SLOVENES, a South Slav people whose homeland, Slovenia, declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, began settling in Cleveland in the 1880s, with immigration heaviest in the periods 1890-1914, 1919-24, and 1949-60. Prior to WORLD WAR II, most emigrants were peasants from the economically underdeveloped rural areas of Slovenia, looking for economic betterment. The Slovenes who came after World War II were mainly political refugees, including a larger proportion of well-educated and professional individuals. The community was augmented by the 2nd generation, and also by Slovenes who came from elsewhere in the U.S. Cleveland became a magnet for Slovenes because of its rapidly expanding industrial base, requiring large numbers of unskilled and semiskilled laborers. Census data for 1910 listed 14,332 Slovenes in Cleveland, making it at the time the 3rd-largest Slovene city in the world. The 1970 census listed 46,000 foreign-born or mixed-parentage Slovenes in the Cleveland area. By the early 1900s, Cleveland had the largest Slovene settlement in the U.S., retaining that status into the 1990s.
The first Slovenes to arrive in Cleveland settled in the NEWBURGH area and found employment in the nearby steel industry. By the later 1880s and early 1890s, a much larger Slovene community began forming along St. Clair Ave., which, at its greatest extent in the 1920s and 1930s, reached from E. 30th to E. 79th streets, north to the lake and south to Superior Ave. By the early 1900s, another sizable Slovene community emerged in the COLLINWOOD area and into EUCLID. Relatively few Slovenes settled on the west side of Cleveland; however, 2 small communities did develop, one in WEST PARK and the other in the Denison neighborhood. Except for West Park and Denison, these Slovene settlements were still identifiable in the 1990s, although they were in various stages of decline as the U.S.-born generations largely assimilated and moved into adjacent, more affluent suburbs. By the 1980s, Lake County cities had sizable Slovene populations, as did MAPLE HTS. and GARFIELD HTS.
As more Slovenes settled in the Newburgh, St. Clair, and Collinwood areas between the 1880s and early 1900s, a sense of community began developing. There is no evidence to indicate that these early arrivals, predominantly young males, considered themselves permanent residents. There was no interest in Americanization, or in acquiring citizenship. Their first institutions were responses to immediate needs. Enterprising individuals began opening taverns, which soon became social centers, with the owners assuming a prominent social and economic role among their fellow countrymen and often expanding into other business ventures. Over time, some of the immigrants sent for wives and children and fiancées; family units began to appear. Most of the Slovene immigrants came from a strongly Roman Catholic religious tradition and one of their earliest desires was to have their spiritual needs attended to by Slovene-speaking priests. ST. VITUS parish, serving the St. Clair community, was organized in 1893; St. Lawrence parish appeared in 1901 in the Newburgh area; while St. Mary parish was founded in Collinwood in 1906. All 3 remained national parishes into the 1980s. Slovenes in Euclid attended St. Christine parish. Each of the Slovene national parishes also established a parochial school, although by the 1980s the St. Lawrence school had closed and the existence of the St. Vitus and St. Mary schools was endangered. Other organizations common to a Roman Catholic parish were also established.
The early Slovene immigrants needed organized economic self-protection against illness, injury, and death, prompting them to form mutual insurance societies, some local and short-lived, while others eventually affiliated into national or statewide Slovene fraternal insurance societies. Among Cleveland Slovenes, the first such organization was MARIJIN SPOLEK (Society of Mary), appearing ca. 1890; in 1894 it became a branch of a national Slovene fraternal. Many of these societies also promoted organized singing, literary, and other cultural activities. By the later 1890s, more new organizations were being formed, as were business ventures. In 1897 the Slovenski Sokol (Slovenian Sokol) was formed; in addition to gymnastics, it promoted literary and musical activity among its members. Its immediate precursor was a singing club. In all, Cleveland Slovenes have founded more than 40 singing groups alone. In 1899 the first Slovene-language newspaper printed in Cleveland appeared. Narodna Beseda (National Word) survived only briefly, but was followed by a number of successors. AMERISKA DOMOVINA (American Home), still published as a weekly in the 1990s, traced its history to the early 1900s; while ENAKOPRAVNOST (Equality), a liberal newspaper printed from 1918-57, was in constant ideological conflict with the conservative and Catholic-oriented Ameriska Domovina. The formation of national parishes, mutual insurance societies, singing and drama clubs, newspapers, and scores of businesses by the early 1900s indicated that for a large number of the Cleveland Slovenes, a return to the homeland was increasingly unlikely. The newspaper that succeeded Narodna Beseda in 1899 was titled, significantly, Nova Domovina (New Homeland). Another confirmation of this ever-stronger commitment to the U.S. was acquisition of U.S. citizenship. By 1912 about 3,000 Cleveland Slovenes were already citizens, and another 6,000 could meet the requirements. Acquisition of citizenship surged, especially during WORLD WAR I (1914-18) and the 1920s.
Already by 1914, a basic and permanent ideological cleavage had emerged within the Slovene community, both in Cleveland and in other major settlements. Reduced to essentials, this cleavage had religiously oriented Slovenes on one side, buttressed by the Slovene-American Catholic clergy, while liberal, "freethinking," and socialist Slovenes were on the other side. In Cleveland, this resulted in the formation of parallel sets of institutions. Many of the singing societies, for example, comprised in the main Slovenes from one side or the other, and this differentiation applied as well to the audience. The Lira singing society, formed in 1912, appealed primarily to Catholic Slovenes residing in the St. Clair community, for example, while the ZARJA SINGING SOCIETY was founded in 1916 under the sponsorship of a socialist club. There were many exceptions to this pattern, but it is not possible to understand the history of the Cleveland Slovene community without recognizing this ideological separation.
