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Slovak Americans


by June Granatir Alexander


Slovakia is at the crossroads between eastern and western Europe. It is bordered by Poland to the north, Hungary to the south, the Czech Republic to the west, and Ukraine to the east. Although a small country, with a land mass of 18,919 square miles, Slovakia's topography varies widely. Its territory includes rugged mountains, dense forests, and low fertile plains. The vast Carpathian mountain range that stretches along Slovakia's northern border also juts into central Slovakia. In this central region the Tatras, which cap the Carpathian system, reach altitudes as high as 8,711 feet. The capital, Bratislava, is located in southwestern Slovakia on the Danube River.

Slovakia's population is 5,297,000. Although the country is ethnically diverse, Slovaks are the overwhelming majority accounting for 4.5 million (85.6 percent) of the inhabitants. The populace also includes approximately 600,000 (10.8 percent) Hungarians and 79,500 (1.5 percent) Gypsies. The remaining population consists primarily of Czechs, Jews, and Carpatho-Rusyns. The official language is Slovak.

Slightly more than 60 percent of Slovakia's inhabitants are Roman Catholic while 8.4 percent are Protestant. Although most ethnic Hungarians belong to the Reformed church, Lutherans constitute the country's largest Protestant denomination. Other faiths include Judaism, Greek Catholic, and Orthodox. The religion of an estimated 27.2 percent of the population is either unidentifiable (17.5 percent) or atheist (9.7 percent).


Throughout most of its history modern-day Slovakia was not an independent country. Its inhabitants were subject peoples of multi-national empires. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918, Slovaks joined with Czechs to create an independent Czechoslovakia. Except for a short period of independence during World War II (1939-1945), Slovakia remained part of that multi-national state until 1993.

The history of Slovakia reaches back to the fifth and sixth centuries when Slavic tribes migrated into the region south of the Carpathian Mountains. These ancestors of modern-day Slovaks established villages and developed an agricultural economy in the Middle Danube Basin. In the mid-ninth century Slavs from Bohemia, Moravia, and the Danube region united to form the Great Moravian Empire, which comprised most of latter-day Czechoslovakia, southern Poland, and western Hungary. The empire was the first unification of Czech (Bohemian and Moravian) and Slovak peoples. In the 860s Christianity was introduced into the empire. In 907 Magyars, a semi-nomadic people from the northeast, invaded the empire and established the Kingdom of Hungary, which incorporated modern-day Slovakia. The collapse of the Great Moravian Empire split the Czechs and Slovaks, and they stayed separate for the next one thousand years. Until 1918 the Slovak lands remained part of Hungary, but the region was known as Upper Hungary, not Slovakia.

During the fifteenth century, the Protestant Reformation spread into Upper Hungary, and most Slovaks converted to the Lutheran faith. In 1526, after the Ottoman Turks conquered the southern section of its kingdom, Hungary became part of the Hapsburg Empire. During the Counter-Reformation which accompanied Hapsburg rule, most Slovaks returned to Roman Catholicism, although a significant minority remained Protestant.


In the nineteenth century Slovaks and Hungary's other ethnic minorities were subjected to Magyarization, an official policy of forced assimilation. The government made Magyar (Hungarian) the official language and outlawed all other languages. It closed schools and adopted other measures to abolish ethnic cultures in Hungary. By the early twentieth century, the Magyarization policy had enjoyed significant success in Upper Hungary. In general, Slovaks living in the region did not view themselves as a separate people.

World War I opened the way for dismembering the Austro-Hungarian Empire and letting its subject nationalities create independent countries. As a result the Czech and Slovak lands were united, and Czechoslovakia was created on October 28, 1918. Many Slovak supporters of an independent Czechoslovakia had envisioned the new state as a federation of two independent people. Instead, the country's constitution established a centralized government with a single capital city, Prague. Instituting a centralized government, instead of a system that granted Slovaks autonomy, led to tensions between Czechs and Slovaks in the 1920s and 1930s. As result of the Munich Agreement (1938) and Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Slovakia's political leaders declared Slovakia independent. Independent Slovakia was in reality a puppet government of Germany.

In 1945 Slovakia and the Czech lands were reunified. In postwar elections the Communist Party enjoyed significant victories, and in 1948 party leaders engineered a coup and took over the government. For the next 40 years Slovakia remained part of Czechoslovakia and under communist control. In 1969 the government granted Slovakia autonomy within the country and designated Bratislava as the capital city. In the fall of 1989 Slovaks joined Czechs in the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communist-controlled government in December. In April 1990 Czechoslovakia was renamed the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. The first free elections since 1945 occurred in June 1990. As reforms and measures to privatize the economy were introduced, relations between Czechs and Slovaks became strained. After the June 1992 elections, Czech and Slovak government officials decided that the two regions should separate. Because it was achieved without bloodshed or serious animosities, the breakup of the former Czechoslovakia is often called the Velvet Divorce. On January 1, 1993, Slovakia became independent. Slovakia's first prime minister was Vladimir Meciar.


