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The Americanization of the Finns

John Wargelin, A.M.,

President of Suomi College and Theological Seminary

Chapter I.  Introduction. Meaning of Americanization Discussed.
Chapter II.  Historical Background of the Finnish Race.
Chapter III.  Causes of Immigration from Finland.
Chapter IV.  Finnish Immigration to America.
Chapter V.  Distribution and Occupations of the Finns.
Chapter VI.  Cultural Life of the Finns. a) School.
Chapter VII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). b) Press.
Chapter VIII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). c) Church.
Chapter IX.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). d) Societies.
Chapter X.  Naturalization and Political Life.

Chapter VII.
Cultural Life of the Finns. (Continued)

b) Press.

The importance of the press as a means of diffusing ideas, need not be dealt with here at any length. Its necessity is based on human association, without it the sympathy of man would be limited to his own narrow environment, with which he can have personal contact; but as a normal human being he needs to live in the larger life of his people and society. "Printing", says Prof. Cooley, "means democracy, because it brings knowledge within the reach of the common people; and knowledge, in the long run, is sure to make good its claim to power. It brings to the individual whatever part in the heritage of ideas he is fit to receive. The world of thought, and eventually the world of action, comes gradually under the rule of a true aristocracy of intelligence and character, in place of an artificial one created by exclusive opportunity.1

The newspaper has become a powerful factor in modern social life. Its development, like that of the modern city, has not wholly been a rational product. "No one sought to make it just what it is. In spite of all the efforts of individual men and generations of men to control it and to make it something after their own heart, it has continued to grow and change in its own incalculable ways." Thus writes Professor Robert E. Park in the November issue, 1923, of The American Journal of Sociology. It may be said according to him, that the natural history of the press is the history of the surviving species. The struggle for existence, in the case of the newspaper, has been a struggle for circulation. The newspaper that is read becomes an influence in the community. The success of the newspaper does not, however, depend mainly upon intelligent readers, in fact, it is said that the most successful of the Hearst papers, the New York Evening Journal, gains a new body of subscribers every six years. The newspapers have discovered that even men who can perhaps read no more that the headlines in the daily press will buy a Sunday paper to look at the pictures.

It may be said that the modern newspaper aims to give news. The name of the first newspaper in America, at least the first that lasted beyond its first issue, was the Boston News-Letter. It was characteristically published by the postmaster, as the village post office and the country store have always been a public forum, where all the affairs of the community and country at large are discussed. What is news? Many answers have been given. It is said that Charles A. Dana - who together with James Gordon Bennett, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst are said to have made the modern newspaper - defined news, that it is "anything that will make people talk". But this definition may be said to be that of the latest and most successful type of journal, or the yellow press. Professor Park, whose ideas we are presenting here, suggests, however, that not all successful journals are yellow. Some papers are guided by principle, and choose their news accordingly, while others say, "I renounce all so-called principles"; some write "the news in the form of fiction, while the daily press frequently writes fiction in the form of news." Surely there is needed a remedy for the existing condition of the newspaper, but it is not our problem at this time to suggest such remedies.

Why have a foreign-language press in America? The answer would seem to be that as long as we have members of immigrant groups among us, who are unable to read English, it is necessary to have these people communicate with the social mind of the community and country at large, through their papers.

A further reason for our large foreign-language press is the growth of great cities which increase the size of the reading public, according to Professor Park. "Reading which was a luxury in the country", he says, "has become a necessity in the city. In the urban environment literacy is almost as much a necessity as speech itself".

Many immigrants who had not read newspapers in the old country have acquired the newspaper habit from reading a foreign-language newspaper in America, and eventually have become attracted to the native American newspapers. Mark Villchur, editor, of the Russkoye Slovo, New York City, learned from a survey taken among his readers that "out of 312 correspondents only 16 had regularly read newspapers in Russia; 10 others from time to time read newspapers in the Volast, the village administration center, and 12 were subscribers to weekly magazines. In America all of them were subscribers or readers of Russian newspapers". Thus learning the newspaper habit, the immigrant ultimately becomes a reader of the large American dailies which can better satisfy his desire for fresh news. These papers "are for him a window looking out into the large world outside the narrow circle of the immigrant community in which he has been compelled to live".2

It is not our purpose to enter into a defense of the foreign press in America, but it must be admitted that they play a very important part in the general educational work among the immigrants. If the platform of the paper is in harmony with democratic principles of government, and the editorship in the hands of broadminded, intelligent men, who are interested in the affairs of our country, then the paper can be a positive factor in Americanization work. We shall give briefly the early history of the Finnish press in America.

