Jews in the Upper Midwest

Jewish settlement in Minnesota and the Dakotas

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Many Jews were assisted by the Industrial Removal Office (IRO), an East Coast Jewish organization that attempted to settle Jews inland, away from the overcrowded ghettos and "gateway districts" of the largest eastern cities. The IRO also dealt with immigrants fun­neled through the port of Galveston, Texas, and then transported up the Mississippi to the Midwest. In both cases, members of the national Jewish fraternal organization, B'nai Brith (Sons of the Covenant), found them jobs throughout the region.

Like other immigrants, Jews also entered the United States via the Great Lakes, a route that enabled them to avoid the turmoil of Ellis Island and save money. Other Jews came through Canada. A tick­et from Liverpool, England, to Winnipeg cost Norton Giller's fam­ily $25 in the early 1890s. The train from there to Grand Forks, 100 miles away, cost them a penny per mile. Giller recounted that "for one dollar they came to 'America.'"

Once they had arrived, the Eastern European Jews needed work. Unlike New York City, St. Paul and Minneapolis did not have a large garment industry. Also, Jews do not appear to have worked in the burgeoning flour or lumber mills. Other forms of factory work, peddling, and small-business ownership characterized the econom­ic life of the newer arrivals.

Jewish Neighborhoods

Immigrants who arrived in the Twin Cities generally settled in neighborhoods near the downtowns, where the rent was cheap and the houses were close to work. Housing mainly consisted of single dwellings and duplexes, for land was inexpensive and tenements, therefore, relatively rare.

St. Paul had two Jewish districts, the West Side and the Capitol City area. Minneapolis had its North Side, composed of Jews from the Russian empire, and its South Side, filled with Rumanians. While these areas had large proportions of Jews, they were never confined solely to one ethnic group. The North Side of Minneapolis was shared by African Americans, Irish, and. Old-Stock Americans; the West Side of St. Paul, by Poles, Syr­ians, and Mexicans.

Smaller cities as well had areas of several square blocks that could be characterized as immigrant Jewish neighborhoods. Fargo's was next to the Red River; Duluth's was on the West End. All these neighborhoods accommodated a vibrant Jewish life: synagogues, kosher butcher shops and other stores catering to Jewish tastes, socialist meeting halls, and Hebrew schools made life comfortable for the Yiddish-speaking inhabitants.

Different Residential Patterns

Despite such urban concentrations, the general pattern of Jewish settlement in the Upper Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was quite different from that of the East Coast, where Jews gravitated mainly to the cities. Two factors accounted for this difference.

The first was that a significant number of Jews lived in small towns in areas throughout the region. One such area was the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. There, by 1905, iron mining replaced logging as the dominant industry and fueled the growth of numerous towns. Seeking economic opportunity, East­ern European Jews settled in Chisholm, Eveleth, Hibbing, and Virginia. These towns all sustained large enough Main Streets to support numerous Jewish stores, and each town had a synagogue. Still smaller Iron Range towns typically had one or two Jewish businesses, while Duluth, the premier port of Lake Superior, had the third-largest Jewish population in the Upper Midwest....

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Linda M. Schloff

Linda Mack Schloff is director of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, St. Paul.