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Quilt

Quilt

Russia and United States, c. 1899
  • Velvet: embroidered with wool, silk, and metallic thread; glass beads
  • 81 1/2 x 65 in. (207 x 165.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Judaica Acquisitions Fund, 1986-119
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BECOMING AMERICAN

The influx of immigrants to this country in the 19th and 20th centuries raised a challenging question for many: What does it mean to be American? Speaking and dressing like everyone else? Pledging allegiance to the American flag? Giving up one’s ethnic or religious identity in favor of a more "acceptable" American identity?

In the early 20th century, the notion of a "melting pot" emerged. The United States was seen as an environment in which all religions, nationalities, and creeds could be amalgamated into a homogeneous American soup. Many independent and government programs were established to "Americanize" new arrivals—to encourage them to assimilate into an American way of life. Some employers required workers to take English classes. Some classes aimed to teach women American cooking and homemaking skills. (The concept of the melting pot was later replaced by alternative constructs such as "cultural pluralism" and, more recently, the "salad bowl" and the "American mosaic.")

Some immigrants resented attempts at Americanization, but most newcomers embraced aspects of American society while still retaining elements of their native or ancestral cultures. Often the two were combined to create new cultural patterns and practices.