The Poles in South Bend to 19141
Joseph Swastek, M. A.
The beginnings of Polish settlement in South Bend are traceable to the romantic figure of a political refugee, Dr. G. Bolisky, a "Physician and Surgeon in the army of Poland, in the year 1829,-30,-31, and Midwifer", who established his lodgings at the American Hotel in June, 18402. For three months thereafter, he advertised his professional services in the South Bend Free Press, apparently leaving the city in August, as no further trace of him can be found in later records.
Less direct evidence of Polish life in South Bend before the Civil War is found in The Report of the Adjutant General of Indiana, 1861-65. Among the 70 Union servicemen and officers with Polish patronymics in the Indiana regiments, the Report mentions an infantryman, Peter Rana, from St. Joseph County in which South Bend is located3.
On the whole, before the Civil War, Polish settlement in South Bend, as well as in the rest of Indiana, was inconspicuous. The few families and individuals to be found were scattered throughout the northern and central counties of the state.
With the close of the war, Polish immigration into South Bend increased, establishing the foundations of permanent Polish settlement in the city. This influx, in its beginnings and later development, was linked closely with the rising mass migration of Polish peasants to America, which reached its peak during the last decade before the World War. Set in motion at the European source by a push dominantly economic in character and constantly stimulated by a pull magnetic with irresistible promises deriving from America's mounting industrialization and urbanization, the migration began in Prussian dominated Poland, giving way after 1890 to a much vaster flow from the Russian and Austrian occupied areas4.
The industrial development of South Bend, which had spurted during the 1860's when the city's manufacturing concerns began supplying outside markets with farm implements and wagons (soon supplemented by carriages, sewing machines and later automobiles), provided the initial as well as one of the lasting attractions that drew to the city its share of the country's Polish immigrants. This share, compared with those of other midwestern cities, was small; but, compared with the shares of other Indiana cities, it proved to be the largest in the state. In fact. from 1870 on, South Bend consistently contained the largest Polish population in Indiana, even though it ranked fifth among the state's largest cities.
Early Polish settlers apparently came to South Bend as railroad section hands, stopping at the city's factories. When Anton Schybowicz (Szybowicz) filed his declaration of intention to become an American citizen in April 1868, there were approximately fifteen Polish families in South Bend5. Within two years this number increased fivefold6. These and subsequent arrivals brought in by enthusiastic letters or by factory agents from Otis, Rolling Prairie and Laporte (Indiana), from Bronson, Parisville and Coldwater (Michigan), from Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, and especially from native villages in Prussian Poland swelled the city's working population. From approximately 150 Polish adult males employed in South Bend's growing industries in 18767, the figure rose to 1,537 by 1900, when the city totaled 7,106 Poles of foreign parentage, or one-fifth of the inhabitants8. By the outbreak of the war, this sum was nearly doubled.9
Brought together by their jobs in the factories, the Polish settlers sought quarters near the place of their employment. In this way sprang up the first Polish settlement in the western section of the city, along Division, Chapin, Scott and Sample streets, in the vicinity of Oliver Chilled Plow Works, the Birdsell Manufacturing Co., the Studebaker Brothers Wagon Company and the Grand Trunk Railroad.
Soon the Polish settlers began making an important group contribution to the industrial development of South Bend. Their efficiency and productivity, which early won them a reputation for earning "more than our good mechanics ... American, German, Irish and other citizens ... "10 helped enrich and expand the city's industries. Their thrift and industriousness, noted by a contemporary who wrote, "they raised large families, lived on almost nothing, but saved their money,"11 generously aided the growth and welfare of the city, extending its western limits and converting scrubby unattractive fields into residential districts.
