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The Tides of Immigration

The melting pot of Minnesota. European races made a contribution larger and more diversified than to any other of the pioneer states. Indeed the percentage here of the foreign-born to the total population has been consistently higher than in the United States as a whole. At the time of the 1930 census, although for 10 years there had been virtually no immigration, those of foreign-born parentage still made up more than 50 percent.

The first tide of settlers swept over the state with the first land sale in 1848. It was made up mostly of land-hungry and adventure-hunting easterners from New York, Pennsylvania, and New England and reached central Minnesota. In 1850, in the region now Minnesota, there were 5,354 settlers.

The population grew so amazingly that by 1858 it practically trebled and the Territory was able to gain its statehood. Indian treaties had opened up more land and a railroad had reached the Mississippi River, making possible a long lap of the journey by train and boat. Men were wanted for lumbering, for railroad and town building, and to raise food for the settlers and their animals. The Yankee kings of industry proceeded to sell the Minnesota idea to northern Europe by methods of high-pressure salesmanship that even the predepression 1920's could not surpass. Thousands of pamphlets vaunting the region's unique opportunities were issued by the Bureau of Immigration created for that purpose. Agents were sent across the sea to scatter literature, and to encourage first Germans, Belgians, Scandinavians, then French and Swiss to come to Minnesota. Individual counties, through folders and newspapers, distributed stories of the soil's fertility or of their respective manufacturing potentialities, in hotels and railroad stations throughout the land. The climate was endowed with extraordinary healing powers for tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases. The state legislature took a hand and sponsored a prize competition for essays on the topic Minnesota as a Home for Immigrants, some of which they later printed and circulated. The Germans came in the greatest numbers, then the Irish, and then Canadians from beyond the border.

Ten years later the railroads had begun to spread their network over the state. Jim Hill sent his agent to Europe and Colonel Hans Mattson went over for the State Board of Emigration. Soon the Scandinavians began to pour into the land, lured by booklets whose illustrations were probably the first examples of creative art the state produced. Immigrant houses were erected by the railroads and by Archbishop Ireland for his Irish colonists; some of these transient homes were large enough to accommodate several hundred persons at one time. By 1880 the census showed a population risen to 780,773, of which 71 percent were Europeans of the first and second generations. All through the eighties the stream continued to flow across the Atlantic and the eastern states into Minnesota. New cheap labor crowding on the heels of earlier comers kept the labor world in a state of motion which shifted hundreds of peasants to the middle class and, in part at least, explains the rapid rise of foreign-born men in industry, and of unskilled laborers into the merchant and professional classes.

In 1890 the immigration tide reached its height. It was followed by the so-called newer immigration, that of the Finns and Slavs. Brought over to work in the mines, they came in such mounting numbers that by 1930 they constituted 53 percent of the Arrowhead region's foreign-born population (exclusive of Duluth), while each of the state's largest cities showed a marked increase in its Slavic element.

By 1900 the packing plants were in need of cheap labor. Profiting by the mine owners' experience, they sent their agents recruiting into the Balkan countries and as far north as Poland and Lithuania. Consequently in South St. Paul today the national composition embodies Rumanians, Serbs, Slovenians, Croatians, Japanese, Jugoslavs, Montenegrins, Mexicans, Poles, and Swedes. The Mesabi Range towns report Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, English, Irish, Germans, Poles, French, Austrians, Hungarians, Swiss, Syrians, Rumanians, Danes, Serbs, Welsh, Bulgarians, and Montenegrins. Outside of these two regions and Duluth, representatives of the Balkan countries are only occasionally found in the state.

Immigration virtually ceased in 1920, and since that date the trend has been consistently toward an ever smaller percentage of foreign-born. But there is still in Minnesota a vast group of persons only little removed from Old World influences. Nevertheless there are surprisingly fewcommunities in the state where one can still hope to meet foreign customs or folkways. Not long ago one might still have found German the common speech on the streets of New Ulm, Czech in New Prague, Polish in a section of Winona, the three Scandinavian tongues in dozens of towns. Many churches then held their services in foreign languages. But today one finds but few children who are bilingual, and rare indeed are the communities like Embarrass, the Finnish village, where the residents still cling to Old World architecture for their barns and saunas (steam baths), and where their characteristic pegged, canvas-topped haystacks give a unique aspect to the countryside. On the Range one may catch an occasional glimpse of a quaint musical instrument or may chance upon a family celebration where young and old take part in a merry old country dance, but the average visitor to Minnesota may travel the length and breadth of the land and, aside from the names he glimpses on village stores and mail boxes, see few evidences of the great European immigrations.

