A Certificate of Moral Character: Rosewater and Rosicky on Immigration

Edward Rosewater. NSHS RG2411.PH0-4772-2

Between 1856 and World War I, over fifty thousand Czechs came to Nebraska, attracted by a steady stream of advertisements in Czech-language newspapers and magazines published here. Edward Rosewater (1841-1906) and John Rosicky (1845-1910), early Omaha newspapermen, originally came from Bohemia and used their publications to make Nebraska’s possibilities known to their countrymen.  

By 1891 the two men had differing views on how to discourage “undesirable immigration.” Rosewater’s Omaha Daily Bee on August 20, 1891, published a letter from Rosicky explaining his position: “To the Editor of The Bee: In The Sunday Bee you comment favorably upon the suggestion of the secretary of the New York state board of charities, to keep the undesirable immigration out of our country by demanding from the immigrants a certificate of moral character, approved by our consuls. You think the plan practicable.  

“In that I beg leave to differ with you and think the suggestion not alone impracticable, but rather tending to keep out ‘desirable’ immigrants without preventing the coming of the undesirable.” Rosicky believed that some of the most desirable emigrants, young men fleeing conscription into European armies, could never secure the consent of their governments to leave and could not get any such certificates.  

John Rosicky. From Rose Rosicky’s A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska (Omaha, 1929)

“On the other hand, the ‘undesirable’ emigrants would in all probability find no difficulty in obtaining a favorable certificate,” because their home countries “would be only too willing to part with them, and wish them God-speed.” Rosicky also pointed out that the consuls entrusted with granting such certificates could hardly be expected to investigate the background of every applicant, thus rendering any certificates issued almost worthless.  

The Fall/Winter 1993 issue of Nebraska History discusses the richness and diversity of the Czech-American experience in Nebraska. Though out of print, the issue is freely available online. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications

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