by Josef Jiri Kral
The city of Chicago had less than thirty thousand inhabitants when the first number of the "Slovan Amerikansky," the first Czech weekly in this country, was issued in Racine, Wis., in 1860. The population of Chicago has increased more than a hundred fold since that time, and the Czechoslovak press in the United States now numbers seventy-one periodicals. Ten of these are issued daily, forty-two are weeklies or semiweeklies, and nineteen fort-nightlies or monthlies. Fifty are published in Czech and twenty-one in Slovak, though some print articles in both Slovak and Czech. The total does not include four periodicals published partly in Slovak and partly in Ruthenian or English. The Slovak press is concentrated in the East, with fourteen periodicals published in Pennsylvania alone, while the Czech press flourishes chiefly in the middle West. The Czechs have twenty-two periodicals in Illinois and sixteen in the States west of the Mississippi; the Slovaks, four in Illinois and none in the Transmississippi region.
Only about forty of the total number can be classified as newspapers, the other periodicals being devoted to special causes or interests: agriculture, athletics, collegiate life, education, feminism, fraternal societies, rationalism, humor, labor, religion. At one time even the poultry raisers had a special trade journal or their own.
Vojta Naprstek (1828-1894), an eminent Czech political exile, was the first to plan the publication of a Czech newspaper in this country. His plan, submitted to the Czech settlers of St. Louis in 1857, was abandoned when Naprstek returned to Europe in that same year, but the idea found sponsors elsewhere. Francis Korizek, (1820 - 1899), a stonemason, published the first number of the weekly "Slovan Amerikansky," on January 1, 1860, in Racine, Wis . A number of weeks later the St. Louis Czechs founded another weekly, the "Narodni Noviny." The two papers were later consolidated, and on Oct. 30, 1861, the first number of the "Slavie" was printed in Racine. For many years under the able editorship of Charles Jonas (1840 - 1896) the "Slavie" held its place as the most influential of Czech newspapers. Two decades ago the "Slavie" was removed to Chicago were it is still published.
The "Slavie" proved a success; as new immigrants came in, the number of possible readers increased apace, and new periodicals sprung up like mushrooms after a rain, as a Czech proverb says.
"Socialists, anarchists, Protestants, Catholics, agnostics, republicans, democrats have had their say in them." The cause of prohibition alone found no champion.
Those who seek a detailed history of Czech journalism in this country must be referred to Mr. Thomas Capek's works: "Fifty Years of Czech Letters in America" (in Czech: New York, 1911) and "The Czechs in America" (English: New York, 1920, pp. 164-221). Only a few summary observations can be made here. The birth rate of Czech journals was high, but so was the rate of mortality. Between January, 1860, and the spring of 1911, according to Capek, 326 Czech journals had come into being but only 85 survived. The founder's mania was not confined to Czechs, however. In 1912, for example, 1686 new periodicals were begun in the United States and Canada and at the same time 1650 others were discontinued.
The first Slovak periodical in the United States, the "Amerikansko-Slovenske Noviny" of Pittsburgh, was founded in 1886. The oldest of the Slovak journals now existing, New York daily "Slovak v Amerike," was established in 1889 and issued weekly at first. At the present the Slovaks have four daily newspapers in this country and the Czechs six.
In the early years of Czechoslovak journalism in this country the editor was one of the great men of the community. His position was comparable to that held by the schoolmaster in the early years of the Republic. The readers sought his advice; he was a social arbiter. He was a man of considerable experience and not infrequently also a scholar, though the list of editors and reporters includes but few professionals. Most of them were men of other callings who became editors as other people become astronomers: by accident. Many of them had graduated from the typesetter's case to the editorial desk. Others had originally pursued some other vocation; we find among them former bakers, cigar makers, college graduates, draftsmen, druggists, insurance agents, lawyers, metal workers, miners, ministers, monks, physicians, priests, salesman, social workers (women), tailors, teachers, tanners, and men of other trades.
