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Finnish Population Movement in Ohio

Eugene Van Cleef

(Columbus, Ohio, U. S. A.)

Observations of Finnish settlement in the United States reveal a moderate trend from rural to urban land occupation among foreign-born Finns, and a marked increase in numbers in urban centres of those who are native-born but of foreign or mixed parentage. There has been a substantial increase, too, in the numbers of the latter group in rural areas, but the rate of increase has been much lower than in urban centres.

In the twenty years 1910-1930,1 there was an increase of about 24 per cent. in the number of foreign-born Finns in urban centres in the United States. During the same period there occurred a decrease in rural communities of nearly 3.5 per cent., although between 1910 and 1920 there was an actual increase of 7.6 per cent. Among native-born Finns the increase in urban centres was 183 per cent., while the increase in rural areas was only 80 per cent.

In Ohio during the same period, the number of foreign-born Finns increased by 41.1 per cent. in urban centres, but declined by 25.6 per cent. in rural areas.

Fig. 1.

On the other hand, native-born Finns increased by 200 per cent. in urban centres, and declined by only about 2.4 per cent. in rural areas. Thus the number of foreign-born Finns in Ohio compared with the number of foreign-born Finns in the country as a whole showed an increase almost twice as great in urban centres and a decrease only one-eighth as large in rural areas. On the other hand, the increase in the number of native-born Finns in Ohio urban centres only slightly exceeded that in the country as a whole, whereas in rural districts they showed a slight decrease in contrast to a substantial national increase. Thus, whereas in the United States the variation in the total number of Finns in urban and rural areas combined has shown a marked increase, Ohio has experienced a marked increase in urban centres only, and in rural areas there has been a decline.

Fig. 2.

Data for individual cities in Ohio for the twenty years under consideration are limited, but those for four cities are worth examining. In Ashtabula, where we have the largest concentration of Finns in Ohio, there was a steady increase amounting to 147.3 per cent. for the period in question. The number of foreign-born Finns was 1,333 compared with 1,832 native-born. In Cleveland the increase was 355.5 per cent., with 1,148 foreign-born and 1,139 native-born. At Warren, Ohio, the increase in numbers in twenty years reached the striking total of 1,164 per cent., with 495 foreign-born and 428 native-born in 1930. At Fairport Harbor, a suburb of Painesville, there are 1,790 Finns, whose rate of increase probably corresponds to the rates first cited. Unfortunately, data for this city for earlier years are not available.

If we compare these data for individual cities with those for Ohio and the U.S.A., we find that the percentages are considerably greater. That is, the total increase in the numbers of all Finns in the U.S.A. was 52 per cent., compared with 75.5 per cent. for Ohio, while the individual urban increases in Ohio ranged from 147 per cent. to 1,164 per cent. We must note, however, that the average urban increase among native-born Finns in the United States as a whole was relatively high, namely, 183 per cent., whereas the increase of foreign-born Finns was only 24 per cent. The small increase in foreign-born Finns was due to the new Immigration Restriction Act, which had already revealed its effectiveness in 1925, when 689 Finns entered the country as compared with 3,975 in 1924. Immigration reached its lowest point in 1932, when 133 Finns entered the country.2

Comparing the variations in numbers of Finns in Ohio in rural and urban centres for the decades 1910-20 and 1920-30, certain striking tendencies are observable. Among the foreign-born, the increase in numbers in urban centres during the first decade was 92.4 per cent., whereas in the second there was a decrease during the first decade of 1 per cent., and in the second decade a decline of 24.5 per cent. Among native-born Finns in urban centres there was an increase of 160 per cent. in the first decade, compared with an increase of only 15.6 per cent. in the second decade. Native-born Finns in rural areas showed a decrease of 7.6 per cent. in the first decade, but an increase of 5.6 per cent. in the second decade. These latter figures stand out in contrast to those for the foreign-born, who barely held their own in 1910-20 and showed a decline of 24.5 per cent. in 1920-30.

