One of the first new immigrant groups to settle in the West End was the Irish. The economic and political environment in Ireland, especially the potato famine, created the conditions for the first large Irish immigration to Boston beginning in 1845. After briefly passing through the North End, many Irish families moved on to The West and South ends. The West End soon developed a thriving Irish community. By 1880, a new native-born generation of Irish descendants had a secure place in the community while retaining a distinct group identity.
By 1850, the West End population was 20,000; 4000 were Irish. The dominant Yankees called them ‘Papist Rabble’ because of their Catholic faith. While the Yankees fled to the Back Bay which was newly filled land and upscale neighborhood, the Irish population of the West End grew to 10,000 by 1880.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Irish immigration had slowed and Eastern European Jews began to immigrate into the West End in large numbers. Many came to escape persecution in Lithuania, Russia, and Poland. They formed a community in the West End and became a significant part of the population by 1910. They made their home in the neighborhood, constructing health centers, libraries, labor unions, loan societies, orphanages, and synagogues.
1895 (West End population = 23,000)
During this period Boston’s West End became a home to many different immigrant groups, making it one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. Among the many immigrant groups contributing to this melting pot were African Americans, Armenians, Greeks, Irish, Lebanese, Italians, Jews, Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Syrians, Ukrainians and many other Eastern and Southern Europeans.
From 1880 to 1920, an estimated 4 million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States, the majority from 1900 to 1914. Italian immigrants fled Calabria, Basilicata, Abruzzi, and Sicily, regions which had the lowest per capita income.
Usually with no knowledge of the English language and with little education, many Italian immigrants were compelled to accept the poorest paying and most undesirable jobs, and were frequently exploited by the middlemen (Padrone System) who acted as intermediaries between them and the prospective employers.
After 1900 the West End was the most densely populated area of the city (174 persons per acre).
1910 (West End population = 32,000)
1920 (West End population = 63,000)
57,000 were immigrants
Due to legislative pressure; proponents who sought to establish a distinct American identity, immigration laws were changed to limit numbers!
The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 restricted immigration into the United States. Although intended as temporary legislation, the Act “proved in the long run the most important turning-point in American immigration policy” because it added 2 new features to American immigration law: numerical limits on immigration from Europe and the use of a quota system for establishing those limits.
The Act restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States as of the U.S. Census of 1910. Based on that formula, the number of new immigrants admitted fell from 805,228 in 1920 to 309,556 in 1921-22.
The Immigration Act of 1924 was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, down from the 3% cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. It superseded the 1921 Emergency Quota Act. The law was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who were immigrating in large numbers starting in the 1890s, as well as prohibiting the immigration of East Asians and Asian Indians. Congressional opposition was minimal.