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Finnish Farmers in Michigan

J. F. Thaden

Section of Sociology and Anthropology

Michigan has more Finnish farm families than any other state, with the possible exception of Minnesota. More than half of the farms in each of the following counties, - all in the western part of Upper Michigan - are operated by Finns: Alger, Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Marquette and Ontonagon. Of the various ethnic groups in the state none manifests a stronger tendency to settle on farms in the cut-over areas than do the Finns. There are 7,789 (U. S. Census of 1940) people on Michigan farms who were born in Finland. Figure 1 indicates their distribution by counties. Of these, 4,403 are males and nominally heads of families. The heads of several thousand other farm families are American born of Finnish parentage. The Finn constitutes the principal foreign-born in the farm population of 12 counties, all except Manistee being in Upper Michigan. Most of them transplanted themselves from the Copper Country where they originally worked in the mines.

Fig. 1. Number of Michigan rural-farm population born in Finland by counties. (Source: U. S. Census, 1940.)

The Finnish immigration to Michigan commenced in 1864 when several thousand came from Norway to the Copper Region. These were imported by one of the larger mining companies operating there. In the early seventies many started coming directly from Finland.

Michigan has always had more Finns than any other state. At present, over one-fifth (63,671) or 22.4 percent of the 284,290 Finns and people of Finnish parentage (one or both parents were born in Finland) in the United States live in Michigan. A somewhat smaller number, 54,252 or 19.0 percent, live in Minnesota. Various factors induced migration from Finland in the 19th century, among them, meagre earnings, uncertainty of subsistence, so-called "wanderlust" which has due largely to physical vitality and adventurous nature, and the compulsory military law 1878. In recent decades, the desire for civil liberty was a most influential factor, since from 1899 to 1917 the people in Finland were suppressed by the Russian Manifesto which took away many of the constitutional rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Finland.

Of the 63,671 Finns in Michigan, 21,15l, or one third are foreign-born and 42,520, or two-thirds, are native born of foreign or mixed parentage. Four-fifths of them reside in Upper Michigan. The topography, climate and woodland of this region are so similar to those of Finland that the transplanted Finn feels quite at home. Mining and lumbering were the first occupations of the Finn after coming to this state.

The communities and localities that are predominantly Finnish are: Agate, Ahmeek, Allouez, Alpha, Alston, Amasa,, Arnheim, Arnold, Askel, Atlantic, Aura, Baltic-South Range, Baraga, Caspian, Champion, Chassell, Chatham, Covington, Crystal Falls, Dafter, Deerton, Defiance, Demmon, Dollar Bay, Eagle River, East Branch, Eben Junction, Elo, Ewen, Felch, Foster City, Gay, Green City, Hamar, Hazel, Herman, Hubbell, Humboldt, Jacobsville, Jennings, Junet, Kaleva, Kenton, Keweenaw Bay, Klingville, Kiva, Lake Linden, Lewiston, Liminga, Lincoln, Marilla, MacMillan, Mass, Matchwood, Michigamme, Mohawk, Nisula, North Bessemer, North Ironwood, Onnela, Osier, Oskar, Painesdale, Pelkie, Palmer, Paynesville, Phoenix, Puritan, Ramsey, Redridge-Beacon Hill, Republic, Rock, Rubicon, Rudyard, Rumeley, Skanee, Stambaugh, Sundell, Toivola, Topaz, Trimountain, Trout Creek, Wainola, Wakefield, Watson, Watton, and Winters. The colonization agent for the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad promoted many of these settlements.

In the communities of northern Michigan, where most of the Finnish farmers live, the major cash crop is general1y potatoes. Hay is another important crop. More than half of the farm is usually in tillable pasture. The major livestock enterprise is dairying. One-half of the farmers have a small poultry flock. Farms are small, averaging 78 acres in the eight predominantly Finnish counties of Alger, Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Marquette and Ontonagon. The average size of farm in each of these counties is less than the state average of 962 acres. In general, the soils are of a relatively low or medium fertility and sandy. The growing season is short, 90 to 130 days. The tillable acreage per farm is small and is increasing slowly because of the cost and labor involved in clearing the land.

