April 25, 1917: Ella Fitzgerald is born.
I guess what everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved. And to know that you loved me for my singing is too much for me. Forgive me if I don’t have all the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.
March 15, 1917: Tsar Nicholas II abdicates.
Crowned in 1894, Nicholas II led Russia through a disastrous and embarrassing war against Japan, a period of widespread political and social unrest, a world war in which millions of Russians were killed, and finally, the last Russian Revolution before the Tsar’s abdication. Violence and riots erupted as a result of the hardship - famine, inflation, military defeat, all-around misery - caused by the first World War, and especially the Tsar and his government’s handling of the war. In Petrograd, then the Russian capital, thousands of people converged to protest and condemn the Tsar, his disastrous policies, and the old imperial government. the Tsar attempted to use military force to put down the rebellion, but it was too late; thousands of soldiers joined the rebellion in protest as well. On March 15, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated as Emperor of All the Russias, and because he was the last to officially rule (his designated successor, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, never reigned), his abdication also brought an end to the Romanov dynasty, which had ruled Russia for over three hundred years.
The Tsar signed his own decree of abdication in the afternoon, and his issued statement called for the people of Russia “to obey the Tsar in the heavy moment of national trials”, but the Russian Empire was dissolved that year with the proclamation of the Russian Republic and the creation of Soviet Russia following the October Revolution. Nicholas and his family (his wife, four daughters, and son) went into exile and were subsequently executed together in July of 1918.
Health inspector examines an immigrant at Angel Island, c. 1917.
Between 1910 and 1940, inspectors at the “Ellis Island of the West” detained, examined, and processed around a million immigrants, mostly from Asia (many of these immigrants were from China).
February 5, 1917: Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1917.
Also called the “Asiatic Barred Zone Act”, this piece of immigration legislation was passed over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto and added to a list of “undesirable” people, who would henceforth be banned from immigrating to the United States, “all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease…” as well as polygamists, anarchists, and anyone inclined to commit treason against the government. The act also provided for literacy tests for any prospective immigrants over sixteen. This clause stated that if any foreigner could not “read the English language, or some other language or dialect, including Hebrew or Yiddish”, they would also be excluded.
Even more controversially, the act created an “Asiatic Barred Zone”. In 1882, the landmark Chinese Exclusion Act restricted Chinese immigration to the United States, eventually becoming permanent in 1902; the 1907 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was an informal accord between both countries that nevertheless did stop immigration from Japan; the creation of the Asiatic Barred Zone spelled further restrictions against immigration from the continent as a whole, continuing the general trend of isolationism, nativism, and xenophobia that manifested itself in legislation and public sentiment. As a result of this act, immigrants living in areas “adjacent to the continent of Asia” (besides any American territorial possessions) and within certain coordinates were denied entry to the country.
The Immigration Act of 1924, which set nationality quotas and further restricted the immigration of non-Western Europeans, finally stopped Asian immigration to the United States altogether.
White Russia in Exile - Dmitri Belyukin, 1992-94.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 (and into the 1920s and 30s), between 1-2 million white émigrés fled Russia. Despite what the term suggests, not all of these émigrés were necessarily supporters of or participants in the White movement (though, of course, many were). Some left for religious reasons - the Orthodox Church in Russia, for the most part, was anti-Bolshevik and usually pro-White, while the Bolsheviks were secular and deemed the Church “counter-revolutionary”. At least three religious figures are pictured in the above painting: a nun in a white habit, a clergyman wearing an Epitrachil and pectoral cross, and perhaps a monk.
Military figures are present as well. The man in the center-left with the red peaked cap wears the distinctive Totenkopf shoulder patch of the Kornilov Division. He and several of the other military men seem to all be wearing the Cross of St. George or the Order of St. George, both Imperial Russian military decorations. The white, blue, and red chevrons that some of the men wear are symbols of the White movement; these colors - the colors of the pre-Bolshevik Russian Republic/provisional government - were eventually adopted by the Russian Federation. Another interesting bit in this painting is the discarded pile of military uniforms in the foreground. A medal that closely resembles a Bolshevik/WWII-era Soviet decoration is pinned to one of them, and the color scheme fits as well; they are both probably pieces of Red Army clothing.
The double-headed eagle symbol (with a tiny Saint George mounted figure represented in the interior) located on the side of the boat is the Imperial Russian coat of arms; it had been in use since the 15th century and remained in use until the coat of arms was replaced by a more communist-y sort in 1918. The Russian Federation has since reinstated the double eagle symbol in its coat of arms.
January 31, 1917: Kaiser Wilhelm II signs the order to begin unrestricted submarine warfare.
It is no coincidence that the United States entered the war within months of this announcement - German U-boats had been a point of dispute between the two countries before “unrestricted warfare” even began. Knowing (or perhaps hoping) that America would be unwilling to declare war, a desperate Germany finally moved to try to thwart the Britain’s damaging blockade with their own (less effective) policy - unrestricted submarine warfare.
The Kaiser responded enthusiastically to this proposal, which was also supported by most of the German military leaders and the main parties in the Reichstag. President Wilson, however, already a critic of the despotic Wilhelm, broke off diplomatic relations with Germany - this, ultimately, was not enough. After the sinking of several American ships by German U-boats, Wilson was moved to urge Congress declare war, and on April 6th, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The second of Wilson’s fourteen points was, in fact, “freedom of the seas”.