Americanization is the process of turning an immigrant into an American who shares American values, beliefs and customs. During the World War I period, the government and many private agencies gave high priority to Americanization projects, which usually were successful. The Ford Motor Company had an especially well-publicized program. Millions of recently arrived immigrants who had originally intended to return to the mother country were unable to return to Europe because of the wars 1914-1919. The great majority voluntarily changed their mind and decided to stay permanently in America. Instead of resisting Americanization they welcomed it, often signing up for English classes and using their savings to buy homes and bring over other family members.
Between 1880 and 1924 over 25 million immigrants entered America, changing the composition of America's laboring population. This influx created a movement that aimed to Americanize these new immigrants and thus hasten their acculturation into mainstream America. But Americanization also suggests a broader process that includes the everyday struggle of immigrants to understand their new environment and how they invented ways to cope with it. The main target group included Catholics and Jews from southern and southeastern Europe. Churches, unions and charities attempted to Americanize the new immigrants both formally through structured programs and informally at work through the environment created by management.
Toledo, Ohio, was typical of several cities that continued Americanization programs into the 1920s. The Toledo Americanization Board in cooperation with the Toledo Board of Education provided classes in English as a second language and Americanization from 1919 until probably 1925; the Toledo International Institute was affiliated with the Young Women's Christian Association and offered English instruction and assistance with naturalization to foreign-born women and girls.
After the 1970s proponents of multiculturalism have attacked Americanization prograns as too coercive and not respectful enough of immigrant culture. A major debate today is on whether speaking English is an essential component of being American.
The term has been used since 1907 for the American impact on other countries.
- Cowan, Neil M. and Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. Our Parents' Lives: The Americanization of Eastern European Jews. (1989). 305 pp.
- Olneck, Michael R. "Americanization and the Education Of Immigrants, 1900-1925: An Analysis Of Symbolic Action." American Journal of Education 1989 97(4): 398-423 in JSTOR; shows that Americanization programs help liberate youth from the tight confines of traditional families
- Seltzer, Robert M. and Cohen, Norman S., eds. The Americanization of the Jews. (1995). 468 pp.
- Bogardus, Emory Stephen. Essentials of Americanization (1920), by leading sociologist full text online
- Brooks, Charles Alvin. Christian Americanization: a task for the churches (1919) 162 pages full text online
- James R. Barrett, "Americanization From The Bottom Up: Immigration and the Remaking of the Working Class in the United States, 1880-1930." Journal of American History 1992 79(3): 996-1020. 0021-8723
- Ted C. Hinckley, The Americanization of Alaska, 1867-1897 (1972)
- Francis P. Prucha, Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the "Friends of the Indians," 1880-1900. (1973)
- Samuel E. Moffett, The Americanization of Canada (1907) full text online; see also Ralph Willett, The Americanization of Germany, 1945-1949 (1989)