Dr. Matjaž Klemenčič

Most of the Slovene emigrants in the United States of America settled in Slovene communities. Many of their descendants still live in the same places today. The majority of them settled in this country during the period between 1870 and 1924. Before that, immigrants were likely to be Slovene missionaries or adventurers from Slovene ethnic territories. In a later period, from 1948 to 1954, Slovenian émigrés settled in the United States.

The period 1870 to 1924, when most of the Slovene emigrants came to the United States, was the classic period of development of industry and mining in the United States, especially after the end of the Civil War. According to US census data, which are believable, in 1910 the United States was home to around 180,000 Slovene immigrants and their children (judging by mother tongue). According to the Census, by 1920 there were already 228,000 Slovene immigrants and their children living in the United States. On the basis of a 5% sample in 1990, American statisticians estimated that there were 123,000 people of Slovene descent. Based on the earlier counts, this number looks too low. A more reasonable estimate is 500,000 people of Slovene descent in the United States, if one includes those who have only one-quarter or one-eighth Slovene ancestry.

The map Cities and Towns with Slovene Immigrant Settlements in the United States of America shows the territories of Slovene immigrant settlements in the United States. In first place is the industrial, developed Northeast, with metropolitan New York spreading from Bethlehem (eastern Pennsylvania) to Bridgeport (Connecticut). In addition to Bethlehem, there are some other cities with larger historical Slovene settlements (the most important is Forest City); especially numerous are places in eastern Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Cannonsburg, etc.). Slovene settlements can be found in the northern part of western Virginia (Triladelphia) and in southeastern Ohio (Lorain, Akron) and northwestern Ohio (Barberton, Cleveland, Euclid, etc.).

Cities in which Slovene immigrants settled may also be found in southern Michigan (Detroit) and in the so-called Copper Region in northwestern Michigan (Calumet). In central Wisconsin we should mention also the farming settlement Willard. The majority of Slovene settlements in this state can be found, however, in the cities near Lake Michigan (Milwaukee, Sheboygan, West Allis). There are also numerous Slovene settlements to be found in Illinois (Chicago, Waukegan) near Lake Michigan. We should mention also Joliet, which lies south of Chicago, and La Salle, west of Chicago. In the central and southern parts of Illinois there are also numerous Slovene settlements. One of them is in Springfield. East of the Mississippi River we should mention also the Slovene settlements on Minnesota’s Iron Range (Ely, Tower, Eveleth, Hibbing, Chisholm, etc.) and Brockway in northern Minnesota, one of the oldest Slovene settlements in the United States. In the Ozark Plateau there are some places with Slovene settlements in southeastern-most Kansas (Frontenac, Pittsburgh, Kansas City) and in northwest Arkansas (Jenny Lind). In the Southeastern United States, Samsula in east Florida, which was established by Slovene farmers, should be mentioned.

From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, most places with Slovene settlements were in the mining areas of the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, Pueblo, Denver, Leadville, Trinidad, Wallsenburg, Aspen, and Crested Butte deserve to be mentioned. Some places with Slovene settlements could be found also in neighboring Utah (Sunnyside, Helper) and Wyoming (Rock Springs, Diamondville); while in mountainous Montana, Anaconda, East Helena, Butte, and Bear Creek had substantial communities. In the northwestern United States, there are Slovene settlements in the Washington cities of Enumclaw and Black Diamond and the Oregon towns of Oregon City and Portland. Slovene immigrants settled also in California, where San Francisco and Fontana deserve to be mentioned. Slovene immigrants settled also in other regions of the United States, too numerous to mention in this short survey. They were mostly smaller Slovene communities or dispersed settlement, especially in farming areas.

A Slovene ethnic settlement is defined as a part of a city or town with a large enough concentration or nucleus of a Slovene community that at least one of the ethnic organization structures existed: a lodge of a Slovene fraternal benefit society, a Slovene national home, a Slovene or mixed Catholic or Evangelical ethnic parish, or editorial offices or publisher of a Slovene ethnic newspaper.

