FINNS. Immigrants from Finland settled in Cleveland as early as 1885. By 1900 79 Finns lived in Cleveland. Between 1901-10 304 Finns came to Cleveland; 288 more the following decade. By the 1930s approx. 3,000 people of Finnish descent lived in Cleveland. Most Finns came to America from rural areas for economic reasons, while compulsory military service in the Russian Army also prompted many to emigrate. Large Finnish communities were established in Fairport Harbor, Ashtabula, Conneaut, and Cleveland, where manual labor was needed. Some immigrants were skilled. Finnish women were employed in domestic work, so that by 1916 Finnish women outnumbered men 3:2. The first Finnish settlement in Cleveland was around Clinton Ave., from W. 25th to W. 38th St., housing approx. 1,500 Finns in the 1930s. Linndale contained the next largest settlement.
The majority of Cleveland's Finns are Lutheran. Early Finnish immigrants established 2 churches. Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church, organized in 1903, affiliated with the Suomi Synod (Finnish American Evangelical Lutheran Church). Membership grew from 85 in 1904 to 200 in the 1950s with larger churches providing visiting pastors. Bethany Natl. Evangelical Lutheran Church, founded in 1919, was a member of the Missouri Synod. The Talko Club, founded in 1948, produced plays, folk music and dancing, arts and crafts, carnivals, dinners, and dances. Membership peaked at 50; its final play was presented in 1957; by the mid-1960s, activities had ceased. SAVEL FINNISH CHOIR of Cleveland, a choral music ensemble, was active from 1937-66. The Young People's Temperance Society, reportedly organized in 1898, after 1910 had a hall at 3509 Detroit Ave. housing a library and reading rooms, and also hosting meetings, concerts, and parties sponsored by the Finnish-American Relief Committee, Finnish Musical Arts Assn., Talko Club, Finnish Camp of Royal Neighbors (Insurance Co.), Finnish Stagers' Club, Finnish Socialist Club, and Finnish Nationalist Club. The Finnish Co-operative Boarding House began in 1912.
Politically, most Finns were conservative and Republican, although many joined the Democrats during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. One of the first socialist clubs in Cleveland was founded by Finns in 1904. Its impact on local politics was minimal because of language barriers and Finns' tendency to keep to themselves. However, the socialist group increased the political clout of Finns generally by urging every Finn to become a U.S. citizen. In 1920 the group purchased a hall on W. 25th St., but 4 years later a split among members caused it to lose the hall, and thereafter it declined. Several publications served the Finnish immigrants. In 1928 a weekly Finnish newspaper, Kausan Lehti, began publication with a circulation of 2,000, moving to Ashtabula Harbor in 1931. Handwritten journals or newspapers were prepared by many Finnish organizations.
Cleveland Finnish settlements remained small, and descendants often moved away, assimilating into American culture. The Finnish church also Americanized, so that by the 1980s Cleveland's "Little Finland" had ceased to exist.
Nicholas J. Zentos
Lorain County Community College
Cuyahoga Community College
Kolehmainen, John I. "A History of the Finns in the Western Reserve" (Ph.D. diss., WRU 1937).