Upstairs, Downstairs on the Red Star Line

Throughout this blog we’ve explored the immigrant experience on the Red Star Line largely through the eyes of passengers traveling in third or steerage class.

But that’s not the whole story of the Red Star Line experience.

Thousands of passengers sailed across the Atlantic in second and in first class. While steerage was very much a part of the passenger experience, these other classes of travel were an important part of the Line’s business. When transatlantic tourism began to boom after the First World War, the line began to actively promote itself to higher classes of travelers. Second class expanded as immigrants began experiencing tougher entry rules in steerage. A second class ticket would spare a traveler and his or her family from medical screening at Ellis Island or other ports of entry.

If a family could afford this form of passage, it would be worth it to save the funds to insure that they would not be turned away at arrival. In the early 1920′s critics of immigration were ruling out passengers because of real medical conditions but passengers could also be sent home for completely arbitrary reasons. A highly unscientific series of tests to judge intelligence were given. If a passenger did not speak enough English to understand these tests, he or she could be judged an “imbecile,” branded as such and sent home.

The value of even a second class ticket also ensured a healthier voyage through better nutrition and cleaner facilities. A bill of fare for the White Star Line’s second class passengers in 1905 lists three substantial daily meals: breakfast, lunch and tea. The last meal of the day for one passenger included: “Veal Chops, Minced Chicken, Twice Laid, Mashed Potatoes, Cold Ham, Roast Mutton, Pickles, Salad, Jam and Marmalade, Toast, Rock Cake, Tea and Coffee, Fresh Fruit and Compote of Apricots”

Second class passengers also enjoyed fresher air due to the fact that on most Red Star Line and other transatlantic vessels, the First and Second Class accommodations were located above deck, while the third class or steerage berths were below in cramped and often airless spaces close to the ships engines and food stores.

One of my own friends is a Red Star Line ancestor whose family crossed the Atlantic Second Class to avoid the possibility of being turned away during screening. He is, in fact, from the same area of the Ukraine that our mystery girl might hail from. As we wind down our blogs this month, we’ll be investigating the possibility that our mystery girl may have traveled Second Class like so many immigrants before her.


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