Sophie Wuollet worked for the John S. Pillsbury family
Photo credit : : K. Marianne Wargelin, 'Hennepin History Magazine', Fall 1988 issue, article: "Finntown, Minneapolis - An American Neighborhood".
- - - - - Caption in magazine: ""Miss Sophie Wuollet, the daughter of a pioneer Lastadian lay preacher, was the laundress of the John S. Pillsbury family. She travelled with the Pillsbury family to their winter quarters in Florida, where this picture was taken. As this photograph reveals, domestic workers often cultivated the appearance of their employers.""
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Following text credit :: Article in the fall 1988 issue of 'Hennepin County History' magazine:
Finntown, Minneapolis - An American Neighborhood
. . . by: K. Marianne Wargelin
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The strongest permanent cultural activities among Finnish Americans began as a number of Laestadian families immigrated in the early 1890s directly to Minneapolis from Finland to work as carpenters, tailors and shoemakers. They joined the first- and second-generation Finnish American Laestadians already living in the city. Living first near Main Street in northeast Minneapolis, they met for home worship services. On July 29, 1895, they formally organized as the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church. The original members who signed the document were John Lahtinen (chair), Vaino Ekquist Isak Anderson, Peter saranpaa, George Pirtinen, Heikki Heinonen, Andrew Metsala, Carl Wittenberg, Heikki Auvinen, Tomas Murto, August Marin, Robert Wilson, H. Multanen, Karl Wacklin, J. Tuunanen, and Alexander Robinson.
Businesses organized at the turn of the century indicated an emerging ethnic sensitivity in Minneapolis. In 1898, Alfred Sodergren opened a drug-manufacturing business at N. 1st St. It featured "authentic Finnish drugs ... (that Finns) have been accustomed to in Finland." This company prospered and developed a large mail-order business with Finnish American patrons throughout the country.
In 1902, J.F. Torma and Waino Koivisto published 10,000 copies of a newsprint flyer, "Lentavia Lehta," to be sent to Finland to "stimulate Finnish immigration to America." Working out of offices in the Guaranty Building, they promoted Minneapolis to potential immigrants. The time was ripe for a Finntown to be born, but when it was born, it didn't start on Washington Avenue.
The Birth of the Minneapolis Finntown
Finntowns across America had several shared characteristics, most notably a central core of permanent residents, usually families who gave the area a sense of stability. Finntowns also had ethnic restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores catering to Finnish foodways; businesses featuring Finnish language and Finnish cultural patterns. Public saunas and Finnish masseuses surely were found there, and so were ethnic institutions including Lutheran (or on the east coast, Congregational) churches worker's halls, temperance societies, cooperative associations, and other cultural clubs featuring sports, drama, music, or ethnic promotion.
No Finntown had all these amenities, but such settlements had enough to stisfy people looking for Finnish people and culture. When the Laestadians built permanent homes on Dupont and Humboldt avenues in 1902, Minneapolis gained a location with a base of permanent residents. When Isak Anderson moved his store in 1902, Finnish people knew they could buy salt salmon on Humboldt Avenue. And when the church building went up in the fall of 1902, Humboldt Avenue had an institution providing an ethnic cultural frame to life in the city. Minneapolis had a Finntown -- after thirty years.
In December, 1902, the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church opened at 237 Humboldt N. This Laestadian move to Humboldt Avenue N. signaled the start of a permanent, stable Finntown. The church's 400 members created the base from which the rest of Finntown grew. Their pastor, a lay preacher, masterminded the migration up the hill. "August Marin, the pastor, is the master builder," reported the Minneapolis Journal on August 15, 1902. "He has lived in Minneapolis for eleven years. When he moved from Northeast Minneapolis, most of the congregation followed, and is now installed in a neat row of houses on Dupont and Humboldt Avenues."
These pioneer Finntown residents had found a section of unoccupied land on which to build homes within walking or streetcar distance of their work. Northwest Knitting Company (later Munsingwear) was growing rapidly. The railroad yards were nearby. Other industries were arriving: the J.R. Clark box-manufacturing company moved to the corner of Aldrich Avenue and Second Avenue N. in 1903. After 1909, Wells Memorial Settlement House, at 11th and Western, provided a domestic workers' employment bureau. In 1910, J.H. Leef Laundries opened at 1406 Second Ave. N. Even though Bassett Creek wound its way along the south side of the community and the hills and meadows of what later became Theodore Wirth Park were to the west, the neighborhood felt urban and industrial rather than rural or suburban, and the noon factory whistle was a fact of daily life.
These Finnish American pioneers overlooked the urban industrial tone of the area, however, and saw instead a place to create their own Finnish American village with the church at the center. "Everyone who was a member settled around the church," a lifelong resident recalls. Those who were not members of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church also began to move there, and soon the area became "densely Finn, absolutely Finn" for blocks around.
Within the next ten years, Finnish Americans of all political and religious persuasions, married and single, migrant and permanent, moved there. The work available in the neighborhood became the work Finns were known for: railroad work, carpentry, tailoring, laundering, cooking, general hard labor. The empty lots filled with tenement houses, duplexes, fourplexes, and private homes - all with Finns living in them.
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