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The Finns

Samuel Koenig

Physically, the Finns are a product of Swedish and Mongoloid blood. They speak a language belonging to the Finno-Ugric linguistic stock which is non-Indo-European. By the eighth century A.D. the Finns had taken the territory which constitutes present-day Finland from the Lapps whom they pushed further north. Prior to the World War, Finland was dominated by Russia, and for centuries before that by Sweden. In 1918, however, Finland became an independent State.

Large scale Finnish immigration to the United States began with the repressive measures taken against them by the Russian government in 1898. The motives for their emigration were thus to a large extent political. Reduction in the demand for labor, owing to the spreading use of agricultural machinery, low wages, and land hunger were among the other important causes. More than one-half of the immigrants came in the decade of 1899-1909, the vast majority settling in the Mid-West, particularly Michigan and Minnesota. Of those coming to New England, Massachusetts received the largest number.

The 1930 Census of the United States lists 2,974 first and second generation Finns as living in the State. The Connecticut Finns are concentrated in Windham County, particularly in the towns of Brooklyn and Canterbury, where almost half of their total number in the State can be found. They are chiefly engaged in agriculture. Most of them did not come here directly from Finland, but drifted in from other states.

The salient characteristics of the foreign-born Connecticut Finns are (a) a tenacious clinging to farming, almost to the exclusion of all other pursuits, (b) a lack of organized group-life, as found among other ethnic groups, (c) a tendency to form business cooperatives, and (d) a strong leaning towards radicalism. All of these traits can undoubtedly be interpreted in terms of their native background. Probably because of their comparative isolation - they live largely in secluded, forested sections - a number of their folkways are still preserved among them. An example of this is the sweat-house which still adjoins most of their dwellings.

The American-born Finns are, of course, intent upon breaking away from their parents' occupation as well as from some of their characteristic traits. Thus, in 1937, of the 161 native-born Finnish wage earners in Canterbury, only 51 are employed in farming; of the remainder, 28 are working in cotton, silk, and woolen mills; 14 in offices; 11 in mechanical trades; 9 in bakeries; 8 in town or state offices; 3 in stores; 11 on relief projects; and the rest are either unemployed or unaccountable. Owing to their strong sympathies for organized labor and radicalism, many of the younger Finns find themselves discriminated against when seeking employment in the mills, since employers do not at all welcome actual or potential union members.

The Finns are one of the most literate of the ethnic groups in Connecticut. Poverty, rather than a lack of intellectual tradition, keeps many of the young people from entering the professions or from receiving a higher education. Although one of the most progressive of the ethnic groups in Connecticut, the Finns, because of their agricultural tendencies in a poor farming country, have been forced to live on a much lower economic level than is warranted by their capacities, hard toil, and progressiveness.

Page 49-51 in Immigrant Settlements in Connecticut: Their Growth and Characteristics, 1938, 68 p.

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