Indians, and the little Indian kids watched us while we munched a Kansas apple or ate a cooky Mother baked. I knew, even as a child, that the government in Washington provided food for all these Indians but that the "politicians" sold the rations to miners and even to general stores, robbing the Indians of the food the government provided for them. That was my first contact with "politicians."
My Arizona days made a lasting impression on me of the tinhorn and his ways. Professional gamblers in the West were known as tinhorns. To me they have been tinhorns ever since. But there is one thing that could be said about the professional gambler of over half a century ago in the West: if he was alive, it was a fair assumption that he had not been caught gypping. Gamblers and saloonkeepers were an important part of pioneer Weston life, but they were never a reputable part of the community. I remember very well how it used to be said that a gambler or a saloonkeeper could not join the Masons or the Elks. Gamblers were tolerated and patronized but not accepted. If a tinhorn in the West was caught cheating, he would never play another game—and there was no coroner's inquest. When I became Mayor of New York, I did my best to make life difficult for tinhorns. They did not have to worry about being shot when caught red-handed, but they were made to fear the law.
My first attempt at applied mathematics—I must have been fourteen or fifteen then—was to figure out the percentage against the player in a crap game, a faro game, and what was then called "policy," now known as "the numbers," "bingo," and other fancy names as well as the old name "policy." Nearly every saloon in Prescott had its gambling department, mainly crap, faro, and some Chinese game. There was, of course, a good deal of poker played—not under professional auspices. These games must have been exciting, according to the stories we kids would hear: the guns were laid on the table at easy reach, and of course the games were on the level.
Policy came to town. I remember Mother telling me that it was the same as lotto, which was sponsored in her native Trieste by the city or the state. Mother would play a 10 cent policy slip almost every week. If she had an exceptional dream, she would risk a quarter. She never won. No one else I knew ever won. The game did not last very long in Prescott and folded up after a few months. I figured it out then as nothing but petty larceny from the pockets of the poor, and showed Mother how she couldn't win.
I was astounded when I finally returned to New York to live, in 1906, to find the great influence there of professional gamblers, numbers monarchs, and big bookies, with their close political and judicial connections. They also had many, many friends among the press. I do not mean the reporters. It is easy for this scum of society, these economic vermin, to make friends when they are able to take bets and pay cash if the influential one "happens" to win, and to give unlimited credit if Mr. Big Shot "happens" to lose. They are no good. They never were any good in Prescott or New York, and they never will be any good anywhere.
Another early impression that made its mark on my mind was gained from watching the railroad being built between Ashfork, Prescott, and Phoenix. There was no machinery used then. It was all manpower and draft animals. The laborers were all immigrants, mostly Mexicans and Italians. If a laborer was injured, he lost his job. If he was killed, no one was notified, because there was no record of his name, address, or family. He just had a number. As construction moved on, it left in its wake the injured, the jobless, the stranded victims. Even as a young boy, this struck me as all wrong, and I thought about it a great deal. The more I thought about it, the less able I was to make sense out of that kind of situation.
Years later, when I studied law, I learned about such things as "assumed risk," "the fellow servant rule," "contributory negligence," and other similar principles of law, all for the benefit of the employer. I still thought they were all wrong, and later, as a legislator, I did what little I could to have these antiquated eighteenth-century rules of law changed. None of them are in use today. Employers' liability, workmen's compensation laws for injury, safeguards against accidents, sanitary and safety laws in factories and for other jobs, unemployment insurance, have taken their place. It was this early glimpse of the condition of working people, of their exploitation and their utter lack of protection under the law, which prompted me to take an interest on their side in society. I hope I have made a contribution to progress in this respect.
I remember when the troops were called out to guard the property of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad during the great Pullman strike of 1894. I was twelve years old then, and it was the first strike I ever knew. I was deeply interested. The whole thing had started with a small group of workers in the bedding department of the Pullman Company, and it spread until it became a general railroad strike throughout the country. Even then, as a boy, it occurred to me that surely there should be some way of settling labor disputes of this kind, and that the law should afford equal protection to both sides. I recognized the necessity for President Cleveland's order that there should be no interference with transportation of the United States mail. But I did not quite understand why it was unlawful for employees to inform other employees of grievances, or why they should be kept away from one another by a court mandate, enforced by bayonets of United States soldiers.