The Polish settlers began to purchase lots and homes in South Bend on a larger scale early in 1872 .12 In 1873, when they earned an average piecework wage of less than $1.50 per day, they were able to pay $500 to $600 for homes, most of the Polish employees at Olivers' becoming homeowners within the next twelve years.13
provide further assistance to Polish settlers in the acquisition of property,
the Kosciuszko Building and Loan Fund
Association was founded in 1884. In 1893 a similar organization was
established under the title, the Jan III
Sobieski Building and Loan Association.14 Joseph A. Werwinski,
who "practically built up the west end" of the city by his real estate
operations, achieved special prominence as one of the most successful real
estaters in South Bend.15
Another important monetary contribution made by Polish settlers to South Bend's institutional and residential development consisted of their donations toward parochial growth. In 1877, the 125 families of St. Joseph Parish,16 almost all of them supported by unskilled labor, contributed an average of $22.00 each to the parish.17 In many instances this represented the equivalent of more than one-half of the family's monthly income. Five years later, when the parish membership included approximately 350 adult males, the contributions amounted to $11,623, or an average of more than $30.00 of each adult male's earnings.18 By 1900, when the Polish population of South Bend stood in excess of 7,000, the Polish Catholics had contributed over $200,000 to the building and support of their three (or, strictly speaking, four) parishes. The continued influx of new parishioners and the organization of another parish before 1914 raised this parochial investment to an estimated total of over one-half million dollars.19
The maturing of the second generation of Americans of foreign-born Polish parentage, coupled with other factors, brought with it a noticeable growth of small business enterprises in the Polish community of South Bend. In 1901 the Polish settlement had 11 groceries, 30 sample rooms, 15 meat markets, 2 bakeries, 2 confectioneries, 8 barber shops, 1 clothing store, 2 drug stores and 5 tailor shops .20 Within eleven years, as the community expanded territorially to the northwest and the southwest, it acquired 31 groceries, 56 sample rooms, 18 meat markets, 9 bakeries, 8 confectioneries, 8 barber shops, 8 shoe stores, 4 clothing stores, 3 drug stores and 3 tailor shops. In addition, there appeared new establishments - a contractor's office, 2 real estate agencies, a billiard hall, 4 bottling works and 4 cigar factories, one of which was the largest in the City.21
But while youthful Americans of Polish descent showed an increased inclination to set up small business enterprises, they failed to manifest a proportionate interest to enter professional ranks. The eleven years from 1901 to 1912 saw the number of Polish attorneys increase from one to two, but beheld no increase of physicians. Accounting, music and pharmacy received only small additions into their ranks. Nevertheless, by 1914 the Polish community's professional prospects were growing brighter with several students making their professional studies at nearby Notre Dame. On the whole, the oft-repeated complaint, "Our youth keeps leaving the parochial school and going to the factory,"22 still held true, for as late as 1911 the local Polish editor wrote: "We find Polish boys of eleven and thirteen in all the shops."23 While, in general, the Polish settlers were tolerably well off, few individuals were so situated as to be able to finance the professional education of their sons; rather they found the early labor of their boys a welcome source of income, placing their hopes for a better educated offspring in their grandchildren.
like economic advancement, played an essential part in the development of the
Polish community in South Bend. While not primarily responsible for the initial
influx, the Catholic Faith which the Polish immigrants brought with them in time
became the dominant force in the life of the community, giving it permanence and
vitality. The threefold parochial frame-work of the church, the school and the
association provided the basis for the social organization of the community.
Further, in addition to its purely religious functions, Catholicism performed
the dual task of preserving the European heritage of the Polish settlers and of
effecting a natural fusion between that heritage and American environment. In
fact, it is not far wrong to say that Catholicism, tying in with economic,
national and social factors, was the chief basis of the settlement in its
evolution into a Polish American Community.
