Madeleine Albright

Identification: Czechoslovakian-born American who became U.S. secretary of state

Born: May 15, 1937; Prague, Czechoslovakia

Significance: A scholar who became the first woman to serve as a U.S. secretary of state, Albright drew on her life experience and extensive knowledge of world affairs to champion human rights and gender equality around the world.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright in 1997. (U.S. Department of State)

Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Körbel, a member of an established Jewish family in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1937. Had German expansionism and the events of World War II not intervened, she might have known a comfortable, urbane existence in her native land. However, Nazi-ruled Germany advanced into Czechoslovakia the year after she was born, and her native country was forever transformed. Because the Körbels were Jewish, three of Albright’s grandparents would later die in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. However, she herself would not learn her full family history until many years later, after she became U.S. secretary of state. When she was five, she and her immediate family members were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. The family also dropped the umlaut from the name "Körbel”; the resulting "Korbel” had a less Jewish and more Czech sound. From that time, Marie Jana became known as Madeleine and was the only member of the family who attended Catholic mass regularly.

During the war years, as German armies advanced across eastern Europe, Albright’s family fled to England. After the war ended in 1945, they returned briefly to Czechoslovakia, where her father, a noted scholar in international relations, entered the Czech diplomatic service as ambassador to Yugoslavia and Albania. However, after it became evident that her father was not in harmony with the communist regime that assumed rule in Czechoslovakia during the late 1940’s, her family became refugees a second time. In 1949, they immigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, Colorado. Madeleine’s father accepted a professorship at the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder. There he developed a distinguished international relations program and mentored two future U.S. secretaries of state—his own daughter and, later, Condoleezza Rice, who would served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state. 

Life in the United States

As a teenager, Madeleine adapted easily to American life, pleasing her father with her academic accomplishments. In the private girls school she attended in Denver, she was described as neither the brightest nor the prettiest but always the most highly motivated. It was thus not surprising when she matriculated on scholarship toWellesley College in 1955. Active in campus organizations, she made lasting friends from different backgrounds. She also acquired the ultimate mark of acceptance for an immigrant woman of modest means when, a few days after her graduation from Wellesley. she married into one of America’s most prominent and wealthy families. Her journalist husband, Joseph Patterson Albright, was heir to a newspaper empire that included the Chicago Tribune. Demonstrating again the Korbel family flexibility in religious affiliation, Madeleine complied with her new mother-in-law’s request that she become an Episcopalian. However, she explained to the Episcopal bishop who instructed her that she could not renounce her Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Throughout her marriage years, Albright suppressed her own ambitions while promoting the career of her husband. Meanwhile, she earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, specializing, like her father, in international relations. She also acquired a second mentor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, another eastern European immigrant professor, who would later become national security advisor to U.S. president Jimmy Carter. 

Diplomatic Career

In 1982, after twenty-two years of marriage, Joseph Albright left Madeleine for another woman. Traumatic as the divorce was for Madeleine, it enabled her for the first time to follow her own career path. Now firmly identified as "Albright,” she taught at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in the District of Columbia and advised Democrat politicians such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate. Ferraro became a friend with whom Albright attended mass, when she briefly reverted to the Roman Catholicism of her childhood.

The election of Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 catapulted Albright into national prominence. After taking office, Clinton appointed Albrightambassador to the United Nations. Albright’s facility in European languages and her wide acquaintance with eastern European diplomats gave her an advantage over most American officials. At the United Nations she dealt with problems in Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda and closely monitored events in the Middle East. The plight of women, particularly in underdeveloped countries was a concern she shared with the president’s wife, Hillary Clinton, a fellow Wellesley graduate who became her close friend.

In 1997, President Clinton named Albright to the highest government office ever held by an American woman: U.S. secretary of state. The drama of her personal story, her charm, and even the jewelry she wore attracted wide press attention. More than most diplomatic officials, she was able to interest the general public in international issues. She traveled tirelessly, addressing a variety of pressing problems: ethnic conflicts in countries recently liberated from communism, the growth of religion-based terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the ever-present Middle Eastern tensions. Perhaps because she had herself escaped the prime European tyrants of the twentieth century, Germany’s Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, she reacted forcefully to "ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans and genocide in Africa.

