Slavic Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Slavic ancestors. Today, Slavic 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 England, 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, rather than from Western European countries, like England, 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, England, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state. Eastern European immigrants are commonly referred to as Slavic immigrants.

Slavic immigrants came from numerous countries and regions in Eastern Europe. These nations or geographical regions included Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and several other areas. Those Slavs from Russia primarily followed the Eastern Orthodox Church and had a language based on the Cyrillic alphabet, while most other Slavs followed the Roman Catholic Church and utilized the Latin alphabet.

In 1900, fewer than fifty thousand Slavic immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, their numbers had soared to more than 150,000 people in Cleveland alone. Most of these immigrants settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Slavic products. In Cleveland and other Ohio cities, Slavic 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 a dozen or more Slavic communities spread across the city. Interestingly, Slavic immigrants commonly divided themselves further along national guidelines. Poles lived together; Ukrainians lived together; Croats lived together; but rarely did Slavic immigrants put aside their national identities and peacefully coexist with each other.

Slavic immigrants of the same ethnic or national identity congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born people in the U.S. 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 the United States. Many native-born people in the U.S. hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Many Slavic immigrants came to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hoping to improve their financial lives. Following World War I, Slavic immigrants came to the United States to escape war-torn Europe. Many Slavic immigrants came to the United States for the same reason following World War II. During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, others came to escape the communist takeover of their nations. Most Slavic immigrants during this later period came from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Earlier Slavic arrivals helped these new immigrants establish themselves in the United States.

Upon arriving in the United States, Slavic people created numerous social and cultural institutions that were designed to preserve their traditional beliefs and customs. Besides establishing their own neighborhoods, many Slavic immigrants formed dance troupes, theater companies, newspapers, and other types of cultural organizations. Many of these groups continued to thrive at the start of the twenty-first century, further enhancing Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

See Also


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