History of the Order of AHEPA 1922 - 1972

The History of Greek Immigration to America

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In the second decade of the 19th century, a learned French writer visited the United States, and after touring the new country, he commented that the Americans had a mania for associations and organizations. The very make-up of the United States, with its diverse peoples and their backgrounds, no doubt contributed to these many groups.

Today's American associations and organizations have grown in number throughout the past 150 years into the thousands, on local, state, and national levels.

The Order of Ahepa, established July 26, 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, is therefore only one of many thousands of such associations and societies.

The Order of Ahepa is a fraternal association, composed largely of Americans of Greek (or Hellenic) descent; however, membership is not restricted to those of Greek descent, and approximately 5% of its members are of non-Greek extraction. In the original Charter of Incorporation, it was named The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, and soon thereafter, became officially known by the acronym, AHEPA, or The Order of Ahepa

In order to understand the reasons for the establishment of the Order of Ahepa, we must look into the history of immigration to the United States, and especially the history of Greek immigration, for therein lie the roots of AHEPA

Historians tell us that the population of Europe almost doubled between the years of 1750 and 1850, growing from about 140 million to approximately 260 million in those 100 years. By the time of World War II, Europe's population ballooned to almost 400 million. During those 165 years, the death rate of children under two years of age declined at a rapid rate, accounting in large part for the population growth. One writer graphically points out this tremendous growth by stating that "where one man stood in 1750, in Europe, there were three men 165 years later."  

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By 1915, there were 250 million Europeans and their descendants living outside the continent of Europe, all of which was the result of emigration from Europe to foreign lands. Despite this relief by emigration, the pressures in each European country on living conditions, and food supply began to build up to dangerous levels or shortages. The food production of European countries was dependent for centuries on the small farms of the peasant, and much of the agriculture was communal, wherein each family had its own small plots of ground for farming, with the village pastures open to all villagers for their livestock for grazing.

Prior to the surging growth of European population, this communal system of agriculture sufficed, but it soon became necessary to increase the food supply or starvation would become a reality. Agricultural experts advocated gradual abolition of the small peasant farms by incorporating them into larger and more efficient farming units, and governments took steps toward this end.

With the population growth, the cities began a tremendous growth, and the demands for more food production from the small peasant farms was much greater than the supply of food available. The farmer who had for centuries raised his own food for himself and his family, and village, now found demands being made upon him to supply the cities; but the small plots of land being farmed individually could never meet the demand.

The result was that the small plots were being bought up, and incorporated into larger plots, in ever-increasing numbers, for more efficient and more productive farming. Consequently, the small farmers who had sold their land, moved into the cities, which then created massive social problems in housing and food in the cities. It was then that these new city-dwellers sought refuge elsewhere, in new lands across the sea, and America was one of their prime objectives, although emigration spread to other new worlds as well.

Crop failures and famine caused massive movements to America, especially among the so-called peasant peoples of Europe. Social unrest, and a desire for the better life also contributed to European emigration. More than 35 million people immigrated into America during the latter half of the 19th century, and the first two decades of the 20th century.

Ireland contributed four and a half million people to American immigration; more than four million from Great Britain; more than six million from Germanv; two million from Scandinavia; five million from Italy. From Eastern Europe, eight million Poles and Jews, Hungarians, Bohemians, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, arrived in America. And finally, from the Balkans and Asia Minor, which included Greeks, Croatians, Albanians, Syrians and Armenians, about three million arrived in America.

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In speaking before the New York State Convention in 1787 for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Alexander Hamilton said: "At present we have three millions of people; in twenty-five years nine millions." In 1781, in a letter to Robert Morris, Hamilton wrote: "'Our population will be doubled in thirty years; there will be a confluence of emigrants from all parts of the world, our commerce will have a proportionable progress, and of course our wealth and capacity for revenue. " Actual population figures for the United States, beginning with 1790 were:


Year Population


Every 10 years between 1790 and 1860 there was an increase of more than 35 percent in population in each decade.