Lasting Achievements

Albright was much admired in Europe. As a patriotic American, she rejected Václav Havel’s extraordinary suggestion that she might succeed him as president of the Czech Republic. Her legacy was already impressive. She made the highest levels of U.S. government secure for talented women and worked to improve the lot of women everywhere. While acknowledging the dangers of a new world order, she maintained cordial relations with post- Soviet Russia and the People’s Republic of China. Even in difficult peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, she could claim modest gains. Because she had become an American citizen by choice rather than through birth, she unceasingly promoted American ideals of justice and freedom. Although she did not employ the phrase "manifest destiny” of an earlier era, she spoke and wrote of her conviction that her adopted country did have the special task of spreading its ideals.

Allene Phy-Olsen

Further Reading

Albright, Madeleine. Madame Secretary: A Memoir. New York: Miramax, 2003. Revealing memoir in which Albright covers both her personal life and her professional career after she completed her term as U.S. secretary of state.

_______. The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Accessible study of religious movements throughout the world and their political ramifications.

Blackman, Ann. Seasons of Her Life: A Biography of Madeleine Korbel Albright. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998. Straightforward biography of Albright by an admirer. 

Dobbs, Michael. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Critical examination of Albright’s career by the journalist who uncovered the Korbel family’s Jewish past while Albright was secretary of state. 

Lippman, Thomas W. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000. Balanced account of Albright’s relations with both world figures and journalists. 

See also: Anti-Semitism; Czech and Slovakian immigrants; Higher education; Holocaust; Jewish immigrants; Marriage; Refugees; Religions of immigrants.

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Austrian immigrants

Although some estimates suggest that the numbers of Austrians in the United States have represented less than onetenth of 1 percent of the entire U.S. population...

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Belgian immigrants

As skilled tradesmen and farmers, early Belgian immigrants contributed significantly to the economic development of the United States.

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Sergey Brin

Brin teamed up with Stanford University classmate Larry Page to found the Internet company Google, based on its search engine that uses backlinks for ranking.

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Canals are artificial waterways constructed across land; navigational canals link bodies of water, whereas water-conveyance canals—such as irrigation canals—move water from place to place.

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Liz Claiborne

One of the most successful female entrepreneurs in American business history, Belgian-born Claiborne founded Liz Claiborne, Inc., in 1976.


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Czech and Slovakian immigrants

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, about one-sixteenth of all European Czechs immigrated to America, while the Slovaks made up the sixthlargest group of immigrants during this period of the “new immigration.”

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Dutch immigrants

Commercial enterprises constituted the first organized wave of immigration from the Netherlands to North America during the early seventeenth century and led to the founding of Fort Nassau, which was only the second permanent European settlement in North America.

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Ellis Island

The first official immigration station and long the busiest in the United States, Ellis Island was the entry point for more than 12 million newcomers.

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European immigrants

Although the territory of the United States was originally settled in ancient times by the Asian ancestors of modern Native Americans, European immigrants of the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries dominated the landscape and brought with them the culture and institutions to which other modern immigrants have had to adapt. 

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European revolutions of 1848

Europe’s revolutions of 1848 did not fulfill their goals for most participants and, as a result, many participants and supporters felt that the future in their European homelands was particularly bleak.

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Fenian movement

The Fenians began a secular nationalistic revolutionary tradition in Ireland that aimed at freeing Ireland from British control.

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Edward J. Flanagan

Father Flanagan was an early and vocal advocate of child-care reform whose experiences as a Roman Catholic parish priest among the impoverished immigrants in Omaha, Nebraska, convinced him that addressing such catastrophic social conditions could only begin with taking in homeless boys and educating them.

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Former Soviet Union immigrants

Immigration to the United States fromseveral of the former Soviet countries is a relatively recent development, but some of the others have long histories of sending people to the United States.

