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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.


The large problem we have endeavored to study in the course of this volume has by no means been exhausted. Our hope is that in one way or another we may have contributed to a clearer understanding of the life of this small, but in many ways interesting, group of our neigbors. The Americanization of the Finns has not yet been completed, many problems still present themselves to us, while others have just been begun to be discovered, but then it is to be remembered that the great problem of Americanization is a living process, and like Americanism itself, is still in the making. America is being made every day, and each racial group may be considered as carrying a little mite, at least, to the altar of true idealism and the spirit of our country. Some may contribute cultural riches the value of which may be inestimable, others, again, mental and physical qualities that are needed in building up a great nation.

We have found the Finn to differ from us in many respects. Some of these differences may be viewed with interest, and may be considered as contributing in a positive way to the welfare of our country; others may awaken us to a study of the underlying causes of these phenomena, many of which are seen to present themselves in the social life of many modern nations. The past history of the Finns, however, proves to us that they are not strangers to the great ideals that have received recognition in the life of America. They have been under the influence of Western civilization for hundreds of years; they have labored and fought for political and religious freedom for centuries in their native land. And as a result of this Finland is today a Republic with one of the most democratic forms of government found anywhere. She can boast of a fine national system of education and high percentage of literacy. Her people have become hardened to endure difficulties and obstacles to a remarkable degree, and they possess physical strength equal to that of the healthiest races.

The fact of heterogeneity in the composition of America, however, is a problem which must be recognized as needing further attention on the part of statesmen and educators who have the welfare of our nation at heart. It is necessary that all the inhabitants understand our ideals and form of government, as well as the general spirit of our life and institutions. For this reason everyone should learn to communicate in English. The immigrant should be provided with an opportunity of learning English, the importance of which he should be made to see both for himself individually, as well as for the society at large. This can be best attained through cooperation with the immigrant, rather than through compulsion. Even with the unity of language connecting the people, the fact of heterogeneity is seen to present a problem in a democracy. There should be unity in spirit and purpose as well as in outward form and life of the nation. The great ideal of true democracy is on trial in America, and it might still be repeated, with Lincoln, that "the test is whether any nation so conceived and organized can endure".

But on the other hand, it can not be expected that the immigrant should immediately forget his own language and a feeling for his kin and native land. We do not believe such a thing to be in accordance with natural laws. A person who could forget his native land soon, would be likely to have just as superficial a respect for America. The assimilation of an immigrant into American life may be compared to a mighty river, for example the Amazon, flowing into the Atlantic ocean. The flow of the river can still be detected many miles away from its mouth. So it is with an immigrant who comes to America. He is still influenced to a large extent, even after his life has flown into the great ocean of Americanism, by his heredity and the social current of his past life. It is only after a considerable length of time, many generations, perhaps, before he has entirely lost all trace of his racial origin, and to expect him not to betray his racial character, in the first or even second generation, does not show good understanding of sociological laws governing the problem of assimilation. "Not that man should be feared", says Prof. E. A. Steiner, "who bears in his bosom an affection for two countries, but he who does not love any country at all."1

That the love of America does conquer in the lives of immigrants, we have no reason to believe the opposite. Teutonic or Scandinavian or Finnish blood may flow in their veins, but yet they come gradually to feel themselves completely one with all this country, possesses, that is worth living and dying for. They may utter with Ruth, that Moabitish woman of precious memory, of long ago, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."

And why should it not be so? For "underneath the surface of American life, often rough and careless, there lies this widespread feling : that human nature everywhere is made of the same stuff; that life's joys and sorrows are felt in the same way whether they are hidden under homespun and calico or under silk and broadcloth; that it is every man's duty to do good and not evil to those who live in the world with him"2 This idealism is that of true democracy, made possible by Christianity.

"America is a brotherhood. Men of many races have chosen to become members. We who are already initiated through the accident of birth or choice by immigration are now to extend the hand of fellowship to the later comers. Upon the tact, skill, and diligence with which we do our part will depend in no small measure the future of America. But though it is difficult for us yet to picture definitely what we wish to produce, to visualize the composite American of the future, it is necessary that we formulate some idea, set before ourselves some fairly tangible objective, so that our efforts may be effective". And true Americanism may, finally, be said to mean "the lifting up spiritually as well as materially of the members of this commonwealth - the foreign as well as the native element." It is with this purpose that we have tried to present these facts concerning the American Finns.

1 "On the Trail of the Immigrant".

2 Spirit of America, Van Dyke.

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

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