In this fascinating study of Oregon’s major Swedish-language newspaper, Oregon Posten (1908 – 1936), Victoria Owenius explores the multifaceted role of an immigrant newspaper within American society during the first half of the twentieth century. Before 1908, Oregon remained completely isolated from Sweden. The 19th century immigrants had literally traveled to the other side of the earth, and found themselves cut off from family, friends and homeland. The Oregon newspapers provided no news from the old country, and even if they had, many immigrants would not have been able to read them since they did not know much English. There were a few major Swedish-American newspapers in the East and Midwest, but beyond that, people had to write letters.
Fairly large numbers of Swedes had come to Oregon after the arrival of the railroad in 1883, and by the early nineteen hundreds there was a fairly substantial Swedish population in the state. Therefore it is not surprising that Oregon Posten became an instant success among the news-hungry Swedes when it started publishing in 1908.
Oregon Posten quickly created a wide, international community of readers. The paper provided a steady flow of national and local news from Sweden that the immigrants craved. It also provided important news about the United States and Oregon in Swedish, helping the immigrants learn about their new environment in their native language. Because the paper wrote about Oregon, it also attracted outsiders curious about the state. These included Swedes in other parts of America or Canada who were contemplating the possibility of moving there, as well as people in Sweden who had relatives and friends living in Oregon and who wanted to stay informed.
In addition, Oregon Posten became a tireless promoter of the state and its Swedish communities, encouraging other Swedes to join them. It emphasized Oregon’s rich natural resources and moderate climate, while simultaneously building a strong, cohesive community feeling. The paper ran stories about the Swedish settlements scattered across the state, and always provided space for such things as congregations and church services, the various events sponsored by Swedish organizations, wedding notices and obituaries. In addition, the paper always contained a great variety of ads for Swedish businesses and services in the Portland area. In short, the newspaper quickly connected the Swedes of Oregon into a statewide network.
Finally, Oregon Posten also played an important role in the preservation of language, heritage, culture and identity. In a time when Swedish books were hard to come by, the newspaper became an inexpensive and highly appreciated source of entertainment and culture by printing jokes, poems, stories and serialized novels. It always supported the teaching of Swedish to second generation Swedish-Americans, and it was in favor of maintaining Swedish customs and traditions. And when a powerful wave of anti-immigrant sentiment swept the United States during the turbulent years of World War I, requiring demonstrations of patriotism, the paper rallied behind the Swedish-Americans. Oregon Posten always argued that it was possible to be both a patriotic naturalized American citizen, and someone who simultaneously and proudly preserved his or her native language, culture and identity.
Lars Nordström, Ph.D.