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Finnish Immigrant Culture in America

Reino Kero

Ph. D., University of Turku
Turku

1. The Temperance Movement

Most Finnish immigrants intended to stay in America for only a few years. But once the difficulties of settling in a new country were overcome and the immigrant had married and established a home, the idea of returning to Finland was gradually abandoned. He began to realize that he would remain in America. As this realization dawned on him, his original goals began to change. At the outset he had only wanted a jingling gold dollar that would make him wealthy and respected when he returned to his native district. As he abandoned his hope of return, his goal became the creation of an environment that would replace as much of the life left behind in Finland as possible.

The church had previously played a prominent role in the life of Finnish immigrants. Finnish-American congregations were a response to the longing felt by some of the immigrants for their own parish churches in Finland.

On the other hand, the temperance movement among Finnish immigrants in the United States may have had another cause. While immigration to America was at its peak, people back home often felt that the greatest danger to the immigrant was the American saloon. The great number who did succumb to alcohol shows that the danger was not wholly imaginary. On the other hand, it should be remembered that many immigrants were from backgrounds where heavy drinking was common. Thus when the Finnish immigrant drank, raised a row and staggered about in an American saloon with a hunting knife in his hand, the surroundings were admittedly new, but the carousing and knives were frequently part of a tradition brought from Finland.

Of course drinking and brawling in saloons cannot be blamed entirely on Finnish tradition, for the new surroundings also helped inspire them. The controls supplied by the Finnish village community were now absent; most relatives were still in Finland and the influence of the church did not extend all the way to America. Since the immigrant had more money than before, liquor was cheap, and saloons were plentiful in the towns, the temptations were perhaps greater than they had been in Finland.

There is no single explanation for the heavy use of alcohol by immigrants. It is apparent, however, that rather many considered the heavy use of alcohol the worst vice among Finnish-Americans. It was attributed to the new surroundings. This was also the assumption made by those Finnish-Americans who are credited with starting the temperance movement. Finnish immigrants had contact with the temperance movement early on, at the beginning of the 1880s, through temperance societies founded in Michigan by the Norwegians and Swedes. These societies were usually part of an organization called the Independent Order of Good Templars. Language, however, was an obstacle for the Finns. Thus by the mid-1880s the need for Finnish-language temperance societies was so great that first purely Finnish organizations were founded. The Pohjantähti (North Star) temperance society of Quincy, Mich, was the first.

Thus at the outset Finnish temperance societies were members of the Good Templars' organization. But by 1888 there were so many societies that a Finnish central organization was set up. This organization was the "Suomalainen Kansallis Raittius Weljeys Seura" (The Finnish National Temperance Brotherhood).

Temperance societies flourished for nearly 20 years after the Finnish Brotherhood was founded. Between 1888 and 1902, 161 temperance societies joined the larger association. Though some temperance societies functioned for only a short time and a few were not very active, it is still true that most Finnish cultural activity at the turn of the century revolved around them.

Not all the Finns could find room within a single church community in America and several quarrelling religious organizations appeared. The same applies to the Finnish-American temperance movement. Perhaps there was some justification for feeling that the scope of a temperance movement based on the model of the Swedish and Norwegian societies was too narrow. Abstention from alcohol alone was not enough and other demands were made on temperance society members. A "total program" with the following points was called for:

A temperance man must not curse, speak crudely, gamble, dance in improper circumstances, live immorally, hate and tyrannize his fellow man, be envious ... (or) otherwise display depravity.1

The names of the temperance societies reflect the high goals set for the movement and the romanticism that existed at the beginning. Michigan had the "Ray o f Light" and "The Star o f Life". Minnesota the "Star o f the Wilderness" and the "Home of Peace". Wyoming the "Sun Beam" and the "Cry of Joy" and Utah the "Star of the Mountains". The names of temperance societies formed among Swedish-speaking Finnish immigrants were similar: in Michigan, for example, societies called "Lily in the Valley" and "Star in the Home" were founded.2

The Finnish-American temperance movement took a more liberal tack as early as 1890 when "Good Hope", a Michigan society, began to call for an end to excessive religiousness, such as prayer at the opening of temperance meetings. When these demands were not met, representatives of the free-thinking group started an organization called the "Finnish Association of the Friends of Temperance in America". The conservatives condemned it severely. They claimed that the "saloon was no match in noise for the (free-thinking) temperance people on a Sunday evening".3

Though the Association of the Friends of Temperance never rivaled the Brotherhood in size, there were two Finnish temperance societies in some localities before long. Furthermore, alongside the societies belonging to either the Association of the Friends of Temperance or to the Brotherhood there were also independent groups that did not want to join either of the larger associations. And moreover, at the end of the nineties, the "Eastern Finnish Temperance Association in America" appeared. A number of temper-ance societies in the eastern United States were affiliated with it.

Swedish-speaking immigrants from Finland formed their own societies. In the beginning they belonged to the Finnish-speaking associations, but at the end of the nineties they founded their own. Language difficulties had proved too great. Still, the break with the Finnish central organization did not produce any bad feelings.

Division into more or less quarrelling groups undoubtedly hindered temperance work. But there are other, more important reasons for the decline of the temperance movement. It probably started around 1910, when the socialist labor movement won a firm foothold among the Finnish immigrants. Temperance was considered important within the labor move-ment and some truly extreme demands were made at socialist meetings. The 1906 convention, for example, approved a resolution calling for "a nation-wide ban of alcoholic beverages".4 Finnish socialists, however, did not approve of activity led by Lutheran pastors, such as that within the Brotherhood. Socialists sometimes obtained meeting facilities for themselves by "taking over" halls from the temperance societies. They "took over" by first joining the temperance societies. Once they were in the majority they began using the halls for their own purposes. We do not know how many of these "take-overs" occurred, but it is certain that the struggle between socialists and temperance men greatly reduced the scope of the latter.