Analysis of rural groups into farm and non-farm3 for the census of 1930 shows 14 per cent. more farm than non-farm among the foreign-born, and 33 per cent. more farm than non-farm among the native-born. Although these data indicate that considerable numbers of Finns live in villages rather than on farms, their residence in the village is an expression of their desire to be close to the open country. Many of these Finns own small shops, or engage in general trade, others are workmen in factories or on railways, or follow a variety of different callings. Many spend the leisure hours after their regular employment in the cultivation of gardens or even of small holdings.

From these figures certain conclusions may be drawn. Making allowance for curtailed immigration since 1925, and taking cognizance of the boom period from 1925-1930, which stimulated the flow of population from farm to city, the urban tendencies of the Finns, observable in the decade 1910-20, were checked in the subsequent decade, while rural tendencies showed lesser changes. This movement corresponds, generally with that for the country as a whole, as well as for Ohio,4 the increase in urban population and decrease in rural population having continued through the years 1910-1930. However, the percentage differences in increase or decrease in the respective decades were practically constant, whereas the rate of movement of the Finnish population in the period was strikingly different. Had immigration been unrestricted, it seems safe to assume that the distribution of Finns between urban and rural areas in Ohio would have continued to show about the same relationship as appeared in 1920, namely, a slightly stronger tendency toward settlement in cities than in rural areas, but no marked change such as occurred in the decade 1910 to 1920, when the movement towards the towns was notably large and the rural movement negative.

From these data it might be safe to assume that no marked rise in future Finnish settlement, either in urban or in rural areas, is to be expected, and that there will be a tendency for rural settlement to increase slightly. We have based our assumption of relative equilibrium not only upon what has happened during the past twenty years, but upon the probability that should free immigration, or at least a less restricted immigration of Finns, again be permitted, many foreign-born Finns will gravitate toward the rural areas as they have done in the past - an apparently normal tendency - and such rural increases will be in turn offset by the movement of native-born Finns from rural to urban centres. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for Finns who have accumulated reserve funds in the cities eventually to remove to a farm, although their children may remain in the cities. This tendency to return to the land helps to maintain an element of constancy in the number of rural Finns. One factor the effect of which cannot be determined owing to the lack of data, is the movement of Finns into Ohio from other states. While ordinarily that movement does not seem to be important, there have been times when large numbers have been attracted by the establishment of a new factory, or have been forced to find employment in another state, when industries with which they were associated in their own have ceased.

In Finland, the growth of urban population has been relatively slow. The nation continues to reflect an agricultural economy. This is particularly true if forestry is included with agriculture. Nevertheless, recent national policy has encouraged industrial development. These facts, coupled with rapid economic changes which have taken and are taking place in Ohio, may account in part for the urban-rural distribution in the state today. However, we must not overlook the fact that the rural urge still remains strong in the hearts of the Finns, and it is observable that when they live in towns, they choose the smaller ones, or, if they must settle in the great cities, they elect to live in suburban areas, and whenever possible rent or own a cabin upon some nearby lake, so that they may at least spend their leisure in natural surroundings.


1 All data are from the reports of the U. S. Census.

2 See Baltic Countries, Vol. II, No. 1, May 1936, "Finns in the U.S.A. and Canada" (by the present writer), p. 35, Fig. 1.

3 By non-farm is meant those who do not live on farms but in villages, even though in some instances they are owners of farms.

4 Ohio has evolved from an agricultural into an industrial state. At present 42 per cent. of the total population is engaged in manufacturing, industries and mining (excluding transport and trade), whereas but 12 per cent. are engaged in agriculture (exclusive of forestry and fishing). These figures imply that the population is predominantly urban, for which there is ample evidence in the fact that 67.8 per cent. live in communities with a population of 2,500 or over. In 1890, only 41 per cent. of the population was urban.

Published in Baltic and Scandinavian Countries. Vol. III, 1937, p. 253-255.

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