Slovene fraternal benefit organizations represent a fundamental form of organization of Slovene immigrants in the United States. These are insurance companies that came into being during the period when the United States did not have any kind of insurance, and they have kept their form of organization until today. The fraternal organizations insured workers against accidents at work or illnesses. These organizations used their profits to support cultural and editorial activities of the Slovene immigrants. These are centralized organizations composed of individual lodges that were active or are active in Slovene settlements. Among those still active today are:


Organization National Headquarters City Membership

American Fraternal Union Ely, Minnesota 15,000

American Mutual Life Association Cleveland, Ohio around 12,000

Slovene National Benefit Society Imperial, Pennsylvania over 50,000

Western Slavonic Association Denver, Colorado 6,500

American Slovenian Catholic Union Joliet, Illinois around 30,000

The relatively great number of Slovene American fraternal organizations is, on the one hand, a consequence of the dispersed Slovene settlements in the United States and, on the other hand, based on ideological differences3 in part brought from the old homeland and in part a consequence of conditions in the new homeland. The American Slovenian Catholic Union, once named Grand Carniolian Catholic Union, demanded that its members be active Catholics; while the Slovene National Benefit Society did not mix the religious beliefs of its members with the operation of the society, because it proclaimed that the religious beliefs of individual members were their private affair. The Slovene National Benefit Society ideologically consisted of two wings, liberal and socialist. The leading members of the Society were active in the socialist workers movement in the United States.

Slovene immigrants in the United States also built Slovene national homes, buildings in the midst of the Slovene communities. In these buildings, meetings of the lodges and cultural events and parties took place. In larger settlements, Slovene national homes consisted of two- story buildings with one smaller and one larger hall for cultural events and smaller rooms for meetings of lodge committees. In those settlements, the homes had their own libraries. In some large Slovene settlements, individual entrepreneurs built larger halls and rented them to cultural societies and lodges of the fraternal organizations for meetings and celebrations.

Knaus Hall in Cleveland was opened in 1903. Shops were located on this building’s first floor, while there was a hall and smaller meeting rooms on the second floor. With its commercial, societal and cultural spaces, this hall was also an example for decades to the other Slovene groups in the United States.

The idea of establishing Slovene national homes in the United States caught hold in the first decade of the 20th century. Slovene immigrant settlements strengthened at the end of the 19th century, but until the beginning of the 20th century most of the immigrants were bachelors or married men who came without their families. Women came in larger numbers after 1890, when families started to settle. They also bought or rented permanent homes. This happened after the first fraternal benefit lodges, libraries, singing and dramatic groups and sport societies emerged.

The first Slovene national homes were build by fraternal benefit societies. In 1905 there existed only two homes of Slovene societies, in Chicago and Johnstown, Pennsylvania. During the next ten years more new Slovene national homes were built, most of them in mining areas: Rock Springs (in 1913), Frontenac, Kansas (1910), Herminie, Pennsylvania (1908) and Ely, Minnesota (1911). The lodges of the St. Barbara Society built some homes in Pennsylvania, especially in Willock (1911) and Presto (1911).

Most of the Slovene national homes in the United States were built of wood or brick. Inside was the main hall, with a stage large enough to accommodate singing choirs, drama groups or gymnastics performances. In the kitchen it was possible to prepare food for banquets or weddings; in addition, where it was allowed, there was also a saloon (“gostilna”). There were many Slovene national homes with bowling alleys and smaller rooms where the different committees met. Reading rooms provided a place where people could read Slovene ethnic newspapers and other periodicals and Slovene and English books.

After World War I began, American Slovenes were united in concern about the destiny of their old homelands. At the same time they planned to build new national homes in Slovene communities. They raised money to build them by selling stock to individuals and organizations, by organizing dance parties, with sales of potica, with lotteries. To build the Slovene national home on St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland, community members sold paper bricks that buyers were later able to exchange for stock. In 1919, four Slovene national homes opened in Cleveland; only one of them was a new building. When the Slovene Workmen’s Home in Collinwood was built, many immigrants and their children cooperated. They formed a chain every evening and brought bricks from a nearby brick factory. Immigrants in other Slovene settlements built Slovene national homes, especially in western Pennsylvania. After World War II, Slovene Americans united with Croatian and Serbian Americans and built homes together, for example the American Yugoslav Center in Euclid, Ohio, or the Slovene Croatian Club in Escanaba, Michigan. Other immigrant groups also held their events in some of the Slovene national homes.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the building of Slovene national homes reached its peak. The largest Slovene national home was built in Cleveland on St. Clair Avenue in 1924. The main hall had 1,000 seats on the main floor and 324 in the balcony. In this hall many performances were given, including Slovene-language operas. In the building were eleven offices, seven shops, a gymnasium, a reading room and a private clubroom. Among those renting offices there were a Slovene school, singing societies, a drama school led by Augusta Danilova, the Kolander Travel Agency, a photographer’s studio, and a store that sold Slovene books and newspapers. The building also housed a school of Slovene art led by Harvey Perusheck and the Slovene National Museum. For some time it was also the headquarters of the Slovene Mutual Life Association and more then 100 lodges and organizations.

