As changing economic and political conditions effected southern and eastern Europe more and more, people from those regions made the decision to emigrate to the United States. One of the largest of these “new immigrant” groups was the Italians, many of whom came to work in the coal mines scattered across southern and central Iowa. Italians began to arrive around the year 1900 and became the second largest of the southern and eastern European groups to settle in the United States behind the Russians.
Some Stayed, Others Returned, More Came
Many of these immigrants did not intend to stay in Iowa, rather they planned to work in the mines until they had enough money to return home and buy land, businesses and a better life in their home land. While some Italians did return to Italy, others returned and then decided to come back to America. Others simply remained here.
Since the immigrants had mainly been farmers in Italy, they arrived in Iowa with few skills other than farming and without the money to buy land of their own. As a result, they often had to pick the one industry that was open to them, coal mining. Because of poverty, Italian families tended to come in waves as money was available. In many cases, a man would come over first. He worked hard and sent funds home to pay for another relative to emigrate and so on until the entire family was together in America. Italian immigrant communities formed in some of Iowa’s larger cities, particularly in Des Moines.
Not Always Welcome
At the turn of the 20th century the United States government tried to limit further immigration from southern and eastern Europe by requiring literacy tests and physical exams. Once in the United States Italian immigrants were looked down upon by their northern European Protestant neighbors because they were Catholic and because they often worked in coal mines. Some notable rural Italian communities were at Granger and Lovilla. When the coal mines closed, many of the Italian workers moved to cities, particularly Des Moines.