Emigrant Woman Saying Goodbye

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Emigrant Woman Saying Goodbye


By: Keystone View Company

Date: 1922

Source: © Corbis.

About the Author: The Key stone View Company was founded in 1892 by B. L. Singley in Meadville, Pennsylvania. By the 1920s, the company was the largest publisher of stereographs, three-dimensional photographs. This image is now held in the collection maintained by the Corbis Corporation.


The Norwegians were one of the first groups to immigrate to the United States in significant numbers. Norwegian migration to North America began on July 4, 1825, when the "Norwegian Mayflower," the sloop Restauration sailed from Stavanger, Norway, to New York City with fifty-two passengers. About 850,000 Norwegians followed in the next hundred years. Unlike many immigrants, the Norwegians so quickly assimilated that they attracted comparatively little attention.

Only Ireland suffered the loss of more young men and women proportionally than Norway during the peak years of European immigration. A scenic country in the North Atlantic, Norway has more beauty than natural resources. With only three percent of its 125,000 square miles of land suitable for cultivation, Norwegians historically relied upon agriculture, timber, and fish for sustenance until shipping and shipbuilding injected new life into the economy in the late nineteenth century. However, the industrial revolution was never strong enough to stem the tide of Norwegian emigration. Sons and daughters left for permanent residence in the United States after reading handbooks, travel guides, and letters from other Norwegians who had already emigrated.

Several American states vied for Norwegian immigrants. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa all had commissioners of immigration for a few decades. However, most Norwegians settled in the Brooklyn borough of New York City or in Minnesota. They came chiefly for economic opportunity. By 1850, an absolute majority of Norway's rural population owned no land and there were few urban employment opportunities. In Minnesota, they could farm. In New York, Norwegian sailors knew that American ship owners paid better wages than the Scandinavians. Some Norwegians were pulled to the Uinted States by cultural, political, or religious concerns. Universal manhood suffrage and prospects for women's rights in the New World offered exciting possibilities for the future. Others appreciated the absence of an official class system and the opportunity to practice their religion under less restrictive rules.



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A quota system that took effect in 1924 led to a sharp decline in Norwegian immigration to the United States Although favored by the law, Scandinavians failed to emigrate as they had in former years. The major period of Norwegian immigration thus ended by 1930. There was a flurry of activity in the years after World War II, when nearly 50,000 Norwegians immigrated between 1945 and 1970, but relatively few have come after that. By the millennium, about four million Americans had Norwegian ancestry in contrast to the forty million who claim an Irish background and he ten million who descend from French ancestors.

Despite their small numbers, Norwegians developed a strong culture in the United States They published about 800 Norwegian-American newspapers and magazines, most of which were printed in Dano-Norwegian, a language that Danes could also read. The Norwegians also founded colleges, including highly regarded St. Olaf's in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1874. Almost all Norwegians are Protestant, and in the United States the immigrants contributed to the many Lutheran synods. Perhaps the greatest impact of the Norwegians has been economic, as they helped the north central states prosper and New York City expand its reputation as a world-class shipping center.



Andersen, Arlow W. The Norwegian-Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1975.

Blegen, Theodore C. Norwegian Migration to America, 1825–1860. Northfield, MN: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1931.

Web sites

Library of Congress. "Norwegian-American Immigration and Local History." June 28, 2005 〈http://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/bib_guid/norway.html〉 (accessed June 13, 2006).