These memories were very helpful. It was nearly a lifetime later, as a member of Congress, that I had the opportunity of taking part in preparing the Railway Labor Act and in the passage of the Norris-La Guardia Anti-injunction Act. The job is not yet completed. Satisfactory machinery for equitable and just settlement of labor disputes is still required. I do hope some day to see that job completed.
OUT there in Arizona I also got my first glimpse of racial feeling born of ignorance. I must have been about ten when a street organ-grinder with a monkey blew into town. He, and particularly the monkey, attracted a great deal of attention. I can still hear the cries of the kids: "A dago with a monkey! Hey, Fiorello, you're a dago too. Where's your monkey?" It hurt. And what made it worse, along came Dad, and he started to chatter Neapolitan with the organ-grinder. He hadn't spoken Italian in many years, and he seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps, too, he considered the organ-grinder a fellow musician. At any rate, he promptly invited him to our house for a macaroni dinner. The kids taunted me for a long time after that. I couldn't understand it. What difference was there between us? Some of their families hadn't been in the country any longer than mine.
I have heard Gilbert and Sullivan's Pinafore in almost every language, in many countries, and in the rendition of the song, "For He Is an Englishman," the traditional gesture mimicking the organ-grinder and the word "Eyetalian" have always annoyed me.
Early in my first administration as Mayor, a traffic report by the Police Department showed that among the obstacles to free traffic was the nuisance of the street organ-grinder. It was with a great deal of gusto that I banned the organ-grinder from the streets of the city of New York. I caused some resentment among those who were sentimental about organ-grinders. One woman came up to me at a social function and berated me mildly for depriving her of her favorite organ-grinder. "Where do you live?" I asked. "Park Avenue," she said. "What floor?" "The fourteenth," she answered.
In addition to the fact that I never did like organ-grinders ever since my days of ridicule in Prescott when that one organ-grinder came to town, I felt that they made our traffic problem in New York more difficult. I was accused by some New Yorkers who liked them of having no sentimental feelings about organ-grinders, of having no soul, of oppressing the poor, of neglecting more important things to deprive old residents and young children of their pleasure. Some of my correspondents were genial and some were angry. Cornelia Otis Skinner, Beatrice Kaufman, Viola Irene Cooper, were among the literary defenders of the hurdy-gurdy.
Petitions were got up urging me to rescind the order. My answer to my critics was that there had been a time when the hurdy-gurdy was the only means of bringing music to many people. That was also the time before automobiles filled our streets. With the advent of the phonograph and the radio that time had passed. Free public concerts in parks, libraries, museums, and other public places had given ample opportunity to hear music. But, more important, traffic conditions had changed. Children were endangered by trucks and other automobiles when they gathered in the middle of streets to hear and watch the organ-grinders. Also, the simple, sentimental hurdy-gurdy man had become a victim of a racket. My sentimental correspondents did not realize that the Italians' instruments were rented to them by padrones at exorbitant fees. Their licenses from the city were in reality licenses to beg. About a year before I banned the organ-grinders, I had terminated the contract with musicians on city ferryboats, on the grounds that these were merely licenses to beg issued by the city. Despite these reasons, which I gave to my correspondents in answer to their protests, the defenders of the hurdy-gurdy men kept on writing to me for over a year, and some of them warned me that they wouldn't vote again for a man without a soul.
IT WAS during my boyhood in Arizona that I first learned about corrupt local government, and I got my political education from Pulitzer's New York World. We had two newspapers in Prescott, the Journal Minder and the Prescott Courier. Those were typical Bret Harte Western newspapers, devoted mostly to local news. When the Sunday edition of the New York World arrived in Prescott on the following Friday or Saturday, I would rush to Ross's drugstore, where it was on display. There I had looked at the first funny sections I had ever seen, featuring the Yellow Kid. From that comic strip came the expression "yellow journalism." I have enjoyed the comics ever since.
When I got home with the Sunday World, I would carefully read every word of the World's fight against the corrupt Tammany machine in New York. That was the period of the lurid disclosures of corruption in the Police Department made by the Lexow investigations—corruption that extended throughout the political structure of the city. The papers then were filled with stories of startling crookedness of the police and the poll. ticians in New York. Unlike boys who grow up in the city and who hear from childhood about such things as graft and corruption, the amazing disclosures hit me like a shock. I could not understand how the people of the greatest city in the country could put up with the vice and crime that existed there. A resentment against Tammany was created in me at that time, which I admit is to this day almost an obsession. But I did not become cynical or lose faith in government. I was certain that good people could eliminate bad people from public office. But as I grew older, my hatred of corrupt politicians and my feeling against dishonest and inefficient government increased with the years in proportion with my experience of it.
