Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus,” which has hung inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty since 1903. She penned the famous lines:
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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Between 1892 and 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered into the United States through Ellis Island alone.
North Dakota joined the ranks in welcoming settlers, and the Homestead Act, enacted in 1862, encouraged them to apply for citizenship so they could obtain a quarter section of land. America was, after all, the land of opportunities.
However, laws governing citizenship changed frequently, and on this date in 1906, a new change went into effect: all foreigners had to read English if they were to become naturalized.
The Billings Gazette responded, “It seems to be ….framed to accomplish the purpose intended to make acquisition of citizenship by aliens a little more difficult and at same time put an end to fraudulent naturalization, of which there has been altogether too much under the present laws. Hereafter naturalization will be placed with the bureau of naturalization and immigration… under the direction of the Department of Commerce and Labor.”
Also going along with this legislation, no citizenship papers could be granted within thirty days preceding any general election. Citizenship would be taken more seriously than under the previous legislation, which had been a “rather free and easy statute.”
And, as newspapers reported, “If the law is observed in spirit and fact it is bound to be productive of a higher grade of naturalized citizens that is possible under the existing law.”
The early naturalization records for the state are held at the State Historical Society of North Dakota and can be accessed there—helping tell the story of the many people who came to live, work and homestead on these prairies.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Dickinson Press, August 4, 1906