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RIVER LIFE
Minneapolis Tribune 11/27/92

Minneapolis Tribune 11/27/92

See entire article The Laborer’s Lot.

“The Bohemians – they are a hardworking, frugal people whose first aim is to own their home. The men are steady toilers in factories and mills.”
-Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1916.

The residents of the Bohemian Flats had difficult lives, though they did the best they could with what they had available. Many men worked diligently in factories and mills but made meager wages, some supporting families on less than a dollar a day.

Additionally, many Slovak immigrants faced discrimination in the workplace due to being stereotyped as drunks or unreliable workers, diminishing their ability to argue for a more livable wage. Women did not typically work outside the home after marriage, so men were the primary breadwinners for their families. Men were therefore more likely to choose menial, steady work, over high paying, less steady jobs, and were less likely to risk their position by asking for a promotion.

The map above illustrates the wide array of factories and mills that employed the residents of the Bohemian Flats between 1880 and 1920. The map only shows places of employment within the city of Minneapolis and is color coded by major industry. Map background layer: Esri, HERE, DeLorme, MapmyIndia, OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS user community.

The map above illustrates the wide array of factories and mills that employed the residents of the Bohemian Flats between 1880 and 1920. The map only shows places of employment within the city of Minneapolis and is color coded by major industry.
Map background layer: Esri, HERE, DeLorme, MapmyIndia, OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS user community.

See larger version of the map.

Map Labels:

  1. A. Malmquist, Grocery Store
  2. Krueger, Cigar Manufacturing
  3. Averill, Russel and Carpenter, Paper Mill
  4. Farnham and Lovejoy, Lumber Mill
  5. Paulle, Show Case Manufacturing
  6. American District Telegraph Company (ADT),Telegraph
  7. Bardwell, Robinson, and Company, Lumber, Sash, Door, and Blind Manufacturing
  8. F. Hunt, Hat Repairs
  9. Lillbridge-Bremner, Biscuit and Confectionary Factory
  10. Milwaukee Railway
  11. Minneapolis Manufacturing Company, Shirt Manufacturing
  12. Riverside Kindergarten
  13. Bemis Brown Bag Company, Bag Manufacturing
  14. Cream of Wheat Company
  15. Hardwood Manufacturing Company, Barrel Manufacturing
  16. Herzog Manufacturing, Iron Works
  17. Holtzermann’s Chicago Store Company
  18. F. Wilcox, Planing Mill, Lumber, Sash, and Door Manufacturing
  19. McMillan Fur and Wool Company, Tannery
  20. Menzel and Jeffrey, Foundry
  21. Gas Light Company
  22. Rentz Brothers, Jewelry Manufacturing
  23. Robitshek, Frank and Heller, Clothing Manufacturing
  24. Salisbury and Satterlee, Bedding Manufacturing
  25. Sterling Manufacturing, Clothing Manufacturing
  26. Western Scrap Iron Company
  27. William Donaldson and Company, Dry Goods Merchant
  28. Northwestern Barrel Company, Barrel Manufacturing
  29. Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad
  30. Minnesota Linseed Oil Mill
  31. Anchor Mill, Flour Mill
  32. Republic Creosoting Company
  33. Anthony Falls Laundry
  34. John Leslie Paper Company, Paper Manufacturing
  35. Janney, Semple, Hill, and Company, Wholesale Hardware
  36. Barrett Company, Hauling
  1. Baker Valve Company, Piston Ring Manufacturing
  2. Donaldson’s, Department Store
  3. Boutell Brothers, Furniture Company
  4. Falls Tire Company, Tire Manufacturing
  5. Emerson-Brantingham Company, Machinery Manufacturing
  6. Heinrich Chemical Company, Drug and Chemical Manufacturing
  7. Smith, Parker, and Company, Sash and Door Manufacturing
  8. Standard Mill, Flour Mill
  9. Columbia Mill, Flour Mill
  10. American Bridge Company ,Architectural Iron Works
  11. Birkhofer Brewing Company, Brewery
  12. Consolidated Mills (D, E and F), Flour Mills
  13. Minneapolis Government (6th Ward)
  14. Harris Brothers, Machinery Manufacturing
  15. Hegna Manufacturing Company, Clothing Manufacturing
  16. Minneapolis Iron Works, Iron Manufacturing
  17. Northwestern Foundry
  18. RR Howell and Company, Machinery Manufacturing
  19. Zimmerman and Company, Plumber and Gas Fitter
  20. North Star Woolen Mill
  21. Pillsbury A Mill, Flour Mill
  22. Washburn Mill (A, B, and C Mills), Flour Mill
  23. Minneapolis Roofing and Cornice Works
  24. Sterling Electricity Company
  25. Northwest Steel and Iron Corporation, Steel and Iron Manufacturing
  26. Pillsbury B Mill, Flour Mill
  27. AM and AE Clerihew, Shirtwaist Manufacturing
  28. Backus-Brooks Company, Saw Mill
  29. Union Printing Company
  30. Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company, Machinery Manufacturing
  31. OB McClintock Company, Clock Manufacturing
  32. Northwest Knitting Company, Union Suit Manufacturing
  33. Mueller and Heinrich, Brewery
  34. Mihalco, Grocery Store
  35. Matasovsky and Company, Grocery Store
  36. C. Zipoy and Company, Grocery Store

