These 19 Photographs Of Immigrants At Ellis Island Embody America's Not-So-Secret Strength

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

On a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island is a quote from "The New Colossus," a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus, that reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

Those lines have long captured the spirit of America as a place where people can make new beginnings. In the same poem, Lazarus calls Lady Liberty "Mother of Exiles" whose "beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome," lighting a promise of opportunity in a land of hope.

The National Park Service has recorded the entry of over 12 million immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954 aboard ships that crossed vast swaths of the Atlantic's cold waters to America's "golden door." Indeed, according to the NPS, more than 40 percent of Americans can trace some part of their ancestry to an arrival at Ellis Island. 

Augustus Frederick Sherman was a clerk at Ellis Island from 1892 until 1925. Sherman was fascinated by the sheer diversity of the people who arrived in America and he photographed many of those who caught his attention. 

His photographs stand as a gentle reminder that the greatest wealth of the United States of America has always been its promise of opportunity and the people who've come to take part in that promise: people who've raised families, people who've opened businesses, people who've built our skyscrapers and bridges, people who've farmed the land, people who've fought for freedom, people who've protected our republic and the values that it stands for even at the cost of their own lives.

We invite you to look at these photographs and consider each of them thoughtfully. Each of them is somebody's ancestor: perhaps yours, perhaps a neighbor's, perhaps someone's whose life has touched yours in a way that you'll never know. Each of these photographs tell a story about the American dream. Each of these people made a choice. 

They chose a future.

They chose hope.

They chose America.


1. An Italian woman

2. Two pipers, origin not noted

3. An Albanian soldier

4. A Bavarian man

5. A Ruthenian (Ukrainian) woman

6. Russian Cossacks

7. Three Slovakian women

8. An Algerian man

9. Scottish boys

10. A Romanian piper

11. A Dutch woman

12. A family of seven sons and a daughter

13. Women from Guadeloupe

14. Alsatian girl

15. Norwegian woman

16. Lapland children

17. Swedish girl

18. Algerian man

19. Greek woman

Cover image via  Delpixel / Shutterstock.


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