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Work People's College: An American Immigrant Institution

Auvo Kostiainen

When compared with many other ethnic groups in America, Finnish-Americans appear to have been exceptionally active in the political labour movement. For example, other Scandinavian immigrants from Sweden, Norway or Denmark, had a quite modest place in it - although there is evidence, that they have endeavoured in the Socialist Labor Party, Socialist Party, the syndicalist-oriented Industrial Workers of the World, and the communist movement as well.1 However, the Finnish immigrants became the largest foreign language group in the Socialist Party of America with some ten percent of a membership of about 100000. In the IWW they made up one of the most active sections with about ten thousand members at its largest. Also, when the communist movement was born after the Russian revolution in 1917, the Socialist Party was split and the Finns were to become the largest ethnic group in the legal communist party, the Workers Party of America. In the early 1920's the Finns constituted almost half of the Party's membership of a little more than ten thousand.2

It is hard to give a definite answer to the question why the Finns were so active in the labour movement. Why, for example, did the other Scandinavians not behave in the same way although they had a similar cultural and social background? Since a comparative study on this topic has yet to be made, the answers to these questions seem wanting. Nevertheless, it is a reasonable surmise that the time of arrival offers some explanation. Other Scandinavian nationalities came to America earlier in the 1800's, at which time the political labour movement was weak in the country. Instead, the Scandinavian element became a strong force in the trade unions, and also in politics in other than leftist circles.

Finns are seen as a part of the later wave of immigration, the so-called new immigration, which came mainly from Eastern and Southern Europe. There are arnumber of factors which contributed to the Finns' activeness in political a radicalism: there was in Finland an increasing desire for the enlightenment of people; from the 1800's the socialist movement gained increasingly a foothold in the Old Country, and also many Socialist activists in Finland were forced to leave the country under tsarist pressure. Thus, the immigrant Finns brought with them their working methods and socialist views from the Old Country to the States: they founded workers' clubs to serve as meeting places from which they could engage in agitation. Also the Finnish Civil War of 1918 definitely had a radicalizing effect on the Finnish-American socialists, propelling them into the ranks of the communists.3 On the other hand, socialism in America came readily as an answer to the prevailing living and working conditions, which were often strongly criticized.

When immigrants came to America, they founded all kinds of ethnic institutions to serve the newcomers' needs in the New Country. Thus, for example, the Finnish-Americans had developed a very active cultural life by the turn of the century. They organized temperance societies, churches, fraternal and benefit societies, workers' clubs and cooperatives. These had been mainly formed according to the models of the Old Country and were thus like Finnish transplantations in America. Also educational models were taken from the Old Country as is shown by the founding of adult education institutions by the Finns in America.

In Finland there had been founded in the late 1800's institutions for people's education according to the models taken from Sweden and Norway. The first workers' school was founded in Tampere in 1898 although this was only a culmination of the process toward the founding of this kind of school since different kinds of lecture courses for workers had been organized in many locations during the past years. The topic of this article is the Work People's College, a reflection of the endeavours of Finnish immigrants in America. Here an effort is made to analyze its origins and nature and also the changes that occurred within it. The founding of the College will be carefully considered, since it seems that the early years serve as the basis even for the future controversies of the school.4

The Finnish immigrant group in America was relatively small; newcomers totaled about 350000. They were mostly people from rural communes; farmers and their children, tenants, crofters, cottagers and workers en route principally to Massachusetts, Michigan or Minnesota. Thus, the social background was very typical of the immigrants from Northern Europe in general.

The Finns in America are known for their strong desire for education both for themselves and for their children. This was partly inherited from Finland, where as a tradition from the period when Finland was a part of the Swedish kingdom for hundreds of years, the State Church forced the people to learn to read and write, a practical application of Martin Luther's dictum that if "everyman was his own priest" then he should be lettered enough to read the scriptures. The practice at the end of the 19th century required Finns to attend confirmation school and to show some evidence of literacy before being permitted to marry. These official policies were soon internalized into the Finnish people, and resulted in the Finns being with the Scandinavian immigrants among the most literate people arriving in Americas.5

The Finnish church in America had taken the lead in educating the immigrant. The largest church was the American Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, or the Suomi Synod, which held its first convention in 1890, and was the American counterpart of the Finnish State Church. Like other Finnish-American churches, it organized summer and Sunday schools,6 and as an expression of the desire for higher education, it established Suomi College in 1896 in Hancock, Michigan.