They knew the realities of life and did their work well. Some of them died in harness; others gave up the meritorious but unprofitable work in time to seek better rewards elsewhere. None of the writers ever became wealthy; some died in poverty. The publishers fared better; most of them achieved a modest compentence, and a few accumulated some wealth. Their field of operation is naturally limited. Only two of the nine dailies, the "Svornost" and the "Denni Hlastel" of Chicago can boast of more than 50,000 subscribers. In times of an economic depression the newspapers are among the first sufferers, and the present crisis has had three notable victims: the socialist daily "Spravedlnost," the Catholic "Hospodarske Listy," and the excellent labor organ, the "Prace".
The Czechoslovak Press in the United States is an immigrant press though it is read also by native Americans. Along with the Germans, Polish, Swedish, Italian and other immigrant publications it is sometimes called a foreign language press by the natives. The latter designation is probably used for the lack of a better one but is not strictly correct, for Czech is just as indigenous to America as English. The difference between a Czechoslovak and a native journal is linguistic, and linguistic only. The editor of a Czechoslovak political journal, whether democratic, republican, socialist or communist, naturally follows the tendencies prevailing in the native press of his party, and his comments will occasionally be identical with those of his favorite native newspaper. Whether his periodical is or is not a member of a press association, its news are drawn from native sources, and the publication really is an American newspaper written in Czech or Slovak.
It is asserted in Macmillan's Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (vol. 6, p. 379) that the immigrant press "performs simultaneously the opposing functions of promoting assimilation and maintaining separatism," since it perpetuates the inherited language in supplying information about the new country. The assertion is evidently illogical, as it involves a paradox. The difference in language is a reality, and the immigrant press is bound to employ the inherited language if it is to instruct the immigrant at all. The truth is that, next to public school, the immigrant press is the most efficient promoter of rational Americanization.
The immigrant becomes an American by the free play of economic and social forces; he can not be Americanized by coercion or condescension. Under the influence of war hysteria some States prohibited even the teaching of common school subjects in any language other than English as if the knowledge of another language than English disqualified a man from becoming an American. History has shown, however, that peoples of different tongues may be cemented into one nation by liberty and equality; where these are lacking, mere community of speech will not create a nation. Both England and the United States have passed through revolutions and civil wars in which thousands of English-speaking men were killed by other English-speaking men, while in the World War thousands of immigrants have fought for their adopted country with no less devotion and bravery than the natives.
The average man is quite likely either to ignore or to distrust what he does not understand. That explains why some natives have occasionally disparaged or denounced the immigrant press as a necessary evil as best. Those who have taken the trouble to examine the workings of the immigrant press have reached different conclusions, however. Twenty years ago a special commission investigated the problem of immigration in Massachusetts. In commenting on the commission's report the Chicago Record-Herald of May 15, 1914, said editorially:
"One of its many features of interest is the attention paid and the credit given to the foreign societies and the foreign press. We know too little about these, yet they are worth knowing and entitled to sympathy and support.
In Massachusetts there are fifty-eight papers in foriegn languages. The report says that they are uniformly patriotic, devoted to Americanism, helpful in every good civic and national cause, and eager to advertise our schools, libraries, lectures, art institutes and good government organizations. The foreign press is always glad to co-operate with health boards and improvement bodies. It continually works for cleanliness, order and culture. It encourages naturalization among its readers and advises them how to fit themselves for citizenship.
What is true of the foreign press of Massachusetts is true of the foreign press of Illinois. The tribute paid it by the report in question is amply deserved. It is a great force for righteousness and national unity. The melting pot owes much of its acknowledged success to the quite, persistent, intelligent work of the foreign press of the country."
The Czechoslovak press represents a substantial part of the immigrant press of Illinois and of the country. What the article quoted says of the foreign press in general holds true of the Czechoslovak press also.
We give below a list of the nine existing Czechoslovak dailies indicating the first year of issue, place of publications, and general tendency. Also a list of the principal weeklies. semiweeklies and fortnightlies other than those issued by the publishers of the dailies.
1875 Svornost. Chicago. Rationalistic; independent in politics.
Weekly, Semiweekly and fortnightly newspapers:
1861 Slavie. Chicago. Independent.
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