The Polish settlers brought with them a deep attachment to the faith, capable of great sacrifices. Although upon arrival in South Bend they found and to a degree participated in the organized Catholic life of St. Patrick's Church,24 where they even received the periodic ministrations of visiting Polish priests,25 they decided to organize their own parish church in which they might worship God with full fervor and devotion. This became possible when one of their number, Valentine Czyzewski, a former Franciscan religious from Russian occupied Poland, pronounced his solemn vows in the Congregation of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame on August 15, 1874, two years before his final ordination to the priesthood.26
During this interval, two associations sprang up for the dual purpose of parochial organization and fraternal benefit. The St. Stanislav Kostka Society organized in August 1874 and the St. Casimir Society formed two months later grouped the settlers into a parochial unit and collected funds for the purchase of church property.27 The transaction took place in 1875, when a plot of land on West Monroe between Scott and Chapin streets was bought. Here in the spring of the following year construction of the church and school began, reaching final completion in the middle of 1877, six months after the newly ordained Father Valentine Czyzewski, C.S.C., had taken charge.28
The new church and its adjoining school house, both wooden structures, were dedicated on July 1, 1877 to the patronage of St. Joseph. This joy was short-lived, however, as two years later, in November 1879, a whirlwind wrecked the church which, it appears, had been faultily constructed.29 For the next four years the Polish congregation worshiped in the hastily patched up brick schoolhouse, until a new church was built at Scott and Napler in 1883, and renamed St. Hedwig's.30
The increasing immigration of Polish settlers, into South Bend during the 1880's and 90's made further parochial growth necessary. Two new churches were dedicated at the end of the century, St. Casimir's in 1899 and St. Stanislav's in 1900.31 Eleven years later St. Adalbert's lifted its twin spires in the northwestern section of the City.32 Within 35 years, the 125 families of St. Joseph's parish had grown to more than 1,600 families connected with four parishes.33
Of great importance to the growth of the Polish settlement in South Bend was the founding in 1877 of St. Joseph's school. Two years after its construction, the school had 143 pupils - the highest enrollment among the five Catholic schools in the city.34 Within 10 years, the original wooden structure (renamed St. Hedwig's in 1883) having been superceded by a larger brick building, the enlistment nearly quadrupled, rising to one-half of the total Catholic parochial school attendance in the city.35 Following the destruction of this school by fire in 1896 and the building of a new structure in 1898, St. Hedwig's at the conclusion of the term in 1899 had 1,025 pupils - the largest enrollment of any school in South Bend.36
Three other Polish parochial schools appeared by 1914 - St. Casimir's, St. Stanislav's and St. Adalbert's - more than doubling the enrollment of 1899. Almost all the teaching in these schools, toward the end, was done by Sisters - the Holy Cross Sisters at St. Hedwig's, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth at St. Casimir's and St. Stanislav's, and the Felicians at St. Adalbert's. From 1904 on, the bilingual curriculum followed and remained under the direction of diocesan educational authorities.
Among their outstanding graduates, the Polish parochial schools of South Bend might list Brother Peter Hosinski, C.S.C., organizer and director of the first Polish parochial high school in the United States and founder of the Holy Cross High School at Dacca, India, the native students of which were "the first to pass an English examination";37 Rev. Casimir Smogor, Polish homiletical writer; Leo Makielski, portrait painter; and George Kalczynski, editor, publisher and one of South Bend's influential Polish citizens.
In this connection mention should also be made of two Polish night schools founded in South Bend by Father Valentine Czyzewski, C.S.C. He organized the first late in 1877 , but it lasted only a short time.38 In 1902 he was instrumental in securing the establishment of a free municipal night school in the Polish community.39 The purpose of both was to provide civic and social education to youthful Polish workers newly arrived from Europe or forced by circumstances to discontinue regular parochial school attendance.
Although originally the parish society was primarily religious in purpose, it also served as an insurance and mutual aid association; it likewise at times engaged in patriotic and cultural pursuits and gave rise to purely lay organizations that existed independently of the parish. Some were local, others national in affiliation, representing branches of such large bodies as The Polish National Alliance, The Polish Roman Catholic Union, The Polish Falcons, and The Polish Women's Alliance. By 1914 there were over 50 Polish parochial societies alone in South Bend, exclusive of several non-parochial groups, with an estimated membership of more than one-half of all the parishioners.
The success of this entire parochial organizational framework was due in large measure to the character and energy of the local Polish clergy. Until the appointment of Rev. John Kubacki to the pastorship of St. Adalbert's in 1910, the local priests were all members of the Congregation of
the Holy Cross. Though most of them were born and partially educated in Poland, they made their philosophical and theological studies in the United States.
The greatest single figure in the religious history of the Polish settlement in South Bend is undoubtedly Father Valentine Czyzewski, C.S.C. For 35 years he dominated the religious, social and cultural life of the Polish group, taking a hand in the organization of each new parish, founding schools and libraries, organizing missions outside the city, acting as a mediator in labor disputes involving Polish workers,40 and promoting the general welfare of the Poles in South Bend.