A New World

In his book "The Uprooted" Oscar Handlin describes the effects of the "uprooting" of immigrants from Europe from their centuries-old homelands into this new land, America, -- a vast change for all of language, habits, customs, living standards, friends. It was usually a step from familiar surroundings into a new and sometimes harsh new land and home. He describes this emigration:

The experience of these men on the move was more complex than that of 18th century negroes or of 17th century Englishmen or of 11th century Normans. The participants in the earlier mass migrations had either wandered to unoccupied places, where they had only to adjust to new conditions of the physical environment, or they had gone under the well-defined conditions of conquering invader or imported slave.

Emigration now took these people out of the traditional, accustomed environments and replanted them in strange grounds, among strangers, where strange manners prevailed. The problems of life were new and different. With old ties snapped, men faced the enormous compulsion of working out new relationships, new meanings to their lives, often under harsh and hostile circumstances. The immigrants lived in crisis because they were uprooted. In transplantation, while the old roots were sundered, before the new were established, the immigrants existed in an extreme situation. The shock, and the effects of the shock, persisted for many years, and their influence reached down to generations which themselves never paid the cost of crossing.

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Handlin dwells on the "crossing" -- the long voyage across the Atlantic which, in the early years of immigration, look a great toll of lives because of disease, privation, sometimes even hunger.

A pervasive biting fatigue existed for the immigrant from the start of the 'Crossing' and persisted to the end. In New York, or way points such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee etc., although their destinations were elsewhere, they each found some insurmountable obstacle that kept them immobilized where they were. The Crossing was harsh and brutal. In part, the factors of the Crossing were physical, the hardier survived and the weaker fell by the wayside. They were also more than physical, for they measured the power of adaptation, and only those capable of adjusting from peasant ways to the needs of new conditions and new challenges were able to absorb the successive shocks of migration. The qualities that were conducive to a good peasant, were not those conducive to success in the transition. It was a totally new way of life.

Fortunately, they came as individuals, and not as communal units, and they acted as individuals, each for himself, which was the only way they could exist and survive. They found themselves in a prolonged state of crisis -- crisis in the sense that they were, and remained, unsettled. For weeks and months, and years, they were in suspense between the old and the new, literally in transit. Every adjustment was temporary. As a result, they reached their new homes exhausted, worn out physically by lack of rest, poor food, constant strain of close quarters, worn out emotionally by the succession of new situations that had crowded in upon them. Yet once arrived, they would not take time to recuperate, and could not. They faced the immediate, pressing necessity of finding a livelihood and of adjusting to conditions.

Handlin describes the efforts of the immigrants to find work, and the development of America that came about through the toil and long hours of labor that they contributed to this country:

Only a few ever became farmers. Most were unable to escape from the cities, where they found work to keep themselves together. The percentage of immigrants who lived in the cities was always much higher than that of the total population. The towns had trapped them. This massive work force of immigrants enabled America to build a chain of canals, and then railroads. By 1910 more than 350,000 miles of railroads. Paved highways totaled 200,000 miles in 1910. They went to construction camps, broken down freight cars and dilapidated shanties and barracks, and in most cases under the padrone system. Populations growth needed more homes and construction, and labor was needed. The pick and shovel became their symbol. They worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- in the cotton mills and shoe factories of New England -- where their labor revolutionized all industries. They drifted into street occupations -- shined shoes, sold newspapers, chestnuts, became street peddlers.

Radical groups, such as the I. W.W. tried to enroll the immigrants in their groups, but the gulf between immigrants and the radicals quickly terminated such alliances. Vivid recollections of the suffering they had left behind spurred them on in the effort to set aside from their own inadequate earning enough to aid the ones who had not come. By 1860 the Irish alone were sending back 4 or 5 million dollars a year; a half century later in 1910, the total remitted by all groups was well over 140 million for a year. Often some unusual disaster evoked a response. The church burned down, or famine appeared, or war. Such contributions recognized the continued connection with the old place. In time that was further strengthened by involvement in nationalistic movements which established a political interest in the affair of the old Country, an interest the peasants had not had while they were there.

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The "Melting Pot"

In 1782, the following was written by a French-American writer as he expressed his thoughts of this new land:

Whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race, now called Americans, have arisen. In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together. ... To what purpose should they ask one another what countrymen they are? Alas, two-thirds of them had no country. Can a wretch, who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury; can that man call England or any other kingdom his country, a country that had no bread for him, whose fields produced him no harvest; who met with nothing hut the frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No! Urged by a variety of motives, here they came. Everything has tended to regenerate them; new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system. Here they are become men. In Europe they were so many useless plants, wanting vegetative mold and refreshing showers. They withered, and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war. But now, by the power of transplantation, like all other plants, they have taken root and flourish! Formerly they were not numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens.