A few Slovaks immigrated to the United States before the American Civil War but their numbers were small. Large-scale Slovak immigration to the United States began in the late 1870s, steadily increased during the following two decades, and peaked in 1905 when 52,368 Slovaks entered. Slovak immigration declined precipitously during World War I and started up again after hostilities ended in 1918. The movement came almost to a complete halt in the 1920s when American immigration laws virtually stopped East European immigration into the United States. According to immigration records 480,201 Slovaks entered the country between 1899 and 1918. The 1920 census found that there were 274,948 foreign-born Slovaks in the United States. Slovak immigrants and their children totaled 619,866.

Statistics on Slovak immigration, however, are imprecise, and it is difficult to determine the number that actually 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. At least 19 percent of the Slovaks who entered an American port from 1899 to 1910 had been in the United States one or more times before. Not until 1908 did immigration officials subtract the number of immigrants leaving from the total numbers entering the United States. Still, it is clear that temporary migrants formed an especially large contingent of the early stages of the Slovak immigration and remained a common feature of the movement. Between 1908 and 1910, for example, 80,797 Slovaks entered the United States while 41,726 left. Its temporary nature also affected the composition of the Slovak immigration. Most Slovak immigrants were unskilled laborers, and men typically outnumbered women by more than two to one. Between 1899 and 1910, 266,262 Slovak males and 111,265 Slovak females entered the United States.

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. Whatever their motives, between 1880 and the mid-1920s probably between 450,000 and 500,000 Slovaks moved permanently to the United States.

Slovak immigrants were committed to saving money and fulfilling obligations to families left behind. As a result they routinely sent money to Europe. In 1899 alone more than $4 million was channeled to the Slovak region of Hungary. The determination to save money, compounded by the fact that so many Slovaks were males who had come alone, influenced living standards. In general, Slovaks tried to live cheaply. Laborers often roomed in boardinghouses where they could get a bed and daily meals for as little as ten dollars per month. These boardinghouses were typically run by Slovak immigrants, a husband and wife who either owned or rented a large house. For these Slovak families, taking in boarders became an important source of additional income.

Slovak immigration began during a period when anti-foreign sentiment was on the rise in the United States. The response by Americans to Slovaks reflected the common anti-foreign attitude. Furthermore, the desire by Slovaks to live cheaply, the large number of males, and their concentration in unskilled industrial jobs reinforced beliefs that immigrants were creating social and economic problems for the United States. Slovaks were not usually singled out as presenting special problems. Since Slovaks did not have a separate identifiable homeland and most Americans did not know that there was a Slovak people, they often referred to Slovak immigrants simply as Slavs, Slavic, Slavish, or by the pejorative terms Hunky or Bohunk. Based on their geographic origin, Slovaks fell into the general category of undesirable immigrants. Judging persons from both eastern and southern Europe as biologically and intellectually inferior and a threat to American society, some native-born Americans demanded that these "undesirables" be barred from the country. The immigration laws of the 1920s that curtailed southern and east European immigration severely reduced the number of Slovaks who could enter the United States. Between 1929 and 1965 American quotas permitted only 2,874 persons from Czechoslovakia to immigrate annually to the United States. In the decades after immigration restriction went into effect, Slovaks were lost in popular perceptions and culture, as they were lumped into generalizations about the massive turn-of-the-century immigration.

Slovak Americans rank as the second largest Slavic group in the United States. The 1990 census revealed that 1,882,897 Americans claimed Slovak descent: 1,210,652 listed Slovak as their "first ancestry," and another 672,245 designated it as "second." Nearly three-fourths (74.7 percent) of Americans acknowledging some Slovak descent resided in the Northeast and Midwest. Less than .03 percent of the 1990 Slovak American population was foreign born, and 74 percent of these immigrants had come before World War II.


Slovaks gravitated to areas where industries were expanding and needed unskilled labor. More than half the Slovak immigrants went to Pennsylvania and primarily to the milltowns 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.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Slovak immigrants exemplified the pattern evident among most ethnic groups in the United States: they adjusted to American society and preserved some traditions and values while altering others. Values and beliefs that Slovaks brought with them were rooted in their rural past and reflected the concerns of agricultural communities. Slovaks placed great value on owning property and a home. They valued the family and the honoring of family obligations.