This intelligent sacerdotal leadership was in great measure responsible not only for the splendid but also for the orderly development of the Polish community. It put up an effective front against Protestant proselytism;41 it successfully promoted Catholic solidarity;42 it kept the community in contact with the general stream of Polish American Catholic life by active participation in Catholic Congresses and activities.
Perhaps the only unsolved problem that confronted the Polish religious leaders of South Bend in 1914 was one that had grown out of trusteeism and competition between clerical and lay leaders, resulting in the establishment of a schismatic Polish national church in the neighborhood of Saint Casimir's. This schism, consummated in February 1914,43 marked the second disruption of religious unity, an initial, though short-lived, rupture having occurred in August 1913 in the vicinity of St. Adalbert's.44 The number of final defections did not exceed 500 persons.45
But as compensating for this loss, the Polish priests could point to a rich harvest of religious vocations - perhaps one of the strongest and most palpable signs of religious vitality among the Polish Catholics. In the 40 years after the organization of St. Joseph's, over a dozen priests, twice that many nuns and several teaching brothers came from the Polish community. More, the Polish priests of South Bend could point to their parishes as among the largest in the diocese of Fort Wayne. At the time of America's entrance into the World War, when Indiana had 22 Polish parishes with a membership of 40,668 communicants, South Bend numbered 12,732 Polish Catholics in its four parishes.46
1914, as a result of continued growth and the inter-action of many factors, the
Polish settlement in South Bend was more than either a religious refuge or an
economic haven, for immigrants. It was a distinctively complex social structure
compounded of various cultural, social and political, as well as religious and
economic influences brought to act together in a cosmopolitan environment.
Briefly, it might best be characterized as the South Bend Polonia or as a
typical Polish American community.
Brought to life in a cosmopolitan,47 though predominantly native American Protestant atmosphere,48 and centered largely around the parish as its social and cultural nucleus, the Polish community developed through the years as a minority within a minority. Its formation, in a social setting rich in national and religious differences buttressed by personal preferences, was in a real sense a frontier achievement, in so far as it involved the adaptation to American conditions of those elements which the Polish settlers of South Bend had brought with them from Europe. The result of this adaptation was not an isolated Little Poland nor a purely American settlement but a new distinctive community combining both American and Polish elements - Polish religious and cultural traditions united with American political, social and economic practices and ideals.
The social organization of the Polish American community rested above all upon the threefold parochial framework of the church, the school and the association; but it also received strong support from the press and the lay associations.49 All these agencies combined to perform the dual task of preserving the European heritage of the Polish settlers and of effecting a natural fusion between that heritage and American environment.
For four decades after the initial organization of the first parish, the social development of the settlement into a Polish American community continued in an ascending line, paralleling the growth in population. What started out as a small colony on the west side, (called Bogdarka, God's Gift, by the Polish settlers) by 1914 was a large community spread over most of South Bend's west end. Within it were four popularly designated areas, associated with parochial limits but bearing names of Polish cities roughly designating the settlers' European place of origin: Gniezno (St. Hedwig's), Warszawa (St. Casimir's), Poznan (St. Stanislav's), and Kraków (St. Adalbert's).
But through all these districts extended a web of relationships knitting them into an organic unit. The church provided the Polish settlers with the satisfying comforts of the Catholic faith; the school preserved their language and traditions, passing them on to their children while at the same time according them the preparation necessary for life in America; the association served as an agency of united action for the promotion and protection of their ideals; the press brought information and added instruction.
All of these agencies, in their social and cultural pursuits, helped to keep alive the Polish language and traditions in the community. They cooperated in promoting social intercourse by organizing picnics, balls, Polish and American patriotic celebrations, dramatic presentations and literary sessions. They sponsored libraries, bands, orchestras, glee-clubs and choirs.
