No Place Like Home

Scandinavian immigrants in early-20th century Alexandria had many things in common, but one of the most apparent was that many of them were young, single men without families.  This trend can be seen in the 1920 US Census; out of the four wards within Alexandria, each one housed single, Scandinavian immigrants who usually lived in other peoples’ homes as boarders.  The one exception was in Ward 3, where the majority of immigrants lived as single family units.  By looking at census data, we are able to discover residential patterns among Scandinavian immigrants and their families, which correlate to their economic and social position in American society.

Prior to the 20th century, the information on census records was relatively basic, and most census takers did not record the house numbers, or even the streets, of the houses they were visiting.  The inclusion of streets and house numbers in the 1920 US Census makes it much easier not only to find immigrants, but also to map out where they were living.  In Ward 1, most immigrants are boarders on Wolf and South Royal Streets.  Only two men—Peter J. Fineen and Allen Pallander—were listed as married, but neither lived with their families.  Also, all of the immigrants in Ward 1 worked in the Virginia Shipyard, mostly as carpenters and riggers.  Ward 2 listed a few Scandinavian families, but again, the majority appears to be single men living as roomers, mostly on Queen Street.  Just as in Ward 1, the residents of Ward 2 were employed by the shipyard in skilled labor jobs.  Ward 4 Scandinavian-American men lived on Duke and Commerce Streets and worked for the shipyard; however, there were several listed as roomers at 1010 Prince Street who were boilermakers.  The occupations for other Scandinavian residents was very similar to Wards 1 and 2.  The outlier, by far, were those Scandinavian families living in Ward 3, mostly on East and West Walnut Streets.  What is interesting here is that while some of the men still had working class jobs (such as rigger), there were also many who were in middle management, such as foreman, assistant superintendent, superintendent, and civil engineer.  These particular immigrants were also part of an earlier immigration wave that took place in the mid-late 19th century and were more established in the United States.  They had become part of the white middle class.

When studying where immigrant groups lived, it is interesting to see solid patterns regarding not only what area the lived in, but also the types of people who lived around them.  For Scandinavians in Alexandria, Virginia in 1920, these patterns revolve around the occupation of the immigrants and the years in which they immigrated to America.  Overall, it can be seen that those who immigrated in the early 20th century were mostly single, younger men living as roomers while working as semi-skilled laborers at the Virginia Shipyard.  For those who immigrated at the end of the 19th century, the trend seems to be family units with fathers who worked as management within the shipyard.

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