The Finns in America, however, have always been far from united in religious convictions as well as in the particular mode of temperance or labour to follow. In 1898 a second major church body was established in the United States by the Finns, the American Finnish Evangelical Lutheran National Church.7 In addition to certain personal clashes, the split was an expression of American social thinking at the time. The new church had some features of the social gospel movement in America, which had been gaining ground from the middle of the 19th century. The movement was largely a response of the clergy to the rise of labour problems and to the spread of socialist thinking. The social gospel also resisted the autocratic nature of the established church, and emphasized the social aspect of the Christian faith.8

Many quarters of the Finnish-American community were critical of the "high-handed" Synod ministers, especially newspapers like Työmies (The worker), Siirtolainen (The immigrant), Kansan Lehti (People's news), and Amerikan Uutiset (American news), all leftist, liberal and independent newspapers. Now the theology of the National Church, as opposed to the Suomi Synod, emphasized the Christian message "for the small and the despised in the world" and it also transpired that many of the ministers in the National Church were laymen.9 The annual convention of the Church in 1903 declared neutrality toward socialism.

The National Church appeared to be smaller than the Suomi Synod with about 6500 members in 1911 when compared with about 28000 of the Synod.10 The people in the National Church protested against the dominance of Suomi College by the Suomi Synod and the College was also criticized for operating on too high an educational level. Thus, when the National Church started planning a new educational institution, the effort soon received good support. Particularly Amerikan Kaiku (American echo), a Finnish newspaper in Brooklyn, New York, gave the idea much publicity. It suggested that the new school should especially teach English and other useful topics; the school should be modern and not meant only for the members of a single church. An important suggestion was made for the financial basis of the school: it should be realized by selling shares.

A circular letter from the National Church was issued in April, 1903, which emphasized that the new school would serve all the Finnish-Americans, particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Finns by schooling teachers for the parishes, and that the students for the school would be recruited "from all party groups".11 The actual foundation of Finnish People's College and Theological Seminary was decided in the Fifth Annual Convention of the National Church at Ely, Minn., in the summer of 1903, where it was concluded that the College would be "independent from church groups under the leadership and care of the Board of Directors, but the Theological Seminary would be under the guidance of the National Church". In his conference report, J. H. Warmanen, stressed the fact that all Finnish-Americans could acquire shares and that the College would not be the property of the National Church.12

This is how Suomalainen Kansanopisto ja Teologinen Seminaari (The Finnish people's college and theological seminary) was established. It opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the fall of 1903, but was moved to Smithville, Minnesota, a suburb of Duluth, to a building owned by the College, in 1904. The history of the College was bound to become a very controversial element in the Finnish-American community, since after some years, in 1908, the school adopted a new proletarian name, the Work People's College (in Finnish Työväen Opisto). This signalled the end of a five-year inter-ethnic power struggle.

The descriptions of this controversial coup have differed widely, depending on the political and religious persuasion of the participants or those who later tried to understand the event. Finnish-American church historians have usually claimed that the school was theirs, but was captured illegally by the socialists.13 S. Ilmonen, a conservative historian, for example, states in his Cultural History of the Finns in America that "the National Church is to be regarded as the founder of the People's College, and according to any standard of moral conscience", its true owner.14 The leftists, on the contrary, assert emphatically that the change happened legally because the students demanded knowledge of the real world and modern sciences and thus compelled the Board of Directors to provide them with lecturers who could instruct them in these subjects.15

As mentioned above, the College was moved in 1904 from Minneapolis to Smithville. Information is available about the enrollment at this time: during the spring term of 1904, there were thirty-six students, as opposed to only nine the previous year in Minneapolis. The director had been hired from Finland, a minister by the name of E. W. Saaranen. It was planned that English would be central to the curriculum in the beginning, whereafter the choice had to be made. Those who wished to become ministers would continue in the Theological Seminary. The other possibility was to enroll in the educational department and become a teacher. The total length of time a student would be required to study at the school would be from five to six years. The terms of the Theological Seminary and the educational department would be from two to three years. According to director Saaranen, the main purposes of the school were the preservation of the Finns' religion, native language and nationality. During the spring of 1904 the curriculum included religion, general history, history of Finland, geography, arithmetic, Finnish, English, history of the United States, music, shorthand and needlework.16

Supporting societies for the College were formed in the country, especially in the Midwest, shares were sold and the College was incorporated according to the laws of Minnesota. At the shareholders' and College supporters' meeting in Duluth on January 18, 1904, the name of the school was confirmed and it was stated that the purpose of the College was

to be leader in the education and teaching of the Evangelical-Lutheran young people, to educate young men as ministers and women as teachers, to give the students a general knowledge about the arts, sciences, literature and simultaneously to educate them for business and to prepare them for more advanced studies in larger institutions and universities.17

The official charter members were ministers Pietari Wuori, E. W. Saaranen and Alex Halonen,18 who, strangely, was one of the early socialist leaders among Finnish-Americans. His name strengthens the thesis that the school was not only a church school from the beginning. Even if the initiative for the school's establishment came from the National Church, it was never totally under the Church's leadership. Only a part of it was - the Theological Seminary.

