Lily Winner publishes a defense of open immigration in "The Nation"

May 18, 1921

The May 18, 1921, issue of The Nation included an essay by Lily Winner entitled "American Emigrés." The article asked, "why has America the 'melting-pot' failed to Americanize? Why is Congress, in its hysterical weathervane fashion, passing bills to restrict immigration when, by casual inquiry, it could ascertain that the margin between arrivals of new people and departure of old, is so slight as not to fill the hearts of employing capital with boundless joy?" Winner explained that while American businesses were eager for the cheap labor of immigrants, these workers found little welcome in American society. She condemned the lack of programs to teach American manners and values, and lamented the frequent return of immigrants who, American capital in hand, could begin new lives back in their homelands. Today her essay seems to combine a still timely critique with intolerant ethnocentrism. In fact, Winner's concern for the maltreatment of immigrants in American cities placed her among the progressive voices of her time.

Immigration was only one of the causes dear to Winner's heart. In addition to urging acculturation of foreigners, she became deeply involved in the birth control movement, writing frequent articles for Margaret Sanger's Birth Control Review. The Review, considered radical in its day, was "dedicated to the principal of intelligent and voluntary motherhood." Winner's essays, like others in the magazine, called for the emancipation of women and their right to control their own fertility on the grounds that such control would make them better mothers of the children they chose to bear. Winner also wrote frequently for a Jewish periodical, The Modern View. Displaying the breadth of her writing talents, her pieces in the View were mainly stories that spoke to the temptations and challenges of assimilation but which usually ended with the heroine's recommitment to Jewish ritual and values.

By the time Winner gained her by-line in these diverse publications, she had already made a name for herself as a playwright. In 1915, while still a 24-year-old stenographer in Missouri, where she was born and raised, Winner co-wrote The Crutch, which was accepted in that year by the Shuberts, who planned to stage it with actor Louis Mann in the starring role. Winner went on to work not only as a writer for niche publications but also as a globetrotting journalist. She wrote about the medieval cities of Germany, royal ghosts in England, and her 1924 meeting with the Pope. She also worked for a time as the advertising manager of the Perry Photo Novelty Corporation. At a time when white middle-class American women were just beginning to take on public roles as reformers and workers in significant numbers, Winner carved out an uncommon career that brought her travel, adventure, and income.

Sources:Lily Winner Scrapbook, 1915-1924, copy at the Jewish Women's Archive, recompiled by Helene Weitzenkorn, July 2004.


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Lily Winner publishes a defense of open immigration in "The Nation"." (Viewed on April 21, 2024) <>.