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The Migration of Finnish-Americans to Florida after World War II

Keijo Virtanen

The census statistics of the United States indicate that nearly all Finnish immigrants settled in the northern states of the country. During the main period of Finnish immigration to the United States, from the eighteen-sixties to World War I, mainly the abundant employment available in the north determined the fact that hardly any Finns were found in the "Southern States". The only exception was the Pacific coast area where a considerable number of Finns lived in Washington, Oregon and also in California.

Already during the years of most active immigration, the Finns migrated from locality to locality in North America, migration being governed by the availability of employment. This migration has not yet received the full attention of researchers. The migration of Finnish-Americans to Florida, a migration that has achieved a noticeable extent after World War II, in other words several decades after the end of the great immigration, forms its own chapter. In the following, an attempt will be made to clarify the main characteristics of this migration emphasizing its intensity, areas of departure and certain structural characteristics.

The main source material consists of the church registers of the Finnish St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, Florida. The congregation was formed on December 27, 1953,1 and it is the largest of the active Finnish congregations in Florida. From the viewpoint of its organization and teaching, it belonged to the Suomi Synod, the counterpart of the official Finnish Church in North America which ended its activity in 1962.2 Since it is located in Florida's most important Finnish area, the information contained in its membership lists may be considered representative for the purposes of this research problem. However, it should be remembered that not all Finnish arrivals to Florida joined a congregation, for example, because of their political convictions. Others perhaps did not want to join a Suomi Synod church if they had belonged to some other church in their previous place of residence. Since a congregation's membership list appears still to be the best available source for research into Finnish-American migration to Florida, it is then naturally logical to use that of the largest and most centrally located congregation. In addition, the information gathered by Kero from the questionnaires collected by the Turku University, Institute of History3 will be used as comparative material. These questionnaires have been answered by Finnish immigrants living in North America.4

An introduction to the examination is afforded by the table 1 which describes the development of the number of Finns in the United States and in Florida during the present century. A short survey also will be presented showing the main reasons for migration.

Table 1. The Number of Finns in the United States and Florida, 1900-1970.5

United States

Florida

year

1st gen.

1st and
2nd gen.

1st gen.

1st and
2nd gen.


1900

62 641

42

-

1910

129 680

211 026

89

137

1920

149 824

296 276

311

555

1930

142 478

320 536

333

637

1940

117 210

-

461

-

1950

95 506

-

1 082

-

1960

53 168

240 827

2 271

5 213

1970

45 499

203 826

3 004

6 665


The number of Finns in Florida has increased considerably particularly during the decades following World War II while the total number of Finns in the United States achieved its peak, with respect to first generation Finns, already in the 1920 census. The number of second generation Finns started to decline after World War II. A natural reason for this is the noticeable reduction in immigration more than fifty years ago. According to the census, by 1970 there were 3,004 Finnish born immigrants in Florida. Only in five states were there more (New York 6,605, California 5,449, Michigan 5,383, Minnesota 4,628 and Massachusetts 4,378).6

There were few Finns in Florida before World War II. It is true that Ilmonen estimated their number to have been about 1,000 already in the nineteen-twenties,7 but this does not agree with the census statistics (comp. table 1). Finnish settlement began to gain a slight foothold in the second decade of the twentieth century when immigrants from the north arrived to become farmers and construction workers.8 Finnish sailors might have lodged in the ports of Florida already at the end of the nineteenth century.

The migration to Florida after World War II began from a completely different basis. The reason for migration was not the search for a livelihood or employment opportunities. The largest part of the arrivals consisted of Finns near retirement age who were attracted by Florida's year-round warm climate. The mean annual temperature of the most important area of Finnish settlement, Palm Beach County, is 24 degrees C.9 Characteristic of the movement from the north has been the fact that a part of the arrivals spend only the winter in Florida. After a few winters, however, many decide to move permanently to the south.