When I went to live in New York again after my return from Europe in 1906, Tammany was once more all-powerful. It was the era of "honest graft.” When I had to choose a political party, my choice was easy. I joined the Republican Party. I was young and innocent. A party in the minority cannot help being good and pure. That seemed the only avenue I could choose at the time in order to carry out my boyhood dreams of going to work against corrupt government.
There was, of course, great excitement at Whipple Barracks in Prescott when the news reached us that the U.S. Battleship Maine had been blown up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on February 16, 1898. The Postal Telegraph operator in Prescott pasted up Associated Press bulletins on the Maine disaster as soon as they came in, and along with the other children of Army men, as well as the parents, I watched and waited eagerly for the latest news. We expected war momentarily, especially after the news came that two hundred and fifty American lives had been lost.
In about ten days, orders came for our regiment to get itself ready for war. Inventories were taken. The equipment of some other regiments and of National Guard units was not up to date, but our regiment had the modern Krag-Jorgensen rifles. Some of our noncommissioned officers had seen service in the Civil War.
As the weeks passed and there was still no declaration of war, there was a feeling in our military circles that President McKinley was hesitating too long. But it finally came on April 6, and our regiment was soon sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri. It remained there for a few days and then went into camp at Mobile, Alabama, but the families of the officers and enlisted men remained in quarters at Jefferson Barracks.
Though I was only fifteen years old, I was restless and wanted to join the Army. My age, and the fact that I was short and under the required weight, made that impossible. But I persuaded the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to pay my fare to the camp at Mobile where my father was stationed. I did a couple of articles for the Post-Dispatch from the camp.
As an Army child I was familiar with drill and other training courses. I noticed at that time that it was very difficult to train Army officers quickly, though it was easy to train a large body of men in a hurry once you had the officers to do the job. This knowledge was very useful to me later when I was a legislator, and particularly when I became a member of the House Committee on Military Affairs. I also noticed at that time that the Medical Corps was both inefficient and insufficient in the Spanish-American War. During the First World War the Medical Corps brought its technique and efficiency almost to perfection. In the Second World War it surpassed anything that had been attained previously in this or perhaps any other country. But the government's record as a whole during the Spanish-American War was not up to the heroism of our men who took part in that war.
One of the worst scandals of our entire military history occurred during this short Spanish-American War and made a lasting impression upon me, for my father was one of its victims. Corrupt contractors supplied the Army with diseased beef. My father became so ill as a result of eating some of this beef that he had to be discharged from the service on account of disability. Though we did not know it then, he had only a few years to live because of the work of crooked Army contractors.
That experience never left my mind. When I became a Congressman during World War I, the first measure I introduced in the House was a bill providing the death penalty for contractors who supplied defective food or other supplies and equipment in time of war, and a heavy jail sentence if they sold such stuff in time of peace. I introduced that measure on April 3, 1917, a few days before Congress declared war on Germany. It was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, whore it was allowed to languish. But I still think it is a good idea. It might prevent other families from losing their fathers.
After Father's discharge from the Army, our family returned to New York City, where we renewed old acquaintances. Then the family went to Trieste, to live with my mother's family. It was while we were in Trieste that my father died in 1901, a victim of condemned Army meat.
After my family moved to Trieste, all we had to live on was my father's small pension from the Army. I had to get a job. Raymond Willey, American Consular Agent in Fiume, got me a job as clerk in the American Consulate in Budapest. Although the government did not pay me much of a salary, it was a good opportunity to learn useful things and gain valuable experience.
Frank Dyer Chester, of Boston, was the Consul General at Budapest. He was most helpful in guiding me in my studies, particularly in the study of languages. My ears were accustomed to Italian, and the smattering of Latin I had picked up in school made the Italian language comparatively easy, but I began to study it and German systematically. Mr. Chester did me a good turn by sending me to Croatia one summer for four months for the express purpose of studying Croatian. Croatian was tough, with its seven cases, all of them used, and its many conjugations of verbs. While I never pretended to be expert in this language, I did learn enough of it to pass a Civil Service examination later, which enabled me to get a job as interpreter at Ellis Island when I was working my way through law school.