Main halls were decorated with paintings, mostly of Lake Bled with its island and church. The Cleveland Slovene national home on St. Clair Avenue still today displays a picture by Maksim Gaspari in which he painted leading cultural figures from Slovenia. In some homes one could find works by Božidar Jakac, which he painted during his journeys in the USA in the 1920s and 1930s. Numerous Slovene national homes were administered by lodges and societies on a volunteer basis. They organized dances, which were well attended until the 1950s. Well-known Slovene orchestra leaders Frankie Jankovic from Cleveland and Louis Bashel from Milwaukee started their careers in Slovene national homes. In these homes important local-level political meetings and party conventions took place, mostly of the Democratic Party.

During World War II and in the 1990s, the Slovene national homes were centers for the gathering of material and moral help for the homeland. Among other important gatherings was a meeting of the Slovene American National Congress, which elected the Slovene National Council in December 1942. Here in 1991, United Americans for Slovenia was organized to help Slovenia in the 1990s.

The nucleus of the post-World War II Slovene émigré community in Cleveland bought a building across the street from the Slovene national home on St. Clair Avenue. The building, called “Baragov dom,” was incorporated in 1956. In the basement were the offices of the League of Slovene Americans and of “Slovenska pisarna.” They sold the building in the 1990s.

In the 1930s, lodges of the Slovene National Benefit Society started to build recreation centers in the countryside. In 1938 the Cleveland Federation of SNPJ Lodges opened a recreation center with a dance hall and sport and playgrounds in Kirkland, Ohio. Slovene lodges have such countryside get-aways in Fontana, California, and Samsula, Florida. The Cleveland Slovene political émigré community built “Slovenska pristava” in Harpersfield, Ohio, with a hall, swimming pool and a chapel to commemorate the victims of World War II.

The Slovene National Benefit Society built the largest recreation center owned by a Slovene organization near Ennon Valley, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. It has a ballroom, restaurant, Slovene heritage center, summer cottages and trailer campgrounds. In 1977 a camping ground was registered as the smallest town in Pennsylvania.

Movement of city dwellers towards the suburbs in the 1960s caused the closing down of some national homes. Homes were left in deteriorating areas of towns. Third- and forth- generation Slovene Americans are quite assimilated and are not willing to sacrifice as much time and money to preserve Slovene national homes and other Slovene organizations as their ancestors did. Slovene national homes in Cleveland united in the Cleveland Federation of National Homes. In the 1970s two Slovene national homes were opened in Florida, where quite a few Slovene pensioners moved. Slovene national homes have been searching for new roles, not as exclusively ethnic organizations. In the 1990s new Slovene national homes opened in Detroit, Michigan, and Imperial, Pennsylvania (including an administrative center for the Slovene National Benefit Society). A Slovene Cultural Center was built in Lemont, Illinois, near Chicago.

Ethnic parishes, which were built from 1890 onwards, represent a special form of organization of Slovene, as well as other, immigrant communities.

A general European Catholic Congress was held in Liege, Belgium, in September 1890. During one session devoted to problems of the European immigrant to America, Abbe Villeneuve of Canada claimed to have information that twenty-five million Catholics had entered the United States as immigrants, that the Catholic population in 1890 was slightly over five million, and that the other twenty million Catholics “have turned Protestant or have become indifferent.” This caused quite a stir and provided the impetus for another conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, on December 9 and 10, 1890, to consider the problem of the emigrants’ loss of faith once they arrived in the United States. That conference brought together representatives of the national branches of the European St. Raphael’s Society. These representatives agreed to appeal to Rome to ease the conditions in the church administration that they considered responsible for this tremendous loss of faith.

