Introduction to The Swedes of Oregon

The following article was originally published by the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia in its Year Book for 1946. The author, William Carlson Smith, Ph.D., was then a professor of sociology at Linfield College, in McMinnville, Oregon. He was born of Swedish immigrant parents in Minnesota and spent his early years on a farm in a Swedish community at Oakland, Nebraska. He was the author of several books, among them Americans in Process: A Study of our American Citizens of Oriental Ancestry” (1937), Americans in the Making: the Natural History of the Assimilation of Immigrants (1939), and The Stepchild (1953), as well as a number of articles in various sociological journals.

In many ways William Carlson Smith’s article is an extension of the pioneering writing on the Swedish community in Oregon done by Ernst Skarstedt almost forty years earlier. It covers much of the same territory—tells the history of the Swedish churches, organizations, newspapers, and provides cameo biographies of prominent Swedes in the state—but it also includes a great deal of new information which Skarstedt never touched. As a trained sociologist, William Carlson Smith knows how to extract interesting facts from various official records like the United States Census Reports or state voter registration cards. He also quotes extensively from the Oregon press, both American newspapers like The Oregonian and The Oregon Journal, as well as from the Swedish Portland weekly Oregon Posten.

But the most conspicuous difference between Skarstedt and Smith is the difference of perspective. Skarstedt wrote at a time when there was still a continuous influx of new Swedes to Oregon, but by 1946 the facts clearly showed that the peak of immigration had passed, that the number of first generation Swedes was shrinking, that the second and third generation Swedes were assimilating rapidly into American culture, and that Swedish was in the process of disappearing as the primary language in both churches, organizations, and even in the Swedish newspapers. And last but not least, this article also makes it perfectly clear that during the forty years of substantial Swedish immigration to Oregon, the Swedes played an important role in the early development of the state.