The warm climate has evidently been the main reason for the move. This is mentioned by people interviewed who have made the move to the area.10 In addition, Kero has listed other factors which may be noted here. The cost of living in Florida is relatively inexpensive because, for example, the cost of heating and clothing is rather small. Among elderly Finnish-Americans movement to Florida has also become fashionable. The continuing and lively association activity in the Finnish centers of Florida may have played its own part.11 A clear indication of the vitality of the activity is the fact that the archives of eight Finnish associations in Florida were microfilmed over the course of a few days12 during the immigration history research material collection trip, initiated by the Turku University, Institute of History in 1975. Seven of these are located in Lake Worth of Lantana in Palm Beach County, Florida.

It is difficult to answer the question why this particular area located on the Atlantic coast of Florida has become the most important area of Finnish settlement. Perhaps the reason simply is that expressed by Aune Salo who moved to Florida from Ashtabula, Ohio in 1974. According to her, the first arrivals "dropped off" the train at Lake Worth and later arrivals aspired to the same residential locations as other Finns.13 In any case, Palm Beach County is overwhelmingly the most important Finnish settlement area in Florida. Of the total number of Finns in Florida in 1970 (3,004) most (2,516) lived in Palm Beach County.14 The Finnish settlement of the most important localities, Lake Worth and Lantana, is so strong that, among other things, a separate telephone directory was published in 1973 consisting only of Finns. It contained about 1,500 names.15

A total of 765 members had joined Lake Worth's St. Andrew's church from the time of its formation in 1953 to 1974. The migration in five year periods is distributed as follows (the years 1953 and 1954 are not taken into consideration since during these years it may be assumed that those joining the congregation consisted mainly of earlier migrants):16

1955-59

141

(20.9 %)

migrants

1960-64

198

(29.3 %)

"

1965-69

152

(22.5 %)

"

1970-74

184

(27.3 %)

"


total

675

(100.0 %)

"

The figures indicate that no great changes occurred in the number joining the congregation during the different time periods. This is supported by information obtained from questionnaires. Of the people returning questionnaires, 34 had arrived in Florida during the 1955-1959 period, 29 during the 1960-1964 period and 28 during the 1965-1968 period. In comparison, only 12 respondents had moved to Florida during the 1945-1949 period and 19 during the 1950-1954 period.17 It seems then that the migration of Finnish-Americans to Florida achieved its peak during the latter half of the nineteen-fifties. This peak period has continued quite steadily to the mid-nineteen-seventies. On the other hand, beginning with the first decade after World War II, the period of establishment of the migration and settlement, the number of migrants was not as high as later.

The movement to Florida was not dependent on business cycles as was the movement of immigrants from locality to locality in North America at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century when economic factors in particular caused movement. As previously noted, those arriving in Florida came not to search for work but to spend their retirement years. Of those joining the St. Andrew's church during the 1953-1974 period, 185 or 57.1 % were over 60 years of age upon joining, and correspondingly 139 or 42.9 % were under 60 years of age.18 The age structure of the parishioners becomes evident also from examining the tasks of the ministers during the 1953-1974 period: 860 funerals, 132 christenings, 120 confirmations and 172 marriages.

The age structure of migrants to Florida was probably also the main reason for the fact that the largest portion, nearly 60% of the arrivals, were women.19 Emigration from Finland consisted mainly of men for two-thirds of the total number of emigrants to North America were men.20 It is true that men - even when considered relatively - returned more often than women to Finland. But return emigration was in itself so slight, that it hardly altered the sex distribution of the emigrants21 The most important reason for why more women than men came to Florida may have been the former's higher average age. Women were widowed more often than men which caused the change in the older age groups of the sex distribution of the immigrants. In comparison, at least on the basis of this research, it may not be said that women would have been more willing migrants than men.

Table 2. The Migration of Women and Men to Florida in Five Year Periods, 1955-1974.22

time period

women men total

1955-59

84

(59.6 %)

57

(40.4 %)

141

(100.0 %)

1960-64

114

(57.6 %)

84

(42.4 %)

198

(100.0 %)

1965-69

97

(63.8 %)

55

(36.2 %)

152

(100.0 %)

1970-74

100

(54.3 %)

84

(45.7 %)

184

(100.0 %)


total

395

(56.7 %)

280

(43.3 %)

675

(100.0 %)

According to the table clearly more women than men have joined the congregation during each of the four time periods. There is no evidence of a systematic development in which the portion of one or the other sex has increased or decreased during the time of the formation of the congregation to the present day. It is true, as the table indicates, that the portion of men was at its peak during the periods (the periods 1960-1964 and 1970-1974) when the total migration was most intense. An explanation for this, however, is not evident and it may be said that, when compared, there has been no noteworthy change in the intensity of immigration of men versus women to Florida during the twenty year period in consideration. This then strengthens the stable characteristic of the migration in a time perspective, also from the view of examination of the different sexes. The same became evident previously in dealing with the intensity of the total migration to Florida.

