This academic book, published by the University of Wales Press, was researched and written by Cherilyn A. Walley over a period of ten years while pursuing two advanced degrees at Iowa State University. It is a detailed and meticulously researched book and although previous works have included references to the immigration of Welsh people into America, and particularly into the mid-west states, this is surely now the reference book of choice for those interested in how the Welsh settled in Iowa in the period between the early nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century.
In her helpful introduction the author refers to Elliott R. Barkan’s six-stage assimilation model of immigration in general, as a point of reference, progressing from ‘Contact’, when immigrants first meet American society, through ‘Acculturation’, ‘Adaptation’, ‘Accommodation’, ‘Integration’ to finally ‘Assimilation’. In this final stage the immigrant, although conscious of being descended from a particular ethnic group, no longer identifies themselves as a member of that group.
The first chapter, ‘The Welsh’, is devoted to a history of Wales and the political, social, religious and economic factors which have influenced the Welsh people, and in some cases led them to migrate to countries far, in distance and ideology, from their homeland. The chapter includes many examples of Welsh people who migrated to America writing to their kinfolk back in Wales, extolling the quality of life in America, the availability of land at $1 an acre in the early days, and the beauty of the landscape. Gradually those who initially landed and settled for a while on the east coast, moved west where they had heard of cheap land, and other migrants followed them so there was a rolling migration as settlers moved on before finally setting up home. As word got around some would move from other states, like Ohio, to different counties in Iowa, until all the cheap land was taken.
The second chapter, ‘Iowa’, gives a general history of immigration into Iowa and how the federal government regulated the opening of new territories for settlement. Figures and maps show the counties of Iowa and how and where the different ethnic communities, Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Irish, English, Dutch, Canadians and Welsh, settled. The way in which each ethnic community developed is described which is helpful in comparing their experiences with the way the Welsh settled, developed and integrated, which is dealt with in the third chapter, ‘The Welsh in Iowa’. We learn that ‘the earliest beginnings of Welsh communities in Iowa can typically be traced to a single letter home or a visit between friends’. But the most influential factor in deciding where they actually settled was economic – how good the land was, etc. Kinship came a close second, whereas this was the main influence for some other ethnic groups. There is an interesting series of figures showing how the settlement of immigrants to Iowa, who were born in Wales, changed in number and distribution between 1856 and 1930. The building of churches and schools as the communities developed had an important influence on the maintenance of ethnic differences and language. Those communities which set up ethnic schools maintained their culture and language well into the mid-twentieth century. Although the Welsh in Iowa established many Welsh churches they did not build Welsh schools and they followed the Barkan six-stage model more quickly than some other ethnic groups and reached the Assimilation stage for ethnic change.
Chapter 4, ‘Demographic Profile’, analyses Census records, using them to describe the detailed settlement of particular Welsh communities in Iowa, starting with an early community at Flint Creek in Des Moines County, Iowa.
Chapter 5, ‘Welsh Coal Miners’, records the immigration of Welsh coal miners. While the first Welsh immigrants had been looking for agricultural opportunities, in the later nineteenth century immigrants were attracted by the coal industry in the mid-west states. The coal fields of Iowa were tempting and many illustrations are provided of how men were encouraged to go there by family members already mining there.
In her conclusion, the author brings together the points raised in her thesis and concludes that ’unlike some of Iowa’s other ethnic groups, the Welsh immediately embraced American institutions of education, economy and government’ and that, ‘to the Welsh, America represented freedom and opportunity.’
The detailed Appendices deal with (A) Welsh Agricultural Communities in Iowa and (B) Welsh Mining Communities. Appendix C is a list of the Iowa Welsh Community Settlement Timeline from 1796 to 1900 and Appendix D lists the Iowa Welsh Church Organization Timeline from 1846 to 1892. There are many notes at the end of chapters, an extensive Bibliography and a helpful index.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
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