Socialism had at this time gained good support among the American Finns. The first workingmen's society had been founded in 1890 in Brooklyn, New York, based on "bourgeois reformism" and in the course of the following years workers' clubs and socialist societies mushroomed all over the country.19 The process led to the formation of Suomalainen Sosialistijärjestö (The Finnish Socialist Federation, FSF) in Hibbing, Minn., in 1906. In 1909 there were 162 socialist societies in the FSF with about 6000 members. During the first decade of the twentieth century, socialist ideas spread quickly among the Finnish-American population, largely through many gifted socialist agitators lecturing in Finnish communities. Among them were Alex Halonen, "utopian" Matti Kurikka and "natural philosopher", Dr. A. F. Tanner.

The stock-basis of the school apparently offers one of the keys to the transformation of the College to a radical school. The market for shares among the impoverished Finns was not good even if a professional fundraiser was hired. A continuous financial crisis existed. The church historian, Ilmonen, claims that the socialists saw in the shares the possibility of the take-over of the College, and claims that a certain Board member sold stock certificates to the radicals.20

The reference is directed to Alex Halonen, but there are also differing views among the Finnish radicals about the share business. For example, it is said that the workers were the only people who were interested in buying the shares.21 On the other hand, Fred Törmä claimed that when he bought stock certificates in 1906, he knew that the purpose was to capture the College for socialists. However, he stated that the aim was also to preserve religion in the curriculum for the purpose of debates in the school!22

It is not possible to determine any details about the selling of shares before the socialist takeover. It should be born in mind, however, that the National Church was smaller and younger than the Suomi Synod. Naturally, the Suomi Synod members supported their own school, Suomi College, which was apparently the case also with the greater part of other Finnish church people in America. Suomi College was an established school and it was the only higher educational institution in addition to the newly established People's College. The Finnish-American workers, for their part, had strong antipathy against the Suomi Synod and its school, which they saw as conservative. One of the early socialist agitaiors, Martin Hendrickson, for example, derisively called Hancock, Mich., the base of Suomi College, "Holy Jericho".23 So, if the choice were to be made between the two schools, most of the church-going people were likely to select Suomi College and the non-church-going people the People's College. This appears to have been the logical reason why the shares of the more liberal and practical People's College increasingly came into the hands of the socialists.

In addition to financial problems and insecurity the first years of the People's College were times of tension. From the beginning there was some discussion about the role of religion in the curriculum, and in the fall of 1904 a strike occurred in the College. As a consequence director Saaranen walked out from the College having gained the support of the students.24 This caused the closing of the school for the rest of the fall term.

The Board was now looking for a new director for the College, a serious and Christian-minded person with recommendations from well-known ministers in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. As it happened, however, the only applicant was Kaarlo Leonard Haataja, who was also nominated for the job.25 The church members would later regret their choice deeply, since Haataja proved to be well inclined to radicalism.

A new curriculum was also set for the school. Now, after the troubles with the student strike, a curriculum was accepted prepared by the students "with small changes". The program for one week was to be 30 hours of instruction including 14 hours in English, five in arithmetic and one in religion.26 Important in the curriculum is that only one hour per week was offered in religion which hardly resembled the curriculum of a Theological Seminary. The fact that the students had prepared the curriculum seems to support many of the radicals' claims that the students of the College were more radical than their teachers at this time.27

What about the role of the Board members in the meeting mentioned above? It appears that two of the three present members were ministers, named Wuori and Mandellöf, plus a certain Charles Kauppi. In addition, there were one teacher, Miss Williamson, and "some students". The behaviour of the ministers does not reflect the traditional attitude of the Finnish clergy at the time, since very few of them would have allowed the students to be present at the Board meeting, let alone to prepare a new curriculum. These ministers looked more like social gospelists. Apparently they did not want any more religious emphasis, but wanted to make the College more attractive to students, and in this way to secure the financial future of the College.

Now it seems that the nature of the College as a general educational school had been established with religion having only a minor role, which had not been much emphasized from the first term in Minneapolis in 1903, since from its beginning the College was oriented to teaching English and practical subjects.

In 1905 it is reported that the socialists already controlled the school,28 but without any greater effect since there was no director and the school remained closed during the fall of 1905. In the spring the director was a certain Heikki Aura from Finland, and during the spring and the summer references were made that the National Church would make a "last effort" to gain the control of the People's College.29 However, it appears that no crucial change occurred at this time, and the steady radicalization process of the College continued.