Finnish temperance workers joined others in calling for nation-wide prohibition. Ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919 was possibly a victory to many a supporter of temperance, making past efforts seem worthwhile. But on the other hand, prohibition made the future of temperance work seem uncertain. This may be one reason for the decline of the temperance societies. The socialists' break with the Brotherhood societies may also have contributed. Dwindling immigration was yet another factor; no new blood was coming from Finland. The older generation of immigrants grew tired; their ranks were thinning and because the temperance societies used Finnish at their meetings, the second and third generations were not interested in attending. The ideological content of the temperance movement probably no longer appealed to youth in the 1920s. In any case, the movement was soon a mere shadow of its former self. Meetings gradually turned into coffee drinking sessions for the older generation, and in the end these also stopped. The last meetings were probably held sometime in the 1960s.

2. The Knights and Ladies of Kaleva

While Finnish-American leftists played an important role in the American left - which never won more than modest support - Finnish-Americans of the right, Democrats and Republicans, were never able to achieve anything comparable. Of course a small group of immigrants could never have played a significant role in a huge American party, even if they had been unified. Moreover, there was very little cooperation in politics among right-wing Finnish-Americans. However, right-wing Finnish-Americans were very active in preserving Finnish culture. The Knights of Kaleva and the Ladies of Kaleva were the most prominent organizations engaged in this task. At the beginning of the 1930s it is estimated that they had over 2,000 members.5


Finnish traditions in the United States have been fostered by the Kalevan Naiset
Finnish traditions in the United States have been fostered by the Kalevan Naiset (Ladies of Kaleva) society. Its publication Kalevainen (The Kalevian) has been appearing since 1913. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center.)

The Knights of Kaleva was founded at the end of the 1890s in Belt, Montana, where Pellervoinen Lodge No.1 was started. John Stone, originally of Oulu, was the founder. At the beginning of this century a corresponding women's organization was set up. The first was called Mielikki Lodge No. 1. Lodges after the Montana model were set up all across the United States and Canada. An attempt was made to take the idea abroad, to South America, Australia, and Finland, but without much success. The following grounds were given for taking it to Finland:

Finland is the ancient and most natural home of the idea. It is the site of that hearth where the national fire, like that of Vesta, must never die out if the concept of Finnish nationality is to survive.6

The central organization of the Knights of Kaleva was called the Supreme Lodge and its chairman became the "first among equals". The same name was applied to the central organization of the Ladies of Kaleva.

The Kaleva order's ideology is perhaps most apparent in the names of the lodges, which were usually borrowed from the Kalevala itself. Examples include the Lemminkäinen, Väinötär, Suvantolainen, and Annikki Lodges. Finnish national costumes were very popular at meetings, where presentations on the Kalevala, Finnish history, Sibelius, and other themes were made. When it was impossible to get copies of the Kalevala from Finland during the World Wars, the Kaleva orders had Finnish editions made in America. Kalevala romanticism went to an extreme in the 1910s when theosophists belonged to the organization. They wished to replace the Bible with the Kalevala.

Are we forever to obtain moral teachings and inspirational themes from Palestine, Egypt, and Babylonia? No! Because our own are much closer. Does it help us if others honor their own poetry and song? No! As long as we do not become their equals by honoring our own. Does it help me if another person is good, noble, and able? No! Unless I improve my own abilities and virtues in order to gain equality with them. Is the Kalevala a suitable religious book for Finns? Yes it is! Is it possible to combine the ancient pagan wisdom of Finland with the Christian faith? Yes, from this point of view it is. The moral teachings of the Kalevala do not conflict with belief in a single God. Instead, they complement this belief with their vitality.7

Very few Finnish-Americans sought to make the Kalevala a religious book. Instead, many did go very far in their admiration of it. Armas Holmio's statement rings true:

The hillocks of Karelia may have to take on a blue tinge and Väinö's kantele be heard from across the ocean before they produce the high national feelings and ideals that are part of the Kaleva movement in America.8

Both the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva were secret organizations, and only some of their functions were open to non-nembers. Although secret societies are very common in America, the secrecy of the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva aroused suspicion among both churches and left-wing organizations.

Though relations with religious organizations and the left were sometimes cool, the Kaleva orders' own publications indicate that the Knights and the Ladies took very little part in disputes within the Finnish-American community and that there was little internal friction. Since their goal was to win respect for Finnishness and to unite the Finns in a national effort, playing the role of conciliator was of course important.

The Kaleva orders readily accepted English as their second language. There were some efforts to attract the second generation, but the results were not encouraging. People wondered "why Finnish children born in America did not join Finnish societies in greater numbers". Someone instructed members "not to tell children all kinds of stories about knifings. Instead, something pleasant. And we do have something pleasant to tell about Finland."9 But the right approach was not found. The second and third generations were not enchanted by Kalevian romanticism. In 1945 Kalevalainen, the organization's annual publication, was very pessimistic about the future:

Let us now move on to examine how we have succeeded in our task. We do not have to waste many words. Everyone can look around and listen. Is the generation which we have brought up to continue our work and to preserve Finnishness up to its task? Do we hear the Finnish language? Is the Finnish ideal reflected in the second generation today? The answer is negative. The younger generation remains aloof from Finnish community effort. Discussions within our societies and the words of our speakers indicate that Finnishness will vanish in a few decades.10

3. Athletic Organizations

Finnish-American athletics date back to the first decade of this century - to the period when immigration from Finland was at its peak and when Finnish-American culture was in its prime. At the beginning of this century the temperance societies formed gymnastics sections which sometimes performed at meetings and celebrations. A few independent gymnastic societies were also started at this time.

Competitive sports became popular in Finland in the 1910s and enthusiasm soon spread among the Finnish-Americans. Of course some of the immigrants who arrived during those years had already taken part in athletic events. And the popularity of long-distance running in Finland was probably the reason for similar enthusiasm on the other side of the Atlantic. There were a few Finnish immigrants who could even compete successfully in international meets. The most famous of these were the Olympic gold medal winners Hannes Kolehmainen and Ville Ritola.

Paavo Nurmi was not an immigrant, but Finnish-Americans considered him one of their own. Paavo Nurmi's success in America in the 1920s surely raised the self-esteem of Finnish-Americans, who were suffering badly from .post-war discrimination against the "new" immigrants. It is easy to see that Finnish-American newspapers considered Nurmi's triumphs great moments for the immigrant community as well. The Finnish-American Athletic Club in New York, familiar to Finnish-American sports enthusiasts, made Paavo Nurmi an honorary member.


