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The Language Press and the Temperance Society*

John Ilmari Kolehmainen

One of the manifestations of the presence of the sons of Väinömöinen in the Western Reserve has been the rise of the Finnish language press. As early as 1884 two printers, Fred Karinen and Alex Wirtamo by name, issued the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat at Ashtabula. From that date forward the emergence of new journals was rapid: in 1884 there appeared the religious monthly, Valvoja, edited by the venerable preacher and newspaperman, J. W. Lähde; during the following year, Karinen and Wirtamo offered the public the first Finnish humor sheet in America, the Hulivili Poika; in 1886, August Edwards, who was soon to assume full control of the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat, began his well known but shortlived Perheen Ystävä. In that same year, Ino Ekman, assisted by Wirtamo, founded the Pohjan Tähti which made its way into Finnish homes until 1888. From 1893, when Edwards moved to Minnesota, until 1897, the Western Reserve Finns were without a newspaper of their own. But upon his return to Ashtabula, Edwards again started to publish a weekly, the American Sanomat, which became known as the Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar after the year 1903. Reaching a circulation of over 11,000 in 1910, the Ashtabula organ declined rapidly during the subsequent years and near the close of 1913, the easy-going, mild-mannered Amerikan Sanomat ja Suomnetar was abandoned. In 1924, however, A. J. Hinkkanen with several other residents purchased the rights to the old Edwards' newspaper and since that time the Amerikan Sanomat has appeared regularly at Fairport. A competitor to the Amerikan Sanomat appeared in Cleveland in late 1928 under the banner of the Kansan Lehti. Its existence was, however, very short; in the winter of 1933 the paper made its farewell bow before the local Finns. Of the long lists of journals only the Fairport Amerikan Sanomat remains to carry on the torch of Finnish journalism in the Western Reserve.

Of greater import perhaps to the student of immigrant journalism is the plethora of hand written newspapers - or "nyrkkilehtiä", as the Finns call them - which have enriched Finnish life. Each temperance society almost without exception, possessed a journal peculiarly its own. As early as 1893, the Kunto temperance society of Ashtabula instituted the "Kuntolatar" as its official organ; some time later its name was changed to the "Toivo". The contemporary Turva temperance society likewise had its own sheet, known as the "Heränny". When the two merged in 1910 into the Sovinto temperance society, the new handwritten newspaper was baptized, appropriately enough, the "Vesipoika". Similar organs appeared early in the history of the other Western Reserve temperance societies; the Fairport Kasvi group initiated the "Kasvitar" as its journal in June, 1901 and by December of that year, sixteen issues had been painfully copied and joyously read before an expectant crowd of auditors. In Conneaut, the "Kuulumisia Kilpelästä" was read for the first time in 1901 before the members of the Kilpi temperance society; its name was shortly changed to the "Kilven Kaiku". A year earlier, the Hedelmä society adherents heard the "Kansan Ääni" as the first nyrkkilehti in Warren. The "Kansan Ääni" soon became the "Hedelmän Toivo"; the latter appeared twenty-eight times, for example, during the year 1908-1909 and twenty-five times during the year 1914-1915. The handwritten newspaper likewise made its appearance among the Cleveland temperance institutions: in the Suomen Ruusu society as the "Ruusun Oksa" and in the Rauhan Aate society as the "Säde". Most of the smaller temperance societies also had their own characteristic journals.

No great formality attended the preparation of the temperance society nyrkkilehti. An editorial board of one or more - sometimes as many as a dozen - was appointed to procure the necessary material for an issue. A box was usually made available for those rare individuals who wished to submit unsolicited manuscripts for the journal. As it turned out, however, the editor was through necessity the author also. When a sufficient amount of prose or poetry had been received, the editorial board - or a select body of censors - examined the contributions to see that the material was "suitable to be read before the public". After considerable pruning and not a few amendations, the copyist - he with the legible hand - was set to work to prepare the master copy. With good fortune and assiduous work, the issue was ready within the deadline, to be read by the proud editor before the members of the temperance society. Not infrequently, the "better issues" were sent to the neighboring societies; a copy of the "Kilven Kaiku", for example, was read before the members of the Hedelmä society on November 30, 1913.

In the first flush of enthusiasm, the production of the nyrkkilehtiä was frequent and regular. The Kilpi society, for one, decreed in the fall of 1902 that its "Kilven Kaiku" should appear once each week. When the Fairport "Kasvitar" was started in June, 1901, it ran for twenty-five consecutive issues without a lapse. But before long, as the novelty of the handwritten newspaper wore off, its emission degenerated from a weekly to a monthly, to a semi-annual occurence. The difficulties, aside from the labor in preparing the copy, which harassed the appearance of the nyrkkilehti were in the main two: the reticence of the rank and file to contribute articles for inclusion in the newspapers; and the unwillingness of individuals to assume the toil which an editorship involved. The hesculean task of finding an editor was humorously captured by the secretary of the Kilpi society in 1926: "Ah, yes, who is to become the editor of the "Kilven Kaiku"? Mr A? Support to mr A. Oh, not this time anyway. Well then, mrs B.? No, no, impossible! Mrs C.? I cannot see well. Miss D.? I have so much work to do .... "It often happened that as a result of the absence of editorial recruits, some member was forced to dig deep into the temperance society's archives to find an old and faded issue, reading this in the hope that "it would pass as a new copy".

While the nyrkkilehti has within recent years become more of an oddity than a regular event, its contributions to immigrant life have been many. Not only have the handwritten newspapers added to the conviviality of community existence but they have served to unearth and develop talent for writing prose, poetry, and humor. The copyists, on the other hand, were given an opportunity to display and improve their style; those who were chosen to read the finished masterpiece before a large and often critical audience received the best of training in the mysteries of oratory and declamation. The temperance society nyrkkilehti exerted, in truth, an influence far greater than its unprepossessing appearance suggested. It is the loss of posterity that the Finnish institutions have not better guarded these interesting and valuable handwritten newspapers.

* The writer wishes to acknowledge the kindness of the Chairman of the Department of History, Graduate School, Western Reserve University, in allowing use of this material. The above article forms a portion of a doctoral dissertation on "The History of the Finns in the Western Reserve".

Published in Valoa, Hancock 1937, p. 42-44.

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