In 1906 the leadership of the College was turned finally to other than ministers. A new president was elected, Gust Lahti, and minister Wuori lost the election. For the directorship of the College there were two candidates, minister Erland Virkki and the former director Haataja. The latter was elected by a vast majority of votes and Virkki's candidacy was supported only by minister Wuori.30 In the fall of 1906 a lawyer from Duluth, Victor H. Gran, became a Board member. He later played an important role when he drafted new by-laws for the People's College, and supposedly the whole change from the People's College to the Work People's College was accomplished accord ing to his legal instruction.

In late 1906 the Board decided that one hour per week would be offered in religion and church history for students who wanted to have those subjects. The matters were discussed in the meeting of December 1906, for which director Haataja had prepared a proposal for the new curriculum. The proposal was accepted and it consisted of 40 hours of teaching in a week. New subjects were offered in a special section of the curriculum, luentoaineet, "the lectured subjects", which included, for example, one hour weekly in economics and one to civil government. At the same meeting minister Wuori was present, the former president of the College. This was the last time when he or any other minister attended a Board meeting of the People's College.

When the term 1907-1908 approached, new subjects were added in the curriculum, such as yleisluonnontiede (general natural science) and uudemmanaikainen yhteiskuntafilosofia (modern philosophy of society). Agitation for financial aid for the school was urged; leaflets were to be printed and delivered to workers' clubs and temperance and youth societies asking for money. Members of societies were asked to become students in the school.31

The appeal seemed. to have good effect, since the College started with 71 students, 70 of whom were Socialist Party members.32 Haataja became the director of the College. Other teachers were Henry Johnston, later a wellknown Wobbly (supporter of the Industrial Workers of the World), and Leo Laukki, the Finnish-American Wobbly leader. He was schooled in Finland, but after revolutionary activities he was compelled to escape to the United States in 1907, where he became an editor of Finnish-American labour papers and teacher and director of the Work People's College. After the Bolshevik Revolution he left for Soviet Russia.

After Laukki came to the College, he worked under the directorship of Haataja but in the fall of 1908 he became the director. Under his directorship the last debts owed to the former minister members of the Board were paid,33 and now the final steps could be taken to change the College to a real socialist institution.

The church historian Ilmonen states that at this time the members of the National Church realized that "their school" had gone out of their hands, and they sold their shares.34 Lawyer Victor H. Gran was chosen as President of the College in 1907 and he prepred new by-laws for it. A committee was chosen at the annual meeting of the school to change the institution,35 and in the annual convention of the People's College the change in the constitution of Work People's College was confirmed, since socialists now held control. A new Board was selected: President, Victor Brander - a well-known socialist; Vice President, A. O. Sarell - a member of the Executive Committee of the FSF for many years; and Reino Salo as secretary - also a known socialist. When listing the new Board members, Salo noted parenthetically: "A totally socialistic Board for the first time".36 The name Työväen opisto (Work People's College) appeared in the minutes for the first time on 3 August 1908.

The curriculum under Laukki's directorship was epoch making: in addition to English and Finnish, the main subjects were the history of socialism, the theory of evolution, economics and sociology. The change in the curriculum was also reflected in the books used by the school. During the summer of 1908 the Board had decided to destroy "all the old decayed religious books for the lack of space". For teaching English the Board had decided to acquire the Socialist Primer. When the winter term started new books were bought to the library of the school: The Process of Government, Value and Distribution, Modern Constitutions, and The True Nature of Value.37

The contacts between the College and Finnish-American socialists had gradually grown closer and closer during the years. From now on even the College building and grounds were to become frequent socialist and syndicalist festival places. Also College advertisements were published only in radical Finnish-American newspapers and the College representatives were sent to the meetings of different organs of the Finnish Socialist Federation and its district organizations. The confirmation of the relationship between the FSF and the Work People's College occurred in the third annual Convention of the Federation in August, 1909, where the representative of the College, Reino Salo, was given full rights as a delegate. The College was named as the institute of the FSF and the convention accepted the resolution presented by Salo:

Whereas the Work People's College has shown perfect knowledge of international socialism in awakening the workers' consciousness through its teaching and its conception of the Socialist Party, we acknowledge that this institution will be the common educational institute for all the organized Finnish-American workers.

The convention also urged Finnish-American socialists to support the College financially. The tax of ten cents per member in support of the college, which had been collected during the first half of the year 1909, was abolished.38

The change from the People's College to the Work People's College had been made possible by several interacting factors. It should be noted that the National Church had never really been the sole founder of the College; it had given the impetus to the establishment of the school, but there were liberal elements from the start among the founders. Partly, the change was also due to the nature of the National Church, which represented a kind of social Christianity. It is also obvious that the College was never in total control of the National Church and it even seems that the ministers teaching in the school increased the portion of practical teaching subjects to make it more attractive for new students.