Some of the members of the "Kanto" athletic club in 1920, Maynard, Mass.
Some of the members of the "Kanto" athletic club in 1920, Maynard, Mass. (Suomi-Society, Helsinki.)

Hannes Kolehmainen and Ville Ritola were perhaps the only Finnish immigrants to win international fame on the track. A few other Finns also did very well in long-distance races in the United States. Sometimes a large contingent of Finnish-Americans took part in the Boston marathon. In 1930 the New York Finnish-American Athletic Club won the Boston marathon by placing second, third, and thirteenth. Finns belonging to other athletic societies also made their mark; one placed fourth and one old veteran was among the top forty.

In 1928 and 1929 a race was held in the United States that was probably more torture than sport. The starting point was Los Angeles and the goal was New York. Attracted by the first prize of $ 25,000, a grcup of Finnish-Americans entered and one of them, John Salo, took second place in the first race. John Salo was the fastest the second time this "Bunion Derby" was held, but still did not receive the grand prize. The sponsor went bankrupt during the race and the prizes were never awarded.

While Hannes Kolehmainen's example was arousing Finnish-American enthusiasm for long-distance running, "wrestling fever" swept through the immigrant community. A group of wrestlers who were at least familiar to the Finnish immigrant community joined the New York Finnish-American Athletic Club. Finns who had wrestled before emigrating apparently brought this activity with them. Some of the Finnish-American wrestlers were professionals, and successful ones, too.

Boxing has not been very popular with Finnish-Americans. Nevertheless, one of Finland's best known boxers emigrated to America. This was Gunnar Bärlund, who won the European heavyweight championship in 1934.

No single church, temperance movement or labor movement could accommodate all the Finnish-Americans. Instead, numerous rival organizations were needed in all three fields. Likewise, not everyone could run on the same track or wrestle on the same mat. The oldest athletic clubs were either part of temperance societies or completely independent of other organizations. The independent societies produced the brightest Finnish-American stars in the 1910s. Furthermore, the socialists formed their own athletic societies. Their aim was not merely to train topnotch competitors, but to spread their ideology as well. Members of socialist societies had to be more than just good athletes; they had to be working class athletes, too.

When the Finnish-American socialists spilt into two groups at the beginning of the 1920s - the socialists and the communists - two separate athletic organizations were also needed. All were strongly ideological, and some were extremely so. Nor was it enough that each group ran its own races and that party comrades could only wrestle other party comrades. Scorn for another's hop, step and jump or wrestling hold had to be shown if only some reason could be found.

Finnish-American athletics were still going strong at the beginning of the 1930s. The socialists had their own athletic federation and several sports societies capable of arranging championship meets. Athletic organizations sponsored by the communists were probably just as active at this time. Finnish-American athletics however began to decline during the early years of the Great Depression when the first generation was growing too old to run and wrestle. By the mid-930s there were hardly any meets at all.

Although Finnish-American immigrants were already becoming too old for active participation, they did not lose interest in athletics. Spectator sports were in vogue, particularly in the eastern United States. At least the sports sections of Finnish-American newspapers support this conclusion. The New Yorkin Uutiset appears to have had the most interest in athletics. Efforts on behalf of Finnish athletics received more support in the eastern United States than anywhere else. Again, it was in this part of the country that most funds to cover the costs of sending Finnish athletes to the Olympic Games were collected as well as most of the money used to assist runners in the Boston marathon. Since the early 1950s there has been a special marathon committee in Massachusetts, financing Finnish participation in the Boston marathon. This committee has thus far brought tens of Finnish runners to America.

4. Cultural Activities of Associations and Societies

a. The Stage - a Finnish-American Favorite.

By the time the temperance societies were flourishing - at the turn of the century - drama had already become one of the most popular forms of entertainment at Finnish-American gatherings. When the socialist labor movement came into its own just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, it adopted drama from the temperance societies. In some cases the socialists even "took over" the stages of the temperance organizations; socialists obtained a majority of the shares in a "hall" and converted it into a meeting place of their own.

Practically speaking, all the temperance societies and socialist sections performed some plays. Most of the socialist locals were active enough to spon-sor their own drama society. In 1912 Finnish-Americans belonged to 217 socialist sections; 107 of these could boast of their own drama society.11


The first Finnish festival in Seattle, Wash. on July 5th 1901
The first Finnish festival in Seattle, Wash. on July 5th 1901. (The American Album)

The Finnish-American labor movement broke up into three quarrelling factions: the socialists, the IWW, and the communists. There were communities in which each had its own dramatic society. Since the Finns in these areas numbered only in the hundreds, and at the very most in the thousands, and since some of the Finns were "church folk" who could not go to leftist halls, the competition for spectators was keen. Still, each faction had to maintain its own stage in order to annoy members of the two "wayward" socialist sections. Each acted as if theirs was the only drama society in the community.


Theater has always been extremely popular among American Finns
Theater has always been extremely popular among American Finns. In the picture actors of the workers' association "Sauna" from the year 1928. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center.)

Performances varied greatly in quality. The best societies attained amateur competency, though there were probably some hopeless groups, too. But there was no criticism in newspapers. Local reporters announced almost all performances in advance, but were equally consistent in avoiding comment on the reaction of the audience. This lack of criticism is probably the result of two factors. A negative review would have resulted in a great outcry among the socialist sections and the reviewer would have been in the dog house. Knowing this, he was careful not to offend anybody. The other reason may be that dramatic performances were considered part of the class struggle. The class enemy should not be comforted with the knowledge that a performance in one's own hall was a flop.

Plays during the first two decades of the 20th century were mainly the products of Finnish writers, both amateur and professional. Sometimes they were adapted to American conditions. Other scripts were translations of American plays. Finnish-Americans, however, were very keen to write their own plays - particularly in the 1920s. Amateur playwrights turned up here and there. Some were better, some worse, but all were certainly enthusiastic about the cause. Themes were obtained from the Finnish-Americans' own surroundings: from mining strikes, construction sites, logging camps, and police action, to cite just a few. Frequently the misery of life in Finland was recalled and the defects of Finnish society were pointed out. The class war in Finland was a favorite in the 1920s. It was used at socialist, IWW, and communist halls. The communists liked to stage plays about the Russian Revolution and the Red Army.

