20,000 Fewer: The Wagner-Rogers Bill and the Jewish Refugee Crisis

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


In the fall of 1938, Marion Kenworthy, child psychologist, and Clarence Pickett, director of the American Friends Service Committee, began designing a bill that would challenge the United States's government's strict immigration laws and allow persecuted children to come to the United States and live in American homes. The Wagner-Rogers Bill, named for Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative Edith Rogers of Massachusetts and introduced in February 1939, sought to allow the entry of 20,000 refugee children from Germany. At the time, multiple domestic factors limited the willingness of American politicians to meet this problem head on: high unemployment rates after the stock market crash in 1929, an isolationist sentiment after the impact of World War I, and xenophobia. These factors discouraged the lawmakers from revising the quota limit set on obtainable visas established by the 1924 Immigration Act and allow outsiders into the United States. These few actors who supported the Wagner-Rogers Bill reflect a hidden minority of the American public and political body that fought to help Jewish refugees by standing up to the majority of citizens and politicians against higher immigration into the United States, and the story of the this Bill demonstrates what might have been possible and illuminates 20th century models of American humanitarianism and its role in creating international refugee protection.



Holocaust, Refugees, Humanitarianism, Isolationism, Child Welfare, Jews