Where then did the Finnish arrivals to Florida come from? The registers of Lake Worth's St. Andrew's church give a clear answer to this central question for the 1953-1974 period. The previous places of residence before moving south of those joining the congregation were the following (see also map 1):23

1.

Michigan

112

members

2.

New York

66

"

3.

Ohio

61

"

4.

Massachusetts

37

"

5.

Illinois

33

"

6.

Connecticut

24

"

7.

Minnesota

23

"

7.

Florida

23

"

9.

Wisconsin

20

"

10.

New Jersey

18

"

11.

Pennsylvania

15

"

12.

Maryland

7

"

13.

Ontario (Canada)

4

"

13.

Indiana

4

"

15.

South Dakota

2

"

15.

Iowa

2

"

15.

Quebec (Canada)

2

"

15.

Rhode Island

2

"

15.

Oregon

2

"

15.

New Hampshire

2

"

21.

Washington

1

member

21.

Virginia

1

"

21.

Tennessee

1

"

21.

California

1

"

21.

District of Columbia

1

"

directly from Finland

26

members

total

490

members

Most Finns came to Florida from Michigan, which has been with respect to total number, the most important area of Finnish settlement. During the early stages of migration to Florida in 1950, there were 15,501 first generation Finns in Michigan. Other important states were Minnesota (14,475), New York (12,897), Massachusetts (9,190), California (7,467), Washington (7,237), Ohio (3,682), Oregon (3,530), Wisconsin (3,282), and Illinois (3,014).24

Map 1. The most important previous places of residence of Finns in Florida in 1953-1974 (Source: Records of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Lake Worth, Fla.).

A striking feature in comparing the departure areas of migrants to Florida with the Finnish areas of settlement in 1950 is that hardly any Finns moved from the western "Finnish states" (California, Washington, and Oregon). The main reason for this is that the climate of the Pacific coast is in itself comparatively pleasant through out the year. This is particularly the case with California and for this reason it has become to some degree in the western United States the same type of "oasis" for Finns as Florida is in the east. Indeed, for example, geographical factors govern the preference of migration of Finns in Washington and Oregon to California rather than to Florida, in so far as they decide to move at all.

Other things considered migrants to Florida have lived previously in the most important Finnish areas of settlement in the northern parts of the United States. However, consider again the commanding position of those arriving from Michigan. Surprisingly Florida has appealed little to those in Minnesota. In contrast, the movement from the more southern "Finnish states", Ohio and Illinois, has been relatively great when the number of Finns in the different states in 1950 is taken as a standard. In addition, the states of the East Coast (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey) also appear to be important departure areas of migrants to Florida.

The migration of Finns to Florida then has occurred from states where there has been strong Finnish settlement. This area is however smaller than the area settled by Finnish immigrants in the United States. It consists mainly, on the one hand, of the states bordering the Great Lakes and, on the other, of the Atlantic coast states. A similar conclusion has been reached on the basis of the questionnaire collection of the Turku University, Institute of History. According to Kero' s calculations the most important departure areas of migrants to Florida have been Michigan (25 respondents), New York (25), Illinois (14), Massachusetts (13), Ohio (10), Minnesota (9), Wisconsin (5) and Connecticut (4).25

It is difficult to find a reason why, for example, the movement from Minnesota to Florida has been relatively small or that from Illinois and Ohio and also the East Coast states has been relatively greater. The labor movement has had a strong position among the Finns in Minnesota, yet the same may be said of many other Finnish areas. For this reason, the probability of joining a church association in Florida may not have reflected differences in the areas of the north. In addition, Suomi Synod, to which the St. Andrew's church belonged, was particularly strong in the Midwest (in Minnesota for example). Thus it cannot be an explaining factor. Suomi Synod perhaps did not hold the same central position in the eastern parts of the United States. So-called congregational churches, among others, operated and still operate especially in the East. However, these eastern states hold a noticeable position as areas of departure of migrants to Florida.