Harmony within Finnish-American drama societies was often lacking. The actors' hot blood came easily to a boil. If harmony was maintained, it was considered worthy of mention in the annual report. Thus in reviewing a year's work in the 1920s one drama society had cause for satisfaction.

Harmony on the stage itself and with respect to all other branches of the organization has been exemplary. This proves that respect for our joint efforts has been above low-minded personal interests and factionalism. There has been enough work, so there has been no time for tearing down what was built up and for breaking up what has been kept together.12

Amateur players sacrificed a great deal of time. The 1920 report of the socialist section in Gardner, Massachusetts may give an unnecessarily imposing picture of socialist activity in general, though other organizations may have followed the Gardner model now and then.

A total of 35 meetings of the drama society were held during the season. Organization and activities were the main topics of discussion. There were a total of 197 rehearsals. When twenty-seven actual performances are included, the drama society met 259 times during the 10 month season. How many evenings did the actors have off? Only Thursdays and then they danced.13

The number of performances began to drop off in the 1930s as the generation of immigrants that arrived from Finland at the turn of the century grew old and dwindled away. Drama continues to arouse interest even in the 1970s, particularly among the Finns who have moved to Florida. Most of the plays since the Second World War have been entertaining, in contrast to the days of the immigrants' passionate youth when the plays were ideological and educational as well as entertaining.

b. Bands and Choirs.

If the stage was once dear to Finnish-Americans, then so were bands and choirs. There are stories about a Finnish band in Oregon around 1870. They are not necessarily reliable, but the bands started by Rudolf Nelson of Hämeenlinna in Wyoming and Colorado in the 1880s were more than just a story. From then on bands were formed continually, although they never became as common as the drama societies. Figures for the heyday of the socialist labor movement in 1912 support this view; socialist sections maintained 107 drama societies and only 28 bands.14

It is said that many of the band directors were "batallion players" from Finland. The term may refer to the military bands of the Sharpshooter Batallions during the Russian era. Perhaps it was just this military tradition that made brass instruments overwhelmingly popular. It may be that no one other than the former batallion directors was available when the bands were organized. And there did not seem to be a surplus of "batallion players", for Finnish-Americans sometimes sought directors for their bands through newspapers in Finland.

Yrjö Sjöblom, who took part himself in Finnish-American music groups, had this to say about the quality of the bands:

These Finnish bands differed greatly in ability. Some were able somehow to handle seven-piece brass-band arrangements from Finland, but the few that had, under very favorable circumstances, been able to develop further, such as the Monessen "Louhi" and the Ashtabula "Humina", achieved an amazingly high level, considering what they had to work with.15

Regardless of whether they were good or bad, the bands did play a very important part in Finnish-American cultural life. They brought joy to player and listener alike during respite from hard work. When immigration dwindled after the First World War, never to pick up again, the bands began to decline. Apparently there was not a single Finnish-American band that played regularly after the Second World War.

The history of Finnish-American choirs was virtually the same as that of the bands. We can assume that the first choirs were formed at the end of the 1880s, although their heyday was also during the first decades of the 20th century. Choirs began to decline at the same time bands did, although they have survived into the present decade. The average age of the singers may be the highest in the world; only a few of the participants in Florida choirs in recent years have been under 70.

Finnish-Americans have also had their songwriters, who performed at gatherings and also made recordings in the 1920s. The most famous of these pop singers was obviously Hiski Salomaa, whose "Lännen lokari" is still familiar in Finland.

Finnish factionalism was also apparent in musical activities. The labor movements had their own choirs, as did the churches. Nor could they sing from the same book. Each published its own song book from which faith and inspiration was drawn.

Music held second place in the hearts of Finnish-Americans. In a playful tone, and with some exaggeration, a Finnish-American who took part had this to say in 1917:

Have you ever met or heard of a male Finnish-American between the ages of 30 and 40 who had not belonged to a band sometime and somewhere? In the good old days belonging to a band was just as necessary as adorning the walls with pictures of the Catholic Savior or business calendars ... That's when the transition from the accordion and player piano to the band took place, a time when belonging to a band was the highest aspiration of every healthy, decent young man who enjoyed full civil rights.16

c. Newspapers.

Compared with immigrants from many other countries the rate of literacy among Finns was exeptionally high. For this reason the Finnish-Amrtican press had a good foundation to build on, just as the other cultural pursuits did.

Although only a few of the Finnish immigrants that arrived in the 1870s were accustomed to reading a newspaper in Finland, the need for their own newspapers was already apparent. Newspapers from Finland were no longer enough. First of all, they were months late in arriving. Secondly, they told virtually nothing about events in America and immigrant life. And thirdly, the immigrants were annoyed by the attitude of Finnish newspapers in the 1870s, which usually branded them as traitors.

The first newspaper started by Finnish-Americans was the Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti (The Finnish-American Newspaper). It was founded in 1876 by Antti J. Muikku, a secondary school graduate. The number of subscribers remained so small that the paper never became viable. There were only a few thousand Finns in America at the time and this of course partly accounted for the lack of subscribers. The great waves of immigrants were yet to come. Partly too, the poor record of the Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti survived for only a few months.

Muikku's successor was the painter, Matti Fred. Fred founded a paper called Swen Tuuwa, which had the following motto:

"For you, Finn, I'll choose my words with care." Swen Tuuwa did not last long either. Fred soon founded another paper, this time calling it the Sankarin Maine (The Fame of Hero). He recalled the story of Swen Tuuwa with the following poem:

Swen Tuuwa is dead, but the fame of the hero lives on. Swen did not live long, but he won the fame of a hero before his death.

The same happened to Swen Tuuwa. This bear could not be overcome by hand, A man stands close, protecting him from the bullets, The league noticed that the charge had failed, The enemy troops turned away, moving slowly.