The Marchese Battista G. Volpe-Landi, president of the Italian St. Raphael’s Society, and Peter Paul Cahensly, secretary-general of the German central office of the Society, were instructed to submit to the Pope the wishes of the conference. The resulting Lucerne Memorial was destined to be the spark that eventually detonated an ecclesiastical power-keg in the United States. The memorial was written in February 1891 and taken to Rome by the two appointed delegates. Cahensly and Volpe-Landi were delayed in receiving an audience with Pope Leo XIII, but arrangements were finally made for April 16, 1891. Because of a death in the family, Volpe-Landi could not attend the audience with the pope, so Cahensly brought the document to the Vatican himself.

The Lucerne Memorial was signed by ten members of the German St. Raphael’s Society, nine Austrians, eight Italians, seven Belgians and one Swiss, all men of considerable reputation. It was also approved, through a separate communication, by Premier Mercier of Quebec. The document claimed that “the losses that the Church has sustained in the United States of North America amount to more than ten million,” a reduction by 50% of the total asserted by the Abbe at Liege. In view of this fact, the memorial stated, certain steps were essential, including: (1) establishment of separate churches for each nationality; (2) appointment to these churches of “priests of the same nationality as the faithful”; (3) provision for religious instruction in the national language, even where the numbers of immigrants did not justify separate parishes; (4) establishment of separate parochial schools for every nationality; (5) a guarantee of equal privileges for priests of every nationality; (6) the foundation of Catholic mutual aid associations; (7) inclusion of bishops of every nationality in the American episcopate, when possible; and (8) papal encouragement to train missionary priests to serve in the United States and to establish branches of the St. Raphael’s Society in European countries.

American reactions to the Lucerne Memorial were critical. Especially interesting was the reaction of John Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota. The objective of Cahensly and his friends, Ireland stated bluntly to a New York Herald reporter:

1 is to harness the Church in America into the service of recently arrived immigrants from Germany.1 We have to note here the actual or assumed ignorance of Mr. Cahensly as to the condition of German speaking Catholics in America. In asserting that they are neglected he does most positive injustice to the bishops of the country.1 The bishops of America have no more idea of making the Church Irish than they have of allowing it to be made German.1 What is the most strange in this whole Lucerne movement is the impudence of the men in undertaking to meddle, under any pretext, in the Catholic affairs of America.1 All American Catholics will treasure up the affront for future action.1 The inspiration of the work in Europe comes1 from a clique in America.1 I am quite sure I am right when I bring home to this (Deutsch-Amerikanischer Priester Verein) the whole promptings of the Lucerne proceedings.1 That great mass of German-speaking Catholics, laymen and priests, are totally opposed to all plans and intrigues and are most heartily in sympathy with everything that is American.1 The promoters of German foreignism in America are certain journalists whose trade is gone if the German language loses its hold, and certain priests who, on coming to America in advanced years, never learned much English and scarcely know that there is in America a country outside the German village or quarter surrounding their parsonage.

Where were the Slovene Catholic priests in this battle, and how much did Slovene priests profit from it? Timothy L. Smith, a well-known historian of the American Catholic Church on the resolution of ethnic conflicts, describes how this played out for Slovenes on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota:

However willing the bishops were to compromise for a time with ethnic sentiments, their long-range goal was to make the newcomers Americans—on an Irish model, of course. Their policy appears in retrospect to have become the dominant theme of American Roman Catholic history during the first half of this century: a melting-pot church in a mosaic culture.

Finally the Slovenes, unlike any other ethnic group in American history, were preceded into the New World by priests of their own nationality. Frederick Baraga came to Lake Superior as a missionary to the Chippewa Indians in 1831. Later, as bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, he recruited pastors who welcomed French Canadian, Slavic, and Irish newcomers.1 Meanwhile, his countryman Fran Pirc carried on the Indian missions in Minnesota. Pirc returned to Slovenia in 1864 and brought back Buh, already an ordained priest, and 15 students, whom he enrolled under Buh’s care, in St. Paul Seminary. In later years Buh returned to recruit similar groups of students. Already competent in German as well as in their native Slovene, many of these men learned Czech and Polish as well, along with the Chippewa language, so as to be able to minister to the scattered enclaves of Slavic immigrants appearing along the frontier near their Indian missions.