By what invisible power has this surprising metamorphosis been performed? By that of the laws and that of the people's industry. The laws, the indulgent laws, protect them as they arrive, stamping on them the symbol of adoption. They receive ample rewards for their labors; these accumulated rewards procure them lands; those lands confer on them the title of freemen; and to that title every benefit is affixed which men can possibly require. This is the great operation daily performed by our laws. Whence proceed these laws? From our government. Whence that government? It is derived from the original genius and the strong desire of the people ratified and confirmed by the Crown.

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What attachment can a poor European emigrant have for a country where he had nothing? The knowledge of the language, the love of a few kindred as poor as himself, were the only cords that tied him. His country is now that which gives him land, bread, protection, and consequence … He is either a European, or the descendant of a European; hence, that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country … He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds ... Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigor, and industry, which began long since in the east. They will finish the great circle.

The Americans were once scattered all over Europe. Here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit. The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very· different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence. -- This is an American."

European Immigration to America

During the 90 years between 1820 and 1910, more than 25.5 million immigrants entered the United States from Europe, as enumerated by Dr. Theodore Saloutos in his classic study of the history of the Greeks in America, entitled "The Greeks in the United States."


Decade European Immigration


In the 17th century, the movement of peoples from Europe established the first settlements on the Atlantic Coast. Later immigration in the 18th century to America, served to push the earlier immigrants on westward to the Alleghenies. Then, the waves of immigrants in the 19th century furnished a constant and steady flow of new Americans that served to as a force to open the West, and industrialize the entire country. The final waves of immigrants from 1890 to the beginning of World War I gave America a vast force of workers for America's construction camps, mines, mills, and factories.

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As prominent sociologists and historians have emphasized, immigration made America truly a land of opportunity, since immigration furnished a constant and new supply of workmen to fill the jobs on canals, railroads, roads, telephone and telegraph lines, in factories, mills, mines, city and rural construction, in a list almost without end. It was an "expanding culture" in which the earlier immigrant moved up the ladder to better jobs and was replaced in the old jobs by the later immigrant. No one had to remain for life in his current job, since there were always new openings above, and always replacements for the jobs vacated at the lower end of the scale. America's social structure became fluid, and attempts to establish rigid class distinctions by some "old-line" Americans, failed or were thwarted by continuous expansion and widespread opportunities. However, for those who came rushing into America's vibrant and expanding culture, the way was not easy, but hard, difficult, wearisome, and discouraging.

Poet Emma Lazarus published "The New Colossus" in 1883, an idealistic description of the welcome that this new land offered the immigrant:

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shOregon
Send these, the homeless, tempest-lost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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In 1909 Israel Zangwill wrote "The Melting Pot" -- which became a term used in the concept of a merging of all immigrant traditions, customs, and contributions into a new America:

The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill

It is the fires of God round His Crucible.

There she lies, the great Melting-Pot -- listen! Can't you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth -- the harbor where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring; and a seething!

Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian -- black and yellow --

Jew and Gentile --.

Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross -- how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!

Peace, peace, to all ye unborn millions, fated to fill this giant continent-the God of our children give you Peace.

And finally Fredric J. Haskin describes the life and hardships of the immigrant in the cold light of reality in his essay "The Immigrant."

The Immigrant by Frederic J. Haskin

I am the immigrant.
Since the dawn of creation my restless feet have beaten new paths across the earth.
My uneasy bark has tossed on all seas.
My wanderlust was born of the craving for more liberty and a better wage for the sweat of my face.
I looked toward the United States with eyes kindled by the fire of ambition and heart quickened with new-born hope.
I approached its gates with great expectation.
I entered in with fine hope.
I have shouldered my burden as the American man-of-all work.
I contribute more than one-third of the labor in the slaughtering and meat-packing industries.
I do more than one-third of the bituminous coal mining.
I do nearly half of all the work in the woolen mills.
I contribute nearly one-third of the labor in the cotton mills.
I make nearly half of all the clothing.
I manufacture more than one-fourth of the shoes.
I build more than one-fourth of the furniture.
I make nearly one-third of the felt hats.
I turn out nearly half of all the leather.
I raise one-fourth of the poultry.
I refine nearly half the sugar.
I make nearly one-fourth of the tobacco products.
And yet I am the great American problem!
When I pour out my blood on your altar of labor and lay down my life as a sacrifice to your god of toil, men make no more comment than at the fall of a sparrow.
But my brawn is woven into the warp and woof of the fabric of your national being.
My children shall be your children and your land shall be my land because my sweat and my blood will cement the foundations of the America of Tomorrow.
If I can be fused into the body politic the melting pot will have stood the supreme test.

