Serbian Ohioans

From Ohio History Central
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Numerous Ohioans are descended from Serbian ancestors. Today, Serbian 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 or regions, like Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, 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.

In 1900, fewer than ten thousand Serbian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, more than thirty thousand Yugoslavians resided in Ohio. Serbia was part of Yugoslavia at this time. Most of these Yugoslavians and Serbians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. In 1914, approximately one thousand Serbs resided in Cleveland alone. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Serbian products. In Cleveland, the Serbian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities or with other Southern Europeans, including Slovenes and Croatians, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the mid 1900s, Cleveland claimed at least two Serbian communities. Most Serbian immigrants were followers of the Orthodox Church. In Cleveland, by 1920, Serbians had also formed several social and cultural institutions, including St. Sava Lodge. Although they now resided in the United States, Serbians continued to practice many traditional customs and beliefs.

Serbian 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.

Serbian immigrants came to the United States in two distinct waves. The first wave started in the late 1800s and continued to World War I, as many Serbians fled Europe due to financial difficulties. Following World War II, an additional wave of Serb migrants arrived, as these people sought to escape their destroyed homeland. As a result of World War II, numerous Serbian homes and businesses were destroyed. Serbian migrants came to the United States, hoping to improve their financial lives. During this same era, other Serbian migrants fled communism, preferring the democratic and capitalist system in the United States. Between 1949 and 1952, at least seven hundred native Serbians settled in Cleveland. Serbians continue to immigrate to the United States today, as political turmoil still grips the Serbs' homeland.

Interestingly, Ohio's Serbian residents did not actively assist later arrivals in beginning new lives. While many of the new immigrants settled in the already established Serbian communities in the state, many of these newer immigrants chastised the earlier migrants for not remaining dedicated to traditional Serbian practices and beliefs. In Cleveland, one church divided between the older and the newer migrants.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Serbian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Serbs, many Serbian communities began to disintegrate. Many Serbs moved into other communities, while non Serbians began to infiltrate the traditionally Serb neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Serbian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. As late as the 1980s, Serbian radio programs continued to air in Cleveland. Serbian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Serbian beliefs and customs.

See Also


  1. Georgevich, Dragoslav, Nikola Maric, and Nicholas Moravcevich. Serbian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State University Press, 1977.  
  2. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.