1) The first Finnish newspaper in America was the "Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti", published in Hancock, Mich., on April 14, 1876. It was a paper of four columns, and four pages, edited by A. J. Muikku, a student from Finland. The paper lived, however, only a short time; eleven and one-half issues in all were printed The total number of subscribers had been 300.

2) The second paper was started by Matt Fred (died in 1922) in 1878, the name of the paper was "Swen Dufva". It lasted only for three years, because of lack of support.

3) In 1879, July 4th, was published the third Finnish paper in America by Alex Leinonen, one of the early Pioneers among the Finnish immigrants to America. Out of this paper was formed, in 1895, a paper whose name has become very well known among the Finns. This paper was named "Siirtolainen", (The Immigrant). It is still published as a weekly paper, but its circulation is very small, due to the fact that the owners of it are more interested in their daily paper, "Päivälehti", published at Duluth, Minnesota.

4) The next in order was the "Uusi Kotimaa", (The New Homeland), published in 1881 by August Nyland, at Minneapolis, later moved to New York Mills, Minn.. This paper has enjoyed comparatively good support, due to the character of the paper and the acquaintance of its publishers with the people in general. It is still published in New York Mills, Minn., but it is now owned by the Non-Partisan League in Minnesota. It is the oldest of the Finnish papers now in existence.

5) "Yhdysvaltain Sanomat", organized at Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, by August Edwards, in 1884, was moved to Minneapolis later, then brought to Calumet, Mich., where it was finally discontinued.

6) "Walvoja", the first religious paper, first publication in 1885, at Ashtabula Harbor, edited by J. W. Lähde, J. J. Hoikka and J. K. Nikander. (The two last named, ministers, became five years later the founders of the Finnish Lutheran Church in America..) This publication ceased in 1888.

7) "New Yorkin Lehti", in 1890, by Gronlund.

8) "Lännetär", at Astoria, Oregon, in 1891, founded by J. E. Saari, Adolph Riippa and A. Ketonen.

9) "Amerikan Uutiset", in 1894, at Minneapolis, later moved to Calumet, Mich., founded by Fred Karinen.

10) "Kuparisaaren Sanomat", at Hancock, Mich., in 1895, editor Victor M. Burman, sold in 1899 to a publishing company at Calumet, Mich., and was published for a few years under the name of "Suometar".

11) In 1897, August Edwards, of Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, who had already been identified with some Finnish newspaper projects, began to publish a paper by the name of "Amerikan Sanomat". In 1903 the "Suometar" of Calumet was united with it under a new name of "Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar". This paper has enjoyed at times as many as 12,000 subscribers, but in 1913 its publication was discontinued because of the lack of support.

12) In June, 1899 a paper was organized which has had considerable influence over the religious and educational work of the Finns, and is still in existence. The name of this paper is the "Amerikan Suometar". It was founded by K. L. Tolonen, J. K. Nikander and John Back, ministers of Suomi Synod, and laymen J. H. Jasberg, Isaac Sillberg, Alex. Leinonen and Jacob Holmlund. In 1900 the paper changed owners and became the property of the Suomi Synod through its publishing concern, which was organized by the name of the Finnish Lutheran Book Concern, with headquarters at Hancock, Michigan. The purpose for the founding of the "Amerikan Suometar" can be gathered from the words, written by Emil Pesonen, manager of the "Amerikan Suometar", in the 20th Anniversary publication of the paper. He says: "In the minds of some of the leading men of the church (Suomi Synod), rose the thought that a newspaper devoted to religious and educational work, and presenting this work from the standpoint of those who were to make their homes here, would be of value. As the church was organized permanently for active work in America, such a paper became a necessity".3

The Finnish Lutheran Book Concern publishes also at present the "Paimen Sanomat" (devotional, and official organ of Suomi Synod), the "Lasten Lehti" (Sunday School paper), the "Nuorten Ystävä" (Young People's paper), and other publications of the Synod, e. g. "Kirkollinen Kalenteri", and the Year Book of the Suomi Synod.

13) "Auttaja", semi-religious paper, founded in 1906, is the official organ of the Finnish National Lutheran Church. It is published at Ironwood, Michigan, and the editorship has generally been in the hands of one of the clergymen of the Synod. The same body has also published for a number of years other church papers and publications.