Slovaks were a deeply religious people. Some religious holy days were customarily observed with village processions while others were less dramatic. On some saints' feast days Slovak villagers came together as a community to pray for a favor associated by legend with a saint. For example, on the feast of Saint Mark (April 25) they prayed for rain and good weather during the upcoming growing season. Although Slovaks were fervently religious, their beliefs and customs were a blend of folklore and superstitions linked to the Christian calendar. A vast array of superstitions permeated their culture. For example, Slovaks performed rituals to rid or protect their villages from demons and witches.

Slovaks also carried out numerous rituals, especially during the Christmas season, which they believed foretold their future. On November 30 at the beginning of the season they poured lead into boiling water and relied on the shape of the cooled droplets to make predictions about the forthcoming year. Young women had several rituals that they believed might reveal who their husbands would be. On Christmas Eve Slovaks cracked nuts and used the condition of the meat as an indicator of what the upcoming year might hold for them. They also took measures that they hoped would control the future. On Christmas Eve, the head of the household gave food from the dinner table to the family's animals in the hope of ensuring the live-stock's health.


The typical folk costume for women consisted of a puffed-sleeve blouse, a vest, a short but full skirt, an apron, a bonnet or headscarf, and calf-high boots. Male costumes included a hat, a shirt overlaid with a vest, trousers, and boots. Men's trousers, typically form-fitting but occasionally flared, were usually white with colorful embroidery. Both male and female folk costumes made of homespun cloth and sheepskin were multi-colored and featured intricate embroidery. Specific styles, colors, and items included in the attire varied from village to village and from region to region. In fact, peasant costumes could be so distinctive that they simultaneously indicated a person's village and religion. A headdress also revealed a woman's marital status. In the United States, Slovak folk costumes have become nostalgic or quaint artifacts worn only for interethnic or Slovak events.


Soup is a staple of the Slovak daily diet. Cabbage, potatoes, and dumplings, all prepared in a variety of ways, are regular fare on Slovak tables. Meat, especially in Slovakia's poorer eastern region, was not a common ingredient in soups or main dishes; though some traditional dishes served throughout Slovakia are meat-based. Klobasa (a sausage with garlic) and holubky (cabbage leaves stuffed with pork, rice, and onions) are the most popular. Duck and chicken are reserved for special occasions, but for particularly festive celebrations goose is preferred. Although desserts are not part of the daily diet, Slovak culinary specialities include several filled kolacy (sweet yeast baked goods). The most popular kolac contains prune, ground nut, or crushed poppyseed fillings. Depending on the filling, pirohy (small dumplings) are served as main dishes or as desserts.

Slovaks attach great importance to serving traditional foods on Christmas and Easter, the only major holidays observed by Slovaks in both the homeland and the United States. Although in regional variations, several dishes served at Christmas and Easter are considered authentic Slovak cuisine. On Christmas Eve the main dishes consist of bobalky (bite-size rolls in either sauerkraut and butter or in a poppyseed sauce) and a special mushroom soup. Traditional Easter specialties include Slovak paska (a sweet, yeast bread with raisins) and homemade hrudka also known as syrek (a bland, custard-style imitation cheese).


In their Slovak homeland, the celebration of Christmas and Easter was an event for both family and village. While Slovak American Christmas celebrations have taken on American features with a greater emphasis on gifts and a midday turkey dinner, many Americans of Slovak descent adhere to the custom of the family coming together for traditional Slovak foods on Christmas Eve. Visiting family during both the Christmas and Easter seasons has also remained an obligatory custom among Slovak Americans.


Neither Slovak immigrants nor their descendants have unique health problems. The 1990 census data indicate that average rates of disability among both young and elderly Slovaks are the same as for most other ethnic groups in the United States. The same is true for the number of Slovaks institutionalized. Immigrants and subsequent generations did suffer from afflictions characteristic of other working-class Americans, especially at the turn of the century. In addition to a high rate of tuberculosis, workers were killed or permanently maimed in industrial accidents. Some Slovaks who toiled in mines have been stricken with the respiratory problems that afflict that segment of workers.

Slovaks had local folk remedies. It has not been documented how extensively immigrants practiced these folk cures or how long they persisted in the United States. Although no systematic study of Slovak health attitudes has been done, there is no evidence that folk cures had any real impact on Slovak health practices in the United States.


Slovak belongs to the Slavic language group. Although similar to other Slavic languages, especially Czech, Slovak is linguistically distinct with its own grammar and vocabulary. Slovak has three dialects (western, central, and eastern) that roughly correspond with geographical areas in Slovakia. Each dialect also has numerous local and regional variations. Slovak, like other Slavic languages, has diacritical marks that govern the pronunciation of both consonants and vowels. The accent is on the first syllable.

The roots of the Slovak language predate the introduction of Christianity in the ninth century, but it did not become a written language until centuries later. The first serious attempt to codify a Slovak literary language occurred in the late eighteenth century. This early version was later rejected for one codified in the mid-1840s based on the central Slovak dialect.

