Working and Living Conditions of Scandinavian Immigrants in Alexandria during the 1920s

Data from the 1920 U.S. Census shows that Scandinavian immigrants to Alexandria fit two trends. First, census data shows that Scandinavian migration was one largely of single men working in shipbuilding and related industries. Furthermore, because they came without families, these men tended to live in boarding houses with those of similar ethnic background or occupation.

The majority of Scandinavian immigrants were single men in 1920 Alexandria. Out of the 91 Scandinavian immigrants recorded as living in Alexandria in 1920, only 36% of these immigrants were married. Furthermore, only 21% of those recorded were women. There were few families listed, and only 6 families were recorded as living in their own homes. As shown by the table below, these Scandinavian men generally lived in boarding houses with other employees of the Virginia Shipbuilding Company.

Large numbers of Scandinavian immigrants, especially Norwegians, came to the United States and gained employment in the shipbuilding industry. As David C. Mauk states in The Colony that Rose from the Sea: Norwegian Maritime Migration and Community in Brooklyn (1850-1910), there was a “great expansion of commercial shipping” along the Eastern Seaboard between 1850 to the early 1920s, which played a critical role in drawing immigrants to the U.S.1 Scandinavian immigrants recorded in this census were entirely employed by only one shipyard. The Virginia Shipyard contributed to the war effort by building naval ships during World War I and commercial ships after the war.2 For example, the Virginia Shipyard employed all of those living at 121 South Pitt Street and 409 Prince Street. Boarding houses proved to be useful to Scandinavian immigrants in the early twentieth century, who needed someone to care for their domestic needs, but wanted to live with those of similar cultural background and go to work together.

 Boarding Home Tenants

House Number Name Birthplace Job
531 South Royal Pallender, Allen Finland bolter
Christensen, Peter B Denmark bolter
Peterson, Neils Denmark rigger
Eizer, Andlin Finland rigger
120 Wolf Street Ambrose, William Sweden rigger
Salo, William Finland rigger
Wallis, Charles Finland carpenter
Salo, Charles Finland carpenter
Savo, Henry Finland carpenter
Jalemon, John Finland carpenter
Helener, Harry Finland carpenter
Knutsen, William Sweden rigger
114 Prince Street Olsen, John Sweden bolter
Kloster, Karl Denmark riveter
Nisula, William Finland riveter
Nisula, Elsie Finland none
Perkakka, Victor Finland riveter
Lukkonen, Oscar Finland bolter
Sarri, Frank Finland heater
Leppilanti, John Finland none
121 South Pitt Street Underdunk, Michael Norway reamer
Johnson, Fred Norway reamer
409 Prince Street Randa, Bennie Finland rigger
Korhonen, Emma Finland none
Lehto, Victor Finland regulator
Lehto, Saima Finland none
Williamson, Sam Finland rigger
Niemi, Charles Finland regulator
Maki, John Finland regulator
Kalliola, Miles Finland regulator
Maki, Frank Finland regulator
Hill, Arvia Finland regulator
Hickkilla, Elmer Finland regulator
Allonen, Martin Finland riveter
Jamson, Hialmer Finland rigger
Jusilla, Jack Finland regulator
Mottennen, Karl Finland laborer
Fortsty, William Finland caulker
Maki, Frank Finland regulator
427 North St. Asaph Street Elkland, Alfred Sweden carpenter
Johnson, Edward Sweden carpenter
1010 Prince Street Knutson, Knut Norway boilmaker
Knutson, Oile Norway boilmaker
Anderson, Andrew Sweden boilmaker
Suntrom, Rudolph Sweden boilmaker
Booker, Philip Scotland plumber
Booker, Catherine Scotland none


David Mauk, The Colony that Rose from the Sea: Norwegian Maritime Migration and Community in Brooklyn, 1850-1910 (Northfield: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1997), 4. Trail (accessed October 9, 2014).

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