Slovene Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Slovene ancestors. Today, Slovene 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, 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 Slovene immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, more than thirty thousand Yugoslavians resided in Ohio. Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia at this time. Most of these Yugoslavians and Slovenes settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. In 1910, more than fourteen thousand Slovenes resided in Cleveland alone, giving Cleveland the third largest Slovene population of all cities around the world. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Slovene products. In Cleveland, the Slovene 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 early 1900s, Cleveland claimed two Slovene communities. Most Slovene immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church. In Cleveland, by 1920, Slovenes had also formed several social and cultural institutions, including the Zarja Singing Society, three Slovene-language newspapers, and various aid societies, including Marijin Spolek. Although they now resided in the United States, Slovenes continued to practice traditional customs and beliefs.

Slovene 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.

Slovene immigrants came to the United States in three distinct waves. The first wave occurred in the late 1800s, as many Slovenes fled Europe due to financial difficulties. Following World War I and World War II, two additional waves of Slovene migrants arrived, as these people sought to escape their destroyed homeland. As a result of both wars, numerous homes and businesses were destroyed. Slovene migrants came to the United States, hoping to improve their financial lives. Cleveland's Slovene residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives. The new immigrants tended to settle in the already established Slovene communities in the state.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Slovene communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Slovenes, many Slovene communities began to disintegrate. Many Slovenes moved into other communities, while non Slovenes began to infiltrate the traditionally Slovene neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Slovene population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. As late as 1980, more than fifty thousand Cleveland residents claimed Slovene ancestry. Slovene Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Slovene 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.