The limited support from church-going people resulted in the fact that many of the persons who bought shares in the College were workers, many of them radical socialists. It seems, however, that the Finnish-American socialist organizations did not really have a plan to control the College until they found that it actually was in their supporters' hands. This kind of situation is reflected even in the report of Reino Salo for the FSF convention mentioned above: in 1906 and 1907 there had been discussion among the Minnesota Finnish socialists about the possibility of establishing a socialist school in the region and there had even been elected a committee in April, 1907, to promote the idea. At this time, according to Salo, attention was directed in to the People's College because of its financial problems. Investigation was made to see if it would be possible to get it under the control of the party.39 We should note that the dates given by Salo are considerably late, after the process towards the change in the nature of the College had already started. It seems fair to suppose that the FSF leaders became interested in the take-over of the College when they saw how easily control could be had. A crucial role in the process of the early years apparently was played by certain teachers and directors of the College like K. L. Haataja. And, apparently, the working-class background of the students, which will be analyzed later in the paper, speeded up the change. Thus, the change from the People's College to the Work People's College has to be seen as the result of the "natural developments" depending on the nature of the people who founded it, the school's constitution and the type of students and teachers it attracted.

Because of the lack of sources the social background of the students who had board and housing in the College, has been studied scantily thus far. Perhaps the only work is by Hannu Heinilä, who has studied the enrollment in the 1910's and found certain interesting facts. According to him, the share of women in the College was usually less than 20 percent. For example, in the peak year of the College in 1913-1914 with 157 students, there were 30 women (10.1 %). This was quite unusual for the time, but it was apparently due to the active participation of women already in Finland in educational endeavours and also in socialist politics, since they had been the first women in Europe even to be elected in the unicameral Diet in 1907. Also, socialist theory emphasizes the organization and education of both sexes.

Heinilä has found that the differences between the ages of the students could be very great: in 1912-1913 the youngest student was 14 and the oldest 40 years of age. The majority of the students were, however, young adults, usually between the ages of twenty and thirty years. The proletarian nature of the school becomes apparent if we consider the occupations of the students. For the term 1913-1914, for instance, the statistics reveal that 59 out of 157 students (37.6 %) were classified as lumber workers and common labourers; there were 23 (14.6 %) miners and 14 (8.9 %) workers from the pulp industry. It was also reported that 16 (10.2 %) were servants, apparently women, by occupation.40

The occupations mentioned above were typical for Finnish immigrants in the Midwest, reflecting the fact that most of the students in the College hardly had attended more than Elementary School in the Old Country. Their occupations are also typically seasonal, which in the case of the enrollment in the College meant that the students worked in the summer time and perhaps also in the spring and the fall. The mines were closed in the winter because of the cold and the same was the case with the farm workers and common laborers, who found work well in the summer time. This caused the enrollment in the College to vary much depending on the ups and downs in the labour market and the quest for workers. Because the Work People's College was located in the Midwest, it is natural that it drew the great bulk of its students from the same region. Heinilä has analyzed the residences of the students during the 1910's and found out that in 1913-1914 a total of 73 students out of 157 (46.6 %) came from the state of Minnesota; from Michigan were 12 students (7.6 %). There were students from numerous Finnish communities in the northern parts of the United States, ranging from the West Coast to the state of New York and the New England region. There were also 21 students (13.4 %) from Canada, 17 of them coming from Ontario,41 which had a good number of Finnish immigrants working in lumbering arid mining industry just like their counterparts in the Midwest.

The Work People's College played an important role in educating organizers and leaders and particularly newspapermen for the Finnish labour movement in the United States and in Canada, too, as well as an alternative educational institution for Finnish immigrants besides the church-oriented Suomi College in Hancock, Michigan. The time of glory for the College was in the 1910's; enrollment reached its peak in 1913-1914 with 157 students.42 When compared with the enrollment a few years earlier, the increase in popularity of the school is apparent. The growth appears to have been a result of the inspiration given by two teachers in particular; Leo Laukki, mentioned above, who was arrested in the infamous Chicago-166 case during the World War I period, and who ultimately found his way to Soviet Russia in 1920; and Yrjö Sirola, who was a famous socialist veteran from Finland who came to teach in the College in 1910 for two years. After the unsuccessful proletarian revolution of 1918 in Finland, he also left for Soviet Russia. Among the students, who were schooled in these years of growth of the College, was John Wiita. Within a few years he became a radical leader in the FSF, and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, a communist. In the 1920's he was the most important person in the Finnish-American communist circles, who also gained an important position in the leadership of the American communist movgement.