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Felix Frankfurter

As a professor at Harvard, Frankfurter got involved in a number of causes. He became a close adviser of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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German American press

As German immigrants reached the United States and began settling in the interior of the country, the German American press catered to their need for news and information, providing stories about their adopted homeland while keeping in touch with Germany.

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German immigrants

Significance: The first non-English-speaking immigrant group to enter the United States in large numbers, Germans played major roles in American economic development, the abolitionist movement, U.S. military forces, and other spheres during the nineteenth century, and German immigrants continued to make important contributions to the United States during the twentieth century.

German immigrants on the steerage deck of the immigrant ship Friedrich der Grosse

German immigrants on the steerage deck of the immigrant ship Friedrich der Grosse. When World War I began in August, 1914, the U.S. government seized the ship, which happened to be laid up in New York harbor. After the United States entered the war in 1917, the Navy used the ship, renamed USS Huron, to transport troops across the Atlantic. Over the next two years, the ship completed fifteen round-trip voyages. (Library of Congress)

Most German immigration to the United States occurred during the nineteenth century, but Germans began arriving as early as 1608, when they helped English settlers found Jamestown, Virginia. Germans also played an important role in the Dutch creation of New Amsterdam, which later became New York City, during the early 1620’s. Other early German immigrants helped to settle North and South Carolina. By the nineteenth century, German immigrants were advancing farther inland to states such as Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and Texas.

Early Immigration, 1608-1749

Two forces were paramount in prompting early German immigration: heavy taxation and German laws of primogeniture, which permitted only the eldest sons in families to inherit their fathers’ land. These forces, along with seemingly constant and disruptive German wars, gave many young Germans strong motivations for emigrating to a new country, where they could hope to own their land and prosper with minimal government hindrance.

The first American region in which large numbers of Germans settled was Pennsylvania. Germantown, near what is now Philadelphia, was the first of many permanent German settlements in the British colonies—many of which had the same name. After Germantown was founded in 1683, German immigration to Pennsylvania grew more rapidly. By the mid-eighteenth century, Pennsylvania’s approximately 50,000 German immigrants made up about 40 percent of the colony’s entire population. Amish and Mennonite religious communities and the creation of the perhaps inaptly named "Pennsylvania Dutch” established Pennsylvania as a primary stronghold for German immigration. Pennsylvania was also becoming a base from which Germans migrated to other colonies, including what is now northern West Virginia, most of Maryland, parts of North Carolina, and the western regions of Virginia and South Carolina.

Profile of German immigrants

Country of origin


Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration periods

1840’s-1920’s, 1950’s

Twenty-first century legal residents*

63,214 (7,901 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Taking their name from Deutsche, the German word for "German,” the Pennsylvania Dutch were the primary builders of Philadelphia and many of its neighboring communities in what became a six-county region that would be known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” Pennsylvania’s Amish communities have kept alive German culture through their rejection of modern technology, their continued wearing of early German farming attire, and their ability to speak both old and modern forms of German. German farmers, craftsmen, and indentured servants helped develop Pennsylvania.

Late Eighteenth Century Developments

During the late eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution began transforming the economies of the many German states from agricultural to manufacturing bases, making it more difficult for farmers to prosper. The lure of apparently unlimited farmland in North America, coupled with news from successful immigrants to provide a powerful lure to emigrate. From the late eighteenth century through much of the nineteenth century, millions of Germans went to the United States. Many of them were farmers who brought skills that contributed significantly to the agriculture of the Midwest, and many settled and helped build cities such as Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

The success of many early German immigrants in agriculture helped draw many German-born businessmen to the United States, where some of them built beer breweries that prospered alongside local agriculture. Some the best-known American breweries, such as Pabst, Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller, were started by Germans.

Because Philadelphia was at the center of American opposition to British colonial rule, it is not surprising that Germans played an important role in the American Revolution that led to the independence of the United States. By the late eighteenth century, many German immigrants had deep roots in North American and were eager to help fight for independence. However, Great Britain’s use of German mercenaries against Americans helped give German Americans a bad name.