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"Our Immigration"

In 1957 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. Department of Justice published a brief account of United States immigration entitled "Our Immigration" from which excerpts have been taken:

The few colonists who came to America in the early 1600's touched off a migration which became the greatest mass movement of people in history. From these small beginnings the colonial population grew to 52,000 by 1650 and by 1700 totaled 275,000. The white population reached 1 million by 1750 and when the first census was taken in 1790 the population had swelled to 3,227,000. Studies of the 1790 census show that more than 75 percent of the population at that time was of British origin. Germans accounted for 8 percent and smaller percentages had origin in the Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Spain.

Some persons at that time believed immigration should be controlled. Benjamin Franklin commented on the large number of Germans in Pennsylvania and the possibility of needing interpreters in the State assembly. Thomas Jefferson thought it unwise to encourage immigration from monarchial governments. George Washington viewed unrestricted immigration with caution. When John Quincy Adams was Secretary of State in 1819, he stated that the government had never officially encouraged emigration from Europe. Adams declared that immigrants were not to expect favors. He added, however, that those who became citizens could expect the same rights as natives. The Alien Act of 1798 empowered the President to order any alien he deemed dangerous to this country to depart from the United States, but this law expired after two years.

First General Laws (1881-1920)

Congress adopted the first contract labor law on February 26, 1885. It was designed to protect the pay scale of American labor by preventing importation of cheap foreign labor. Immigration to the United States mushroomed after 1880. Between 1881 and 1920, 23 and one-half million aliens were admitted for permanent residence.

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Nearly 90 percent came from Europe. Peak immigration, reached during the years 1905-1914, totaled 10,121,940 immigrants. More than a million were admitted yearly during 1905, 1906, 1907, 1910, 1913, and 1914. In 1914, the year World War I broke out in Europe, 1,218,000 immigrants came to the United States. After 1914 immigration showed a decided slump, reaching a low of 110,000 in 1918.

Travel difficulties were accountable for much of the decline during the war years. In 1919, immigration increased to 141,000, and climbed to 430,000 in 1920. That period also brought a shift in the sources of immigrants. Between 1881 and 1890, 80 percent of the European immigrants came from northern and western Europe. Between 1911 and 1920 only 23 percent came from the north and west, while 77 percent came from southern and eastern Europe.

By 1880, immigration had become a problem requiring more attention by the Congress. In addition to the Chinese exclusion law and the contract labor law, Congress passed several acts between 1880 and 1920. A second general immigration law was adopted in March 1891. That law provided for medical inspection of all arriving aliens. It also barred entry of paupers, polygamists, and those suffering from certain diseases. Another provision called for deportation of all aliens who had entered the United States illegally. In 1893 Congress established boards of special inquiry which conducted hearings in the cases of aliens thought to be inadmissible under the law. The boards determined whether such persons could enter the United States.

However, no selective immigration legislation was passed until 1917. The 1917 Act included all previous grounds for barring entry of certain aliens. In addition, that act barred from entry persons coming from a geographical area known as the 'Asiatic Barred Zone.' The 'Barred Zone' included most of Asia and the Pacific islands. Another provision of the act required that immigrants must be able to read and write. The act provided for deportation of aliens who had entered the United States illegally or committed certain crimes.

The Period 1921-1940

Almost 5 million immigrants were admitted to the United States during the years 1921-1940. More than 4 million of these came during the 1920's. In 1921, Congress passed a quota law, which was the first legislation placing a limit on the number of immigrants who could come to the United States. The quota in that act was based on the 1910 census.