This description would be incomplete without adding that the Finnish National Brothers' Temperance Association has published a temperance paper for several years, but owing to the decline of temperance societies in general, after the adoption of national prohibition, the publication of this paper has been suspended. The F. N. B. Temperance Association has a bright history to point to through its various activities, as for example, its yearly prize essay contests on social questions, temperance particularly, its song festivals, and its uplifting in general of the morale of the Finnish immigrants.

Over 100 different Finnish newspapers have been started since Mr. Muikku first published his paper in 1876. At present there are about 30 Finnish publications, e. g. "Amerikan Suometar", published in Hancock, Mich., "Auttaja", published in Ironwood, Mich., "Industrialisti" (radical), Duluth, Minn., "Lännen Suometar", Astoria, Ore., "New Yorkin Uutiset", New York City, "Pohjantähti", Fitchburg, Mass., "Päivälehti", a daily, Duluth, Minn., "Työmies" (Socialistic), Superior, Wis., and "Walvoja", Calumet, Mich. It is useless to follow the history of the Finnish press any further. Of the thirty or so papers now in existence, according to Robert F. Park4 eleven are socialist or radical papers. And he makes the statement that the Finns have proportionally more radical papers in America than any other race, with the exception of the Jews. Prof. Van Cleef makes this number 29, and divides it into 7 socialist, 1 radical, and 21 religious or liberal papers. By the term religious or liberal he means in this case the religious, republican, independent and temperance papers. He says: "Including four yearbooks, one may count 29 periodical publications. Of these seven are Socialistic, one is an organ of the I. W. W., and the rest are liberal. The total circulation of these publications is as follows: Socialist - 29,000, I. W. W.- 3,500, liberal - 59,000, year-books - 20,000. This gives a grand total of 111,500. These figures do not all represent different individuals who read these periodicals, for some subsribe to several of them.5

If the above statement that the Finns have proportionally more radical papers than any other race, with the exception of the Jews, is true, the question arises, how can we account for such a large number of radical papers among them? We take up the consideration of Socialism among the Finns later, suffice it here to try to point out a few reasons. In the first place, it is to be understood that the same publishing concern publishes different kinds of papers for its readers, viz., a daily paper, farming publication, comic paper, quarterly publications, etc. So in reality many of these publications are only duplications of the same efforts. Secondly, the Finnish Socialists are later comers to America, - in fact they were not heard of before the year 1900 - and are therefore nearly entirely dependent upon the Finnish papers, while the older Finns read the American papers to a large extent. It would be safe to estimate that about 50 per cent of the Finnish families subscribe to one or more English papers. We can state this from our knowledge of the mining towns only, for we do not happen to be acquainted with conditions elsewhere in this respect. And thirdly, the political and social traditions in Finland have influenced many in their leaning towards Socialism.6 Such a condition points, further, to the fact that the ranks of the Finnish Socialists are divided, thus indicating a weakened condition from which Society has little to fear.

There is yet another thing to be added in speaking of the foreign press It seems to us that they serve a useful purpose in a particular sense. Many of the Finnish papers have been organized for religious reasons. Through them the Christian ideals and principles, respect for law and reverence for sacred things are inculcated in the minds of the immigrants; and through them important religious and educational questions are discussed. People living in remote and secluded communities, or on lonely homesteads many miles away from other inhabitants, welcome these friendly visitors to their homes. They are brought face to face with their fellowmen, and can take part in spirit in the religious activities with their Christian brethren. Even at best, there is a great deal of religious work to be done in America by means of the press, for the time available for religious instruction by the churches is very limited.

The foreign press is upheld in America with great difficulty, and especially has this been true of the Finnish press. The business of printing has really made no one rich, instead many individuals have had to sacrifice not only their time but their own means in such attempts. But if they have helped to interpret the American spirit to those who have not been able to read American publications, if they have contributed their influence in making the immigrant feel at home in his "new homeland", and if they have entered in spirit into America's wellbeing and up-building, then their services and sacrifices have not been made in vain. This is our judgment concerning the better class of the Finnish papers, with which the writer has been quite familiar. The language does not make the paper alone, it is the idea represented by the symbol that counts.

1 Social Organization, p. 75.

2. Prof. R. E. Park, The Am. Journ. of Sociology, Nov. 1923, pp. 203-289.

3 See the 20th Anniversary Publication of American Suometar, p. 7.

4 The Immigration Press and its Control, p. 46.

5 The Finn in America, p. 24.

6 See Rural Michigan, Chase, p. 167.

Publication: John Wargelin, The Americanization of the Finns. The Finnish Lutheran Book Concern. Hancock, Michigan 1924, 185 pages.

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