I devoted a good deal of my spare time while in the consular service to the study of history as well as languages. I laid a groundwork then that was very useful to me later. I kept informed about current events at home by reading every newspaper and magazine I could lay my hands on.
When Raymond Willey went back to the United States to become associated with the Harbison-Walker Refractories Company, he got me his post as Consular Agent in Fiume. Since I was not yet twenty-one, I could serve only as Acting Consular Agent until February, 1904, when my commission, signed by Secretary of State John Hay, was sent to me.
When I took over the office in Fiume, I had no assistance and acted as boss, clerk, and my own messenger. On several occasions I had to make decisions which would have got me into trouble had I guessed wrong. My salary was the munificent sum of $800 a year. The law provided that certain posts were to be paid out of the consular fees collected. But if my fees at the minor post in Flume ever exceeded $1000 in any one year, the government took the balance. But at least I was sure of my $66 a month. I got along all right financially. My $800 was equal to 4000 crowns, and I managed to hold my own socially with the local government officials and junior army officers with whom I associated. That was all that was expected of me. Of course, I could not afford to gamble or indulge in many of the popular vices—an indulgence which got many of our young foreign service officers into trouble. When it was all over, I just about broke oven. I had no debts and I had no cash.
During my three years in Fiume, I not only met many interesting people, but I had a chance to observe situations, locally troublesome then, which later became matters of international importance. The Croatians with whom I came into contact at this time hated the Hungarian government passionately. They had every reason to do so. The Hapsburg policy was the age-old one of divide and conquer. It was put into practice every day before my eyes. Antagonisms and hatreds were carefully and systematically engendered. The Croatians were brought up to hate the Serbians and trained and aided by the government in that hatred. All of the South Slavic groups were kept at one another's throats. Any sensible person could see the devastating effect of this unchristian, inhuman system of teaching people to hate one another.
The Serbians, Croatians, Dalmatians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Montenegrins, Slovenes, all similarly exploited, all kept in the same abject poverty, were stimulated to take their hatreds out on one another instead of their exploiters. Their only real difference was that some of them were communicants of the Roman Catholic Church and others of the Greek Orthodox Church. Both these churches had practically the same beliefs and dogmas. And the Hapsburg politicians kept up a constant instigation among all of them to hate their neighbors, the Italians. It is no wonder that after centuries of such influences there are misunderstanding and lack of harmony among these people, who have finally been brought together under one government.
The same tactics, the same intrigues, were practiced by larger nations, I have since noticed. For reasons I could never understand, some nations would like to ace internecine strife continue in the Balkans. The people of the United States have never been familiar with the political background of these unhappy peoples of southeastern Europe. Even with some knowledge of their history and past sufferings it is difficult enough to understand these complex relationships and the conditions existing in these countries.
The various Slavic elements in this part of the world where I gained my first practical experience of foreign affairs will get along after hereditary memories are dimmed. But these people must he given a chance and time to forget as well as to learn. It took about seventy years to soften the feeling between the North and the South in these United States after the Civil War, and there are still a few scars that have not been fully healed. We were at odds for only four years. In the old Austro-Hungarian Empire a series of wars down through the last three centuries heightened racial antagonisms and increased national prejudices.
WHEN I went to Flume in the autumn of 1903, the Cunard Line had just opened a semimonthly passenger service between Fiume and New York. Four slow-speed steamers were put into this service. As no one in the Budapest office had had any experience with immigrants to America, I had to start from scratch. I read everything we had about immigration, including the quarantine regulations and the duties required of consular officers dealing with immigrants. The laws, rules, and regulations were not annotated, and there was very little in our limited library on the subject. But I did gather that I had to certify to the health of all passengers and crews and give the ship a certificate that it had cleared from a port free from contagious diseases or illnesses subject to quarantine regulations and that bedding and other household goods had been properly fumigated. I learned that the passengers were required to go aboard ship as late as possible before actual sailing time. But the rules and regulations made no mention of specific duties of consular officers stationed at ports of embarkation and placed on them no definite responsibilities in connection with immigrants and the process of immigration. Only in the quarantine regulations was it suggested that consular officers should "ascertain" the facts concerning the health of the passengers and crews of departing ships and should be "satisfied" that conditions and facts were in keeping with the certificates they issued.
