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"EUROPEAN Background of Michigan's Finnish Population", a paper prepared for the Michigan Historical Commission by Professor John Ilmari Kolehmainen of Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio, is on file in the State Archives Division of the Michigan Historical Commission for reference. Dr. Kolehmainen published the article "Finnish Newspapers and Periodicals in Michigan" in the Winter number of the Magazine for 1940. The present paper is a detailed and scholarly study, well documented and accompanied by appropriate illustrative drawings. Questions examined: "From what regions were Michigan's Finnish settlers drawn? As emigrants were they predominantly young or old, male or female, unwed or married? What of their occupational, educational, and religiuous background? What persuasive forces caused them to forsake a fatherland of myriad crystal lakes and verdant forests and attracted them to a strange New World?"
He finds that these settlers, now numbering some 30,000, came mostly after 1870, drawn largely from the mobile agricultural elements in the two northernmost departments of Vaasa and Oulu "and were for the most part young and eager, unmarried, illiterate, trustworthy, strong of body and keen of mind."
The earliest of these migrants, for obvious reasons, were predominantly male, women coming later however in increasing numbers. Less than a third of the pioneer emigrants were married. The departure of married persons frequently meant the disruption of family life for varying periods. The agricultural background of the Finnish immigrants is partly reflected in their settlement, sooner or later, in the rural areas of Michigan. Their religious heritage was of course, Protestant and Lutheran, the established religion of Finland. The causes of emigration were varied, but fundamentally economic.
"The chief cause was the deplorable condition of the working classes, especially the hired help, who were forced to sell their labor for a year at a time for a mere pittance and had to toil often as long as fifteen hours a day at hard work.... Low wages, submarginal land, deplorable housing, lack of adequate sources of firewood, the spectre of famine, pressed heavily upon landless and mobile classes, the tenants and agricultural day workers and their offspring. The landowning groups, on the other hand, were confronted with heavy land taxes and increasing indebtedness. Their children (save the eldest who would inherit the land, it being too small to partition) faced an uncertain future in the Old Country and were generally ill-prepared psychologically to become hired help."
Then there were the heavy handicaps of limited arable land, a short growing season, and the constant threat of frosts.
There were other powerful forces at work. In 1878 compulsory military service was introduced, with widespread attempts to evasion. After 1899 the army faced the loss of its Finnish character and the Finns wre threatened with duty under alien officers and beyound the borders of their homeland. "Men of military age were joined by numerous Finnish nationalists who found life unbearable and unsafe during the repressive era of Russification." And of course there were numerous special factors, which are set forth by Dr. Kolehmainen in this excellent paper.
Published in Michigan History Magazine 28(1944), p. 333-335.
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