From Ohio History Central
Numerous Ohioans are descended from Czech ancestors. Today, Czech Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.
In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.
Czech immigrants began to arrive in Ohio as early as the 1840s. Most of these people were escaping financial hardship and political turmoil in Europe. As economic problems in Europe worsened between 1870 and 1914, the number of Czech immigrants coming to the United States escalated. By 1890, approximately ten thousand Czech immigrants resided in Cleveland, with another five thousand Czechs living in other Ohio communities. By 1920, the number of Czech Ohioans had risen to over forty-two thousand people. Most of these Czechs settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories, steel mills, or on railroads. Immigrants that were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow Czechs with traditional Czech products. In Cleveland, the Czech immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the late 1800s, Cleveland claimed at least three Czech communities. Most of the Czech immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church. During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Cleveland Czechs published several newspapers, including Pokrok, Dennice Noveveku, Americke Delnicke Listy, and Svet-American, in their native language, helping to promote Czech-American solidarity.
Czech immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of white Ohioans.
Between World War I and World War II, few Czechs immigrated to the United States. Following World War II, a final major Czech migration occurred, as these newer immigrants sought to escape economic hardship, communist takeover, and political instability in Czechoslovakia. Approximately thirty thousand Czechs migrated to the United States between 1945 and 1960. Many of these people settled in Ohio. In 1970, approximately forty-seven thousand native-born Czechs resided in Cleveland. Ohio's Czech residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives.
Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's Czech population continued to thrive. As late as 1983, thirty-seven thousand Cleveland residents had been born in Czechoslovakia. Numerous Czech Ohioans created social institutions, such as dance troupes and theater groups, to promote traditional Czech beliefs and customs. Many of these institutions continued to exist at the start of the twenty-first century, helping diversify Ohio socially and culturally.
- Ledbetter, Eleanor. The Czechs of Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Americanization Committee, 1919.
- Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.