The paper's watchword was "Long live the fame of the hero, and elevate the dignity of the nation". The Sankarin Maine was also shortlived. In the contrast, new Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti, started in 1879, and whose editor was Alex Leinonen of Paltamo, had an influence on the immigrant community up to the mid-1890s. Leinonen, who arrived in the United States in 1869 and worked for a long time as a surveyor in Texas before becoming an editor, was probably one of the most able Finnish-American journalists. He was also very well-known in Finland at the end of the 1870s when he frequently contributed articles, short stories and poems to the Oulun Wiikko Sanomia and to Keski-Suomi.


Some Finnish American newspapers
Some Finnish American newspapers. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center).

Once a beginning was made, the Finnish-American press mushroomed. Thus newspapers like Uusi Kotimaa, Kansan Lehti, Kalevan Kaiku, Amerikan Uutiset, Lännetär (which later became the Siirtolainen), Työmies, and the New Yorkin Lehti were started. Uusi Kotimaa and the Siirtolainen were published for several decades. The others were short-lived.

In the early years most Finnish-American newspapers were probably commercial ventures, belonging to one or more individuals. Swen Tuuwa was owned by Matti Fred. The New Yorkin Lehti belonged to a Jew from Finland, G. A. Grönlund, who sold Finnish immigrants tickets in New York and sent their money to Finland. Työmies was also private, but it got support from the temperance movement; it was both a commercial venture and the mouthpiece of the movement.

Around 1900 new kinds of newspapers began to appear. They were published by a church or political group. Members of the Suomi Synod founded the Amerikan Suometar in 1899, a step they found necessary.

...The other newspapers took a coldly critical and unfavorable attitude toward our Synod. Published in a light vein with uncertain principles, and lacking a firm foundation, they had neither a definite program nor definite aims. Thus they have not satisfied the more serious.17


Finnish American magazines from the beginning of the 20th century
Finnish American magazines from the beginning of the 20th century (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center).

In starting the Amerikan Suometar, the Suomi Synod encouraged the other Finnish-American groups to found their own publications. The first newspaper published by the national church, Todistusten Joukko, was already appearing in 1900. The Kansan Lehti was started several years later to supplement it. At that time the national church was conscious of its strength. One of its own pastors had the following to say about the period:

A lot of noise was made and the cause of the national church was advanced There was a desire to look big and the recognition of the world was sought. An attempt was made to attract a crowd. It was apparently successful. It was a noisy, curious crowd, one that would look around and make a stir. After all, one had to refute the charges and do one's best to return the gibes. One couldn't be second best in anything.18

Publishing the Kansan Lehti proved too much of a financial strain for the national church and it came out for only one year. The Todistusten Joukko was also discontinued. After a break of a couple of years the church began publishing Auttaja, which continued into the 1960s. And Finnish-American followers of Laestadius did not want to play second fiddle to the other religious groups; one branch of the movement founded Valvoja and the other Opas.

Finnish-American socialists first founded the Työmies for the Mid-Western states, then the Raivaaja for the East and the Toveri for the West. All these socialist newspapers got their start in the first decade of the 20th century, Newspaper publishing was a very important part of the labor movement. Newspapers showed the way, at a time when Finnish-American socialists were seeking the right paths. There were many opinions about the course to be taken. Quarrels flared up in newspaper columns. Those who attempted to show the way were sometimes shown considerable appreciation and sometimes subjected to sharp criticism. A 1912 convention in which the Raivaaja was praised is an example:

There's no proof that socialim is whatever makes the most noise. It's enough that the newspaper is run in the spirit of international Social Democracy. And the Raivaaja has done a splendid job, because it hasn't hopped around like a frog.19

Those who were dissatisfied with Raivaaja expressed themselves in the following manner:

I read Raivaaja with interest when the discussion of the party's course began. It seemed to me that debate of this sort was healthy. But once it degenerated into personal recrimination, it was anything but what a party paper should print. I expected Raivaaja to stop after Laukki had, but Syrjälä kept up the petty nagging for a long time. It aroused hostility against Raivaaja... Therefore, I would hope that in future the party mouthpiece will avoid this kind of behavior.20

Työmies, the other large socialist paper, came in for even more severe criticism than Raivaaja.

When Välimäki was running the Työmies it was a room full of gossipy old hags. Now that the wise Laukki is there it's become a muddle. What a hodgepodge!21

Työmies was also defended:

Työmies follows the American labor movement more closely. That's the reason for the difference in course. Työmies supports the American labor movement. Raivaaja views the American labor movement through the eyes of Finnish social democracy. That's where the conflict is. Työmies should receive recognition. Neither has it scorned political action.22

When the radical IWW broke with the "yellow socialists" they immediately set up their own paper (1914). It was first called the Sosialisti and later the Industrialisti. The radicals justified their action in the following manner:

Once it became obvious at the meeting that the despicable, crooked intrigue in which the Raivaaja gang together with the members remaining on the Työmies board and the officials still in power had insidiously stolen Työmies from those who had built it up, it was proper - and even necessary, too - that the "radicals" should start up their own paper.23

The communist movement gained a lot of support among Finnish immigrants immediately after the First World War. The socialists lost both the Työmies and the Toveri to them. The communists started Eteenpäin for their supporters in the eastern parts of the United States. Their fourth paper was the Uusi Kotimaa, originally published in New York Mills, Minnesota on a commercial basis.

Along with the leftist ideological and the religious publications, commercial papers were also published in the 20th century. They expressed right-wing opinion. The most important of these were the New Yorkin Uutiset, the Päivälehti of Duluth, and the Amerikan Uutiset of New York Mills, which is still being published. The Amerikan Uutiset was previously known as the Minnesotan Uutiset. At its peak, the Finnish-speaking population of the United States (in the 1910s) was less than 200,000. And though the Finnish papers published in the United States did have a few Canadian readers, they still had to struggle with the economic problems brought on by a small circulation. During the heyday of the labor movement the labor newspapers had the soundest finances. Just prior to the First World War, the circulation of the labor papers - if we include ones like Lapatossu and Pelto ja Koti - may have been around 30,000.24 Circulation may have been somewhat larger after the First World War, for the circulation of the communist press alone is estimated to have been around 40,00025 at its peak. If the circulation of Raivaaja and Industrialisti are added to this figure, then the combined circulation of the labor press would be around 60,000. Since this estimate does not include the religious and commercial publications and since the number of first-generation Finnish immigrants living in the United States in the 1920s was only about 150,000, it is certain that practically speaking, at least one immigrant paper came to every Finnish-American home in this period. This large total circulation, however, was divided between many publications, making limited circulation a continual problem for individual Finnish newspapers.

