|The Protestant Episcopal City Mission was established in 1831.
From what I could find on Alice Palmer, she began her work at New York Harbor in 1930. She spent the rest of her time fighting for immigrants and helping transition people into the U.S. I did not find much else. She died on April 10, 1964.
In trying to learn more about Alice and the City Mission’s work, I had trouble finding much from 1939, but I found this report below from 1907-1908. It is the Annual Report for the Chaplains from the Protestant Episcopal Church Mission on Ellis Island in its first year in existence. It is a little long, but fascinating. It gives a wonderful snapshot of the work they did at the beginning and what Ellis Island would have looked like in the early 20th century.
The raison d’ etre of this department is found in Section 2 of the Immigration Law, which enacts “That the following classes of aliens be excluded from admission into the United States: All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons and persons who have been insane within five years previous; persons who have had two or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; paupers; persons likely to become a public charge; professional beggars; persons afflicted with tuberculosis or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such mental or physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such an alien to earn a living; persons who have been convicted of or admit having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists, or persons who admit their belief in the practice of polygamy; anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States, or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials; prostitutes; procurers; contract laborers; assisted aliens, and children under sixteen when unaccompanied by one or both parents.”
This section of the law may be said to constitute the net through which poured the living stream of humanity that amounted, in the twelve months ending August 31st, 1908, to 782,764 men, women and children, of every nation, race, and tongue. In the one month of October, 1908, the meshes of this net were sufficiently close to debar 589 persons of the classes listed as above, and of this enormous total about eleven-thirteenths were examined, admitted and sent on to their destination through Ellis Island.
The method of handling so tremendous a throng that averaged over 2,000 a day for every day in the year, will perhaps be more clearly understood if we picture the arrival of the transatlantic liner at this port. After the first and second cabin passengers-excepting always those who for any reason are under suspension-have been landed at the pier, the steerage passengers, numbering say 800 are conveyed on barges to Ellis Island. (Of course, the United States citizen, who can prove his citizenship, is free to land at this pier.) With them goes a ship’s officer, bearing the manifest sheets, which contain the answers to some thirty questions - name, age, sex, race, amount of money possessed, etc. - respecting every passenger. The immigrants first pass the medical examination. Two doctors examine each person in the line, the first looking after the general physical condition, the second especially examining the eyes. Every one who is not manifestly sound is held for further and more careful scrutiny. Those who pass this medical bar are then ordered and aligned to correspond with the manifest sheet which bears their names, and with their number on that particular sheet. Then they are questioned as to name, age, point of departure, intended destination, amount of money, etc., and any discrepancy between their answers and the sworn statement of the ship’s surgeon is carefully noted. When this test is successfully met they are directed to the railroad rooms, where they secure their railroad transportation and whence they are taken, again by barges, to the different railroad stations.
Those who give as their destination some address in New York are held to permit their friends to call and claim them. This gives the officials the opportunity to probe into the fitness of such friends to care for their newly-arrived relatives and to prevent women and girls from falling into undesirable hands. And just here begins our work. At the close of the day we go into the temporary detention room, pick out those forlorn ones whose friends, for one reason or other, have not called for them, and wherever practicable assume the responsibility of taking them to their friends and seeing that these friends are fit persons to receive them. Now and then a sturdy young fellow is detained because he is penniless and has no address more definite than just “New York.” If he is English, Irish, Scotch, or of any other race uncared for by a particular Church or National Society, we feel that he belongs to us, and do our best to find him work and a home. Of the two classes described above, between 150 and 175 persons have been admitted to us during the past year. And of this number not more that two or three have since proven themselves poor timber for American citizenship.
This sort of case has, of course, to be handled immediately. Now and then we hurry to catch the ferry to New York with three or four penniless and friendless immigrants following trustingly in our train wondering ourselves what in the world we are to do with them. If they are women, we take the girls who belong to the English Church to Sister Eleanor’s Home, 212 East 46th Street. If they are of Protestant Churches, we take them to the Methodist-Episcopal Home, 9 State Street. The men we take to various lodging-houses, principally the excellent one at 47 Whitehall Street.
While the immigrants who are to reach their destination by train are waiting at the Island, we go among them, take the names of any who belong to the Church of England, and in whatever way is possible help them. Occasionally, some one arrives with a prepaid railroad ticket, but without money for the food necessary on the journey. Then we are called upon. It is a pleasure to say that much money is always repaid and letters sent us which display an encouraging sense of gratitude for such aid.
We notify, in every case where there is one of our churches, the rector that such and such a person has arrived in his parish, and give the address to which the alien is destined. But, obviously, this cannot be done with perfect accuracy in every case. The addresses given may be vague or incorrect. Again, the alien may change his mind and decide upon some other home in the same place. But we do our best to notify the clergy of possible additions to their parishes, and, on the whole, from the letters and reports we receive decide that this work is worthwhile.
So much of our work, if done at all, must be done quickly. The six or eight hundred steerage passengers have been brought to the Island, examined, and passed through-all in two or three hours. In such a hurried company, nervous and excited over the entirely unexpected examination, there is neither time nor opportunity for service other than to help, so far as we can, to hasten them on their way.
But for the unfortunates, detained on account of failure to meet the medical or other tests, we have time for more thorough work. We go about among the detained, learn what we can from them about their cases, explain the various causes for which they are held, confer with their friends, find missing relatives, etc., etc.
Occasionally a whole family is detained because a single member is ill in the Immigrant Hospital. Here we parole the rest of the family, assuming the responsibility for their return when demanded. Then we find suitable homes where they may await the recovery of the person detained. About seventy-five persons were so entrusted to our care last year. Again, we look into merits of the different cases, advise whatever course of action it seems best to take, write their appeals from adverse decisions, etc. A considerable number of young girls come over in order to marry the sweethearts who have come ahead and made a home for them. Before admission, as the law now reads, such persons must be married. And so, occasionally, we have a wedding ceremony to perform.
And now, it is time to visit the hospital. Here are detained usually about one hundred people, most of them under observation, to determine whether or not they are afflicted with some suspected disease. Of course, practically none of them are seriously ill. But they are distressed, all of them, at the enforced separation from their family or friends, and about their own physical condition. Here our ministrations are more purely clerical. We try to comfort, help and advise them, and explain the delay to their expectant friends.
But, after everything has been done, there is a small percentage on every ship that cannot be admitted to the United States. These are notified, in ample time, of their exclusion and deportation. On Friday-deportation day-a sad little company is gathered and taken back to the ship on which they came. Here are tears and sorrow and tragedy that no one could witness unmoved.
As to the racial limits of our work, we feel that, in addition to the English-speaking people who are our special province, we are here to help anyone who is not cared for by any other body-religious or national. To this end Mr. Lugscheider, with his extensive range of linguistic skill, is able to care for the Oriental races in general, and these are precisely the cases hitherto least cared for. But in looking over the record of aliens discharged, or paroled to us, no nation or race lacks representatives. We are here to help all.
And the great bulk of this tremendous volume is well worth helping. These people come to better themselves. And they better the country by their coming. They are clean and strong in body, frugal, sober and honest. They want to be Americans. And if the church today recognizes and performs her duty to these people of every race and speech, the Church of the future will have reason to thank God for their coming.
For the year before us we hope to enter into closer relation with the Churches abroad that are in communion with us. A great deal of the leakage that is now inevitable can be avoided if the clergy abroad will help us in the work of recommending immigrants to the parishes of their future homes. And we hope, also, to see the Church impressed with a new sense of the value of these people, as material for the extension of God’s Kingdom on earth, and a new feeling of her duty in every village and hamlet of our land, to “go out...and gather them in.”