Known as Hessians because most of them were from the German state of Hesse, as many as 30,000 German mercenaries may have fought for Great Britain, and they may have constituted as many as one-third of all British combat troops in the Revolutionary War. These Germans fought ruthlessly against the Americans, but they paid a heavy price in casualties. Nearly one-quarter of them died from illnesses, and another quarter may have died in combat. It is not known exactly how many of the German troops remained in the United States after the war, but their number seems to have been high. Moreover, many Hessian mercenaries prospered after the war, thanks to the fact that the new U.S. government lacked the funds to send them back to Europe.

German immigrants who fought on the American side were also recognized for their valor and loyalty. Some held high commands. A particularly well-known German general in the war was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who volunteered his services as a trained Prussian general to the American cause free of pay. Von Steuben was especially valuable in teaching discipline and drill to revolutionary soldiers, few of whom had any formal military training. The colonial troops were initially ridiculed by British troops for their inability to hold line and their eagerness to retreat. Von Steuben helped transformthe untrained men into efficient soldiers. Steubenville, Ohio, was later named in his honor.

First Century of American Independence, 1783-1900

Through the half-century following the Revolutionary War, German immigration increased steadily. Many of the new arrivals settled in such major cities as New York and Philadelphia, but independence from Great Britain allowed the United States to open up the West to settlers, greatly expanding agricultural opportunities for Germans and other immigrants.

Although much of the prosperity that German immigrants enjoyed in North America was based on their success in agriculture, Germans played a leading role in opposing slavery, which provided most of the farm labor in southern U.S. states. Some of the German leaders in the American abolitionist movement were political refugees from the many failed revolutions of 1848 in Europe who came to the United States filled with liberal ideals.

After the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, German immigrants again played a prominent role in the fighting. Some Germans fought for the Confederacy during the war, but the overwhelming majority of Germans involved in the conflict fought on the Union side. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all Union Army troops were German Americans, about 45 percent of whom had been born in Europe. Among the most outstanding German officers in the Union Army were Carl Schurz, Max Weber, Louis Blenker, and Franz Sigel. Many Germans who fought for the Union brought considerable military experience. A slave state that remained in the Union, Missouri had a large German population that supplied many soldiers to the Union cause. After the war ended in 1865, German immigration continued to rise at a rate faster than that of any other immigrant group into the early twentieth century.

Immigration from Germany, 1820-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

Twentieth to Twenty-first Centuries

German immigration to the United States continued to grow until 1914, when World War I began in Europe. The U.S. declaration of war against Germany in 1917 began the first period of anti- German sentiment since the Revolutionary War, when Great Britain used German soldiers against Americans. Anti-German fever during the war caused many Americans to vilify German Americans, especially those known still to speak German, and recently arrived German immigrants. Only a small number of German Americans openly supported Germany’s position in the war. Many of them were imprisoned for sedition or attacked by mobs.

During the war, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt went as far as to say neutrality was not an option and dual loyalty could not exist. Rising anti-German sentiment saw many German names disappear from the names of businesses, schools, and even public streets. Indeed, World War I helped accelerate the obliteration of German subcultures within the United States. Many German-language magazines and newspapers stopped publishing. German Americans avoided speaking German in public, and school systems stopped teaching German. Many German Americans anglicized their own surnames: "Mueller” became "Miller,” "Schmidt” became "Smith,” and "Franz” became "Franks.” Fear of American hostility, not the war itself, did much to destroy visible traces of German culture in the United States.

American entry into World War II in 1941 renewed American animosity toward Germans. Anti- German and anti-Japanese campaigns began shortly after Japan launched its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States had still not fully recovered from anti- German animosity during World War I, and the new war against Germany’s already reviled Nazi regime renewed American distrust of Germans. Using the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the U.S. government legally detained more than ten thousand German Americans during the war. German businesses suffered vandalism and many Germans were attacked by American mobs. Meanwhile, the Holocaust in Europe led to another increase in German immigrants following the war. Most of these people were German Jews who had suffered greatly under the Nazi regime.