When, therefore, the earliest Roman Catholic congregations emerged in northern Minnesota their priests were often Slovenes, even though the parishioners were of many nationalities. Riding the spreading network of mining region railroads from his base at Tower, Father Buh said Masses regularly in schoolhouses and town halls as new communities appeared on the Mesabi Range to the South

.1 In Tower and Ely, however, and thereafter in Mesabi towns such as Aurora, Eveleth, Chisholm, and Gilbert, Slovenes and Croatians comprised a majority within the parishes.

As the population of the Range towns grew, dissatisfaction with melting-pot parishes produced desultory attempts to establish National ones.

Most Slovene parishes in the United States were founded in the first quarter of the 20th century, when Slovene immigration to America was at its height, so that by 1941 there were thirty-two Slovene parishes and one Franciscan monastery in the United States. Seven mixed Slovene and Italian, Norwegian, or Finnish parishes were founded in Minnesota. Six Slovene parishes were founded in Ohio, five in Illinois and Pennsylvania, four in Wisconsin, three in Colorado, and one each in Connecticut, New York, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, and Wyoming. Eight of these parishes have since ceased to exist as Slovene.

In those parts of the country where there were either not enough Slovene immigrants or the immigrants were too impoverished to establish their own parishes, Slovenes founded ethnically mixed parishes with Croats, Slovaks, Germans, Italians, and Hungarians. The reasons for joining with these ethnic groups and not others are easily explained. The immigrants formed parishes with Croats because of the similarity of their languages and the geographical proximity of their homelands; with Slovaks because the Slovak language is linguistically similar to Slovenian and could be understood; with Germans because Slovenes had lived under the Habsburg monarchy until World War I and thus had learned the language; with Italians because that language was understood by Slovene immigrants from the coastland; and with Hungarians because their language was understood by Slovenes from Prekmurje, the Slovene ethnic territory that had belonged to the Hungarian part of the Habsburg monarchy.

In 1915, Slovene immigrants formed at least fifteen ethnically mixed parishes. In the 1920s, however, the reasons for forming mixed parishes—small numbers and/or financial problems—ceased to exist. Slovene settlements increased in size with the arrival of new immigrants and through a natural increase in their population. This situation led each immigrant group in the ethnically mixed parishes to develop its own separate parish, which in turn resulted in a reduction in the number of mixed parishes to eight: five in Minnesota, and one each in Pennsylvania, Montana, and California. Most Slovene immigrants were Catholics, but there were also Protestants from Prekmurje as well as atheists. Both of these latter groups represented only a small percentage of Slovene immigrants.

From 1871 through 1900, Slovene immigrants established twelve parishes, or 30% of all Slovene parishes that have existed in the United States; from 1900 through 1914, twenty-two parishes or 55%; and from 1914 to 1941, six parishes or 15%. This pattern is consistent with Slovene immigration to the United States from the mid-19th century until World War II. After World War II, Slovenes did not establish new parishes in the United States, since most new immigrants settled close to established Slovene communities and could use the existing parishes for their religious needs. Although no new parishes were built after this time, however, Slovenes were forced to move many of their churches to new and sometimes distant locations because of the construction of the new freeway system, which, too often to be coincidental, tended to run through and uproot ethnic settlements.

Many formerly Slovene ethnic churches now draw non-ethnically identified parishioners from their neighborhoods. An example of such a church is St. Joseph’s in Calumet, Michigan. Slovene immigrants built beautiful, large, and expensive churches, around which they sometimes built schools or church halls. These infrastructures, too large to serve only Slovenes, currently serve African and Hispanic Americans who now live in the formerly Slovene neighborhoods.

So with the support of the Catholic Church, there came into being in the USA during the period 1871–1923 forty Slovene or mixed ethnic parishes with Slovene participation. The ethnic parishes where there were enough believers organized Parish schools also. The language of the masses was only Slovenian at first; later the masses were held in English as well as Slovenian. The language of the Parish schools was English, but Slovenian was often taught as an additional subject in those schools.