Evidently migration from some areas to Florida has become a tradition which has even gained the characteristic of a mass movement. Proof of this seems to be, for example, the fact that of the total joining the St. Andrew's congregation originating in the United States 121 or 26.4 % migrated from only five cities of the United States.26 These cities are Detroit, Michigan (34 people), Ashtabula, Ohio (26), New York, New York (25), Waukegan, Illinois (20), and Negaunee, Michigan (16). Some type of migration fever may even be spoken of in small localities in particular, such as Ashtabula, Ohio. Otherwise Finns seem to have moved to Florida from both large and small cities.

As the figures on page 439 indicate, nearly all of those joining the St. Andrew's congregation have originated from the United States. Only a few have arrived from Canada. Vancouver, located on the Pacific coast and where the climate is pleasant all year round, appears to be the Finnish-Canadian "Florida"27. About five percent of those joining the congregation have come directly from Finland. At least a portion of them have arrived in their peak work years to establish, for example, business enterprises such as motels. But even though only a small part of the Finns in Florida came directly from the "old country", most were born there which comes apparent from the following:28

Finland

165

(51.9 %)

persons

Michigan

62

(19.5 %)

"

Minnesota

12

(3.8 %)

"

Pennsylvania

12

(3.8 %)

"

Massachusetts

10

(3.1 %)

"

New York

9

(2.8 %)

"

Ohio

9

(2.8 %)

"

other states

22

(6.9 %)

"

Canada

1

(0.3 %)

person

other countries

16

(5.0 %)

persons

total

318

(100.0 %)

persons

The fact that over half of the members of the congregation were born in Finland is a logical consequence to the previously considered age structure of the congregation, which was very high. However, the share of those born in North America is also noticeable (43.0 % of the members). Florida then has attracted a great number of both first and second generation Finns. The significance of Michigan in the history of the Finns in Florida is strengthened by an examination of the place of birth of the migrants. Nearly half of the congregation members born in North America originated from Michigan. A small portion of the parishiners (5 %) were born in European countries other than Finland, but this does not have any direct significance at least from the view of the present research problem.

In conclusion an examination into whether there has been any change or not in the departure areas of migrants to Florida over the course of the 20 year period being considered is presented in the following table 3.

The drawing of very absolute conclusions on the basis of the table is not worthwhile. The populations are very small and the former place of residence of many of the congregation members is not known. However, it seems that the significance of Michigan as the most important departure area of Finns in Florida may decrease during the coming years. Migration from Michigan decreased considerably during the 1970-1974 period. Correspondingly continually more Finns have arrived in Florida from New York. During the last period (1970-1974), it clearly surpasses Michigan, from where during all of the other five year periods the most Finns arrived. No clear direction is apparent on the part of the other states. It is not even worthwhile to make very exact deductions with respect to Michigan and New York. However, according to the table, the area of departure seems to expand from the mid-nineteen-sixties on. The number of members joining the congregation from the "other states" group increases significantly during the 1965-1974 period. Likewise, the number of arrivals directly from Finland does not increase until the nineteen-sixties. The likely reason for this is the fact that Florida did not begin to interest Finnish emigrants until Finnish settlement in Lake Worth and Lantana, in particular, had become relatively well established.

Table 3. The Departure Areas of Migrants to Florida in Five Year Periods, 1955-1974.29

area

1955-59

1960-64

1965-69

1970-74

total:
1955-74


Michigan

20

26

29

15

90

New York

4

15

18

26

63

Ohio

11

22

7

14

54

Illinois

6

9

8

4

27

Massachusetts

4

10

6

6

26

Connecticut

2

9

3

10

24

Florida

2

10

7

4

23

Minnesota

10

4

3

4

21

New Jersey

6

1

4

7

18

Wisconsin

1

10

6

-

17

other states

3

3

16

16

38

Canada

1

2

-

1

4

Finland

1

7

10

7

25


total

71

128

117

114

430

The Finnish migration to Florida continues on actively and its end is difficult to predict. This paper has concentrated on examining the history of the Finns in Florida mainly as a mobility phenomenon. However, their history deserves treatment from a noticeably more extensive viewpoint and in more depth than here. On the other hand, also the other (earlier) migrations of Finns on the North American continent await their researchers, after which the migration to Florida may be situated into a wider perspective.