An ironic aspect of the war was the fact that the supreme Allied military commander and future president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was himself of German descent. Some of his ancestors had been members of the Pennsylvania Dutch communities. The war also brought to the United States the great German theoretic physicist Albert Einstein and German rocket expert Wernher von Braun, who would later help shape the American space program.

After memories of World War II receded and Eisenhower became a popular U.S. president, German heritage lost some of the negative stigma it had acquired over the previous decades. This development was aided by growing American distrust of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War. With an ominous new international threat looming, Americans were becoming less inclined to worry about differences among their own subcultures.

Despite early twentieth century anti-German movements, many traces of German culture have survived into the twenty-first century. These can be seen in product names such as Bayer, Heinz, Chrysler, Busch, and Budweiser, and in such now thoroughly American items of cuisine as hot dogs (frankfurters) and pretzels. In addition to foods and beers, German culture has provided the American educational system with the concept of kindergarten, which was regularly practiced in Germany following the increased immigration during the early nineteenth century. Other German contributions to American culture include two-day weekends, gymnasiums, Christmas trees, and theme parks.

Keith J. Bell

Further Reading

Brancaforte, Charlotte L., ed. The German Fortyeighters in the United States. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Eighteen essays covering a wide range of topics, including a reappraisal that many of the immigrants were not radicals or revolutionaries. 

Creighton, M. The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Depicts the forgotten heroism of Germans and other immigrant peoples in one of the bloodiest battles in American history. 

Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Details the everyday struggles of common German immigrants to the colonies during the eighteenth century and includes many individual stories. 

Heinrich-Tolzmann Don. The German American Experience. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2000. Thought-provoking examination of how German immigrants have blended into American society. 

Kamphoefner, Walter, and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Translated by Susan Carter Vogel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Fascinating collection of documents presenting the firsthand views of German immigrants who fought in the U.S. Civil War. 

Kennedy, David M. The American People in World War II: Freedom from Fear, Part II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. This book places immigration issues in the broad context of America at war and looks at American attitudes toward German immigrants. 

Spalek, John, Adrienne Ash, and Sandra Hawrylchak. Guide to Archival Materials of German- Speaking Emigrants to the U.S. After 1933. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1978. Invaluable handbook for historical and genealogical research into German/Austrian immigration during the mid-twentieth century. Especially strong on Holocaust-related immigrants. 

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.Comprehensive study of German immigrants in the United States, with sections on politics and nativism, German rural and urban communities, and German-speaking communities. 

Trumbauer, L. German Immigration. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Details personal stories of German immigrants to the United States and the key players in the formation of the country. 

Wittke, Carl. Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-eighters in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1952. A classic work on the experience of the Forty-eighters in the United States. Heavy emphasis on biography. 

See also: Austrian immigrants; CivilWar, U.S.; Einstein, Albert; German American press; History of immigration, 1620-1783; History of immigration, 1783-1891; History of immigration after 1891; Holocaust; Prisoners of war in the United States; Schurz, Carl; Strauss, Levi; World War I; World War II.

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Emma Goldman

Emma GoldmanA forceful voice for the nascent anarchist movement in the United States, Goldman founded the magazine Mother Earth and crisscrossed the United States lecturing about anarchy and supporting anarchists, immigrant and labor groups, women, and others oppressed by the government and institutionalized capitalism.

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Samuel Gompers

Samuel GompersUndeniably one of the leading figures in labor history, Gompers was already an ardent unionist prior to leaving London for New York City in 1863. The giant union he cofounded in 1881, the American Federation of Labor, was based on the pragmatic principles he had learned in England.

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Great Irish Famine

Great Irish FamineOne of the single-most influential events in U.S. immigration history, Ireland’s great potato famine induced a massive wave of Irish emigration to Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, where Irish immigrants quickly became the nation’s second-largest ethnic group.

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Greek immigrants

Significance: Although Greeks have accounted for a relatively small percentage of the total immigrants to the United States, they have formed strong ethnic communities that have kept alive their language, traditions, and religion. Persons of Greek ancestry account for 0.4 percent of the current population of the United States.

