Notes from an 1884 book by an official of the American Home Missionary Society who wanted to solicit immigration from Scandinavia — it came to me in a pretty roundabout way, a summary in the JSTOR Daily newsletter by free-lance writer Livia Gershon, “How Churches Helped Make Scandinavians ‘White’,” JSTOR Daily, June 30, 2020 — which in turn cites a study by Philipp Gollner, “‘Evangelize-Americanize’: White Religion and Chicago’s Immigrants” in Amerikastudien / American Studies Vol. 61, No. 3 (2016), pp. 315-333 (19 pages) Published by: Universitätsverlag WINTER Gmbh

Shared here for future reference on WASP perceptions of Scandinavian immigrants …

Says Gershon:

M. W. Montgomery, a Congregationalist minister and leader in the American Home Missionary Society, helped begin such an effort [soliciting immigration from “desirable” ethnic groups], targeting Swedes and Norwegians.

It might seem odd to modern readers, but Americans did not always classify Scandinavians as precisely “white.” Benjamin Franklin identified Swedes—along with Italians, French, and Russians—as people of a “swarthy complexion,” less suited to become Americans than English immigrants.

Gollner writes that this was already changing by the late nineteenth century. Montgomery and his fellow missionaries made the case that Swedes and Norwegians could make ideal Americans. Montgomery enthused that these solidly Protestant immigrants would “soon outnumber” other immigrants, who were “opposed to our civilization and our Christianity.” An 1884 publication of the American Home Missionary Society promised that Scandinavians were “not peddlers, nor organ-grinders, nor beggars; they [did] not sell ready-made clothing nor keep pawn shops.”

In 1884, Montgomery traveled to Europe, seeking out potential immigrants who were religiously compatible with his own Congregationalism. Visiting like-minded Swedes, Montgomery was pleased to find much that reminded him of home. He was impressed with the height, appearance, and aesthetic taste of his hosts. He noted that one was “so strikingly like an American in personal appearance that he would pass even in Boston for a Beacon Street full-blood.”

But, Gollner notes, local church leaders were not always so happy with the Scandinavian immigrants who actually arrived in the U.S. Some of the newcomers spent less energy on religion than on labor organizing. Others became Adventists, Buddhists, or Mormons. Many simply stuck with Lutheranism, a denomination that many U.S. Protestants dismissed as stuck in old-world traditions and lacking in missionary zeal.


Marcus Whitman Montgomery, A Wind from the Holy Spirit in Sweden and Norway (New York: American Home Missionary Society, 1884) 6-7

take 2

take 3 [note what some poor typesetter did with the Norwegian Hauge Synod!]

One thought on “Notes for future reference on AHMS book on Scandinavian free churches, perceived ethnic traits

  1. I am most of the way through “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. You would learn much from it about how various ethnic groups came to be considered “white.” Heartbreaking but groundbreaking book.


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