Nordic Immigrants: Work

Help wanted add from the Evening Star July 02, 1919.

Help wanted add from the Evening Star July 2, 1919.

Census data from 1920 and from World War I draft cards show different work opportunities available to Nordic immigrants in Alexandria. These work opportunities were a significant pull factor in bringing Nordic immigrants to Alexandria. A majority of immigrants found work either with the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation. Others were employed  at Camp Humphreys, today known as Fort Belvoir.[1]

The Washington Herald and the Evening Star were littered with help wanted adds for jobs at the Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation.  To the left is one example.

While the Virginia Shipyard was Open

The chart to the right shows men’s jobs at the Virginia Shipyard according to the 1920 U.S. Census. The majority of Nordic men working at the Shipyard were Swedish and Finnish, while the minority of men were Norwegian and Danish. Overall, Nordic immigrants to Alexandria were either single men or married men who had immigrated without their wives or families.  There were only a handful of small families. Nordic women do appear in the 1920 U.S. Census, but only one, Hilda Mattonen, lists an occupation.  She  was a laundress in a private home. Other Nordic women came as wives and often had young children, allowing one to assume that these women probably stayed at home to care for their children while their husbands were the sole providers for the family.

The chart to the left shows jobs at the Virginia Shipyard according to World War Draft Cards listed by nationality. This chart shows, similar to the 1920 U.S. Census, that the majority of workers at the shipyard were Swedish and Finnish. Only men could enlist during World War I, explaining the exclusion of women in the chart.

The chart to the right shows the occupations of men working at Camp Humphreys according to World War I Draft Cards. Like the previous charts, most were Finnish and Swedish. Our examination of draft cards did not find any Danes who listed their work location as Camp Humphreys.

After the Shipyard Closed

The chart to the left shows the occupations of Nordic immigrants in Alexandria in 1930 after the closing of the Virginia Shipyard. Our examination of the census data did not find any Finns residing in Alexandria. The jobs listed in this chart vary and are not centered around the shipping industry. Furthermore, the individuals found in the 1930 U.S. Census were not found in the 1920 U.S. Census for Alexandria, indicating that they came after the closing of the shipyard. Women were found in the 1930 U.S. Census, but similar to the 1920 one, there is only woman who lists an occupation.  Anna Sollahand was a dressmaker working from home.

Comparing the data from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses and the World War I Draft Cards, and the 1930 points to the role that the shipyard played in Nordic immigration to Alexandria.  Once the shipyard closed, the number of Nordic immigrants in Alexandria and the types of jobs they held declined.

1. Introduction 2. Why the Swedes Left 3. Why the Danes Left 4. Why the Finns Left5. Why the Norwegians Left 6. The Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation 7. Work in Alexandria 8. Living in Alexandria 9. Conclusion 10. Bibliography


[1]Fort Humphreys is now known as Fort Belvoir.

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