Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940

By Carl F. Kaestle; Janice A. Radway | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Distinctive Media
The European Ethnic Press in the United States

Sally M. Miller

.  .  .

Between 1880 and 1920, millions of immigrants from Europe joined the American population and faced special challenges regarding print culture. As the volume of immigration grew, more immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe (13 percent of all immigrants in 1882, 81 percent in 1907) than from northern and western Europe.1 On the whole these newcomers were poorer, less educated, and more culturally different from the natives than the predominantly British, Scandinavian, and German immigrants of the pre–Civil War era.

Forming new diasporas, they sought to develop their own print media to communicate with each other, to keep in touch with their homelands, to interpret American institutions and politics in the language of their group, and to begin the task of adapting their identities to their new situation. Several earlier immigrant groups in the United States had developed an ethnic press, including the Germans in the British colonial period. Now, in this period when immigration increased rapidly and the number of substantial immigrant groups in the United States proliferated, many new groups had sufficient numbers and a leadership with skills and capital to establish presses.2

Sociologist Robert Park’s classic 1922 study, The Immigrant Press and Its Control, emphasized that these newspapers were commercial, that is, they provided a livelihood for their staff, they carried advertising, and they competed for subscribers. Of course, they were also cultural institutions, providing information, opinions, and advice about the homeland and the United States.3 As many scholars of the ethnic press have observed, these presses served simultaneously to assimilate their readers into American life and to sustain the group’s heritage, language, and customs, and these contrasting functions intertwined in interesting ways. Finally, these papers reflected and articulated internal divisions over politics or religion within groups, helping to shape their readers’ sense of group identity and the issues surrounding it.4

These presses evolved over time, both in the individual histories of single publishing ventures and in their collective history as the publishing activities of

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