Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
In the years after the Civil War, Wheeling, West Virginia developed into a major manufacturing center in the Northern Panhandle. Until 1885, Wheeling was the state capital of West Virginia and was the center of cut nail production in America. The city already possessed a large population of Irish and German immigrants. However, with the decline of the nail industry and the transition to steel manufacturing in the Upper Ohio Valley, by the 1890's, Wheeling attracted many immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. These immigrants took their places at the bottom of the industrial hierarchy and were relegated to the most menial unskilled jobs in the steel mills, coal mines, tobacco works, and glass factories of the Wheeling District.;These "new immigrants," especially the Poles, left a world where it was becoming difficult to persist on the land. Poles began looking across the continent for higher wages. Making seasonal labor trips to the industrial core areas of Western Germany and the factories around growing cities like Warsaw and Lublin, Polish peasants also embarked more permanently to America. While settling in many of the United States' largest cities, a sizable number arrived in Wheeling. Here they lived in the heart of the city's factory district, and after 1900 also the center of the vice district. Often neglected and despised by city leaders and even the local labor movement, Poles were left to create their own life in Wheeling.;Arriving in Wheeling, Polish peasants had to form a self-sustaining ethnic community if they were going to survive. This was difficult since Polish immigrants were divided by ethnic and regional differences. By 1900, Wheeling's Polish immigrants began to form their community through the grass roots efforts of an active laity and their young priest Father Emil Musial. They built the parish of St. Ladislaus in the heart of South Wheeling. Ethnic community formation allowed for the creation of popular ethnic spaces, cultural events, and a strong Polish Catholic education. Through a mixture of religious piety and cultural nationalism, the community's parish, social halls, and homes allowed the Poles to develop a distinct identity, promoted a strong family economy, while still living amidst a mixture of other immigrant groups.;World War I and the subsequent decade were vital for the community. While supporting the American war effort offered proof of the Poles' own loyalty in the minds of the native born majority, the post-war strikes in the local steel industry led to much animosity and surveillance of the Polish community. However, the era witnessed the beginnings of the Poles working with other Catholic immigrant groups, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and within the labor movement. However, the success of the Wheeling Steel Corporation in busting the steelworkers union forced Poles to look inward again at their community. This also came as fears grew about the relationship of the second generation to those who remained tied to the old parish and ethnic Polonia world. The community's response and the increasing inter-ethnic interactions helped provide the background for the union organizing drives of the 1930's.
Gorby, William Hal, "Saints, Sinners, and Socialists on the Southside: Polish Catholic Immigrant Workers, Politics, and Culture in Wheeling, West Virginia, 1890-1930" (2014). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 252.