Significant numbers of Greeks did not begin immigrating to the United States until the 1880’s. However, the first Greek immigrants arrived during the 1820’s, when the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire left Greece with a large foreign debt, and the lack of industrialization forced inhabitants to look elsewhere for employment.

Emigrants boarding small boats in Patras, Greece

Emigrants boarding small boats in Patras, Greece, on their way to the steamship that will take them to America in 1910. (Library of Congress)

After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Greece became part of the Ottoman Empire. Inspired by the late eighteenth century revolutions in North America and western Europe, as well as their own sense of Greek nationalism, a group of Greek loyalists planned a rebellion against the Ottoman state. They gained the support of numerous countries, including Great Britain, France, and Russia. Greece became an independent nation after signing the Treaty of Adrianople in 1832.

Immigration Begins

Following the end of its war of independence, Greece faced a number of internal economic challenges. The country was slow to industrialize through the nineteenth century. As late as 1879, more than 80 percent of its people still lived in rural communities. Currants were Greece’s chief export product, and their price declined so much that many Greek farmers went bankrupt and were unable to pay their taxes. This poor economic climate prompted many Greeks to emigrate.

With the encouragement of the Greek government, young men began leaving the country during the late nineteenth century in the hope of gaining employment in the United States. Large-scale Greek immigration to the United States began in 1880, with the largest numbers immigrating during the early twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1920, more than 350,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States. About 95 percent of the immigrants who came between 1899 and 1910 were men. In keeping with Greek tradition, these men often worked to secure dowries for their sisters back home. In 1905 alone, Greek immigrants remitted more than four million dollars to their families in Greece. Most did not intend to stay in the United States.

Profile of Greek immigrants

Country of origin


Primary language


Primary regions of U.S. settlement

East Coast states, Midwest

Earliest significant arrivals


Peak immigration periods

1900-1917, 1970’s

Twenty-first century legal residents*

7,429 (929 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Greeks in the United States

Upon arriving in the United States, most Greek immigrants found jobs in various industries. In New England, for example, they worked in textile mills. A particularly large Greek community formed in Lowell, Massachusetts, where many Greek men worked in the mill. In Utah and Colorado, Greeks found work in copper and coal mines. In California they worked in railroad gangs. Many were victimized by padrones, labor brokers who recruited immigrants for jobs in exchange for the immigrants’ wages.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Greek immigrants began going into business for themselves. They opened shoeshine parlors, candy shops, and, most notably, restaurants. Their first restaurants served native cuisine to fellow Greeks. In Chicago, some moved into the lunch business, working from street carts that sold inexpensive fare to factory workers. After the Chicago city council banned the sale of food on city streets, the immigrants turned to opening permanent establishments. Using mainly family members for labor and requiring little startup money, the restaurant business was the first stable economic base for Greeks in America. By 1919, one of every three restaurants in Chicago was operated by a Greek.

A major unifying force for the Greek community in America was the church. The first Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, the Holy Trinity of New Orleans, was founded in 1864. By 1918, nearly 130 Orthodox churches had been founded across the country. Local community organizations called kinotis raised the necessary funds to establish the churches. Many Greeks sought the close-knit communities they had in their home country, and the churches provided the immigrants with forums in which to share their common beliefs. During the early twenty-first century, Greek Orthodox churches have continued to serve as cultural and social centers for many Greek communities within the United States.

Immigration from Greece, 1880-2008

Immigration from Greece, 1880-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Records for 1820-1879 show only 375 immigrants from Greece.

Late Twentieth Century Immigration

Prior to 1965, the United States had established quotas restricting immigration from certain countries and ethnic groups. The quotas favored immigrants fromnorthern and western European countries. The Immigration Act of 1924 had imposed harsh restrictions on non-western European immigrant groups. Under that law, only one hundred Greeks per year were allowed entry into the United States.