The years before World War I, however, were far from quiet in the College, for it became the supporter of syndicalist-oriented ideas, and quarrels over tactical questions raged between the College, the student body, called toverikunta, which became known for its radicalism and the moderate leaders of the Finnish Socialist Federation. The disputes lasted for several years and in 1914 the Work People's College became an open supporter.of the Industrial Workers of the World.43 Finnish-American Wobblies were kicked out of the FSF or voluntarily withdrew, and the Work People's College became the official school of the IWW, although almost all of its students even in subsequent years were of Finnish origin.

The central subject in the curriculum of the syndicalist-led Work People's College was English. Other subjects such as economics, history (American history, labour history and the history of socialism) and American government were also taught. Because many of the students were hardly able to read, the teaching was divided into three levels, the lowest one starting from elementary stages.44

A correspondence school department was tried but even its success was not too good. Efforts were also made to attract proper "American" students by starting an English Department in 1922, when it was simultaneously decided to teach Finnish in the College as a foreign language.45

Since the Work People's College attracted its students throughout the years overwhelmingly from the Finnish ethnic community, and particularly from its radical section, whose affiliation with the IWW was close, not too many persons were willing to predict a long life for it. The anti-alien and anti-radical feelings in the United States in the period of World War I made it difficult for the College to function properly. After the United States suddenly restricted the number of immigrants arriving from Europe in the 1920's, particularly from Southern and Eastern Europe, which Finland was seen as a part of, the quota of Finnish immigration was reduced to a few hundreds per year. Since hardly any new immigrants came to the United States any more the majority of them now going to Canada the Finnish-American immigrant group aged.

Douglas J. Ollila states that the second-generation Finnish-Americans did not hold the Work People's College in very high esteem, but were quite naturally drawn to American schools. "The second generation eschewed identification with foreign clubs and movements, and children of the immigrants were often deeply ashamed of their parents radicalism."46 In spite of the fact that still quite a few second-generation Finnish-Americans joined the College in the 1920's and 1930's, the enrollment gradually fell lower and lower, and after the year 1941 the Work People's College did not open its doors any more. The building owned by the College still stands today in Duluth, but it was sold in 1953. The last Board meeting was held in 1962. As a sign of the vanishing strength of the Finnish-American IWW-movement, the publication of its Finnish-language newspaper, Industrialisti, ceased in the mid-1970's.

The Finnish-American competitor of the Work People's College, the church-oriented Suomi College, on the contrary, has been able to survive. A gradual "Americanization" of this College has occurred and presently it enrolls students from different ethnic backgrounds. It has become an American college which still maintains parts of its Finnish heritage, as, for example, in the effort to teach the Finnish neutral heritage to students of Finnish-American extraction.

What happened to Suomi College is not any different than other surviving ethnic-based schools in America. They have been transformed into general educational institutions with usually little stress on the ethnic heritage. Work People's College appears, however, to be a unique institution, since according to the knowledge of the author of this article, no other ethnic minority has established a similar kind of radical school. Work People's College was not the only radical school in American history, but usually these schools have been established on a non-ethnic basis. The phases of the Finnish Work People's College are unique because of its peculiar beginnings and attachment to the Industrial Workers of the World. The College was born as a result of an inter-ethnic struggle and it developed through an inter-radical power struggle, and throughout its history it strongly preserved emphasis on Finnish language and culture notwithstanding its move to use English as the basic language of instruction.

In their study about the Work People's College Richard J. Altenbaugh and Rolland G. Paulston have emphasized and analyzed the history of the College in connection with the American Labor College Movement. They have shown, in spite of some factual and interpretational errors, that Work People's College was a kind of model for the American labour colleges the total of which was around 300, and which were founded mainly in the 1920's, like the Brookwood Labor College in New York, and Commonwealth College in Arkansas. These had been formed by American trade-unionists and socialists, but in spite of the differences between the Work People's College and the two schools mentioned above, they were more similar than dissimilar.

That is, these labor colleges

fashioned their programs to fit their ideals. The academic subjects, plays, strike activities, libraries, and other adjuncts, such as Commonwealth's museum, all depicted the deplorable conditions of the American working class within the confines of the capitalist system. While these programs sought first the critical awareness of workingclass youth, they also attempted to provide each student with the tools necessary to work toward improving the social condition of the working class through collective struggle. Here, democratic settings encouraged a co-operative feeling which transferred to the development of fraternal attitudes among workers who belonged to a common union and to a radically new social arrangement. The liberals' goals of liberty and equality were not enough. For a workers' society, fraternity or community would also be essential.47

On the other hand, it has to be emphasized, that Work People's College has also to be understood as a reflection of the conditions in the Old Country. It was able to survive for a longer period than many of its American counterparts which also attests to its significance and vitality. Finnish immigrants drew upon the Scandinavian active and "fighting" folk school model and thus recreated this pattern of workers' education in the United States.48

