Our Slavic Fellow Citizens - 1910

Slovak Emigration
Chapter VI

Emigration of Unmarried Girls

The character of the Slovak emigration has been throughout quite different from the Bohemian.

Instead of emigrating to settle, taking his family and property with him, the Slovak merely went to America, instead of to some nearer field, to earn needed money. The wife remained, as before, to care for the house, bring up the children and work the land till he should return.

Such an emigration movement often runs through quite well-defined phases. First the man goes alone and returns with his earnings, as planned. Then he goes again, and this time decides to settle or at least to remain for some time, and returns and takes out his wife and children.

At a later stage, when the routes are better known and parties are frequently starting, the man often sends for his wife to come and join him, without going himself to get her. She is not always eager to begin life again under strange conditions; often she fears to face the long and difficult journey alone with a family of little children.

One woman we met just starting out, waiting at the home railroad station with baby and bundles. Her husband, after vainly urging her to come to him, had finally cut off supplies and sent a prepaid ticket, and willy-nilly she was going. Her brother-in-law, a sturdy young man who was traveling with her, was eager for work however hard, and I judged that she too, now that the wrench was over, was ready enough to go.

A still later phase is when the unmarried girls begin to go over independently, as the Irish girls have done for so long. And the Slovak girls, like the Irish, go mainly to service. America is to them even more of an Eldorado than to the men. Instead of three or four dollars a month a girl has American wages and almost no expenses. If she secures a good place she is treated with more respect, if not also more kindness, than she is used to; if she is a good maid her industry, cleanliness, honesty and docility are appreciated, and glory of glories she wears a hat.

A Slovak lady was telling us (as so many had done) of a former servant who had gone to America and recently written to her from there. "Tell me, it can't be true, can it?" she said. " She writes that she wears a hat. Of course even in America that is impossible. And she says that the master is so kind, he bids her good morning before she has spoken to him." And we tried to explain that in America neither wearing a hat nor greeting last is a hall-mark of the socially superior.

Sometimes very young girls go alone; that is, with a party of comparative strangers.

A friend told us of going to a village in Nitra county and finding a little peasant lass, " only fourteen and pretty as a picture," dressed, for the first time in her life, not in her short, full peasant petticoats, but in a long, citified skirt. When asked why she was so dressed up, she answered, " Tomorrow I am going to America." She was to join relatives there, but had only strangers to look to for protection on the way. I must admit that one seldom hears of any evil chance resulting from such journeys, and it is gratifying to note how confident the experienced emigrant is that conductors will be kind in looking after the helpless; nevertheless, it is probably a wise provision of our immigration law of 1907 which gives the authorities discretionary power to refuse admission to children under sixteen traveling apart from their families.


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