Congress adopted a permanent quota law in 1924. From 1924 to 1929 the quota was set at 2 percent of the foreign-born residents in the United States in 1890. This reduced the yearly quota to 164,667. The 'National Origins' provisions of the 1924 Act became effective in July 1929. That part of the act set up a quota for each nationality. All quotas were a certain percentage of the foreign-born residents of each nationality in the United States in 1920. In 1929 the annual quotas totaled 153,714. The 1924 Act was the first law to admit certain aliens as 'non-quota' immigrants. Persons admitted as 'non-quota' under that act included those horn in Western Hemisphere countries, their wives, husbands and children. The Western Hemisphere group was the largest single source of non-quota immigrants.

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World War II and the Postwar Period (1941-1957)

Over 2 and three-quarter million immigrants came to the United States during 1941-1957. Over 1,700,000 of that number came from Germany, Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, and Italy. Only 170,952 immigrants came here during 1941-1945 because of travel and other difficulties during the war years. In 1945, immigration totaled 38,119. The following year, 1946, immigration had climbed sharply to 108,721, to establish a postwar trend which reached almost 250,000 in 1950. The volume continued high for the period 1951-1957, when over 1,700,000 immigrants came to live in the United States. Quota immigration dropped to 9,045 in 1943, but after World War II rose to a high of 197,460 in 1950. Many persons coming in as quota immigrants at that time were displaced persons from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, and Yugoslavia.

Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act in June 1948. The law allowed 400,744 visas for displaced persons. Preferences were given to agriculturists, persons with special skills or education, and relatives of United States citizens or resident aliens. A Federal agency, known as the Displaced Persons Commission, was established to administer that law.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (known as the McCarran Walter Act) was passed by the Congress in 1952. The act was designed to repeal all existing immigration and nationality laws and to revise and codify all such laws. Total annual immigration quotas remained substantially the same as in previous acts; however, the first 50 percent (first preference) of the quota was reserved to certain highly skilled or educated persons whose immigration would he beneficial to the United States. Second preference was given to alien parents of United States citizens, and third preference to spouses or children of aliens who had been admitted as immigrants. Certain close relatives of United States citizens were given fourth preference under the act, and the remaining quota numbers for each country were given to persons not eligible to apply under any previous provision.

The Refugee Relief Act, passed by Congress in 1953, provided for admission of 209,000 persons, most of whom had fled, escaped, or had been expelled from Communist dominated countries. Among other requirements, the act provided that American citizens in the United States must sponsor aliens to he admitted there under, and give assurances of housing and jobs. As of June 30, 1957, 187,740 persons had been admitted under the act. This number included about 6,000 Hungarian expellees who had escaped into Austria following the revolution in Hungary in October 1956. An additional 27,000 Hungarians were paroled into the United States on a temporary emergency basis. Almost three-fourths of the persons admitted under the act were natives of the following countries: Italy, German), Greece, Netherlands, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

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U.S. Immigration Law

The 1965 U.S. Immigration Act amended the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, and abolished the national origins quota system of immigration which had been in effect for more than four decades. The new act provided that for about two and one half years, the quota system would remain in effect, but that certain nations with low quotas would be able to pick up any unused quotas of other nations, which over the years failed to make full use of assigned quotas.

Beginning with July 1, 1969, all future immigrants would then compete on a first-come, first-served basis for the limited immigrant visas without regard to country of origin. An annual ceiling of 170,000 immigrant visas was established for all countries outside the Western Hemisphere.

An interesting comparison of immigration from Greece to the United States is given for the years 1953 to 1970.

Total immigration to U.S. from Greece for the 11 years of 1953-65 was 56,737 -- an average of 4,364 per year. Greek immigration:


Year Greek Immigration


For the year ending June 30, 1970, Greece ranked fourth among all nations of the world in immigration to the United States with 16,464. The first-ranking nation was Mexico with 44,469, then the Philippines with 31,203, and Italy was third with 24,973.

As soon as the national origins quotas were abolished, Greek immigration increased by almost 400% annually.


© Copyright Order of AHEPA

George J. Leber's book is copyright protected. However, any portions of this book may be quoted at length, provided that proper credit & acknowledgement is given to the book, author, publisher, and pages.


Leber, George J. History of the Order of AHEPA 1922 - 1972. Washigton DC, Order of AHEPA, 1972.

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