The first Polish choral group, the St. Cecilia Society, founded in 1879 primarily for church purposes, also fostered patriotic and folk songs, making frequent appearances at local celebrations. Under the direction of Casimir Luzny, South Bend's first Polish composer,50 the choir made a concert appearance together with the South Bend Orchestra at the Auditorium, one of the city's largest theatres, in 1913.51 The leading non-parochial choral ensemble was the Mierzwinski Choir organized in 1888.
first Polish band, sponsored in 1888 by the St. Stanislav Kostka Society and
reorganized in 1898 as the St. Hedwig Band, gave regular semi-weekly concerts at
the municipal Howard Park. By 1914 the community had three bands and several
orchestras, composed of youthful players, two of whom were members of the South
Bend Symphony Orchestra.52
The leading literary cultural agents were the literary and dramatic societies and, above all, the Polish libraries. The first of these was founded in 1881 by Father Czyzewski. Within 30 years three other libraries were established with combined facilities amounting to about 3,000 volumes of Polish literature, history and science.
An important sociaf function was performed by the Sokoly (The Polish Falcons), a gymnastic organization for youthful Polish Americans. Organized In South Bend in 1894, the Sokoly met with almost instant popularity, and within four years erected the first Polish Falcons' Hall (Sokolnia) in the United States.53
Although founded relatively late, in 1896, South Bend's first and only Polish newspaper, the Goniec Polski (The Polish Courier),54 soon established itself as an influential disseminator and supporter of Polish patriotic and cultural traditions, and as an important link between the Polish South Benders and their compatriots elsewhere in the United States and in Europe. But perhaps more important still was its role of political instructor and guide. Under the editorship of George Kalczynski, its founder and publisher, the Goniec more than any other agency contributed to the growth of political-mindedness among the Polish settlers, making them aware of the part they might play in local and national affairs.
Prior to 1896, the Polish settlers of South Bend had shown little interest in gaining local political recognition. Although Polish votes were probably cast in city elections as early as 1868,55 it was not till 12 years later that a Pole, Charles Korpal, was appointed to a municipal office as Deputy Street Commissioner.56 During the next 16 years (1880-1896), in which Democrats dominated South Bend politics, a Polish councilman was regularly elected from the Third and - after 1889 - also from the Sixth Ward, the two Polish Wards. Leading Polish politicians of this period included Charles Korpal, Peter Makielski, Frank Kowalski, Jacob Jaworski, Valentine Duszynski, Anthony Bilinski, Frank Gonsiorowski, Martin Zielinski and L. A. Kalamajski.57
The Polish settlers made their first serious bid for political preferment in South Bend in the election of 1898, when Charles Korpal ran for city treasurer. Although Korpal failed to win, he polled enough votes to make the Goniec Polski write triumphantly: "The number of Polish votes in our city has reached such proportions that we are able to swing municipal elections ... Soon both parties will have to reckon with our political aspirations".58
Unified by political organizations such as the Polish American Political Club, The Pulaski Democratic Club, The Polish Voters' Club, and strengthened by the emergence to leadership of energetic youthful Polish Americans, the Polish settlers began making good the Goniec's boast. After 1900, in addition to positions as Ward Councilmen, Poles began to occupy places of importance in the City Council and the City Clerk's Office. In 1913, a Polish candidate Jan T. Niezgódzki ran for mayor, finishing third among the six aspirants in the primaries.59
Polish interest in national politics was likewise reflected in and partly guided by the Goniec Polski. On the whole, Polish voters cast their ballots for Democratic presidential candidates. Polish American youths, nearly 100 in number, volunteered for service in the Spanish American War.60 When President McKinley fell from the hand of Leon Czolgosz (whose father was Polish) in September, 1901, the Polish settlers of South Bend drew up resolutions strongly condemning the assassin and expressing profound sympathy to the president's family.61
Perhaps the most successful piece of political activity engaged in by the Polish settlers of South Bend before 1914 was their sponsorship of Congressman Abraham L. Brick's bill for the erection of a statue to General Casimir Pulaski. Petitions from 18 Polish societies signed by 2,358 members proved instrumental in obtaining President Theodore Roosevelt's approval of the measure in 1903.62 At the unveiling of the statue seven years later, fourteen Polish delegates proudly represented the South Bend community which had been "the most active in the agitation for the statue."63
The Polish settlers of South Bend were by this time a strongly knit Polish American community, conscious of their achievement and anxious for further service to the ideals that had made their group a vital part of South Bend.