Greek Immigration

Greek Immigration

There was little Greek emigration in the 19th century but this changed in the 20th century. By the outbreak of the First World War there were about 300,000 Greek immigrants in the United States. The main reason for leaving Greece was unemployment, low wages and high prices. Most Greeks settled in cities where they tended to find menial, unskilled work. A Greek community developed around Second and Third Avenues in New York. In 1894 the Greeks began publishing their own newspaper, Atlantis in the city. During this period another important Greek colony emerged around Hull House in Chicago and the textile town of Lowell, Massachusetts

All large cities in the United States had Greek communities and these were often self-sufficient with their own churches, coffee house, mutual benefit societies and political clubs. Greek Orthodox religious festivals and traditions were strictly observed. By 1910 both New York and Chicago had Greek-language newspapers.

The Census of 1930 revealed 303,751 Greeks in the United States. Chicago had a Greek population of over 50,000 with New York having 35,000. There were also large communities in Detroit, Boston and St. Louis.

An investigation carried out in 1978 revealled that since 1820 over 655,000 people emigrated to the United States from Greece. This amounted to 1.3 per cent of the total foreign immigration during this period.

Last updated: 14th August 2002

Primary Sources

(1) Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)

A huge Hellenic meeting held at Hull-House, in which the achievements of the classic period were set forth both in Greek and English by scholars of well-known repute, brought us into a new sense of fellowship with all our Greek neighbors. As the mayor of Chicago was seated upon the right hand of the dignified senior priest of the Greek Church and they were greeted alternately in the national hymns of America and Greece, one felt a curious sense of the possibility of transplanting to new and crude Chicago some of the traditions of Athens itself, so deeply cherished in the hearts of this group of citizens.

The Greeks indeed gravely consider their traditions as their most precious possession and more than once in meetings of protest held by the Greek colony against the aggressions of the Bulgarians in Macedonia, I have heard it urged that the Bulgarians are trying to establish a protectorate, not only for their immediate advantage, but that they may claim a glorious history for the "barbarous country." It is said that on the basis of this protectorate, they are already teaching in their schools that Alexander the Great was a Bulgarian and that it will be but a short time before they claim Aristotle himself, an indignity the Greeks will never suffer!

(2) Francis Hackett, Hull House, Survey Magazine (June, 1925)

Hull House was American because it was international, and because it perceived that the nationalism of each immigrant was a treasure, a talent, which gave him a special value for the United States. We were flooded by nationalisms. How many nights did I not stay awake while the interminable whine of Greek folk-music came across Halsted Street to my exasperated ears? Had not Miss Addams gathered Greeks by the hundred to come to the theatre during their unemployment so that English words could be taught to them in chorus and en masse.

(3) Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)

A Greek was much surprised to see a photograph of the Acropolis at Hull House because he had lived in Chicago for thirteen years and had never before met any Americans who knew about this foremost glory of the world. Before he left Greece he had imagined the Americans would be most eager to see pictures of Athens, and as he was a graduate of a school of technology, he had prepared a book of colored drawings and had made a collection of photographs which he was sure Americans would enjoy. But although from his fruit stand near one of the large railroad stations he had conversed with many Americans and had often tried to lead the conversation back to ancient Greece, no one had responded, and he had at last concluded that "the people of Chicago knew nothing of ancient times".