Greek Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Greek ancestors. Today, Greek 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, and Czechoslovakia, or Southern European countries, like Italy and Greece, 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 and Southern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

Between 1890 and 1920, 370,007 Greeks immigrated to the United States. By 1920, 13,540 Greek-born people resided in Ohio. Most of these Greeks settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland. The first Greek to settle in Cleveland was Panagiotis Koutalianos, a circus strongman. By 1920, Cleveland boasted a Greek-born population of more than five thousand people. Most of these immigrants found low-paying jobs in factories, as day laborers, or as waiters, waitresses, and cooks in restaurants. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Greek products or began their own clothing, florist, restaurant, or shoeshine companies. In Ohio, the Greek 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, most Greek immigrants in Cleveland had settled in three neighborhoods. These neighborhoods included Greek Town on the city's east side, another settlement along Woodland Avenue on the city's east side, and Tremont on the Cleveland's west side. Most of these immigrants were followers of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Greek 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 Ohioans.

Ohio Greeks were determined to maintain their traditional heritage and beliefs. More successful Greek immigrants established coffeehouses, which became important social centers in the Greek communities. During the 1930s, a Greek-language newspaper, Mentor, flourished in Cleveland. In 1910, Cleveland's Greeks established the first Greek Orthodox congregation in the city. This group would eventually become the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Greek immigrants also started at least four schools, the Lexington School, the Woodland School, the Greek American Progressive Association School, and the Annunciation Church School, in Cleveland to educate Greek youth in the language and customs of their homeland. Typically, these schools held classes on weekends or in the afternoons after Cleveland's public schools had dismissed for the day.

During World War II, Ohio Greeks rallied behind the United States. The bravery of Greek-American soldiers caused other Americans finally to accept the Greek immigrants. While Greek organizations continued to exist in Ohio following World War II, the number of new immigrants moving to the state slowly declined. By 1980, only 2,603 Greek-born people resided in Cleveland. Other Ohio cities experienced similar declines. Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Greek communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Greeks, many Greek communities began to disintegrate. Many Greeks moved into other communities, while non-Greeks began to infiltrate the traditionally Greek neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Greek population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Greek Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Greek beliefs and customs.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.