People from the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe, or the current countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Austria-Hungary, Carniola, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Serbia, began arriving in Utah during the 1890s.
Push and Pull Factors
Immigrants from Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia worked mainly in Utah’s industrial sector, including mines, smelters, and railroads. People from Austria-Hungary, Croatia, Carniola, Dalmatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovinian came from farming communities. Most Yugoslavian immigrants attended Catholic and other churches.
Many immigrants from Southern villages did not go to school often because their families needed them to work on their farms. People who could not get an education did not have the training they needed to get new jobs and make more money, which meant that they remained poor. Most people from southern Slavia farming regions did not have enough food or clothes to wear either. Life was very hard, and immigration was one way for them to live better. News that the United States had more economic and educational opportunities pulled immigrants to Utah. Their continuous poverty pushed them from their countries.
Many Yugoslavian immigrants developed communities in Utah by starting families and holding their cultural traditions close. Many of the men who decided to become long-term migrants often asked their wives to join them in the United States. Often when a woman and man got married and began to have children, they had less money to send to their home country. They also didn’t have the money they needed to return to their home country. The growth of extended family groups made it possible for Yugoslavian immigrants to remain in Utah. For example, many Serbians and Croatians found jobs in the Bingham Canyon and Midvale mines. In 1907, a Croatian man moved to Utah, and in 1910, three brothers, their wives, their children, and their father joined the man. Together, Yugoslavian immigrants worked to deal with the issues that Utah living presented, including low wages, dangerous working conditions, language barriers, and also discrimination from other Utahans.
South Slaves found community by living near one another in boarding houses or in micro-communities. Godfatherhood and Godmotherhood became one way that South Slavs supported one another. Godfatherhood and Godmotherhood are sacred Roman and Orthodox Catholic traditions of identifying a male person to step in to help if something happens to a parent and also to give religious instruction or direction. When a Yugoslavian immigrant lost his life in one of Utah’s mines and smelters a Godfather and Godmother often helped.
Yugoslavian immigrants also created connections by joining fraternal organizations. A fraternal organization is a social organization where members socialize with one another. In Utah, there were political, economic, and cultural. Croatian immigrants founded the Hrvatska Bratska Zajednica (Croatian Fraternal Union) in 1894. Croatian immigrants also opened a lodge in Bingham Canyon in 1908, which served people living in Midvale too. These organizations supported Yugoslavian community members by providing social interactions and information about finances and insurance.
Many immigrants worked in Utah’s mining industry. Others performed many other jobs. Many Yugoslavian workers joined labor unions. For example, in 1903, Slavic and Italian coal miners organized a strike in Carbon County. Yugoslav miners joined the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and supported strikes in 1922 and 1933. The UMWA mainly served as a social organization that helped to connect all mine workers in Utah.
Women contributed to Yugoslavian immigrant communities in Utah in several ways. Many women hosted borders—or people renting a room—in their homes. Women cooked, cleaned, and did laundry for up to three renters. Their labor earned extra money and provided borders with a sense of community life. However, most Yugoslavian women were happy when boarding ended after 1924.
Yugoslavian immigrants attended many Utah churches. Religion was a significant part of their cultural and national identities. Slovenians and Croatians attended Catholic mass with Italian and other immigrants. Serbian immigrants attended the Greek Orthodox church. People from Serbia celebrated Christmas according to their traditional calendar. Members of the Greek Orthodox church, however, adopted December 25th as Christmas day.
Yugoslavian immigration dropped after the federal government passed restrictive immigration policies during the 1920s. Today, some organizations and celebrations honor Yugoslavian immigrants. For example, many Slovenian immigrants called Helper, Utah, their home. The Slovenian National Home, a lodge and community center, is located in Helper. The Slovenian National Home hosts yearly festivals celebrating Slovenian foods, dancing, music, and art.