Norwegians Make Up State’s Largest Ethnic Group
Scandinavians Dot Entire State
From Northern Europe, a flood of immigrants has streamed into North Dakota: Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, and Finns. Today over 120,000 Norwegian immigrants and their American-born children are scattered across the state. Their numbers are greatest in the southern and central counties of the Red River Valley and in northwestern North Dakota (see map), but Norwegians live in all counties.
Swedes number 27,000 and are pretty well spread out although more live in Cass County than any other county. About 12,500 Danes now live here. Their greatest numbers are in Burke and Ward counties with Kenmare known as “Little Denmark.” Many fewer Icelanders (under 3,000) and Finns (under 2,500) live in North Dakota. The Wing area of Burleigh County and Rock Lake, Rolla, and Hansboro along the Canadian border are home to the majority of Finnish immigrants. Most Icelanders have settled in Pembina County around the town of Mountain.
The Scandinavian groups have much in common. They come from Europe’s northern climate, from countries where farms are small and available land is scarce. Some languages are similar, at least for the Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes. Icelandic and Finnish, however, are quite different from the others. Their most common bond is religion — almost all the Scandinavians are Lutheran.
Like the Germans from Russia and the other ethnic groups, the Scandinavians came to North Dakota because of the availability of land under the terms of the Homestead Act. Four or six acres in Iceland or Norway could not compare to 160 or 320 in North Dakota.
In 1914 people of Norwegian birth or descent owned one-fifth of all the land in North Dakota. Other Scandinavians also owned land so this map would be even blacker if the Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, and Finns were included. Source might be the book edited by Playford Thorson called “Ethnic Folks.”
The Scandinavians have been more active in civic affairs than most other immigrant groups. They have started newspapers, built hospitals, organized colleges, and count among their numbers several -authors. The Norwegians, especially, have -recently been active in good government -reform clubs.
Do You Know . . . ?
Which Scandinavian ethnic groups celebrated Midsummer’s Day with a big festival and party, built saunas outdoors, and jumped into the snow or cut a hole in the ice and jumped into the water after using their saunas in the winter?
Grandmother teaches younger women how to use an Icelandic spinning wheel. Most Icelanders settled in the northeastern corner of North Dakota. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
Which Scandinavian group built windmills in North Dakota and spell the “son” names like Johnson and Jenson with “e’s,” as in Johnsen and Jensen?
Where in North Dakota did most Finns go to live? Where did Danes go?
A Swedish homesteader’s wife and children around 1900. John Talcott and his family lived near Westhope in Bottineau County. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
Apply map skills (i.e., cardinal directions, map key, symbols) to read a simple map
Describe how community life has changed from past (i.e., pioneer and tribal) to the present
Identify examples of how different groups, societies, and cultures are similar and different (e.g., in beliefs, traditions, family relationships, celebrations, institutions, folklore)
Use chronological terms (i.e., decade, century, generation)
Describe the daily lives (e.g., roles, shelter, significance of buffalo) of the first inhabitants of North Dakota
Explain reasons for settlement in North Dakota (e.g., railroads, Bonanza farms, Homestead Act)
Explain the significance of agriculture in North Dakota history (e.g., immigration, railroads)
Identify the location and characteristics of significant features of North Dakota (e.g., landforms, river systems, climate, regions, major cities)
Describe ways geography has affected the development (e.g., the development of transportation, communication, industry, and land use) of the state over time
Explain how background and history influence people’s actions (e.g., farming methods, hunting methods, economic decisions)
Explain the contributions of various ethnic groups (e.g., Native Americans, immigrants) to the history of North Dakota (e.g., food, traditions, languages, celebrations)
Explain reasons for early colonization (e.g., religious freedom, economic opportunity)
Explain the factors (e.g., trade routes, goods available, location) that influenced the growth of cities
Compare how culture influences relationships, religion, and social institutions in various societies (e.g., different family structures, world religions, rituals, government structures, social policies)
Interpret and evaluate a variety of visual representations (e.g. charts, graphs, time lines, graphic organizers, maps, flow charts) of data
Analyze the impact of immigration on the United States (e.g., labor pools, ghettos)
Explain the significance of key events (e.g., settlement and homesteading, statehood, reservations) and people (e.g., Roughrider Recipients) in North Dakota and tribal history
Evaluate how economic opportunities (e.g., manufacturing, agricultural, business) impact North Dakota and other regions (e.g., Midwest, Northeast)
Compare human characteristics (e.g., population distribution, land use) of places and regions (i.e. North Dakota)
Explain how culture influences gender roles, ethics, and beliefs
Explain how group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior (e.g., religion, education, media, government, and economy)