In 1965, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. Whereas previous immigration acts had imposed quotas by country, the 1965 act established hemispheric quotas, and distributed visas based on job skills and family reunification. Many Greek Americans used the new law to bring members of their families to the United States. Between 1960 and 1980, more than 170,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States, many with family reunification visas.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, approximately 1.4 million persons of Greek ancestry were living in the United States. They resided in all fifty states, with the greatest numbers living in large cities such as Chicago, New York City, and Detroit. Many Greek immigrants have assimilated into American culture, but have remained strongly connected to Greek traditions, religion, and ethnicity.

Bethany E. Pierce

Further Reading

Contopoulos, Michael. The Greek Community of New York City: Early Years to 1910. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1992. History of one of the largest concentrations of Greek immigrants in any American city.

Moskos, Charles. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1989. Scholarly study of Greeks in America through the 1980’s.

Orfanos, Spyros D., ed. Reading Greek America: Studies in the Experience of Greeks in the United States. New York: Pella, 2002. Collection of essays examining a variety of issues surrounding Greek immigrants.;

Saloutos, Theodore. The Greeks in the United States. Rev. ed.NewYork:, 2007.Comprehensive study of Greek immigrants. Includes an introduction by Charles Moskos, and historiographical essay by Alexander Kitroeff.

Scourby, Alice. The Greek Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Broad study of Greek Americans with background information on Greek history, several chapters on immigrants, and a chapter on changes in Greek American family structures.

See also: Congress, U.S.; Economic opportunities; History of immigration after 1891; Huffington, Arianna; Immigration Act of 1921; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Italian immigrants; Quota systems; Turkish immigrants; Yugoslav state immigrants.

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Andrew Grove

The third person hired by the cofounders of the Intel Corporation, the Hungarian-bornGrove rose relatively quickly to the company’s top management position.

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Meyer Guggenheim

Meyer GuggenheimOriginally an impoverished Jewish peddler from Switzerland, Guggenheim built a worldwide mining conglomerate after immigrating to the United States.


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Hamburg-Amerika Line

Hamburg-Amerika LineFrom 1881 until 1914, the Hamburg-Amerika Line was the largest shipping line in existence.

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Hansen effect

In 1938, shortly before he died, social historian Marcus Lee Hansen revolutionized the understanding of the assimilation of immigrant generations into American life by suggesting that assimilation and ethnic identity within the so-called melting pot of America were far more complex than had been assumed.

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The Event: Systematic attempt by Germany’s Nazi regime to exterminate European Jews

Date: Late 1930’s to mid-1940’s

Location: German-occupied European countries

Significance: During World War II and the years leading up to it, European Jews were the principal victims of German chancellor Adolf Hitler’s genocidal policies. Many fled eastern and western Europe, attempting to enter the United States.

Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis arriving in Belgium in June, 1939

Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis arriving in Belgium in June, 1939, after they were turned away from Cuba. More than one-quarter of the refugees eventually died in the Holocaust. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Between 1933, which saw the Nazis’ rise to power, and Germany’s 1945 surrender that ended World War II, more than 345,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria. Many of them initially fled to countries that were later occupied by Germany, and these Jews subsequently left again or were murdered. Although about 85,000 Jewish refugees reached the United States between March, 1938, and September, 1939, far greater numbers were seeking refuge. However, when U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the United States was preoccupied with the challenges of the Great Depression—high unemployment and widespread social disillusionment—which contributed to public resistance to any relaxation of immigration quotas. Another factor in opposing specifically Jewish immigration was anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish sentiment was on the rise during the 1920’s; it increased dramatically during the early 1930’s and reached its peak in America during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

Failed Attempts to Help the Jews

In 1939, the United States refused to admit more than 900 refugees who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on the SS St. Louis. After being turned away from Cuba, the ship appeared off the coast of Florida. After the United States denied it permission to land, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium each accepted some of the passengers as refugees. Of the ship’s 908 passengers, 254 are known to have died in the Holocaust. The event was widely publicized.

