Henry Ford Assimilation School

Hey, guys.  Sorry it’s taken me so long to post this.  Here are my notes from my historical presentation. 

Prior to 1885, immigration in the United States was not viewed as a problem.  Immigrants were predominantly from Northwestern Europe and brought religious and cultural customs that were somewhat similar to those of earlier settlers.  There was no significant clashing of cultures and Americanization did not need to be facilitated.

However, after 1885, The United States experienced a steady influx in immigrants arriving from the least industrialized countries of Southern and Eastern Europe.  There were many factors concerning these new immigrant groups that caused native-born Americans to feel that a new movement in Americanization must be pursued.  Americanization during this period is an independent topic which deserves its own tribute.  I will list just a few of the reason the movement was prompted in regard to these new groups of immigrants:

  • Many immigrants did not intend to permanently settle in the U.S. and planned to return to their home countries after war or other crises had subsided.
  • The new immigrants remained in tight socio-ethnic enclaves and did not mix with assimilated groups.  People believed this made them more susceptible to radical political and social propaganda which was considered to be a threat to American ideals.
  • Lack of interest in citizenship meant that there existed a vast pool of military-aged men who were not at the disposal of the U.S. military.


Many efforts were made on municipal, state, federal and even corporate levels to aid the Americanization Movement.  The Ford Americanization Program was one of many such industrial programs implemented.  The program was comprised of two divisions:

  • The Ford Sociological Department (later, the Ford Educational Department)
  • The Ford English School

The Sociological Department collected data on immigrant workers and managed their wages based on very specific standards.  Immigrant workers were expected to “meet standards of productive efficiency and specific standards and conditions of domestic life. (Meyer, 1980)”  There was a lot of emphasis placed not only on the workers’ efficiency and speed on the assembly line, but also their private lives.  The workers were told what neighborhoods to live in, how to keep their homes and how to raise their children. They were told how to dress and how to eat and it was even assumed that they were not well-versed in proper personal hygiene. If workers did not meet Ford standards within 6 months, they were dismissed.  Even religious observations were to be Americanized.  In one case, a group of nearly 1,000 Orthodox Christians were dismissed because they took off from work to celebrate Christmas 13 days later than the rest of the workers.  Often, the demands of the department were impossible to achieve for a newly-arrived immigrant with a large family and very little money.  The standards were being set by middle to upper class men who lacked a fundamental understanding of the challenges faced by immigrants.

The English School, which was founded in 1914, functioned primarily to teach immigrant workers English, to assimilate them to mainstream American society, and to control labor, as immigrant groups were more likely to take interest in unionizing.  It was believed that by learning English and ideals such as capitalism and loyalty to America, the workers would be less likely to have their interest piqued by union groups.  

-Melanie Martin




3 thoughts on “Henry Ford Assimilation School

  1. Melanie,
    I think you did a great job on your presentation and this blog post!
    This is particularly interesting to me because I am from Europe myself and to learn all this was happening way back in time is…indescribable. I’m just glad things are way better now.

    -Samka Aljukic 🙂

  2. Thank you Melanie for the wonderful presentation. I remember studying this when I was in high school but I never knew about the fine details that were presented during your presentation. I’ve always respected the Ford Motor Company because it the first automobile manufacturer and I even drive a Ford car myself; but I have to admit, I don’t agree with the methods of the assimilation school. I guess when it comes down to the nitty gritty; practically everything historical has a past filled with skeletons and other wrongdoings.
    Erika K.

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