Immigrants in 1910 Willimantic

Race, skin color, ancestry, country of birth, and ethnicity are complicated. The 1910 census also asked interviewees whether they were American citizens or not, and if they were not, their immigration status, as well as the year in which they immigrated to the U.S. 99% of Willimantic's inhabitants in 1910 were listed as 'white' according to the census, as determined by the census takers. Yet this masked a broader variety of people from several parts of the world. About 3,400 (31%) of Willimantic's residents in 1910 were born outside of the U.S. In this section we will focus on these first-generation Americans, and look at the broader issue of ethnic identity in the future.

Immigrants by the Numbers

The following table shows the number of foreign-born residents in Willimantic in 1910, sorted from largest group (Canadian) to fewest. Note that this is based solely off of the country of origin, and not ethnicity/ancestry, so that all Canadians, whether of French or English descent, are grouped together in a single 'Canadian' category. This shows that three-quarters of Willimantic's foreign-born residents were born in either Canada, Ireland or Poland - a quarter of all Willimantic residents. Immigrants from England and Russia, the next most populous groups, each consituted less than 1.5% of Willimantic's overall population.


Size of immigrant groups living in Willimantic in 1910

Country of Birth

As the maps below indicate, the most significant origins of non-American born residents were French Canada, the British Isles, and Austria (that is Polish lands held by Austria after several partitions). No surprise then that 28% of Willimantic's residents did not list English as their first language. The most common foreign languages spoken were French and Polish.


Population Pyramid of Immigrants by Age Group

Immigrants by Age

We can also examine the age profile of first-generation immigrants living in Willimantic in 1910. Here we find that 35%-40% of every age group was foreign-born, with the exception of under 14-year olds (only 12%-14% foreign-born) and those aged 80+ (25% foreign-born). If we assume many of the residents in 1910 were long-time inhabitants, that would mean the mills had been drawing large numbers of immigrants to Willimantic since 1830. The very small number of immigrant children under 4 suggests that most immigrant women did not immigrate with children in tow. Their marital status at the point of arrival isn't known, but immigrant women in their 20s who lived in Willimantic in 1910 were twenty percentage points more likely to be married than native-born women. However, immigrant women were also thirteen percentage points less likely to have had a child, although those that did tended to have more children.

Immigrant Groups by Decade of Immigration

We can take the year of immigration column and construct a heatmap that will allow us to see the decade in which various foreign-born residents immigrated to the United States. A heatmap provides the frequency (count) of, in our case, how many 1910 Willimantic residents immigrated from a specific country to the U.S. in a specific decade. The x-axis indicates the decade (1840s, 1850s...), while the y-axis has a separate row for each country of birth. Inside the heatmap itself, a lighter colored square means a very small number of people immigrated from that country in that decade, while a darker colored square indicates many more people immigrated from that country in that particular decade.

When exploring this data, we need to keep in mind several caveats. We can't assume that all the people living in Willimantic in 1910 were necessarily living there in 1909 (or 1911), nor that they had lived their entire lives in the city, nor even that they were representative of immigrants from the same home country who lived elsewhere. Nevertheless, keeping those cautions in mind, we can see several things.

The first heatmap shows us the absolute numbers - how many foreign-born 1910 Willimantic residents immigrated to the US in which decade. From this we can confirm that the largest number of immigrants living in Willimantic by far were from French Canada (Quebec), and that they started to arrive in the U.S. in the 1860s, and that their numbers continued to increase every decade until more than 400 French Canadians had immigrated in the first decade of the 20th century. Since the 1910 column only contains the single year of 1910 while the other columns contain ten years (e.g. 1890 includes 1890-1899), the fact that the year 1910 saw over 300 newly-immigrated French Canadians suggests that the pace of French Canadian migration was continuing to accelerate and that many of them were quickly settling in Willimantic. At the same time we can see Irish immigrants in Willimantic, in much smaller numbers, who migrated to the U.S. starting in the 1850s and peaking in the 1880s. Also noticeable in 1910, in terms of pure numbers, is the recent arrival of Polish immigrants, starting in the 1890s and accelerating rapidly into 1910. Determining when these people moved to Willimantic, and not just to the U.S., would require significant work, tracking thousands of individuals across multiple decades.

The second heatmap in the carousel above shows us the same information, but as percentages - as you read each row across, the color indicates what percentage of each group immigrated from that origin country in which decade. This provides a slightly different perspective on each immigrant group, with the cells across each row equaling 100%. This allows us to see the immigration patterns of each country regardless of the number of immigrants living in Willimantic - the smaller groups are no longer drowned out by the largest groups of French Canadians and Poles. From this, we can see that the early English immigrants from England, Ireland and Canada arrived in the U.S. starting in the 1850s and 1860s, with their numbers peaking in the 1880s and then declining. Scots began arriving in greater numbers in the 1870s, and then Swedes and Germans in the 1880s, though immigration slowed for each group within a few decades of its start. Later immigrant groups include ethnic Russians, Russian Jews, and Italians, as well as a number of Syrian-Lebanese (workers particularly skilled with silk). By 1900 new groups of Russian minorities (Greeks and Poles especially), along with Poles from Austrian Poland, began arriving as well, with Galician (Austrian) Poles in larger numbers. 

As we can see from the census, Willimantic's history is in large part a story of immigrants. Future additions will provide a more detailed focus on where immigrants lived, as well as taking a broader look at the ethnic groups living in 1910 Willimantic.

Immigrants in 1910 Willimantic