Slovak immigration to the United States began in the late 1870s, when Slovakia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire administered by Hungary. Because U.S. immigration officials did not keep separate records for each ethnic group within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is impossible to determine the exact number of Slovak immigrants who entered the United States. Between 1880 and the mid-1920s, approximately 500,000 Slovaks, mostly men immigrated to the United States.
Before 1899 U.S. immigration officials listed immigrants by country of birth. Thus, until 1899 Slovaks were recorded as Hungarians. Even after immigrants were enumerated by nationality, the Magyarization policies had been so effective that many Slovaks did not identify themselves as such. Also, perhaps one-third of the Slovaks who came to the United States were not immigrants but instead migrants. Often called "birds of passage," they worked temporarily in America and then returned to Europe. They wanted to earn money to buy property in their homeland. It was common for Slovaks to make several trips between the United States and Upper Hungary.
Over time, many birds of passage decided to stay in America and sent for their families. The reasons for staying varied. Some were unable to save enough money to buy land and in some regions of their homeland no land was available. Others decided that America promised a better future while others married and decided to stay.
Most of the Slovak immigrants were men. They gravitated to areas where industries were expanding and needed unskilled labour. More than half the Slovak immigrants went to Pennsylvania and primarily to the mill towns and coal mining districts in the state's western region. Other popular destinations included Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and Illinois. Slovaks "chain migrated," that is they went to places where previous Slovak immigrants already lived. Between 1908 and 1910 an astounding 98.4 percent of Slovaks entering the country were joining relatives or friends.
Eighty percent of Slovak immigrants had been common or farm labourers in their homeland. Having few skills Slovaks found jobs as manual labourers in heavy industries, especially in steel and allied industries that produced durable/trvanlivý, odolný/ goods. A large number of Slovaks also worked in coal mines. In 1910 survey revealed that 82 percent of Slovak males laboured as miners or in iron and steel mills. Some Slovak women were employed as domestics, but in cities they often worked in food processing plants. Fewer employment opportunities existed for women in small mill towns. Those who were unable to find domestic service jobs typically remained unemployed and helped at home until they married. Widows and married women often ran boarding-houses where they cooked and did the laundry for residents.
Slovak culture traditionally did not place a high emphasis on education. Many Slovak immigrants who came before World War I (1914-1918) could neither read nor write. This high illiteracy rate reflected the rural background, farming heritage of most immigrants and the Hungarian government's Magyarization policy. Slovak American parents typically encouraged children to seek secure jobs rather than social or economic advancement. They did not hesitate to put their children to work at early ages. Therefore, most second-generation Slovak American men became industrial labourers. The first Slovak school in America was established by St. Stephen's Parish (dedicated in 1883, one of the first Slovak churches in the United States) in Streator, Illinois. Only few Slovak Americans entered such professions as law and education. The value system of both first- and second-generation Slovaks placed women in the traditional role of wife, mother, and homemaker; therefore, education was considered even less valuable for daughters than for sons. LANGUAGE
Slovak was the primary language spoken...