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Acculturation among Swedish immigrants in Kansas and Nebraska, 1870-1900

Acculturation among Swedish immigrants in Kansas and Nebraska, 1870-1900


Department of History, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.


Contemporary observers and many historians have maintained that Swedish immigrants rapidly assimilated into American society. This dissertation examines this conclusion by focusing on rural Swedish settlements in the Great Plains--the Lindsborg community in McPherson and Saline counties in Kansas and Burt, Phelps, Polk, and Saunders counties In Nebraska.

These immigrant communities, all founded in the two decades following the Civil War, typically were established by Swedes who had spent some time in states east of the Great Plains and had thus already begun to assimilate. All of the settlements developed congregations al" various denominations--either through religious schism or immigration by different groups--representing the religious diversity of Swedes in America.

Swedes willingly adopted some American practices and institutions. Seeking economic success, they quickly discarded Swedish customs that were less useful than American patterns. Swedish immigrants generally acquired citizenship, involved themselves in the public life of their communities, and participated in politics. They supported the public school system rather than establishing full-time parochial schools. Swedes socialized with Americans in various public settlings.

There were, however, limits to the degree of assimilation Swedish immigrants were willing to accept. Their churches, although these institutions had adapted to the American environment in some respects, preserved Swedish as the medium oí worship through the use of summer parochial schools that gave religious and language instruction. The immigrant churches also provided social activities that Kept youth within the congregation. Nor were rural Swedish immigrants prone to admit Americans into their families; the group exhibited high rates of endogamy·

Swedish immigrants lived in two worlds. In their public world they sought assimilation into end acceptance by American society. But they also had a private world, bounded by church and family, where the Swedish language and heritage prevailed. Americans, looking at the public life of Swedish-Americans, saw people who readily accommodated themselves to America, but failed to perceive the extent to which Swedes preserved their ethnic identity.