Slovak was the primary language spoken among immigrants and between them and their children. The language has not persisted among successive generations in the United States. Several factors contributed to this decline. First, children gave way to the pressure in American society to abandon foreign languages. Second, immigrants were often barely literate. Although they taught their children, especially the older sons and daughters, to speak Slovak they could not teach them to read and write the language. Slovaks established parochial schools where language instructions were provided, but these classes often either proved inadequate or students did not remain in school long enough to become literate in Slovak. However, Slovak is taught in various Sunday schools for children and in universities, including the University of Pittsburgh. Several American libraries have Slovak-language collections.

The Slovak language was modified slightly in the United States as English, or modern, technical terms were introduced into the vocabulary. The absence of diacritical marks in English meant that either the spelling or the pronunciation of many Slovak names was changed. For example, a person with the name Karcis (pronounced "Kar-chis") had the option to change the pronunciation to the English ("Kar-kis") or keep the pronunciation and change the spelling to Karchish.


Common Slovak greetings include: Dobre rano ("dobre rahno")Good morning; Dobry den ("dobre den")Good day; Dobry vecer ("dobre vecher")Good evening; Dobru noc ("dobroo nots")Good night; Prosim ("prosem")please, if you please, excuse me; Dakujem ("djakooyem")Thank you; Dobru chut' ("dobroo kootye")Eat well!, bon appetit!; Na zdravie ("nazdravye")To [your] health!, cheers! (a toast); Vesele Vianoce ("veseleh veanotse")Merry Christmas.

Family and Community Dynamics

Immigration is a disruptive process, especially for families. Although chain migration meant that Slovaks typically went to where relatives and friends had already settled, families were temporarily torn apart. Men immigrated alone, lived in boardinghouses, and later summoned their families or fiancees to join them. The process also worked in reverse as children emigrated first and then sent for elderly parents left behind in Europe. Although Slovaks typically maintained a close-knit family system, by mid-twentieth century Slovak Americans were moving from cities to suburbs. During the latter decades the third and fourth generations were also moving from dying milltowns to metropolitan regions.

Marriage patterns influenced family and community dynamics. For the immigrant generation, the norm was marriage between Slovaks. The second generation followed the same trend into the 1920s and 1930s, but by the post-World War II era interethnic marriages proved more common. Dating patterns differed from generation to generation and even within the same generation. Immigrants recalled that, for them, dating in the United States was limited to events sponsored by Slovak fraternals, churches, or social groups. Attending religious services and sharing in a family dinner also were common among couples. By the mid-1920s the Slovak youth had adopted the dating practices common among their American peers. They enjoyed dances, movies, amusement parks, and other entertainment characteristic of the changing contemporary popular culture.

Both traditional culture and religious values combined to make divorce uncommon among Slovak immigrants. Reliable data on divorce rates for specific ethnic groups are unavailable but, given general trends in the United States, the empirical evidence suggests that dissolutions involving Slovaks surely rose in the latter part of the twentieth century.


Weddings were lengthy affairs that, depending on the village's size, could involve nearly all the inhabitants. Preparatory rituals for the marriage, the ceremony, and subsequent celebrations could last a week. During the festivities, usually three days after the actual marriage ceremony, the bonneting of the bride took place. A bonnet was placed on her head, and she was accepted as a married woman.


Christening the newborn traditionally occurred within a few days of birth but godparents were selected long before the child was born. Slovaks chose godparents carefully because these persons were expected to assume responsibility for the child's welfare should misfortune befall the parents. Following both Protestant and Catholic ceremonies, the celebrators retired to the home of the parents or godparents to partake in a celebratory feast. In some areas, after a son's birth or christening a bottle of slivovica (plumb brandy), was buried only to be retrieved and consumed on his wedding day.


Proper burial of the dead was a ritual that spanned several days. The deceased's body usually lay in his or her home for two days, and on the third a procession of villagers accompanied the coffin to the cemetery for burial. Deaths also triggered a host of superstitions. Immediately following a person's demise, Slovaks covered all the mirrors and closed all the windows in the deceased's home. They believed that these measures would prevent the dead from returning.


Slovak culture traditionally did not place a high emphasis on education. The Hungarian government's Magyarization policy, together with the agricultural nature of Slovak society, worked against developing a culture that valued formal education. Between 24 percent and 30 percent of the turn-of-the-century Slovak immigrants over the age of 14 could neither read nor write. Those who had attended school had gone for only a few years. With this background many immigrant parents, especially during the pre-World War I era, did not hesitate to put their children to work at early ages. In the 1920s more Slovak children regularly attended school and more completed 12 years of education. Nevertheless, Slovak parents generally advocated practical learning over an education in the sciences or liberal arts. Rather than stressing social mobility, both first- and second-generation parents typically encouraged children to get a secure job even if that meant working in a factory. 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.

