The first Latvian immigrants to America

Sustained Latvian emigration to the American continent began in the last 20 years of the 19th century. Along with this, the first organizations and congregations were established, firstly on the east coast of the USA (in Boston, New York and Philadelphia), later in the midlands and in the west (in Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco etc.), as well as in western Canada – in the “prairie provinces” in Manitoba and Alberta. The first substantial Latvian community developed specifically in Boston, with thousands of emigrants choosing the city’s Jamaica Plain and Roxbury districts as their place of abode. In 1889, the Boston Latvian Relief Society was the first Latvian organization established in the USA. Latvian communities in New York and Philadelphia developed a little later and not in such a concentrated form. This is why Lincoln, specifically, is so noteworthy – it was the largest Latvian rural colony in America.

By 1897, about 1,000 Latvians were in the USA, but by 1900, more than 4,000. After the 1905 revolution, political exiles also migrated to the USA. They joined the existing societies or founded new ones. Prior to the First World War, a number of Latvian newspapers and other periodicals were published in the USA. Theatre performances were held, schools founded, lectures held, and open-air balls etc. were organized in a number of cities. As shown by national census data, in 1930 there were about 38,000 Latvians in the USA, of whom 20,673 had been born in Latvia. Ten years later, census data revealed that the Latvian community had become smaller: 34,656 Latvians had been counted. There were still some Latvian congregations and organizations, mainly in the eastern USA which still existed after the Second World War and which awaited the new wave of immigration. Among the oldest is the still existing Philadelphia Society of Free Letts which was founded in 1892.