America Immigration: Czech/Bohemia Immigrants


Figure 1.--The photograph here was taken on Ellis Island. It is undated but wasprobably taken in the early 20th century, probably about 1905. It shows a Czech family who posed on a lawn at Ellis Island before boarding a train to Indiana where they settled on a farm. The three small boys of the family are still wearing their European-style clothes. The head shaws were very common for women from Eastern Europe at the time. Notice that the three boys wear caps of different styles: one is a peaked cap of quasi-military style, another is a flat cap with a snap on the brim, and the third boy may be wearing a black beret (or perhaps it is also a different kind of flat cap).

Most Czech immigrants entered the United States before World war I while what became Cechoslovakia after World War I and is now the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The U.S. Census reported in 1910 that there were about 0.2 million first generation Czechs and 0.5 million second generation Czechs. While this was not one of the most important immigrant groups, it was a substantial number. Czechs like other subjects of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had to get permission to emmigrate. but except for youths of military age there were no significant restrictions placed on emmigration. A major point of departure for Czechs was the German port of Bremen. A substantial number along with German emmigrants entered at the port of Galveston and settled in Texas. A substantial numbers of Jews were included among these Czech emmigrants.

Austro-Hungarian Empire

Most Czech immigrants entered the United States before World War I while what became Cechoslovakia after World War I and is now the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czxechs were the third largest national group within the Empire (after the Germans and Hungarians). Increasing numbers of Czechs began leaving their homeland dominted by Austria in the mid-19th century. Limited economic opportunities, a shortage of land., as well as political and cultural repression by the Austrians were the principal causes. It is difficult to determine just what was the principal cause. Required military service was a major concern on the part of many Czechs.

Emigration Permission

Czechs like other subjects of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had to get permission to emigrate. but except for youths of military age there were no significant restrictions placed on emigration. Officials did sometimes attempt to disuade people from emmigration by accounts of hard conditions in America and by threats that they would not be allowed back even for family visits. We do not know of any pattern of coersion or pinitive force. Basically all individuals desiring to emigrate had to do was to show they had the money to pay for the travel expenses of all family members emigrating and a valid travel or emigration passport. Ofgficials normally processed the emigration application very quickly only 2-3 days. An application was addressed to the District Authority (Hejtmanstvi). It was written mostly in the German language by an official writer as many people were either not literate or did not speak German. Very little of the application was actually written by the applicant. Regulations required the emigrant to attach the Birth and Christening documents of all the family members and the parent’s Marriage Certificate had to be enclosed with the application. Birth Certificates (1850s-60s) were written or printed in the German language. The printed version was subsequently printed in the Czech language. This reflected the evolving policies of the Astro-Hungarian Empire to accomodate the desires of the various national groups in the Empire. Emigrants also needed a "Local Authority Certificate". This certificate had to be attached to the application for the travel or emigration passport. It confirmed the "home right" of the applicant in the village, his/her reputation and that there were no outstanding debts or other. This prevented criminals are debtors from emigrating. In exceptional cases another document was needed--District Court Permission. An example was in the case of minors who father had died. Once the necessary documents were submitted, the District Authority issued the Travel or Emigration Passport. The Pssport was printed in the German language. A fee stamp of 15 krejcars was required. The person's names were written in Czech for accuracy, Czech family names can ve difficult. Passprts were issued for families with the names of each family member written on the back. Issuance of the Emigration Passport mean that the people involved lost their Austrian citizenship and the home right in their village. If they returned home they were treated as a foreigner. These Passports were issued for a period of 6 months to 3 years. This constituted a grace period during which tey could return home without loss of citzenship. Czech and Moravian emigrants needed a Letter of Safe Conduct. This was in additionn to tgeir Emigration/Travel Ppassport. This letter was needed at the border and at ports when boarding a ship. The primary purose of this Letter to prevent youths from evading required military service. Often youths by various subterfuges were able to get around this requirement. [Šimí?ek]

Routes

A major point of departure for Czechs was the German port of Bremen. We also notice Czech immigrants entering America through Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York.

