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Finland-Swedes in America


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The number of emigrants from Finland to America during the years 1871-90 was 26,130. The largest number, 21,968, emigrated during 1886-90. From 1891-93 there were 20,606 people. It was during the later part of the 1880's and the first part of 1890's that the first tidal wave of over 42,000 emigrants from Finland rolled in over North America. They spread from coast to coast over the US and established resident areas for the later emigrants.

During 1893 began the so-called Cleveland depression with its moderating influence on all immigration. During the five-year period 1894-98 also came a wave of emigrants from Finland. During this period only 15,868 passports were issued for non-European countries, or an average 3,173 each year.

In this connection an interesting fact can be observed. In the first wave of emigrants, only 33.1% were women, ie 1/3 of the emigrants. But during the trough between the waves, the female percentage stepped up to 53.8% in 1894 and to 54.8% in 1897. Soon thereafter the female share fell again to around 1/3 of the total emigration. This proportion was typical for the entire immigration period. After the relatively short trough between waves, another tidal wave began in 1899, the year that the notorious February manifest was imposed and the years of calamity began in Finland. The wave got much higher than previously and continued for fifteen years until World War I began.

This was the greatest emigration period, during which a total 222,157 passports were issued for travel to non-European countries. A number of people traveled without passports (with passports from Swedish Österbotten) to Sweden, from where they later could obtain passports to travel to America.

When World War I began, another trough began, during which the number of passports gradually sank from 6,472 in 1914 to only a little over 1,000 in 1919. But 1920 ushered in a third emigration wave with about 6,000 passports issued, and during 1921-29 55,046 passports were issued, most for travel to the US during the first part of 1920's. After the quota law became valid in the US in 1925, the greatest number of emigrants went to Canada. During the 1930's and 1940's the number of emigrants from Finland to the US and Canada dropped to only about 5,500 people.

Probably about 3/4 of Finland-Swedish emigrants came from farms and cities in Österbotten. Passports issued at Vasa province during 1893-1924 were 41,500 out of a total of 302,271 passports issued. According to the 1960 US census, 67,624 people who were born in Finland resided in the US. Of these, 50,359 had Finnish as their mother tongue, 10,060 had Swedish, 302 English, 5,111 another language and for 1,792 the mother tongue was not given. The figure of 10,060 for Swedish as the mother tongue is probably not correct. The census takers probably assumed that if a person was born in Finland, Finnish was his mother tongue. Of those who had Swedish as their mother tongue, 4,133 lived in the eastern states, 2,076 in north central states, 460 in the south, and 3,391 in western states.

Anna Leena Toivonen in a 1963 doctor's thesis has presented a very thorough investigation and account of emigration in all the more substantial aspects from 46 communities (20 Swedish farm areas, 22 Finnish farm areas, also cities of Kaskö, Kristinestad, Vasa and Nykarleby) in the southern Österbotten during 1867-1930 in a short report titled "Kolmannes palsa ja koksi kolmannesta jaa", from "Etela-Pohjanmaan Valtamerentakainen Siirtolaisuus". She said that a total of 361,000 emigrants went from Finland to non-European countries during 1867-1930.

Excerpted from "Finlandsvenskar i Amerika" (The Finland-Swedes in America)

by Anders Myhrman, 1972.

June Pelo 1991

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