The onset of World War I in 1914 effectively stopped immigration to Cleveland from Slovenia. The community continued growing rapidly as children were born, and also due to the arrival of Slovenes from other parts of the country. The fact that Slovenia, as a part of Austria-Hungary, was involved in the war from the beginning intensified interest in foreign affairs within the community, which increased with direct U.S. involvement in 1917. The war years seem to have been a watershed for many of the immigrants, as they came fully to realize the permanence of their commitment to America. One result was an intensification of activity within the community itself. Community leaders before the war wanted to build Natl. Homes, which would be centers of social and cultural life in the settlements. Efforts began in 1903 but did not succeed until 1919, when 4 such homes were dedicated. The largest, the SLOVENIAN NATL. HOME on St. Clair Ave., with a seating capacity of more than 1,000, was constructed in 1924. Financed through the sale of shares to Slovene organizations and individuals, operated by boards of trustees elected by the shareholders, the Natl. Homes served as anchors in the settlements, in company with the Roman Catholic national parishes. By the 1940s, each of the major Cleveland and suburban settlements had its own Natl. Home, and 7 such homes existed in the 1990s.
The appearance of the Natl. Homes was a seminal event for the Cleveland Slovene community. Each facility became a social and cultural center, with concerts, plays, dances, and banquets being held, especially during the 1920s and 1930s. Singing societies were formed: following Zarja (1916) came Jadran (1920) and GLASBENA MATICA (1930), to name but 3 of the most prominent that still flourished in the 1980s. Full-scale opera productions were mounted regularly from the later 1920s until the 1950s. The IVAN CANKAR DRAMATIC SOCIETY was founded in 1919 and remained active until the 1950s. The Lilija Dramatic Society was also founded in 1919, and remained active into the 1990s, thanks to the participation of Slovenes who emigrated to Cleveland after World War II, and their U.S.-born children.
The period between the world wars saw the arrival of a professional class in the Slovene community, with attorneys and physicians especially prominent. During these years, some Slovenes became prominent in professional sports, especially baseball and boxing, while others launched successful political careers, especially FRANK J. LAUSCHE, mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio, and U.S. Senator. Frank Yankovic gained national recognition in the 1950s as a polka-band leader; known as the "Polka King," he was awarded a Grammy for his recordings of polka music in 1986 (see POLKAS). The Cleveland Slovene community provided a substantial role for women to express themselves very early. They were admitted to membership in the mutual insurance societies, as well as into the singing and drama societies. Cleveland Slovene women established their own society, the PROGRESSIVE SLOVENE WOMEN OF AMERICA, in 1934. Catholic-oriented women generally affiliated with the Slovene Women's Union, founded in the 1920s and based in Joliet, IL.
World War II affected the Slovenes in 2 major ways. First, many Slovenes served in the armed forces. The Axis occupation of Yugoslavia and thereby Slovenia was followed by the rise in the original homeland of rival resistance groups. One, the Partisans, was controlled by the Communist party under Josip Broz Tito. The other was Catholic and anti-Communist. Cleveland Slovenes divided sharply over which of these resistance groups to support. Some opted for the Partisans; they were influenced by Louis Adamic, a nationally prominent Slovene-American writer of the 1930s and 1940s. These Slovenes organized material and moral support for the Partisans and continued their efforts into the postwar years. One result of these efforts was the eventual establishment in Cleveland of an official Yugoslav consulate, which was led by an ethnic Slovene. After the establishment of an independent Slovenia in 1991, its government opened an Honorary Consulate and appointed a local Slovene, Dr. Karl B. Bonutti, honorary consul.
Catholic-oriented Cleveland Slovenes largely distanced themselves from the pro-Partisan Slovenes and eventually found reinforcement for their views with the arrival in the U.S. of several thousand Slovene political refugees, many of whom came to Cleveland. As a rule, these refugees were better educated than their predecessors and politically very conscious. Although accepted by most of the Catholic community, they were viewed with suspicion and hostility by the liberal, or "progressive" wing of the Slovenes. These newest arrivals soon became active in the cultural life of the community, reinvigorating it. In the 1950s they founded the Korotan Singing Society and Kres Folklore Dance Group. In the later 1970s, their U.S.-born offspring established the Fantje Na Vasi men's chorus and were the backbone of the Lilija Dramatic Society. At St. Vitus and St. Mary parishes, Saturday Slovene-language schools remained active into the 1990s. Since the 1960s, the largest single project of the Cleveland Slovene community has been the SLOVENE HOME FOR THE AGED, a 150-bed skilled-nursing facility in northeastern Cleveland. The Slovene National Art Guild has similarly worked to keep artistic traditions alive.
By the 1990s, the Slovene community in the Cleveland area numbered well over 50,000, although many of these were no longer ethnically conscious. Yet the community vigorously continued supporting literally hundreds of organizations reflecting their ethnic heritage and traditions. The Ameriska Domovina is still published once a week; the daily radio programs of Tony Petkovsek, begun in 1961, retain a substantial audience; concerts and other cultural performances still commonly fill the auditoriums of the Natl. Homes. While use of the Slovene language has all but disappeared in large parts of the community, there seems little doubt that Slovenes in Cleveland will remain a coherent entity for decades to come.
Rudolph M. Susel
American Home Publishing Co.