Norwegians in Iowa
MASON CITY EXPLORING THE HISTORY OF IOWA By JOHN ELY BRIGGS UNIT THREE--IMMIGRANTS This is the sixteenth story in the series of explorations into the history of Iowa. A topic, in the fourth unit about" transportation transportation will appear in this paper next week. 7. The Scandinavians. In the northwestern part of Europe Europe a large peninsula is separated from the mainland by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia. It is ' like an alligator wrench in shape. The rocky, mountainous jaw with its ragged coast line facing the north Atlantic ocean, is Norway. The opposite jaw with its forested hills and lake-strewn valleys/is Sweden. Lying 1 almost within the grasp of the mighty jaws of the . geographical wrench, the peninsula "^of Denmark, which juts into the North. Sea, forms- a gigantic burr that seems about to be screwed from its fastening. These are the three Scandinavian countries--Norway, countries--Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Like the' people of other'Â·coun- tries in northern Europe, many Scandinavians have come to live in Iowa and cultivate our prairies. Very few of the foreigners who have settled in this state have been from southern Europe. In the earlier years none came from Spain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, or Roumania. And since 1900 not many of those nation, alities have been attracted to Iowa English speaking immigrants were most numerous, Germans were next, and after them the Scandinavians. Much the same reasons that caused the British and German immigration led the Norwegians. S w e d e s and Danes to Iowa. They came to find a better place in which to live. No matter how hard they worked in the old country,'they could scarcely earn enough to eat and wear. Few people could ever hope to own a farm. The oldest boy inherited all his father's property and the younger children got none. Neither grain, grass nor trees would grow on half the land in Norway and Sw'eden. The winters were long and cold. Taxes were heavy. Landlords Landlords were sometimes cruel. Quakers, Quakers, Mormons, and United Brethren Brethren were not allowed to worship in peace. The children of the ancient Viking Norsemen loved liberty too much to be content with such conditions. conditions. Opportunity for better things beckoned to them from America. Near Christiana, the capital of Norway, now called Oslo, lived a poor family. Olaf and GuiUa John- rssn worked on a big estate that belonged belonged to the queen's aunt. They ---and their six children-were comfortable. comfortable. But Gunla was not satisfied. They did not have a home of their .own. Letters from relatives in Illinois Illinois urged them to come to America. America. But their hopes were always smothered because they had no money for the journey. Then one day Gunla had a wonderful idea. She would make coffee and sell it. As the weeks passed her purse grew fatter, and at last it was full enough Map Showing Where Scandinavian Immigrants Lived in 1890. to take them all across the Atlantic. In 1854 the Johnson family came to Illinois and a dozen years later moved to Hamilton county, Iowa. The story of Olaf and Gunla Johnson was like the experience of hundreds of other Norwegian families. families. One of the earliest settlements was in Illinois, and from there the immigrants spread 'into Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. In 1840 a small group of Norwegians, led by Hans Barlien, settled in Lee county. But this first colony in Iowa did not grow. The permanent Norwegian settlement settlement began about nine years later in the northeastern corner of the state. During the fifties Norwegian immigrants flocked into Clayton, Fayette, Allamakee and Winneshiek Winneshiek counties where good land was cheap. In 1856 these four counties contained 2,369 foreign-born Norwegians Norwegians and the settlement continued continued to grow, especially in Winneshiek Winneshiek county. The establishment of Luther college in 1862 served to make Decorah the educational center center for the Norwegian Evangelical Lutherans. Meanwhile other groups of Norwegians Norwegians were starting settlements farther west. Neighborhoods developed developed in Benton and Story counties. But it was to Mitchell, Worth and Winnebago counties that most of them went. The parents of Gilbert N. Haugen, who served as an Iowa congressman from 1899 to 1933, were among the first to settle in Worth county. As the years passed, ;he Norwegian population spread ;hrough the north-central section of the state, and on the western border border Woodbury county became one of the principal centers for both Norwegians and Swedes. The Swedish immigration was a few years later in reaching Iowa. In 1S45, however, a party of about 30 settled in Jefferson county. During During the following years this colony grew. Many immigrants stopped on their way to Burlington and some remained there. By the end of 10 years there- were almost as many Swedes in Des Moines county as in Jefferson county. Meanwhile Swedish Swedish neighborhoods were being started started in Henry, Lee, Wapello, Boone and Webster counties. Places named New Sweden, Swede Point (Madrid), Bergholm, and Swede Bend told the nationality of the inhabitants. The Swedes continued to come to Iowa in ever increasing numbers. While the peak of Norwegian immigration immigration was just after the Civil war, the greatest number of Swedes came during the 10 years after 1880. Most of the newcomers settled in Swedish communities. By 1890 the counties most thickly populated with foreign born Swedes were Woodbury, Boone, Polk, Webster, Des Moines, Wapello, Buena Vista, and, in the southwestern part of the state, Montgomery and Page. The map shows that the Swedes kept to themselves in southeastern Iowa, just as the Norwegians occupied occupied the northeastern counties. These two Scandinavian nationalities nationalities came together, however, tin the central part of the state, though they usually lived in different neighborhoods. neighborhoods. The mixture in Woodbury Woodbury and Polk counties was probably probably due to the cities there. Although a few Danes, like Christopher Christopher O. Mynster of Council Bluffs, had come to Iowa by 1850, Danish immigration was not important until until the late sixties. Less than 200 in 1856, the number had increased to nearly 3,000 by 1870. Twenty later, when the Swedes numbered over'30,000 and the Norwegians 000, there were 15.500 Danes in Iowa. Unlike the immigration the other Scandinavian countries, the foreign born Danish population continued to increase until 1920. The census of 1856 says that Danes were then living in Shelby county. But to that neighborhood came many immigrants. During eighties this colony spread over Audubon county. By 1890 it had become the largest Danish settlemen in the state. Pottawattamie county contained another colony almost ai large. Many also settled in Wood bury, Black Hawk and Buena counties. Indeed, there is scarcely a county in northern Iowa where some Danes cannot be found. 'The Scandinavians have done much to make Iowa great in agriculture. They are industrious, thrifty, thrifty, and good people. Most of the immigrants were able to read and write when they came. They believed believed in schools and wanted their children to be well educated. This is one reason why Iowa leads nation in literacy. Nearly all the- Scandinavians became American citizens. Activity Hints. 1. Locate the Scandinavian countries countries on a map of Europe. 2. Find Â· out what you can Norway, Sweden and Denmark. 3. Learn all you can about the Scandinavian imigrants in youi country How many were there 1890? 4. Make a map of your county showing the Scandinavian population population in 1930, according to the census. Next week: "Steamboating."