It occurred to me that with so many causes for exclusion of immigrants and so many restrictions on their entry into the United States, it was strange that there should be no definite provision for inquiry, investigation, and checkup in the country of origin or at the port of embarkation, where accurate information was available. I discussed this situation with my immediate superior, the Consul General, who agreed with me that I could retain physicians to inspect immigrants at the time of their embarkation. He also agreed that since anyone afflicted with a contagious or loathsome disease was inadmissible under our immigration laws, such persons could be prevented from sailing under the more explicit regulations of the Quarantine Law.
Being new at Fiume, I took a look around and decided to retain a certain resident practicing physician who had a good reputation and took an interest in public health matters. I found him to be much interested in the subject and that he had given it a great deal of thought. He told me that he had been particularly concerned about the local health of a small community like Flume in relation to the constant flow of large numbers of transients into the town, on their way to America. The population of Fiume in 1903-1906 was only about 30,000, and the estimated number of immigrants was 2500 a month.
The day of the sailing of an emigrant ship arrived soon after I became Acting Consular Agent. About eighty emigrants were to embark, and I was invited to "tea" on board ship. I cannot describe the surprise and consternation of the Cunard officials when I arrived with my doctor and inquired about the health of the passengers. To say that the representatives of the steamship company were horrified is putting it mildly. The local Hungarian authorities were just confused. They, like myself, had had no previous experience in these matters.
The Cunard officials insisted vigorously that I had no authority to inspect emigrants, told me that they had been carrying passengers to America since before I was born, and stated flatly that they would not permit either my doctor or myself to "look at an emigrant." The Hungarian officials said that if it were possible to detect anyone who would be inadmissible before he sailed, they could not see why it was not the humane thing to do.
I left the ship, and a few minutes after I got back to my office on the Corso, a clerk came for the bill of health with the five-dollar fee required for it. I refused to issue the bill of health. The Cunard officials soon realized, for the first time apparently, that I meant business. The captain of the ship was worried, he came to the Consulate personally to protest, but he remained to plead with me. I told him that if he would disembark the emigrants and permit me to examine them, I would be glad to do so, but that if he did not consent to that, I would insist on disinfecting the entire ship. He asked for an hour's time, and we went back to the ship together.
The emigrants were all on deck. I examined each one of them with my doctor and stamped their cards, while the Cunard representative and the British Consul filed a formal protest against my action. They paid the fee for the bill of health but refused to pay my doctor's fee. They claimed that for me to demand that they pay the doctor was "adding insult to injury." I was not worried about that. I know that another ship was coming along soon. When that ship arrived, I made the line pay the doctor's fee for the previous ship, the Aurania, and deposit enough money to pay for the doctor's fee on the second ship. They had to do it to got clearance, but they did it all under protest, pending a decision from Washington on my ruling.
Before long there was complete cooperation on the part of the steamship line, and we had a smaller percentage of rejections for health at Ellis Island than any other port in the world. The routine became well established. Inspection was speedy and efficient, and we saved many hundreds of innocent people from the expense of taking a trip all the way to New York only to be found inadmissible on health grounds and sent back.
Fiume was the only port where emigrants were inspected before embarkation. During my time there, from 1903 to 1906, we must have inspected at least eighty to ninety thousand of them.
Twenty-five years later it was a source of great satisfaction to me to see a bill presented to Congress by the Department of Labor asking that such examinations as I had instituted be made mandatory all over the world. Public Health Service doctors were assigned to ports of embarkation to give the examinations. The system should have been a source of satisfaction to the steamship line, too, and was of great importance to the poor emigrants, for in the three years of my service at Fiume we had only forty-five emigrants rejected for trachoma, while the average rejection for that disease from other ports was about twenty-five for each ship reaching the United States.
The examination of emigrants and the scenes when they boarded ship were picturesque and created quite a lot of interest and excitement in the small port city of Fiume. Each emigrant carried his bag, crammed with all his worldly goods; the children tagged along behind their parents. They all walked up to a platform, stepped up to a doctor, who examined them for physical defects, took their temperature by feeling them, and then passed them on to the next doctor for examination of their eyes for trachoma, which was the most prevalent infectious disease at the time. The thousands of emigrants rejected every year at Ellis Island because of trachoma went back to their native lands disappointed, heartbroken, broke, for they had sold all their property and taken all their savings to pay for their passage to the land of hope.
(to be continued)
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