The percentage of farms that are classed as "non-commercial" is relatively high in these eight predominantly Finnish counties, 53 percent as compared with the state average of 29. Non-commercial farms are those on which farm products used by the farm household are the major source of income. A somewhat different way of stating this might be to say that relatively few farms are "commercial" farms, such as those producing over $600 worth of farm produce, or 32 percent compared with the average for the state of 58 percent.

Low farm income compels many farmers in the Finnish counties to supplement their income from other sources. The percentage of farmers in these eight counties who worked off their farm in 1939 was 49 as compared with 32 percent for the state. However, remoteness from large industrial centers, restricted the opportunities, of farmers in these counties, of supplementing their farm income so that the number of days that they worked off their farms averaged slightly less than in most other counties, 156 days as compared with the state average of 159 days.

A partially compensating factor for low farm income and low supplementary farm income is the fact that relatively few owner-operated farms are mortgaged, 32 percent as compared with the state average of 46 percent.

The Finns, like the Scandinavians, are noted for co-operative enterprises organized in accordance with Rochdale principles. There are co-operative associations at Trenary, Eben Junction, Traunik, Herman, Pelkie, Skanee, Baraga, Watton (2), Covington, Ironwood (2), Wakefield (2), Hancock (5), Lake Linden (2), Jacobsville, Houghton, Toivola, Amasa, Ewen, Bruce Crossing (3), Mass, and Ontonagon (2). Seven of these centers have two or more co-operatives. Some of them are located in communities that are not predominantly Finnish. General merchandise co-operatives are the most prevalent - more numerous than all other kinds combined. Four are potato warehouse co-ops and three are creameries. These associations are similar to those prevailing among the Finnish and Scandinavians farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They usually adhere closely to the one-man, one-vote control and other Rochdale principles of cooperation. Nearly one-half of the business of the supply co-ops is made up of groceries and dry goods and the remainder of gasoline, oil, hardware, feed and dairy products. Among the larger supply co-ops are those at Pelkie and Hancock, each having an annual business of approximately a quarter of a million dollars. Nearly all of the supply co-ops in Upper Michigan are members of the Central Cooperative Wholesale of Superior, Wisconsin.

Grange organizations are practically non-existent in Finnish communities. There are 5 Granges in the 8 predominantly Finnish counties, but the only one that is predominantly Finnish is the one at Aura in Marquette County. The others are primarily Swedish. Nor are there any Farm Bureau community groups in these counties. The church for some Finns and the co-operative for other Finns tend to fulfil the social needs of many Finnish farm families. The Knights and Ladies of Kalevala, a fraternal order which offers protection through its benevolent features, is also an important social organization.

Religiously, the Finn is a Lutheran. There are 108 Finnish churches in the state. Sixty communities are served by Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America, or Suomi Synod: 35 communities by the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church of America; and 5 communities by the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran National Church of America. Some communities have two or three different kinds of Finnish Lutheran churches. The first Finnish Lutheran churches in the United States were organized at Calumet and Hancock in 1867. Upper Michigan served as the birthplace for all three of the Finnish Lutheran denominations. The Suomi Synod was organized at Calumet in 1890. At Hancock, this denomination operates the Suomi College and Theological Seminary which was established in 1896. This denomination claims 11,365 members in Michigan (United States Religious Census of 1936). The Finnish National denomination has 1946 members. This denomination was incorporated at Ironwood shortly after its organization in 1898. The Finnish Apostolic denomination was formed at Calumet in 1928. It claims 4,886 members in the state. Sixty percent of the members of the Finnish churches are classed as rural. Since only one-fifth of the church members in the state as a whole are so classified, this is another indication of the strong rurality of Michiganís Finns.

Many people in this state speak and read Finnish. For 58,240 people in Michigan their principal mother tongue other than English is Finnish. According to the N. W. Ayer & Sonís Directory of Newspaper and Periodicals (1945), at least six newspapers and church papers are published for those who read Finnish.

Amerikan Suometar is a tri-weekly published at Hancock. It has a circulation of 4,970 and has been published since 1899. Paimen-Sanomia is also published at Hancock. It is a monthly, Finnish Lutheran paper, published since 1889 and has a circulation of 1,047. Valvoja is a tri-weekly published at Calumet with a circulation of 5,960. It was established in 1915. Opas, a bi-weekly is also published at Calumet. It started in 1930 and has a circulation of 3,600. At Ironwood is published Auttaja, a weekly published since 1906 and which has a circulation of 2,400. The Lutheran Youth, is a Finnish and English monthly published at Ironwood. It started publication in 1936 and has a circulation of 1,275. Both of these are Finnish Evangelical Lutheran publications.