The tendency to downplay formal education did have an impact. Based on the 1990 census nearly 21 percent of native-born Slovak Americans over the age of 24 had not received a high school diploma. This percentage undoubtedly includes a significant number of elderly persons who were forced to leave school in the earlier half of the century. Americans of Slovak descent have attended college but not in large numbers. In 1990 only 14.3 percent (123,341) of Slovak Americans older than 24 had a bachelor's degree from a four-year college, and 6.3 percent (54,008) had an associate's degree. Census figures also showed that only 7.5 percent (64,998) of this age group held a professional, master's, or doctoral degree. However, the data also reveal that more than one-half (52.6 percent) of Slovak Americans who received a bachelor's degree continued their education and obtained an advanced degree. Fewer Slovak American women than men have received college degrees. Women represented only 42.4 percent (52,237) of the Slovak Americans with a bachelor's degree, while men accounted for 57.6 percent (71,104). The discrepancy between men and women who received advanced degrees is more pronounced. Only 37.5 percent (5,196) of the Slovak Americans with professional degrees in 1990 were women while the percentage of men accounted for 62.5 percent (8,668). Women with doctorates represented 19.6 percent (1,072) of the total while men claimed 80.4 percent (4,391).

The stress on traditional roles for Slovak women has influenced their educational achievements and community activities. During World War II, Slovak women led local drives to sell war bonds and helped raise money for the International Red Cross and other relief projects. Otherwise, Slovak American women have typically limited their activities to their churches, fraternals, schools, and community events.


Early Slovak immigrants included Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, but the majority of Slovaks were Roman Catholic. The first Slovak Roman Catholic churches were founded in 1885 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Streator, Illinois. During the next four decades Slovak Catholics established nearly 250 churches in the United States. The universality of the Latin mass and Catholic theology meant that Slovaks continued to practice their religion as they had done in their homeland. But immigrants also had to observe holy days and laws unique to the American Catholic Church. The requirement that individual congregations pay all church expenses was the most significant difference between Slovak Catholic churches in Europe and the United States. Because parishes had to be self-supporting, lay organizations sponsored numerous fund-raising social events, and ethnic churches became centers of community activities.

A small number of Slovak Byzantine rite Catholics also migrated to the United States. They organized a few churches but more often they cooperated with other Byzantine rite Catholics, especially Carpatho-Rusyns, to found ethnically mixed parishes. Byzantine rite Catholics professed the same creed as followers of the Roman rite, and both were under papal authority. However, services in the Byzantine rite were conducted in Old Church Slavonic, which used the Cyrillic alphabet. The fact that Byzantine rite clergymen could marry while Roman rite priests could not became a significant difference in the United States. Having a married clergy created problems for Byzantine rite Catholics because some American bishops refused to accept wedded priests in their dioceses. This refusal caused some Byzantine rite Catholic Slovaks to join an Orthodox church.

Lutherans comprised the second largest body of Slovak immigrants. They organized their first congregation in 1883 in Freeland, Pennsylvania, and during the next half century Slovak Lutherans established more than 70 congregations and missions. In 1902 Slovak Lutherans formed their own synod, an executive and judicial body made up of clergy and laypersons. Conflicts developed when the Slovak Synod became affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of America in 1908. Some Slovak Lutheran clergy and laypersons refused to adopt liturgical changes subsequently demanded by the conference and, as a result, serious divisions developed. Continued disagreements over liturgical and theological principles led to the formation of the Slovak Zion Synod in 1919, which affiliated with the United Lutheran church in America in 1962. Most Slovak Lutherans belong to congregations associated either with the Lutheran Church of America or the Synodical Conference.

Only a small number of Slovak Calvinists immigrated to the United States. A few of these Protestants affiliated with Reformed churches but most became Presbyterians. They founded 15 Slovak Presbyterian churches. A tiny number of Slovak immigrants converted to other Protestant religions, primarily to the Congregational church. In 1916, there were three Slovak Congregational churches and another that included both Czechs and Slovaks. These four churches had only 308 adult members.

Slovak churches survived for decades as ethnic institutions while experiencing some change. By the 1930s Slovak Protestant churches were introducing English into their services. Catholics continued to use Latin until the 1960s when the Catholic church began to use the vernacular. As the immigrant generation died and their descendants moved out of ethnic neighborhoods, some Slovak churches declined or were taken over by new immigrant groups. Nevertheless, in cities and small towns especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey, vibrant Slovak Lutheran and Catholic churches still exist.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Eighty percent of Slovak immigrants had been common or farm laborers in their homeland. Having few skills Slovaks found jobs as manual laborers in heavy industries, especially in steel and allied industries that produced durable goods. A large number of Slovaks also toiled in coal mines. In 1910 surveys revealed that 82 percent of Slovak males labored 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 milltowns. 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 boardinghouses where they cooked and did the laundry for residents.