A fondness for the foods of the homeland, however, has been retained in many quarters and at certain seasons of the year national culinary arts come strongly to the fore. The famous smörgåsbord suppers of the Scandinavians, served often in Lutheran churches, are experiences not to be forgotten. During the winter, lutfisk or ludefisk is featured in city and village alike. This is a species of cod which, first soaked and boiled, is served in melted butter. The tiny Swedish meat balls when properly prepared have a delicacy no Yankee counterpart can approach, and their hundreds of varieties of Christmas cakes are scarcely equaled even by the Germans. The Czechs still raise poppies in their gardens that they may have seeds for the sweet turn-over rolls, filled with citron, which they call kolacky, and the Poles, however Americanized, still make their special cakes and wafers for religious festivals.

Racial Groups

Minnesota probably owes more to Scandinavians than to any other one foreign group. They came from countries where illiteracy was extremely low. Their traditions were of thrift, respect for both intellectual and physical effort, and interest in government, and they combined to an unusual degree love of individual freedom and talent for co-operating with their neighbors. Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes have cleared Minnesota's land, built up its agriculture and dairying, laid its railroads, endowed many colleges, organized and supported its cooperatives, and contributed outstandingly to the cultural and industrial life. During the eighties their combined numbers made up half of all the foreign-born in the state. Now, when the proportion of the foreign-born has been reduced from 71 to only a little more than 15 percent, almost half of that number continues to be Scandinavian, and there is not an industry, profession, or art in which the repeated occurrence of Scandinavian names does not bespeak this people's participation. In the field of politics Governors Lind, Johnson, Nelson, Olson, Congressman Lindbergh, and many lesser-known Scandinavian figures have had a large share in Minnesota's story.

Sweden's political, social, and religious unrest were undoubtedly important factors in bringing the first Swedes to America. In 1846 Peter Cassel brought his little party of 21 to Iowa, and to him the Middle West frontier apparently was a veritable land of Canaan. His series of American Letters, published in the local newspapers of Sweden and handed on from cottage to cottage, played a large part in the immigration of individuals before the great tidal wave got under way. Not only did these letters portray a land as fabulous as Marco Polo's own, but most potent of all was the appeal made by their descriptions of the democracy that obtained in the new country. Caste lines in Sweden were severely restrictive, and here was a land where everyone was a landlord and servants sat down to table with the masters. From the first, Swedes liked Minnesota and in a few weeks felt themselves Americans.

It is said that of all the foreign groups Swedes are the most readily assimilated, an observation Minnesota's experience bears out. For they came from rural districts and went at once to the land. More than two million acres in the state are said to have been cultivated by them. Later they came from the cities, and settled in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth to make up much of the bulk of the population. They endowed three colleges and sent thousands of their children to the state university. Although there is no county where they have not settled, their main stronghold is still where they early established it, in east-central Minnesota

Norwegians rarely settle in areas of Swedish concentration. The Norse were great favorites in the lumbering industry, and when they had made money enough in the timber they bought their farms in the Red River valley and in some of the southeastern counties. Their admirable a cappella choir singing has been one of the most original of their contributions. From the faculty of their St. Olaf College at Northfield have come two of the state's most distinguished artists, F. Melius Christiansen and O. E. Rölvaag.

It is largely due to the Danes that Minnesota has achieved its enviable position as a leader in butter and other dairy products. Thousands who came into the state from Denmark after the Civil War brought with them a knowledge of dairying beyond anything the Americans had known. They settled first in the southeastern part of the state, later in the north and now are fairly widely distributed. In religion, as in all their convictions, they were independent spirits and were aligned to a variety of denominations--Lutherans of two types (Inner Mission and Grundtvigians), Baptists, Methodists, and Adventists. The Danes have a strong predilection for self-help, and this has led them to organize many societies and to take a leading part in the development of the state's many cooperatives. Their folk school at Tyler is still widely used, and their home for Danish old people in Minneapolis is an eloquent witness to an understanding charity. Here both men and women are permitted to live as freely as they would in their own homes, and are even provided with weekly pocket money to assure a feeling of financial dignity.