Sparse population and remoteness from large urban centers affect the ease with which modern facilities can be made available in most localities in Upper Michigan. In the eight predominantly Finnish counties only 64 percent of the farms have automobiles compared with 82 percent in the state as a whole: less than one-half (48 percent) have their homes lighted by electricity as compared with 71 percent for the state: and only 7 percent have telephones as compared with 28 percent for the state. Although the proportion of farm homes lighted by electricity is still relatively low in these counties remarkable progress was made in recent yars. In 1938, the Rural Electrification Administration brought light and electric power to 2,066 farm homes in the counties of Alger, Baraga, Houghton and Ontonagon, and to Delta and Menominee farms.

The Finn is generally characterized as a rugged individual, possessing great physical agility and endurance. Finlandís marathon runner, Kolehmainen, and her other world famous athletes, such as Nurmi, Stenross and Ritola at the International Olympics helped to bring some of the Finnís personal characteristics to the attention of many peoples. His well known bathhouse no doubt contributed considerably to his personal cleanliness and physical prowess. Back of many a Finnish house is the Sauna or bathhouse where the bather gives himself a steam bath by throwing water on heated stones. One section of this bathhouse, in many instances, serves as a dressing room and on wash days as a laundry room.

The Finn as a group rate high in literacy. Finland was one of the first nations to introduce compulsory school attendance. Vocational education is an integral part of her educational curriculum. It organized manual training as a part of its curriculum in 1858, and this work was made compulsory in 1866. At Tapiola, in Houghton County is the John A. Doelle Rural Agricultural School, one of the first of such schools organized in the state. There are now 23 other rural agricultural schools in the 8 predominantly Finnish counties. These are located in the communities of Grand Marais, Trenary, Eben Junction, Baraga, L'Anse, Bessemer, Marenisco, Chassell, Kenton, Winona, Amasa, Alpha, Stambaugh, Crystal Falls, Gwinn, Republic, Palmer, National Mine, Bergland, Trout Lake, Ewen, Ontonagen, and Rockland.There are also 46 township school districts in these counties. In the eight counties, only in three townships of Houghton County do any one-room, one-teacher school district organizations still prevail.

School attendance on the part of farm children tends to be relatively high in the eight predominantly Finnish counties. For the 5- and 6-year-old school attendance averages 69 percent compared with 60 percent for the state. It is also high for those of high school age. For those who are 14 and 15 years of age, 90 percent are attending schools as compared with 87 percent for the state. Of those who are 16 and 17 years of age 63 percent are attending schools, as compared with 58 percent for the state. It is lowest in Houghton County which still has 10 one-room, one-teacher school district organizations where the law does not compel school attendance beyond the 15th year unless the district provides transportation which none of them do.

Many county and township offices are held by Finns, but, in general, Finns are under-represented in proportion to their number in the predominantly Finnish counties. In a majority of the eight counties the county clerk is a Finn, while non-Finns occupy a majority of the other county offices. There are 75 townships in these eight counties, and although Finnish township supervisors, clerks and treasurers are more numerous than any other ethnic group the Finns do not occupy the township offices proportionate to their number. Thirty-one of the township clerks, 23 of the township treasurers, and 22 of the township supervisors are Finnish. However, in some townships, such as Stanton in Houghton County, Allouez in Keweenaw County, and Carp Lake and Stannard in Marquette County all three offices are held by Finns.

Finnish families constitute an important element in the rural areas of Upper Michigan and in one community and several localities in Lower Michigan. Were it not for these Finnish farmers thousands of acres of stump land would very probably remain uncleared. Through cooperative activities they are contributing much to economic democracy and their own welfare. They are equipping their children with a generous practical education. Adaptations to their physical and changing occupational environments are being made gradually and successfully, they acquire tenure and experience they attain respectful positions local leadership. The contribution of Finns to the cultural heritage of rural Michigan is considerable.

Published in Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station Quarterly Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 2, November 1945.

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