Thursday, February 25, 2021

Russian Immigration to Maynard

Russians came to Maynard to work at the mill. They were part of an exodus of millions of people leaving the Russian Empire in search of a better life. St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church – the heart of the community – with its onion-domed topped roof, is on Prospect Street. It was dedicated in 1917.

The appearance of Russian immigrants in Maynard was representative of a grand exodus. Prior to 1880 the immigration rate to the United States was modest, ramping up during the next decade to more than 10,000 per year, and then the flood: more than three million between 1890 and the beginning of World War I. The catalysts for this mass emigration from the Russian Empire included the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, followed by a repressive government under Tsar Alexander III, combined with famine, deep poverty, anti-Jewish pogroms and political unrest. The Russian experience was part of a larger move from impoverished agrarian countries to countries that were creating millions of jobs as part of the industrial revolution.  

The advent of reliable and relatively inexpensive train travel to a departure port and trans-Atlantic steamship crossings of 7-10 days made it all possible. [Fifty years earlier the famine era Irish were crossing by sail, 6-12 weeks, 10 to 30 percent dying en route on what were called ‘coffin ships’.] Interestingly, although more than half of the Russian immigrants were Jewish, the settling in Maynard was mainly Russian Orthodox. With hindsight, we can guess this was an example of “chain migration,” meaning that if initial few arrivals succeed in finding jobs and places to live, they contact their relatives and townspeople in the old country and invite them to join. Often, the early arrivals would arrange for pre-paid tickets. The cost was roughly equivalent to a month’s salary. Each new immigrant settling in Maynard made people they knew in the old country more likely to move there in turn.     

St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Church, Maynard MA
In 1917 there was an attempt to create a Russian Co-operative Association. The organization had share certificates, but there is no other evidence in the Historical Society collection that this effort reached its capitalization goal of $5,000 or became operative.

According to Maynard’s newspaper archive, transferred to microfilm and available for viewing at the Maynard Public Library (when it opens again, post-pandemic), circa 1899, Orthodox Christians from Russia were attending occasional services held in the vestry of the Congregational Church. In 1915, Arthur Coughlan sold a plot of land on Prospect Street to Archbishop Evedokin Meschersey. Construction began in the fall of 2016. On April 18, 1917, St. Mary’s Holy Annunciation Church began offering services with Fr Jacob Grigorieff, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church, presiding.

Foundation stone at St. Mary's Church
The church began as a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. The language used in the Church was Slavonic. In time, with assimilation, subsequent generations did not speak Slavonic, so English was first introduced into parts of the services in 1938. In 1968 Fr Thomas Edwards became pastor of Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church, by then serving all peoples of Orthodox faith. He was the first pastor to be an American-born convert to the Orthodox Faith. Because his native tongue was English and his Slavonic limited, Fr Thomas celebrated the Divine Liturgy completely in English. From this time on, English became the dominant language of the parish. Twice a year since 1978 the church hosts a Bazaar Russe, showcasing Slavic food and displays of cultural items, Orthodox books and icons.

Within Maynard, there might well have been friction between Russian and Finish immigrants. At the beginnings of the nineteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Finland was part of the Russian Empire during a time of policy of Russification: a forbidding of other languages and for men, mandatory conscription into the Russian Army. In opposition, the “Fennoman Movement” promoted Finish nationalism. The motto "Svenskar äro vi icke, ryssar vilja vi icke bli, låt oss alltså vara finnar." translates as "Swedes we are no more, Russians we cannot become, therefore Finns we must be." [Prior to 1809 the region had been under Swedish control.] The Finnish war of independence coincided with World War I, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was again at war with Finland during World War II.  

 Mark says his mother’s side of the family were Jewish immigrants from the Belarus part of the Russian Empire, who settled in New York City.



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