Lemko Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Carpatho-Russian ancestors. Today, Carpatho-Russian 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 Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, 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.

Carpatho-Russians are an ethnic group from Eastern Europe. They have never truly lived in a single nation. Rather, they have usually been a minority population in Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and western Russia. The Carpatho-Russians principally have resided in the Carpathian Mountains. Carpatho-Russians also utilize other names for themselves, usually dependent upon their geographic location or religious beliefs. Carpatho-Russians from Poland usually are known as Lemkos, while followers of the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church are known as Rusins or Ruthenians. Some Carpatho-Russians also attend the Russian Orthodox Church.

The first Carpatho-Russians to immigrate to the United States arrived during the late nineteenth century. Most of these early immigrants initially settled along the Atlantic Ocean, but by the 1880s, some had moved into the American interior, including to Ohio. By 1917, approximately 150,000 Carpatho-Russians lived in the United States, with approximately thirty thousand of these migrants living in Ohio. Most of Ohio's Carpatho-Russians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Carpatho-Russian products. Most of these immigrants came to the United States seeking a better life economically or to escape religious persecution. The initial immigrants, who consisted primarily of men, however, did not intend to stay in the United States. Most hoped to return to their homeland with enough money to purchase land. World War I, economic distress in their native countries, and religious persecution prompted many Carpatho-Russian immigrants to remain in the United States.

The Carpatho-Russian 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. They 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.

Ohio's Carpatho-Russians established numerous organizations to preserve their traditional customs and beliefs. Most of the earliest groups centered on the church, including St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland. The Carpatho-Russians also formed fraternal organizations, such as the Rusin Elite Society, the Greek Catholic Union, and the Lemko Association, which provided social activities and insurance benefits to their members. The Cleveland Carpatho-Russians also established a native-language newspaper, Rodina, in 1927.

While many Carpatho-Russian immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, an additional large wave of Carpatho-Russian migrants eventually reached this country after World War I and World War II. Most of the immigrants between World War I and World War II were women and children, who sought to join their husbands and fathers in the United States. Following World War II and the Soviet Union takeover of Eastern Europe, a new wave of Carpatho-Russian immigration to the United States occurred. These migrants came for political and economic reasons. Some fled Soviet control, while others were escaping World War II's economic devastation. By the early 1980s, Cleveland boasted more than twenty-five thousand residents of Carpatho-Russian ancestry.

Following World War II, like most other immigrant groups, Ohio's traditional Carpatho-Russian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Carpatho-Russians, many Carpatho-Russian communities began to disintegrate. Many Carpatho-Russians moved into other communities, while non-Carpatho-Russians began to infiltrate the traditionally Carpatho-Russian neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Carpatho-Russian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Carpatho-Russian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Carpatho-Russian 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.