The Finnish-American press flourished from the turn of the century until the end of the 1920s. During this period there were some newspapers that came out as often as six times a week. They had a large editorial staff, which was able to provide them diverse contents. Of course there was always an editorial, the slant of which depended on what the paper represented. The most important international news and wide coverage of events in the United States and Finland were also included. Particular emphasis was placed on immigrant affairs, which were covered in front page news and in letters from readers on the inside and back pages. The importance of readers' letters grew with time, for they provided information about relatives and acquaintances who might be living a continent away.

At the turn of the century there were two other important sections in Finnish-American newspapers. One asked where a relative or someone from the home village was. The other contained numerous matrimonial advertisements, which were both amusing and serious. As there were fewer women than men, men tried to find themselves wives through newspaper advertisements. The Siirtolainen and the New Yorkin Uutiset were especially important in this respect, although there were also many advertisements in the labor movement papers. The Raivaaja's issue of December 13, 1906 had six such advertisements, each written with a twinkle in the eye.

If you women want to get married, then let us know. We're two men who've had wives before, but would like new ones. This means that only stout-hearted women can find a mate in us. The following traits are required: "Always receptive" expects his sweetheart to be affectionate and have some literary ability. "Reserved" expects his bride to have a serious, reserved nature and the ability to handle one man well. Send replies to Box 408, Fitchburg, Mass. "Receptive" and "Reserved". Real names must be used in replies.

There were generally few illustrations in the newspapers. The satirical publications were an exception. Punikki, in particular, glowed with the work of K. A. Suvanto's genius. The Wobblies, socialists, church Finns, Finns in Finland, American society and the "warlords of Europe" were all subjects of Suvanto's snappy, biting criticism. In the main, the scarcity of illustrations may have been caused by the publishers' financial difficulties.

The staff of the immigrant newspapers had sometimes obtained schooling in Finland and were sometimes self-taught. Very few second generation immigrants worked on editorial staffs. The long-time editor-in-chief of the Raivaaja, F. J. Syrjälä, is an example of those who had obtained schooling in Finland. Syrjälä gave the following information about his background not long after his arrival from Finland:

F. J. Syrjälä, tailor, born at Kauvatsa, in the province of Turku-and-Pori on April 28, 1880. Joined the working man's association in Turku in November 1897. Served as chairman and secretary in the Turku tailors' union and as secretary in the Turku working man's association. Served on the editorial staff of the Länsisuomen Työmies (now the Sosialisti) for 8 months. Also contributed to the Kansan Lehti and the Työmies (in Finland). Received personal reprimands from the governor of Turku-and-Pori province for inciting the public and was twice ordered to jail by the same official for the same reason. Arrived in America on June 2, 1903: served editorial staff of Raivaaja for nearly two years, written and made speeches.26

At the turn of the century the editorial staff of the Työmies was jokingly called the "Jätkästaappi", a reference to the editors' working class origins. It included assistant editor Richard Pesola, a good example of the self-taught Finnish-American editor.

Richard Pesola, born at the village of Köyhäjoki, Kaustinen, in 1886. Attended elementary school. Came to America in 1905 and joined the American Socialist Party the following year (1906). Contributed often to our party newspapers and pulications. Published a collection of stories called "Sorretun poluilta"(From the Paths of the Oppressed) and a leaflet entitled "Prof. W. Sombart sosialismia sotkemassa" (Prof. Sombart makes a mess of socialism) and a play entitled "Oikeus voittaa" (Justice triumphs). Made speeches and founded socialist sections. Served on the editorial staff of Toveri and as a roving agent for the same paper. Worked in the iron mines ... and enjoyed all the good things America offers the poor immigrant. Became a socialist who strongly supports the class struggle because of these good things. Now assistant editor of the Työmies.27

By the 1930s there had been a Finnish-American press for 60 years. At this point immigration from Finland to America was only a fraction of what it had been just before the outbreak of the First World War; those who had been part of the great wave of immigrants were already approaching middle age. Time and time again, Finnish-American associations pondered what could be done as the first generation immigrants yielded to a younger generation that was not intrested in following in their parents' footsteps. A quiet withdrawal also began within the Finnish-American press. The weakest were the first to go. In contrast, those which had firm roots in American soil - the Amerikan Suometar, Päivälehti, New Yorkin Uutiset, Raivaaja, Eteenpäin Työmies, and the Industrialists were able to continue. The Päivälehti ceased to exist in the 1940s, the Amerikan Suometar at the beginning of the 1960s. The Työmies and Eteenpäin were merged at the beginning of the 1950s.

Although the Finnish-American press had withered greatly by the 1960s, only one paper, the Amerikan Suometar, ceased operations in that decade. Displaying astonishing toughness, the Amerikan Uutiset, New Yorkin Uutiset, Raivaaja, Työmies-Eteenpäin, and the Industrialists were still coming out at the beginning of the 1970s; of late the Industrialists has been the work of one man, Jack Ujanen, who turned 80 years ago. The clock long ago struck the eleventh hour for the Finnish-American press. For some reason it has momentarily stopped. Perhaps midnight will not be struck until 1976, when the immigrant press turns a respectable 100.

d. Literature from ABC's to Novels.

Since the Finnish-American's knowlege of English was limited, he wanted to read something besides a newspaper in his own language. His hopes were more than fulfilled. Of course the immigrant needed a calendar, and he even had several to choose from. There were working men's calendars, and immi-grant calendars. When he went to the "hall" he took his song book with him; there was one for the temperance hall and another for the working man's hall. And of course the church folk had their own song books. Cook books, agricultural handbooks, co-operative movement guides, and dictionaries were all practical aids. Those who wanted to teach their children Finnish could choose from various ABC's; some written for the children of socialists, others for the children of church folk.

