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Distribution and Characteristics of the Early Swedish Immigrants in Iowa

The largest Swedish population in the state of Iowa is found in the following counties: Polk (in and around Des Moines); Boone (including Boone, Madrid, Ogden, Pilot Mound and Boxholm); Webster (in and around Fort Dodge, Dayton, Gowrie, Harcourt and Burnside); Woodbury (Sioux City and vicinity); Montgomery and Page (the so-called Halland settlement, including Red Oak, Stanton, Essex, Shenandoah, and the inland communities of Nyman and Bethesda); Des Moines (Burlington, Mediapolis and vicinity); Buena Vista (Storm Lake, Albert City and Marathon).

Other important Swedish settlements are found in Cherokee, Pocahontas, Sac, Crawford, Kossuth, Hamilton, Monroe, Jefferson and Henry counties, and in the cities of Council Bluffs, Davenport, Clinton and Cedar Rapids, while smaller groups of Swedish settlers and scattered families of Swedish extraction are located in many other places in the state. On the following pages of this book the various Swedish settlements are described under the heads of the respective counties, with a brief history of their founding, development, religious and commercial activities, and the approximate number of residents of Swedish parentage.

The inhabitants of Swedish descent in the state of Iowa, as in other western states, are no longer- foreign in language or customs, as were their immigrant parents, or grandparents, but American in the fullest and best sense of the word. While many of the second, and a few of the third, generation are able to speak and read the Swedish language, English is their mother tongue, the medium through which they have acquired their education, and the language of their daily intercourse, not only with neighbors and visitors, but also in their homes with members of their own families. Even in their religious services, which a generation ago were conducted mostly in Swedish, they are now rapidly substituting English for Swedish, though the latter language is still used in some of their church services and in the exercises of some of their fraternal societies, for the convenience of older members who came here from Sweden at an advanced age.

With regard to the occupation of the Swedish-Americans of Iowa, the last quarter of a century has brought about a great change. While it is still true, that a majority of them live on farms, and till the soil for their livelihood, a constant migration from the farms to the towns and cities is going on. This migration is made up partly of retired farmers who prefer spending their inactive years amidst the more comfortable surroundings that the city offers. But even many of the younger generation forsake the farm for opportunities offered by urban communities, and it is this younger class that particularly emphasize the change that our Swedish-born citizenry have undergone during the last few decades. Some thirty or forty years ago, Swedish laborers were numerous on the railroads as section hands, and in the cities as sewer diggers, street laborers, and packinghouse employees. Some of them were janitors in office buildings, or coachmen in well-to-do families. But today, it is unusual to find a Swede in a city employed at common labor. We find them as skilled workmen in the various trades, preferably the building trades, as machinists in shops, motormen and conductors on street railways, and engineers and firemen on the railroads. Many of them hold positions as salesmen in the stores, or clerks in the various offices. A goodly number fill city, county, and state offices, and even executive positions in manufacturing plants and large commercial houses. In every Swedish community, and in many non-Swedish, we find them as lawyers, doctors, and principals of public and private schools. Our young Swedish women were formerly noted chiefly for their excellent service in well-to-do American families, but today the majority of our Swedish-born women, employed outside their own homes, hold positions as saleswomen in stores, office stenographers, trained nurses, and teachers in the public schools.

Thus the descendants of the early Swedish immigrants in Iowa, as in other states are rapidly metamorphosed into the great body of the American nation. But the national traits that characterized their pioneer forefathers to such a marked degree, their honesty, and integrity, their industry, aptness, and skillfulness, and their inbred respect for law and government, are passed on to children, and children's children as an inesteemable heritage that will leave its mark, and work its blessing, upon many succeeding generations.


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