1 A microfilm copy of the congregation's archives is located at the Emigration History Research Center, Institute of History of Turku University, signum: UTGH/E/m/8/255-256.

2 See: Reports on the activities of the Suomi Synod churches in the United States and Canada, 1960. Printed list in the posession of the author.

3 Reino Kero, Satakuntalainen amerikansiirtolaisuus ennen ensimmäistä maailmansotaa. Lähtö ja muuttoliikkeet. Phil. Lic. thesis, Turku University, 1970. Unpublished.

4 Signum: UTGH/E/1/1-2450.

5 The United States Census of Population 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960, and 1970. Washington, D. C. 1900-1970. 1st gen. (generation) refers to immigrants born in Finland and 2nd gen. their children.

6 The United States Census of Population 1970.

7 Ilmonen, Amerikan suomalaisten historia III. Yhdysvalloissa ja Canadassa olevat, suomalaiset asutukset. Hancock, Mich. 1926. p. 292.

8 Ilmonen, op.cit. p. 292-296; American Finnish Tourist Club, 301 Central Boulevard, Lantana, Florida. Morketinpolttojuhlan muistoksi omistettu historiakatsaus Turistiklubin toiminnasta vuosina 1937-1958. Fitchburg, Mass. s.a. p. 3.

9 American Finnish Tourist Club, op.cit. p. 3.

10 Interview with Wallu Jaakkola, Lantana, Fla. 8.4.1975 and interview with Aune Salo, Lake Worth, Fla. 8.4.1975 (signum: UTGH/E/ ä/l42).

11 Kero 1970, op.cit. p. 204-205.

12 On microfilm, signum: UTGH/E/m/8/254-258.

13 Interview with Aune Salo, Lake Worth, Fla. 8.4.1975.

14 The United States Census of Population 1970.

15 Phone Directory of Finnish Speaking Population. Lake Worth-Lantana Area 1973. Compiled by Arvo Paananen, Lake Worth, Florida.

16 From 1953 to 1954, 90 members joined the congregation.

17 Kero 1970, op. cit. p. 203-204.

18 The calculation is based on the congregation's current register which contains the "active" members in 1970 and those joining the congregation during the nineteen-seventies.

19 Of those joining the congregation from 1953 to 1974, 446 (58.3 %) were women and 319 (41.7 %) were men.

20 Anna-Leena Toivonen, Etelä-Pohjamnaan valtamerentakainen siirtolaisuus 1867-1930. Seinäjoki 1963. p. 49-50; Reino Kero, Migration from Finland to North America in the Years between the United States Civil War and the First World War. Vammala 1974. p. 91-92.

21 The information is based on the author's doctoral dissertation in preparation.

22 In addition, of the 90 members joining the congregation in 1953 and 1954, 51 (56.7 %) were women and 39 (43.3 %) were men.

23 The previous place of residenoe of 275 members is not mentioned in the membership lists.

24 The United States Census of Population 1950.

25 Kero 1970, op. cit., appendix 1, p. 264

26 A total of 458 people whose origin in the United States is known exactly joined the St. Andrew's congregation during the 1953-1974 period.

27 Interview with Katri Westerlund, Sudbury, Ont. 14.8.1974.

28 The figures include the "active" members of the congregation in 1970 and those joining during the nineteen-seventies whose place of birth becomes evident from the church registers.

29 Cases in which the departure area is unknown amount to 245. In addition, the 90 members of the congregation who joined in 1953 end 1954 are not included in the figures presented in the table.

Published in Turun historiallinen arkisto, 31(1976), p. 432-445 = Turun historiallisen yhdistyksen julkaisuja 31.

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