The majority of second-generation Slovak males followed their fathers' paths and became industrial laborers, although some did enter the professions or acquired skills. Subsequent generations have deviated from this course. The 1990 census found that only 5.7 percent of Slovak Americans were self-employed while the vast majority remained wage and salary workers; however, in the type of jobs they differed from their parents or grandparents. In 1990 only 26 percent of Slovaks had jobs in manufacturing, mining, and construction. Most Slovaks were employed in white-collar jobs.

The evidence does not yet indicate what impact corporate downsizing has had on Slovak Americans holding white-collar positions but the process has clearly affected laborers. The closing of plants in the industrial Northeast and Midwest has adversely affected second- and third-generation Slovaks, especially persons beyond middle age. Still, the unemployment rate of 4.4 percent among Slovak Americans is below the national average. The median income for Slovak families in 1989 was just over $40,000, and only 3.7 percent had incomes below the poverty level.

Politics and Government

Slovak involvement in politics has changed over the decades. At the turn of the century few immigrant workers regularly participated in political activities. Such involvement was typically limited to leaders of Slovak fraternal societies. Founded to provide insurance, disability benefits, and unemployment compensation, and to stimulate ethnic consciousness among Slovaks, fraternals also encouraged or required members to become American citizens. Fraternal leaders believed that having a membership composed mainly of American citizens would enhance the fraternals' political clout. These organizations worked hard to influence legislation that affected immigrants. They also became involved in American domestic issues, especially those that concerned working-class Americans. During the 1930s, fraternals actively lobbied for social security, unemployment benefits, minimum-wage/maximum-hours legislation, and the legalization of unions. Slovak immigrants and their children helped organize and joined unions, especially in the steel and mining industries where so many of them worked. In his powerful novel, Out of This Furnace (1941), Thomas Bell, a second-generation Slovak, vividly describes the work experiences and union activities of Slovaks in western Pennsylvania where he grew up during the Great Depression.

An accurate picture of the political activities of Slovak immigrants and successive generations is difficult to discern. In 1920 when citizenship data was recorded by "country of birth" only 45.8 percent of persons from Czechoslovakia had become American citizens and could vote. During the 1930s the New Deal programs drew working-class Slovaks to the Democratic Party. Through the 1950s Slovaks seemed to remain loyal to the Democratic Party in state and local elections but the pattern in national elections is less clear. In 1960 John F. Kennedy's Catholicism and Cold War liberalism attracted Slovak American Catholics. The specific voting patterns and political activities of Slovak Americans during the following three decades have not been

"I dentification with an ethnic group is a source of values, instincts, ideas, and perceptions that throw original light on the meaning of America."

Michael Novak, an American philosopher and theologian of Slovak descent, from his The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics, 1972.

studied, but empirical evidence suggests that the same religious, class, regional, and related differences that divide the country's population and influence political behavior in general also fragment Americans of Slovak descent. In geographic areas where Slovaks have concentrated, they have been elected to local and state offices. But only one Slovak American has been elected to the United States CongressJoseph M. Gaydos (1926 ), who represented Pennsylvania's twentieth district from 1968 through 1992.


Slovak organizations also became involved in the politics of their homeland. Specifically to counter the Hungarian government's intensified Magyarization efforts, in 1907 Slovak journalists and national fraternal leaders organized the Slovak League of America. During World War I, the league and Slovak fraternal societies worked to secure American and international support for the creation of an independent Czecho-Slovakia. Their activities included lobbying American politicians and trying to influence public opinion. The league and its supporters pressured Thomas Masaryk, the future first president of Czechoslovakia, into signing the Pittsburgh Agreement on May 30, 1918. The document ostensibly provided for Slovak autonomy within the newly created state. According to the agreement's provisions Slovakia was to have its own independent administration, parliament, and court system. The Pittsburgh Agreement subsequently became one of the most controversial documents in Czechoslovakia's history. Its provisions were not incorporated into Czechoslovakia's constitution, and a centralized government was established instead. During the 1920s and 1930s several Slovak American organizations tried unsuccessfully to persuade Czechoslovakia's government to implement the Pittsburgh Agreement. During the Cold War, Slovak organizations actively supported American policies and those of other countries that opposed the totalitarian government in Czechoslovakia.


The precise number of Slovaks who served in World War I cannot be determined. Military records for the period after 1920 categorize Slovaks and Czechs together as Czechoslovaks. According to the 1990 census, 6,566 persons, including 635 women, of Slovak ancestry were serving in the United States military.

Individual and Group Contributions

The Americanization of names as well as intermarriage among ethnic groups precludes identifying many persons of Slovak ancestry who have made a significant contribution to American society or to the arts, sciences, education, industry, and government.