The Work People's College must also be seen as an expression of the strong desire of Finnish immigrant workers for better education. Because of its radicalism and ethnic stress, the school was not able to attract more FinnishAmerican or American students. It played, however, an important role in educating officials for the Finnish labour movement in America and in training writers for Finnish newspapers, in addition to which it published periodicals like Ahjo (Forge), Vallankumous (Revolution) and Work People's College Bulletin. Its students and teachers wrote several books on important social questions and also tried to develop socialist ideology. The College, however, had also a wider task. It raised the educational level of the Finnish-American population and offered one of the few possibilities of adult education for Finnish immigrants. Also, it should be borne in mind, that in spite of its radicalism and urge for social change in America, the Work People's College served to adjust the immigrant to American society.

Auvo Kostiainen, born 1946, Ph.D., teaches general history at the University of Turku, and has written The Forging of Finnish-American Communism, 1917-1924. A Study in Ethnic Radicalism (1978). He is presently working on the biography of Santeri Nuorteva, educator, socialist and internationalist.


1 See, e.g., H. Bengston, Skandinaver på vänsterflygeln i USA (Skrifter utgivna av: Arbetarnas kulturhistoriska Sällskap. Ny följd nr. 17, Stockholm, 1955). Cf. S. Carlson, "Swedes in Politics" in From Sweden to America. A History of the Migration, edited by H. Runblom and H. Norman (Uppsala, 1976), pp. 291-300.

2 For the history of Finnish-American labor movement, see, e.g., A. Kostiainen, The Forging of Finnish-American Communism, 1917-1924. A Study in Ethnic Radicalism (Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ser. B, tom. 147, Turku, 1978).

3 Ibid., pp. 32-37, 189-191.

4 The main sources have been the minutes of the Board of Directors of the College, available for 6 Apr. 1904-28 May, 1911, and 23 June, 1935-28 Sept., 1962. Located at the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., the Work People's College Collection. Reference hereafter used, IHRC. For general history of adult education in Finland, see E. Karjalainen, Suomen vapaan kansansivistystyön vaiheet (Tapiola, 1970), esp. pp. 69-97.

5 For example, between 1 July 1904, and 30 June 1905, a total of 15529 Finns came to America over 14 years of age. Only 18 of these were illiterate, or 0.8 %. Among the Scandinavians the percentage was 0.3, among the Germans, 4.0, among the Slovaks 24.2, and among the Bulgarians, Serbians and Montenegrins, 38.7. Annual Report of the Commissioner-General of Immigration to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1905 (Washington, D.C., 1905), table III, pp. 6-7.

6 In 1904 the Suomi Synod conducted 89 Sunday schools with 3382 children and 26 summer schools with 1500 children. The membership of the Synod was in 1904 about 26000. V. Rautanen, Amerikan Suomalainen Kirkko (Hancock, Mich., 1911), p. 191.

7 Ibid., pp. 153-167; Evankelis-Luterilainen Kansalliskirkko. Ensimmäiset 50 vuotta (Ironwood, Mich., n.d.), pp. 20-26; and M. N. Westerback, Amerikan Suomalaisen Ev. Luth. Kansalliskirkon alku ja ensimmäiset vuodet (n.p., n.d.), pp. 9-11.

8 See, e.g., C. E. Hopkins, The Rise of Social Gospel in American Protestantism 1865-1915, 2nd printing (New Haven, Conn., 1942), esp. pp. 67-97.

9 See, A. W. Hoglund, Finnish Immigrants in America 1880-1920. (Madison, Wis., 1960), pp. 93-94; S. Ilmonen, Amerikan Suomalaisten Sivistyshistoria. Johtavia aatteita, harrastuksia, yhteispyrintöjä ja tapahtumia siirtokansan keskuudessa (Hancock, Mich., 1980), p. 62; Rautanen, pp. 153-155, 175-183; and Ev. Luth. Kansalliskirkkokunnan Kalenteri karkausvuodelle 1908 (Fitchburg, Mass.), pp. 64-67. For example, Wm. Williamson, one of the leaders of the church was a bricklayer and later storekeeper in Helsinki, Finland, before emigration. Suomimatka 1921 (Hancock, Mich., 1921), p. 47.

