Letter from John Burke to Secretary of Labor William Wilson, November 11, 1920; and Reply from Assistant Secretary Louis Post, November 17, 1920


Louis F. Post, ca. 1928
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

John Burke, the General Secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Council, wrote this letter to the first U.S. Secretary of Labor, William B. Wilson, to protest the high proportion of Protestant organizations that were allowed to maintain an official presence on Ellis Island. The Assistant Secretary of Labor, Louis Post, wrote the official reply to Burke's letter, denying that the Department of Labor had at any time given the care of immigrants exclusively to the YMCA or any other Protestant organization. Post's career at the Department of Labor had been characterized by a marked degree of support for immigrant freedoms; in 1918 he had opposed the Anarchist Exclusion Act, and in 1920 he was actually the subject of impeachment proceedings after clashing with J. Edgar Hoover and A. Mitchell Palmer over the question of immigrants' rights.




Letter from Burke to Wilson and reply from Post


As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

  • What reasons does Burke give for objecting to the supposed handling of immigrants by Protestant organizations?
  • Does Burke think local or national organizations are better equipped to care for immigrants?
  • How does Post respond to the newspaper rumors? Did the Department of Labor really give immigrants over to the sole oversight of the YMCA at Ellis Island?
  • How many organizations did Commissioner Wallis allow to establish a presence on Ellis Island?