News of the true extent of the Holocaust began to reach the United States only in 1941—the year in the United States entered World War II. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of State placed even stricter limits on immigration due to national security concerns. The threat of enemy subversion during the war was a legitimate concern, but the State Department exaggerated the problem and used it as a reason for cutting in half the already small immigration quotas. In 1943, 400 Jewish rabbis marched on Washington, D.C., to draw attention to what was happening to Holocaust victims. Only a handful of politicians met with the marchers, but one of them, Senator William Warren Barbour of New Jersey, proposed legislation that would have permitted 100,000 Holocaust refugees to enter the United States temporarily. Barbour’s bill failed to pass, and another, similar bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Samuel Dickstein of New York, also failed to pass.

In 1944, President Roosevelt, pressured by government officials and the American Jewish community, took action. He established the War Refugee Board to facilitate the rescue of refugees in imminent danger. The American Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress worked with the board to help rescue many thousands of Jews in Hungary, Romania, and other European nations. However, government funding for the board was so small that 91 percent of its work was funded by American Jewish organizations. The board conducted a monthlong campaign to persuade Roosevelt to offer temporary shelter to large numbers of refugees, but it yielded only one result. In the spring of that year, Roosevelt established Fort Ontario, New York, as a free port for refugees. However, only a few thousand were allowed to enter, and these were people from liberated countries who were under no immediate threat of deportation to Germany. Roosevelt’s response to Holocaust immigration was strongly influenced by political concerns. During an era of strong antiimmigration sentiment, any move to increase immigration might well have cost him votes in elections.

Change in Immigration Policies

Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor as president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, favored an immigration policy that was liberal toward displaced persons, but Congress failed to act on his proposals. On December 22, 1945, Truman issued an executive order, called the Truman Directive, requiring that existing immigration quotas be designated for displaced persons. Although total U.S. immigration figures did not increase, many more displaced persons were admitted to the United States. Between the end of 1945 and early 1947, about 22,950 displaced persons entered the United States under the new Truman Directive. About 16,000 of these refugees were Jewish.

Before existing immigration quotas could be increased, congressional action was necessary. Pressured intensely by lobbying on the part of the American Jewish community, Congress passed legislation in 1948 to admit about 400,000 displaced persons to the United States. Nearly 80,000 of those who arrived, or about 20 percent, were Jewish. Other immigrants included Christians from eastern Europe and the Baltic nations who had worked as forced laborers under the Nazi regime. American entry laws favored agricultural workers to such a degree, however, that Truman found the new law discriminatory to Jews, few of whom were agricultural workers. By the 1950’s, Congress amended the law, but by that time most of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe had entered the new state of Israel, which was established on May 14, 1948.

Thanks in large part to the influx of Jews during and after the Holocaust, the United States emerged as the largest and most culturally innovative Jewish center in the world after World War II. Smaller centers of Jewish population worldwide soon turned to the vigorous Jewish establishments in the United States for help and support. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, Jews in the United States had risen to leadership positions in government, the media, entertainment, popular culture, business, labor relations, law, and the arts.

Sheila Golburgh Johnson

Further Reading

  • Abzug, Robert H. America Views the Holocaust, 1933 to 1945: A Brief Documentary History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. This book tries to shed light on such grave questions as what Americans knew about the Holocaust and how they responded as it unfolded. 
  • Breitman, Richard, and Alan M. Kraut. American Refugee Policies and European Jewry, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Carefully documented study that argues that U.S. policy regarding the Holocaust was the product of preexisting restrictive immigration laws and the attitude of U.S. State Department leaders who were committed to a narrow defense of American interests. 
  • Novick, Peter. The Holocaust in American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Historical overview of American attitudes toward the Holocaust. A highly controversial book that argues against misuses of Holocaust history and tries to show how contemporary consciousness was formed by political conditions. 
  • Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon, 1984. Contends that British and American political leaders turned down many proposals that could have saved European Jews from death in German concentration camps. 
  • _______. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968. Study of the obstacles that the U.S. Congress erected to prevent the immigration of Jews during the Holocaust. 

See also: American Jewish Committee; Angloconformity; Anti-Semitism; Center for Immigration Studies; Congress, U.S.; Films; German immigrants; Jewish immigrants; Quota systems; Refugee Relief Act of 1953; Refugees; World War II.

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