Women’s Work

Women were primarily responsible for keeping house, raising children, and tending gardens, causing them to be more isolated than their husbands, brothers, or children who left the flats daily for work and school. Slovak American leaders advocated for immigrants to learn English, suggesting many women were unable to understand English and thus the new world they lived in.

However, isolation may have united women. Women from the Bohemian Flats established the Immanuel Slovak Baptist Church and were instrumental in resisting the 1923 evictions when Minneapolis police attempted to force them to leave while the men were at work. Many of the final residents of the Bohemian Flats were women, clustered along 22nd Ave S after most of the community had left.

Gardens were common in the Bohemian Flats and were often tended by women. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Gardens were common in the Bohemian Flats and were often tended by women.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Women in the Bohemian Flats worked hard to ensure their families were provided for, including chopping logs that had floated down river. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Women in the Bohemian Flats worked hard to ensure their families were provided for, including chopping logs that had floated down river.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Bohemian Flats resident Anna Chipka pictured with her children and loaves of bread.. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Bohemian Flats resident Anna Chipka pictured with her children and loaves of bread..
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Laundry hanging out to dry was a common sight in the Bohemian Flats. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Laundry hanging out to dry was a common sight in the Bohemian Flats.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin History Museum.

Women were fiercely protective of their homes. When city police tried to force them out of their houses, the women barricaded their doors and chased the policemen away with their broomsticks. Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, May 25, 1923.

Women were fiercely protective of their homes. When city police tried to force them out of their houses, the women barricaded their doors and chased the policemen away with their broomsticks.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Tribune, May 25, 1923.

See entire Wives Hold River Flat Homes When Police Attempt Eviction article.

Fighting Poverty

“Little boys and girls, ten to twelve years old, are kept fishing for wood and taking it into the land.”
-Anonymous observer, 1887.

Many of the residents of the Bohemian Flats lived in varying degrees of poverty. The Mississippi River was full of slabs, shingles, strips, blocks, boards and sometimes entire logs from the mills and warehouses upstream which many fished out of the river to use or sell. Fruit occasionally drifted downstream too, with one resident remembering “we saw a child eating one of those bananas from the river when we first came and we thought he would die […] until I came to America I had never seen a banana.”

Most children did not attend high school; they were expected to work and help support their families.

Social institutions, such as the Seven Corners Library or the Pillsbury House, sought to provide alternative destinations to the many bars and pubs by offering literacy programs for children and adults who wanted to learn to read, write, and improve their English.

Many children participated in literacy programs sponsored by the Seven Corners Library (above,) which wanted to improve the lives of the immigrants living in the Bohemian Flats and other parts of Cedar-Riverside. Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Many children participated in literacy programs sponsored by the Seven Corners Library (above,) which wanted to improve the lives of the immigrants living in the Bohemian Flats and other parts of Cedar-Riverside.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Library.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Immigrants in Minneapolis faced varying degrees of racism when looking for work. The “Bohemians” often earned less than other immigrants. Courtesy of Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 18, 1909.

Immigrants in Minneapolis faced varying degrees of racism when looking for work. The “Bohemians” often earned less than other immigrants.
Courtesy of Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 18, 1909.

See entire Average Wage of Immigrant Greek Real Money Maker article.

The workers in this photo are waiting to unload barges carrying tractors and other farm equipment along the Bohemian Flats. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The workers in this photo are waiting to unload barges carrying tractors and other farm equipment along the Bohemian Flats.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

See the Exhibit Pages of Each Panel

  1. “No Place Like Home”: Remembering the Bohemian Flats
  2. Navigating Changing Identity in a New Country
  3. “A Squatter’s Domain”: Life on the Banks of the Mississippi
  4. “High Waters on River Flats”: Living on the Mississippi River
  5. “The Laborer’s Lot”: Poverty, Employment, and Social Programs
  6. “Adieu, River Flats”: The Eviction and Legacy of the Bohemian Flats
Contact Us!
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Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.