Parish priests in Slovene ethnic parishes were usually Slovenes, as were teachers in the schools, born in Slovenia or of Slovene descent. Therefore the organizing of ethnic parishes had a positive influence for awareness of their Slovene roots among Slovene immigrants and their descendents.

Ethnic newspapers and organization periodicals were helpful in retaining the awareness of Slovene roots among the Slovene immigrants in the United States. They were published either for the use of Slovenes in one large settlement or to be sent to all members of a Slovene fraternal or other organization in some or a majority of U.S. states. Newspapers and periodicals like almanacs represented one of the most important symbols of the life of an ethnic group. To publish a newspaper some conditions had to be met: there had to be an editor, who had to choose reporters and other writers; he had to have a printer and distribution system. All these were not enough to publish a newspaper. Another important condition had to be met. The Slovene community had to be full of life; events had to take place that were worth writing about.

Slovene newspapers in the United States usually began publishing about ten years after the Slovene ethnic community was created in one or another place. This was the time that had to pass before a Slovene community achieved all the previously mentioned basic conditions for an ethnic newspaper to be published. This process did not proceed uniformly, however. The need for an ethnic press among Slovene immigrants was particularly pressing among Slovene immigrants after World War II because of their better education. There were also more options technically, so these immigrants started to publish ethnic newspapers soon after they settled, or they even continued to publish a newspaper that they had started in a refugee camp.

Slovene ethnic newspapers in the United States played a leading and leadership role among Slovene immigrants, especially from 1891 till 1920. They not only reported about events in the Slovene community, they also stimulated political and economic happenings among Slovene immigrants in the United States. Beginning in 1891, Slovene newspapers have been published in many different cities and townships all over the United States, mostly in the largest Slovene communities. The place of publication sometimes depended on the place where the editor lived. In spite of that, it is clear that the newspapers were read not only in the places where they were printed but all around the country. That is logical, especially if the newspaper was an organ of a certain fraternal benefit society. Some newspapers are still published, among them Ameriška domovina/American Home, a local newspaper for Slovenes in Cleveland that is, however, widely distributed in the United States. American Slovenes also published Amerikanski Slovenec – Glasilo Kranjsko slovenske katoliške jednote, which is both the successor to the first Slovene newspaper, published in the United States since 1891, and an organ of the American Slovenian Catholic Union. Slovene fraternal organizations publish also. Glas (Voice) is an organ of the American Mutual Life Association, headquartered in Cleveland. Voice of WSA is an organ of the Western Slavonic Association, and Prosveta/Enlightenment is published by the Slovene National benefit Society. Many newspapers have ceased publication; among them we should mention Glas naroda, which was published in New York until 1957.

The way Slovene immigrants were organized in their settlements also provided the basis for individual members of Slovene communities to participate in politics, first at the level of the wards, then on the level of cities, counties and states. It is worth mentioning that members of the Slovene community have become members of the American Congress (both the House of Representatives and the Senate). In all the immigrant settlements that I have researched so far3 Cleveland, Leadville, Rock Springs, San Francisco3 the level of political participation of Slovene immigrants was always greater than their numerical strength in the city or county.

In Cleveland, Slovene immigrants and their descendants were actively present in the political life of the city from 1925 onwards, when John L. Mihelich was elected to the City Council. They are still present today. In the 1930s four members of the City Council were of Slovene decent. From 1941 until 1944, Frank Lausche was mayor of Cleveland. At the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, the mayor of Cleveland was George Voinovich, whose mother was of Slovene descent. Lausche and Voinovich continued their careers to become governors of Ohio and U.S. senators from Ohio (Lausche from 1956 till 1968, Voinovich from 1998). Among U.S. representatives we should mention John Blatnik from the Iron Range in Minnesota (from 1948 until the mid-1970s) and three members elected in the 1980s: Dennis Eckart from Cleveland, Ray Kogovsek from Colorado and James Oberstar from northern Minnesota (still in office).

Slovene settlements in the USA started in the 1880s as nuclei of geographically defined areas within American cities. The communities have survived to this day, although geographically more dispersed; since the grandsons and granddaughters of Slovene immigrants moved to the suburbs. But they still meet in the old neighborhoods for a Saturday evening event at a Slovene national home or for Sunday mass in the old Slovene church.