In both 1890 and 1900 the census figures showed Germany leading all nations in the numbers it was sending to Minnesota. By 1910 however Sweden had advanced beyond it and from 1920 on Germany has occupied the third place. Since the war, moreover, Austrians have been included in the German census listings without differentiation, so that it is impossible to make an accurate present-day generalization. The Germanic races were among the earliest of the Europeans to come to the state, and as a group have always been the best educated and most cultured of its immigrants.

As a race Germans are doubtless as adaptable to their surroundings as Swedes, but they cling to their Fatherland, its language and customs, with a sentimentality unknown to Scandinavians. Among the earliest settlers in St. Paul and New Ulm, they have left a deep imprint on the cultural and professional standards of both cities. Later they settled in farm colonies. Certain counties, Stearns and Brown for example, were almost wholly German, and in many communities for years their mother tongue was more commonly heard than English. Since the World War, however, they have become largely assimilated, and it is only among the oldsters that German is freely spoken. Their respect for organization, music, and learning is reflected in their music clubs, in their neat, precisely laid out farms, and in the efficiency with which they conduct their shops and businesses. During the rough pioneer days they managed to keep up their little orchestras and bands, and Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were introduced by them into Minnesota even before the Paul Bunyan ditties were brought by the lumberjacks.

Owing no doubt to their recent arrival, the Finns have clung most tenaciously to Old World traditions. Deeply suspicious of all imposed government, they have bent their energies to the building up of their own co-operatives, and with the Danes are responsible for Minnesota's outstanding success in this social experiment. Strong and well built, they have provided the state with some of its finest athletes. They were drawn to the northern region by the lumbering and mining industries, but for the most part have regarded these as only the temporary means whereby they will be able to purchase a little land--the dream of all Finns. Surrounded by their own people, their saunas, and a few cows, they strive to bring up their children in their cherished traditions of thrift and independence. With the Scandinavians, they strongly support temperance movements and have provided leaders in this cause. If those of the older generation still sing the folksongs and recite the charms of their childhood, it is only among their contemporaries, for to their American grandchildren these have little or no meaning.

Few of the foreign groups have made as conscious an effort to retain their national heritage as have the Poles. Since the World War and the establishment of Poland as an independent nation, Polish clubs organized for the preservation of the language, dances, and folklore have sprung up in many parts of the state, scholarships are provided for Polish youths, and moving pictures are imported from their own land. Christmas and Easter are celebrated with many of the old religious practices. The Czechs, too have become in the past few years more national-minded, and through the Sokol, the national Czech gymnastic society, have kept their youth interested in the culture of their forebears. Deeply musical, they are active in orchestras and their children share conspicuously in school music. They are also devoted to the art of the theater, and in their own clubs produce many of their native plays. Blanche Yurka, well-known actress, is the daughter of one of Minnesota's outstanding educators, Antonin Jurka from Bohemia. Czechs have played an active part in Minnesota politics Their rate of illiteracy is very low, and the state counts them as among its most valued citizens.

The Negro population of the State was negligible before the Civil War. In 1850 the census showed 39 Negroes, but in 1930 there were 9,445. The majority live in St. Paul and Minneapolis, where they find their principal employment in domestic and personal service. About 8 percent are postal clerks and carriers, 10 percent work in manufacturing and the mechanical trades, and a smaller group are in the professions.

Other groups include Italians, Irish, Slavs, Mexicans, and a few Asiatics. Almost every nation is represented. But with immigration practically at a standstill, and the birth rate apparently becoming stabilized, the varied national colors have already largely merged.

Despite the fact that Minnesota owes an incalculable debt to European countries, it was the first settlers--the Yankees--who set upon the region the indelible stamp it has worn ever since. Each nationality has made its contribution, but it has been quick to discard its language, its dress, its folk customs, for those of the Americans whose standards of living they have adopted. Undoubtedly color has been lost in the process, but no realistic Minnesotan questions the success of the amalgamation.

From the Internet

June Pelo

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