Ellis Island

The photograph here was taken on Ellis Island. It is undated but wasprobably taken in the early 20th century, probably about 1905. It shows a Czech family who posed on a lawn at Ellis Island before boarding a train to Indiana where they settled on a farm. The three small boys of the family are still wearing their European-style clothes. The head shaws were very common for women from Eastern Europe at the time. Notice that the three boys wear caps of different styles: one is a peaked cap of quasi-military style, another is a flat cap with a snap on the brim, and the third boy may be wearing a black beret (or perhaps it is also a different kind of flat cap) Two boys wear knee pants with long black stockings and high top shoes. We can't see what the third boy in back is wearing, but he is probably dressed like his brothers in knee pants and long stockings since he is only a little older than they. The boys wear jackets (or shirts?) that button up the front. One of the boys seems to have both a shirt and a jacket. It looks as though the boy at the far right is wearing long underwear under his black stockings. There appears to be some bulging near the ankles. The girls wear peasant-style skirts and blouses with kerchiefs around their heads.

Religion

Most of the Czechs immigrants arriving in America were Catholic. One source estimates that about 80 percent were Catholic. [Olesch]

Settlement

Most Czech immigrants settled in the Midwest, but we also note Czechs in Texas and New York.

Midwest

Czech settlement in the Mid-West were the most important. Notice the family here which was headed for Indiana. They like many other immigrant from Eastern and Central Europe primarily settled in cities and the immigrants sought industrial jobs. The largest urban centers with Czech settlement were Chicago, New York, and Saint Louis. We also see some Czechs in small towns. One example is a small town in Nebraka. We notice the Prague School.

Texas

A substantial number along with German emmigrants entered at the port of Galveston and settled in Texas. The first Czech immigrants in Texas were primarily farmers from Bohemia. The first Czechs reached Texas through the port of Galveston in 1852. Many settled in the Fayette County area. The second wave in larger numbers began to arrive after the Civil War. (The Civil War of course dscoyraged immigration for a time. One of the reasons immigrants came was to evade compulsory military service.) Many Czech immigranys after the Civil War came from Moravia. They settled in the area between San Antonio and Houston, to be more precise in and around the cities La Grange and Schulenburg, east of San Antonio and in Richmond-Rosenberg southwest of Houston. There were also 800 Polish farmers who went to Karnes County (southeast of San Antonio) at the same time, where they founded Panna Maria, an all-Polish community. In 1969 there were 60,000 speakers of Czech and 20,000 speakers of Polish in Texas (as well as 150,000 speakers of German). They added to the cultural diversity. Catholic Tejanos had been swaped by Protestant Americans. The Czechs were the first group of Catholics to reenter Texas. The Czechs in Texas have developed and maintained an active cultural life with Czech schools and Czech language newspapers and magazines. It was they who were responsible for the establishment of classes in Czech language and philology at the University of Texas in Austin. The cultural tenacity of the Czechs is demonstrated by the continuing publication of two Czech language newspapers in Texas. The last newspaper of the much larger German ethnic element, the New Braunfelser Zeitung, switched to English in 1960. They and their descendents are still fond of polka music and dance, (often heard on the local radio stations) and many culinary and other expressions of their culture. [Olesch]

Jews

A substantial numbers of Jews were included among these Czech emmigrants.

Extent

The American 1910 Census indicated that of the 1.2 million foreign-born residents from Austria (including Bohemia and Moravia), over 0.2 million were probably Czechs (from Bohemia and Moravia). While this was not one of the most important immigrant groups, it was a substantial number. The only group which came in larger numbers from the Empire were Poles who totaled over 0.3 million. Of course much lager numbers of Poles came as there was also Polish immigration from Germany and Russia. Much smaller numbers of Slovaks immigrated from Austria-Hungary (0.15 million), primarily from Hungary. The Census reported 0.5 million Americans who idetified as being second generaion Czechs. This was the largest group from Austria-Hungary.

Impact on Czechoslovakia


Sources

MUDr. Josef Šimí?ek. The Hope Has Its Name--Texas: The Emigration to America from the Villages Bordovice and Lichnov from 1856 to 1914 (CHS of Texas).

Olesch, Reinhold. "The West Slavic Languages in Texas with special regard to Sorbian in Serbin, Lee County" in Glenn G. Gilbert, ed. Texas Studies in Bilingualism (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1970).

U.S. Census.






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Created: March 29, 2004
Last updated: 2:59 AM 11/13/2011