To those who were rejected at Ellis Island and were sent home, it was an "Isle of Tears" (or "Island of Tears"). It is believed that this nickname came first.
To those who were accepted into America at Ellis Island, it was an "Island of Hope."
From 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through the portal of Ellis Island, a small island in New York Harbor. Ellis Island is located in the upper bay just off the New Jersey coast, within the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Through the years, this gateway to the new world was enlarged from its original 3.3 acres to 27.5 acres mostly by landfill obtained from ship ballast and possibly excess earth from the construction of the New York City subway system.
18 October 1916, Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI), pg. 11, col. 5:
When Woodrow Wilson became President of the United States, Ellis Island was known as "The Isle of Tears."
1 June 1918, Bridgeport (CT) Telegram, pg. 6, col. 2:
He has translated into practice many of the ideas of democracy that are being urged for the Americanization of the immigrant, and has so altered the environment of Ellis Island that it is no longer, as it has been known in the past, the Island of Tears.
3 March 1924, Atlanta Constitution, pg. 6:
Ellis Island, that echo chamber of Europe's tragedies and scene of soul-stirring incidents of human pathos, was up against the solution of a new problem last week.
3 January 1926, Washington Post, pg. AF6:
Mr. Howe was offered the post as United States commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island. At this porthole of America he saw "an opportunity to ameliorate the lot of several thousand human beings." He planned to humanize this island of tears.
22 December 1928, New York Times, pg. 23:
Commissioner Day defended Ellis Island against the characterization, "The Isle of Tears," declaring that in reality it was an "isle of hope and courage where aliens get their first glimpse of the opportunities in America."
29 October 1931, New York Times, pg. 47:
CORSI HOPES TO ALTER
ELLIS ISLAND ATTITUDE
New Commissioner Wants to
"Humanize" Immigration Station,
He Tells Old Associates.
Recalling that many immigrants referred to Ellis Island as "the island of tears," Mr. Corsi said he intended to imbue the employes there with a feeling of kinship for the new arrivals, so as to create a more favorable first impression among them.
24 September 1971, New York Times, pg. 38:
"The Island of Hope" for some 16 million who made it, the center was the "Isle of Tears" for the 5 to 10 per cent who didn't.
28 May 1976, Washington Post, pg. A1:
"Isle of Tears" to Reopen as U.S. Memorial
7 July 1985, New York Times, pg. NJ4:
For the 17 million people who passed through to a new life, Ellis Island was the "Island of Hope." For the quarter-million who were turned away and for those whose families were split apart, it was the "Isle of Tears."
23 July 1989, Doylestown (PA) Intelligencer-Record, pg. C15:
The film "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears" will be shown continuously in the museum theaters.It will recount the story of the less than 2 percent of those who arrived at Ellis and were refused admission to this country.
16 September 1990, New York Times, pg. H52:
ELLIS ISLAND IMMIGRATION MUSEUM, Ellis Island, ferry departs from Battery Park. (...) "Island of Hope / Island of Tears," a black-and-white film by Charles Guggenheim focusing on the period 1892-1924.
5 July 1991, New York Times, pg. C18:
As a tourist, I was being processed not for hookworm, tuberculosis or diphtheria, but rather for free tickets to the film "Island of Hope, Island of Tears," which serves as orientation for the museum.