10 Ilmonen, p. 163.

11 Rautanen, p. 195.

12 Ylöspäin. Kansalliskirkkokunnan kirkollinen kalenteri vuodelle 1904. Toim. E. Virkki (Ironwood, Mich., 1904), p. 113.

13 For example, Rautanen, p. 202. For recent research regarding the school, see esp. D. J. Ollila, Jr,, The Work People's College: Immigrant Education for Adjustment and Solidarity in For the Common Good. Finnish immigrants and the Radical Response to Industrial America, edited by M. G. Karni and D. J. Ollila, Jr. (Superior, Wis., 1977), pp. 87-113; and H. Heinilä, "Work People's College", Amerikansuomalaisen työväestön oppilaitos, (MA thesis in general history, University of Turku, Finland, 1976).

14 Ilmonen, op. cit., p. 166.

15 "History of the Work People's College", in Work People's College Bulletin, No. 1, 7 Dec. 1923, p. 1.

16 Rautanen, op. cit., pp. 198-201.

17 Ilmonen, op. cit., pp. 165-166.

18 Ibid., p. 162.

19 See E. Sulkanen, Amerikan Suomalaisen Työväenliikkeen Historia (Fitchburg, Mass., 1951), pp. 53-89; cf. Kostiainen, op. cit.

20 Ilmonen, op. cit., p. 167.

21 Interview with John Wiita, Brooklyn, Conn., 6 May 1974.

22 Interview with Fred Törmä, Nashwauk, Minn., 21 March 1974.

23 See M. Hendrickson, Muistelmia Kymmenvuotisesta Raivaustyöstäni (Fitchburg, Mass., 1909), p. 16.

24 The Board of Directors, minutes, 26 Oct. 1904, IHRC.

25 Cf. Ibid., 26 Oct. 1904 and 2 Jan. 1905.

26 The curriculum for one week was the following: English grammar 5 h, English reading 5 h, English writing 4 h, religion 1 h, theory of music 1 h, general history 1 h, arithmetic 5 h, geography 1 h, drawing 1 h, Finnish 2 h, geometry 2 h, physics and chemistry 2 h, spelling 1 h.

27 See, e.g., "History of the Work People's College", Work People's College Bulletin, no. 1, 7 Dec. 1923, p. 1.

28 Ilmonen op. cit., p. 167, and H. R. Wasastjerna, History of the Finns in Minnesota, translation by Toivo Rosvall (New York Mills, Minn., 1957), p. 227.

29 Ilmonen, op. cit., pp, 167-I68; cf. Evankelis-Luterilainen Kansalliskirkko, p. 90.

30 The Board of Directors, minutes, 10 Dec. 1906, IHRC.

31 Ibid., 30 June, 1907.

32 See Amerikan Suomalaisen Sosialistijätjestön Edustajakokouksen Pöytäkirja. Kokous pidetty Hancockissa., Mich. 23-30 p. Elok., 1909 (FSF Proceedings 1909), toim. F. J. Syrjälä (Fitchburg, Mass., n.d.), p. 206.

33 The Board of Directors, minutes, 7 Dec. 1907, IHRC. The Board decided to pay the last debt to minister Williamson, $97600. The money for this was borrowed from the new socialist members in the Board.

34 Ilmonen, op. cit., p. 168.

35 The Board of Directors, minutes, 2 June 1907, IHRC.

36 Ibid., 4 June 1908.

37 Ibid., 8 Nov., 21 June and 18 Oct. 1908, and 31 Jan. 1909. Additional subjects taught at the school at this time were arithmetic, geography, accounting and physics.

38 FSF Proceedings 1909, pp. 4, 30, 205-218, and 226-227.

39 Ibid., p. 205. In Köyhälistön Nuija, T. H. (Taavi Heino) as early as in the end of 1907 speaks about the People's College as a socialist school. Köyhälistän Nuija, Vol. 2 (1908), Hancock, Mich., 1907, p. 41.

40 The information is based on Heinilä, pp. 148-159.

41 Ibid., pp. 153-154.

42 See G. Aakula, "Short Sketches of the Features of Työväen Opisto, Work People's College Duluth, Minnesota." Translated from the Finnish by E. Lahonen, ed. by L. Hoshal. Mimeo in the Work People's College Collection, IHRC, p. 1.

43 For a detailed discussion, see Heinilä, pp. 105-120 and Ollila, pp. 102-109. Altenbaugh and Paulston claim that the IWW bought the College, which information is without any sources and most doubtful. See R. J. Altenbaugh and R. G. Paulston, "Work People's College: A Finnish Folk High School in the American Labor College Movement", Paedagogica Historica. International Journal of the History of Education, Ed. by K. De Clerck/Gent, Vol. 18: 2 (1978), p. 238.

44 Heinilä, pp. 122-123.

45 See Industrialisti, 7 May 1925.

46 Ollila, op. cit., p. 112.

47 Altenbaugh and Paulston, p. 251.

48 Cf. ibid., p. 255.

Published in Scandinavian Journal of History 5(1980), p. 295-309.

© Auvo Kostiainen

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