Astronaut Eugene Cernan (1935 ) participated in Gemini space flights and Apollo-Saturn moon missions; his father came to the United States from Kysuce in Slovakia.


Andy Warhol, (1928-1987), pop artist, famous for his paintings of soup cans and other modern art, was the son of immigrants who came to the United States from Slovakia in 1913. Actor Jack Palance (1920 ) received the 1991 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in City Slickers.


Thomas Bell (1903-1961), originally Belejcak, was a second-generation Slovak author of six novels; his best and most famous novel, Out of This Furnace, vividly portrays the life of Slovak immigrants, their children, and grandchildren from the turn of the century into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Michael Novak (1933 ), author of Naked I Leave, is also a theologian and conservative commentator who received the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Paul Wilkes (1938 ) is also a noted writer.


In World War I, Michael Kocak (1882-c.1918), who was born in Gbely in western Slovakia, received both an Army and a Navy Congressional Medal of Honor; he singlehandedly and under fire eliminated a German machine-gun nest and then organized 25 French colonial troops and led them in a successful attack on another machine-gun position. Michael Strank (d. 1945), a Slovak who came to the United States in 1922, was one of the six men immortalized by the famous photograph of the raising of the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945; the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial monument located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery is based on that photograph.


George Blanda (1927 ) is a professional football legend. Chicago Black Hawks star Stan Mikita (1940 ) was born in Slovakia.



Fraternally Yours, Zenska Jednota.

A monthly publication of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association.

Contact: Dolores J. Soska, Editor.

Address: 24950 Chagrin Boulevard, Beachwood, Ohio 44122.

Telephone: (216) 464-8015.

Fax: (216) 464-8717.

Jednota (Union).

A monthly publication of the First Catholic Slovak Union.

Contact: Anthony X. Sutherland, Editor.

Address: 1011 Rosedale Avenue, Middletown, Pennsylvania 17057.

Telephone: (717) 944-0461.

Fax: (717) 944-3107.

Narodne noviny.

A monthly publication of the National Slovak Society.

Contact: Lori Crowley, Associate Editor.

Address: 2325 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203.

Telephone: (412) 488-1890.

Nedelni Hlasatel.

Newspaper published in Czech and Slovak.

Contact: Josef Kucera, Editor.

Address: 5906 West 26th Street, Cicero, Illinois 60804.

Telephone: (708) 863-1891.

Fax: (708) 863-1893.

Slovak v Amerike.

Contact: John A. Holy, Editor.

Address: 1414 Main Avenue, Clifton, New Jersey 07011-2126.

Telephone: (201) 812-0554.

Fax: (201) 81a2-0554.


A monthly publication of the Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union.

Contact: Cecilia Gaughan, Editor.

Address: 69 Public Square, Suite 922, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 18701.

Telephone: (717) 823-3513.


WCPN-FM (90.3).

"Slovak Radio Hour" is a weekly one-hour cultural program that also includes local Slovak community items.

Contact: Vlado E. Mlynek.

Address: 8211 Essen Avenue, Parma, Ohio 44129.

Telephone: (216) 884-3705.

WEDO-AM (810).

"McKeesport Slovak Radio Hour" is a weekly one-hour program that features folk music, news from Slovakia, and local Slovak community items.

Address: Midtown Plaza Mall, 516 Sinclair Street, McKeesport, Pennsylvania 15132.

Telephone: (412) 664-4431.

WERE-AM (1300).

"Slovak Radio Program" is a weekly one-hour cultural program that also includes local Slovak community items.

Contact: Johanna Oros.

Address: 1041 Huron Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44124.

Telephone: (216) 696-1300.

WMBS-AM (590).

"Slovak Hour" is a weekly one-hour program featuring music and news.

Contact: Rudolph Faix.

Address: 82 West Lafayette Street, Uniontown, Pennsylvania 15401.

Telephone: (412) 438-3900.

WPIT-AM (730).

"Western Pennsylvania Slovak Radio Hour" is a weekly one-hour program that features folk music and local Slovak community items.

Address: 200 Gateway Towers, Suite 1615, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222.

Telephone: (412) 281-1900.

Organizations and Associations

First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association (FCSLA).

Founded in August 1892, the FCSLA is a religious fraternal organization that provides insurance benefits to more than 105,000 members. It also promotes the preservation of Catholicism and ethnic culture among Slovak American Catholics.

Contact: Maryann Johanek, President.

Address: 24950 Chagrin Boulevard, Beechwood, Ohio 44122.

Telephone: (216) 464-8015.

First Catholic Slovak Union of the U.S.A. and Canada (FCSU).