The immigrant's surroundings also inspired him to write poetry, short stories, novels, and plays. Most of these appeared in the heyday of the labor movements, during the first decades of this century. The left-wing immigrants were apparently much more active as poets and authors than the right-wing and those who were not interested in politics at all. The fact that there were three labor movements, and that each needed poetry and novels suited to its own ideology, probably goes far in accounting for Finnish-American energy. In addition to their own works, Finnish-Americans also published a good deal of literature in translation; Finnish-American editions of the works of Marx, Kautsky, Lenin, and Ingersoll appeared.

Immigrant literature was created first of all to serve the writer's own group. This limited the readership first to Finnish immigrants and then frequently to that small political group whose idea the work preached. Some perhaps dreamed that their work would be read in the "old country", too, but rarely was the level of the works or the themes such as would arouse even a little interest in Finland. For this reason the publication of anthologies of poems, short stories, and novels caused considerable economic difficulty. In contrast, ABC books and song books sold better. An ABC book for the "Finnish-American home, Sunday and summer school instruction" was printed in at least six editions, a Sunday school song book in at least five, and a working class song book in at least nine.

Writers and poets took their themes, both from Finland and from their new surroundings. The reasons for emigration preoccupied many who took up the pen. Their thoughts travelled the same paths. Conditions in Finland, more than anything else, had driven them out. A cotter's daughter had an unhappy childhood. She had been orphaned and thrown onto the mercy of the world, suffering from hunger and the scorn of prosperous farmers. She rose out of beggary by becoming a servant girl. But her life was still hell and she had to beware that the parish priest, a no-good farmer, or some educated slouch from the city did not try to entice her to bed, promising her the earth. Some gave in, others quit their jobs, despising Finnish society from the bottom of their hearts. She came to America where she found a new society, but one spoiled by capitalism. Here, however, she found a new gallant with whom she began to go to the socialist hall. This was how the servant girl became a socialist.

Finnish-American novelists often described a mining town where accidents were everyday fare when they wrote about American society. The main character was a man with a large family. The mining company forced its victim to sign a "slave contract", which freed it from any responsibility in the event of an accident. And of course there was an accident. One day the man did not return from the mines and the wife was left to fend for herself with all those children.

Finnish immigrant literature did not produce a single work that would wear out in the hands of today's readers. Some left-wing immigrant writers such as Kalle Rissanen, Jallu Rissanen, Aku Päiviö, Moses Hahl, Eemeli Parras, Kalle Toivola, Richard Pesola, Kalle Tähtelä, Santeri Mäkelä, and Mikael Rutanen were good enough to warrant mention in studies of Finnish working class literature.

5. Longing for The Old Country

When emigration was in full swing, thousands of Finns left annually for America. Those who were fresh off the boat supplied earlier immigrants with information about conditions in the old country. Those who returned to Finland conveyed information about the "great west" and the kinfolks living there. Also, correspondence between relatives on both sides of the Atlantic was brisk. When emigration began to drop off in the 1920s, ending almost completely in the 1930s, the ties began to slacken. Most contacts were maintained by correspondence.

Most emigrants came from backgrounds where the pickings were slim. After emigration to America - where many achieved a substantially higher standard of living - Finland and the old home district seemed even poorer. Thus letters home often contained a dollar bill with instructions to spend it on coffee or some other rare delicacy.

In addition to the dollars sent to relatives, Finnish-Americans also sponsored fund-raising drives to relieve hardship in their native country or for a project considered important on both sides of the Atlantic. By the turn of the century Finnish-Americans were already working actively on behalf of the old country. Finnish autonomy had its defenders among the Finnish-Americans. They tried to show the American Congress, for example, what violent Russian repression was doing to Finland. Efforts were made to get articles into American newspapers explaining Finland's position. Again, as early as the turn of the century, there appear to have been drives to relieve the hardship caused by crop failures in Finland.

Finnish independence was a cause that interested nearly every Finnish-American. The views of the Finnish-American left and right, however, differed a great deal. Leftists considered Finland a "Podunk", where their comrades should be helped. As early as the summer of 1918 the Finnish-American left decided to raise "a million-mark fund" to help rebuild the Finnish labor movement. A strenuous fund raising drive apparently achieved this goal. However, unanimity about its ultimate destination was not reached. Toward the end of the drive the Finnish-American left began to quarrel about which leftist group in Finland was to receive the money. In addition to the "million mark fund" the leftists also held less ambitious fund-raising drives intended to support labor organizations and newspapers in Finland.


The Finland Steam Navigation Co. advertised remittances of money from the United States to Finland and from Finland to the United States
The Finland Steam Navigation Co. advertised remittances of money from the United States to Finland and from Finland to the United States.

Right-wing Finnish Americans also supported their former homeland as she gained independence. Finnish-American congregations, for example, collected money for congregations in Finland. And a fund-raising drive was held in the United States while Turku University was being established. Early on, Finnish-Americans began to collect money to help Finnish athletes take part in the Olympics.


n the early 1920s, American Finns donated funds fog the founding of a private Finnish university in Turku
In the early 1920s, American Finns donated funds fog the founding of a private Finnish university in Turku. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center).

Finland became the focal point of world interest when she was drawn into the Second World War. Most Finnish-Americans felt that Finland's troubles were their own, and started an extensive relief program. The drive collected from 400,000 to 500,000 dollars to be sent to Finland. A small military detachment of some 300 Finnish-Americans also came; they arrived at the front only a few days before the end of the Winter War.


One of the most successful immigrants was K. F. Joutsen
One of the most successful immigrants was K.F. Joutsen, who worked in North America as golddigger at the turn of the century. In 1948 he willed his property to Turku University. /The painting by Emil Rautala, done in 1947, hangs in the University of Turku.)

