As Finland marks a century, a look at Finns' lives on the Iron Range

Finnish Lutheran congregation, Mountain Iron
A Finnish Lutheran congregation stands in front of the Finnish Temperance Hall in Mountain Iron, Minn., in 1896.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence from Russia this year — and some of its yearlong celebration is already happening in Minnesota.

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After 700 years of Swedish rule, the area known as Finland served as a battlefield for Russian-Swedish conflicts, and it fell into Russian hands in 1809. However, as an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire, it was allowed to develop politically, eventually leading to independence in the turmoil surrounding the Russian Revolution in 1917.

In June 1997, Minnesota Public Radio reporters Mary Losure and Dan Olson produced a documentary about the Finns who came to northern Minnesota in the early 1900s. Their explanation of why they chose to focus on the Finns in Minnesota was just as relevant 20 years ago as it is today:

At a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is building in this country, Americans of European descent sometimes forget how poor their own immigrant ancestors were; how foreign and threatening they once seemed to the rest of America. A glance at the history books shows how hard this country's immigrants had to fight to get into the mainstream.

The voices of early immigrants come from taped interviews preserved in historical archives.

Listen to an excerpt of the story, called "Finland Was A Poor Country," by clicking the audio player above — or read it in full as it ran in 1997.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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