Founded in September 1890, the FCSU is a religious fraternal organization that provides insurance benefits to more than 88,300 members. It promotes the preservation of Catholicism and ethnic culture among Slovak American Catholics. The FCSU also operates an orphanage and a publishing house, the Jednota Press, in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Contact: Kenneth A. Arendt, National Secretary.

Address: 6611 Rockside Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44131-2398.

Telephone: (216) 642-9406.

Fax: (216) 642-4310.

National Slovak Society (NSS).

Founded in 1890, the NSS is a secular fraternal organization that provides insurance benefits to more than 13,700 members. It also promotes the preservation of ethnic culture among Slovak Americans.

Contact: David G. Blazek, President.

Address: 2325 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203.

Telephone: (412) 488-1890.

Slovak Catholic Sokol (SCS).

Founded in 1905, the SCS is a religious organization that provides insurance benefits to nearly 41,400 members. It promotes athletic and gymnastic programs as well as the preservation of Catholicism and ethnic culture among Slovak Americans.

Contact: Steven M. Pogorelec, Supreme Secretary.

Address: 205 Madison Street, Passaic, New Jersey 07055.

Telephone: (973) 777-2605.

Fax: (973) 779-8245.

Slovak League of America.

Founded in 1907, the Slovak League is a secular organization that promotes the preservation of Slovak culture in the United States. It also provides funds for projects to assist cultural and religious institutions in Slovakia.

Contact: John A. Holy, Secretary-Treasurer.

Address: 205 Madison Street, Passaic, New Jersey 07055.

Museums and Research Centers

Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies.

Institute has Slovak books and periodicals. Its manuscript collections include some fraternal and organizational records as well as papers of a few Slovak Americans.

Contact: Joseph Anderson, Librarian.

Address: 18 South Seventh Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106.

Telephone: (215) 925-8090.

Immigration History Research Center.

Located at the University of Minnesota, it is the largest repository in the world of materials on immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. Among its holdings are Slovak newspapers, fraternal and non-fraternal publications, and books. Its manuscript collections include the records of several Slovak organizations, fraternal societies, churches, and prominent persons.

Contact: Joel Wurl, Curator.

Address: 826 Berry Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114.

Telephone: (612) 627-4208.

Jankola Library and Archives Center.

This is the largest Slovak Library in the United States with more than 30,000 volumes. It also contains manuscript collections and Slovak artifacts.

Contact: Sister Martina Tybor.

Address: Danville Academy, Danville, Pennsylvania 17821.

Telephone: (717) 275-5606.

Jednota Museum and Archives Center.

This museum houses books, Slovak memorabilia, costumes, and artifacts. It also contains First Catholic Slovak Union publications and materials as well as records from some local FCSU lodges.

Contact: Edward Tuleja.

Address: Rosedale and Jednota Lane, Middletown, Pennsylvania 17057.

Telephone: (717) 944-2403.

Slovak Institute.

This institute has extensive holdings of books, newspapers, periodicals, and other documents related to Slovak immigration and life in the United States.

Contact: Reverend Father Andrew Pier.

Address: 2900 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Cleveland, Ohio 44104.

Telephone: (216) 721-5300.

Slovak Studies Association

Independent, nonprofit association, located at Illinois Benedictine College. Research focuses on Slovak Culture.

Address: Benedictine University, 5700 College Road, Lisle, Illinois 60532.

Telephone: (630) 829-6000.

Fax: (630) 960-1126.



Slovak World Congress (SWC).

Seeks to make known the history and aspirations of Slovak people and strives to preserve cultural heritage and provide those of Slovak descent with a sense of their historical background.

Contact: Vida Capay, Secretary General.

Address: 1243 Islington Avenue, Suite 805, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M8X 1Y9.

Telephone: (416) 503-1918.

Sources for Additional Study

Capek, Thomas Jr., "The Slovaks in America," in his The Cech (Bohemian) Community of New York. New York: Czechoslovak Section of America's Making, 1921; reprinted, San Francisco: R & E Research Associates, 1969; pp. 77-93.

Hudak, Andrew F., Jr. Slovaks in Florida. Winter Park, FL: Agency DaVel, 1991.

Krause, Paul. The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1992: Politics, Culture, and Steel. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.

Slovak Pride: Family Names & Ancestral Villages. Rochester, NY: Slovak Heritage & Folklore Society International, 1996.

Slovaks in America: Historical and Cultural Studies: A Bicentennial Study, compiled by Joseph Krajsa, et al. Middletown, Pennsylvania: Jednota Press, 1978.

Stasko, Jozef. Slovaks in the United States of America: Brief Sketches of Their History, National Heritage, and Activites. Cambridge, Ontario: Good Books Press, 1974.

Stolarik, M. Mark. Growing Up on the South Side: Three Generations of Slovaks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1880-1976. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 1985.

. The Slovak Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

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