During the Continuation War contacts between Finnish-Americans and Finland were almost entirely broken off, but once hostilities had stopped, Finnish-Americans once again began to assist relatives, acquaintances, and even strangers, too. It has been estimated that Finnish-Americans sent more than two million packages to Finland between 1945 and 1949. Dollars were also sent to Finland, and in some cases they were probably a more effective form of aid than for example clothing, some of which was not particularly suited for use in Finland. Inquiries about the need for further packages were often made in the following way:

I'd like to know the name and address of Matti's wife. Also, the names and addresses of Matti's children, who are in Kokkola. I know Kaappo Alamäki's address, but not his sister Maija's surname. What is the name of his late sister Iida's grand-daughter?28


Boston Marathon runners Veikko Karvonen and Erkki Puolakka with Mr. Arvi Tokkola, Calif., N.J.
Boston Marathon runners Veikko Karvonen and Erkki Puolakka with Mr. Arvi Tokkola, Calif., N.J. ('Suomen Silta' 1955.)

When the shortages caused by war in Finland gradually disappeared, the flood of packages from America dwindled. But Finnish-Americans continue to support the old country. Thus a special "marathon committee" has collected money to finance the participation of Finnish runners in the Boston marathon. A few Finnish athletes have also stayed in Florida at the expense of Finnish-Americans. Certain Finnish children's homes have received support from America up to the present. Suomi College and the Finlandia Foundation have also provided many Finnish students with an opportunity to study in the United States.

Thus over the decades Finnish-Americans have given substantial support to their former homeland. On the other hand, they have also received support from Finland. During the early years of emigration newspapers published in Finland were an important source of information to Finnish-Americans who understood little English. Finnish-American newspapers overtook those appearing in Finland at the beginning of the 1880s, although most literature read by Finnish-Americans continued to come from the old country. And even during the period when Finnish-American writers were most active, literature printed in Finland continued to take up most of the shelf-space in Finnish-American libraries.

In addition to literature, Finnish-Americans have kept in touch with Finnish culture through various "cultural visits". Over the years a large number of performers, popular singers, choirs, dance groups, and others have come from Finland. Some have won popularity; others have not been so successful.


An advertisement in "Stories of the Finns in Great New York" by Antti J. Pietilä published in New York in 1911
An advertisement in "Stories of the Finns in Great New York" by Antti J. Pietilä published in New York in 1911.

Trips from America to Finland and from Finland to America have played an important role in maintaining contacts. Immigrants began to visit Finland as early as the 1880s but it was not until the 1920s that such contacts became widespread. At this time large group tours were arranged for the first time. Inexpensive flights became common after the Second World War and thousands of Finnish-Ameerican pensioners returned to see their native land after an absence of 50-60 years. It would seem t at the immigrant's longing for the land of his birth has persisted from decade to decade, although over the years he has learned to regard America as his new homeland.

1. Akseli Järnefelt, "Wajanaista raittiusharrastusta". Raittiuskalenteri 1899, 64.

2. Armas Holmio, Michiganin Suomalaisten Historia, pp. 342-348.

3. Siirtolainen, January 25, 1910.

4. Pöytäkirja Amerikan Suomalaisten Sosialistiosastojen Edustajakokouksesta (Minutes of the Convention of Finnish-American Socialist Sections), Ribbing, Minn., August 1-7, 1906, p. 78.

5. Kalevainen 1932, p. 10.

6. Kalevainen 1927, p. 12.

7. Kalevainen 1918, p. 17.

8. Armas Holmio, op. cit., p. 432.

9. Kalevainen 1933, pp. 24, 27.

10. Kalevainen 1945, p. 42.

11. Suomalaisten sosialistiosastojen ja työväenyhdistysten viidennen eli suomalaisen sosia-listijärjestön kolmannen edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja. (Minutes of the fifth conven-tion of Finnish socialist locals and labor organizations or the third convention of the Finnish Socialist Association), 1-5, 7-10, June 1912, pp. 53-54.

12. Gardner, Mass. Suomalaisen sosialistiosaston vuosikertomus vuodelta 1920 (Annual report of the Gardner, Massachusetts Finnish Socialist Section 1920) TYYH: S:m: 8:56.

13. Ibid.

14. Suomalaisten sosialistiosastojen ja työväenyhdistysten viidennen eli suomalaisen sosialistijätjestön kolmannen edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja. (Minutes of the fifth convention of Finnish socialist sections and labor organizations or the third convention of the Finnish Socialist Association), 1-5, 7-10, June 1912, p. 54.

15. Yrjö Sjöblom, Musiikkiharrastuksemme. Häviääkö ilmiö Amerikan suomalaisten sivistyselämästä? Kalevainen 1937, p. 14.

16. Airut 1917, p. 17.

17. F. K. Kava, Amerikan Suomettaren Historia v. 1899-1919. Amerikan Suometar 1899-1919. Muistojulkaisu. Hancock, Michigan 1919, p. 11.

18. W. W. Wilen, "Äänenkannattajan tarpeellisuus Kirkkokunnassamme". (Our church needs its own mouthpiece). Evankelinen Kalenteri, 1911. p. 38.

19. Suomalaisten sosialistiosastojen ja työväenyhdistysten viidennen eli suomalaisen sosialistijärjestön kolmannen edustajakokouksen pöytäkirja. (Minutes of the fifth convention of Finnish socialist sections and labor organizations or the third convention of the Finnish Socialist Association), 1-5, 7-10. June, 1912, p. 237.

20. Ibid., p. 238.

21. Ibid., pp. 245-246.

22. Ibid.

23. Sosialisti, June 12, 1914.

24. Elis Sulkanen, Amerikan suomalaisen työväenliikkeen historia. pp. 313-336.

25. Auvo Kostiainen is now working on a study of the Finnish-American communist movement. The estimate is his.

26. Köyhälistön Nuija 1910, p. 164.

27. Köyhälistön Nuija 1910, p. 160.

28. Letter quoted in a dissertation by Anna-Leena Toivonen, "Etelä-Pohjanmaan valtamerentakainen siirtolaisuus", 1867-1930. Seinäjoki 1963, (p. 190).

Published in Old Friends - Strong Ties. The Finnish Contribution to the Growth of the USA. 1976, p. 115-234.

© Reino Kero

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