Swedish Community of Worcester, MA


In the late 1800s, crop failures, economic hardship, religious persecution, and pollical unrest in Sweden caused many to seek a new home. While we tend to think of the midwestern United States as a hub for Swedish immigrants, Worcester County, Massachusetts also had a vibrant Swedish community. In 1868, there was only one reported Swede in the City of Worcester. By 1930, about one in five Worcester residents were Swedish, a total of 38,000 people.[i]

In the mid-19th Century, rigid protocol, dictated by the state religion of Lutheranism, controlled life in Sweden.[ii]

During World War I, a great famine struck Sweden, which caused 25,000 people to leave the country, also resulting in the U.S. reducing the immigration quota.[iii] As Finland was under Swedish control from the 12th Century to 19th Century, Swede-Finns are important part of the Swedish immigration story. At least 85,000 Swede-Finns immigrated to North America from 1870 to 1930.[iv]

Proof if education was necessary in order to immigrate to America. Since 1842, every parish in Sweden was mandated to open a school and the literacy rate was nearly 100% by the early 20th Century, making the U.S. education requirement easy to fulfill for many Swedes. Home economics was a core lesson in Swedish schools, helping women gain important domestic skills valuable both in Sweden and in the U.S.[v]

In response to nationwide suffering, the Swedish people demand governmental response, which lead to the popularity of the Social Democratic Party in the 1920s. The Social Democratic Party brought improved quality of living to the Swedes and have reigned the country ever since. As a result, emigration from Sweden declined as well.[vi]


Throughout Worcester County and northern Windham County, Connecticut, a vibrant Swedish community emerged. The success of the Swedish-owned Norton Company brought many to join the local grinding wheel and abrasive industry; miners from Central Sweden were employed in the steel mills.[vii]

John Jeppson emigrated from Sweden from the coastal town of Höganäs, Skåne, home of the Höganäs AB factory.[viii] Jeppson gained employment as a potter under Frank Norton, later purchasing the grinding wheel division of Norton’s business. It was at this time that Jeppson perfected the ceramic grinding wheel, resulting the rapid expansion of the Norton Company, which would remain managed by the Jeppson family for three generations.[ix]

In was John’s son George who transformed the company from a small grinding wheel business into the world’s largest abrasives company. George was educated in his father’s homeland, receiving technical training at the Royal School of Mines in Stockholm. In 1898, he returned to Worcester, serving as superintendent, factory manager, treasurer, vice president, president, and finally chairman of the board.[x]

Many residents of Höganäs sought work at Norton Company as a result. Similarly, the Indian Hill Village was based on the Höganäs AB worker community.[xi] Worker housing was built by Norton Company with each unit selling for $1,500. President Theodore Roosevelt was present for the dedication of the first community on Indian Hill Road.[xii] The community was tight-knit, publishing its own newspaper.[xiii]

Swedish communities developed in Trowbridge (now Hadwen Park),[xiv] Quinsigamond Village, Vernon Hill, Belmont Hill, and Greendale.[xv] Like other immigrants in Worcester, many Swedes found home in three-deckers across the county, which were preferred because housing costs could be dived among multiple families.[xvi]

As the Lutheran Church was the official church of Sweden, many Lutheran churches were established in Worcester, the first in 1881. However, as many non-conformists left Sweden to pursue religious freedom, other Swedish denominations were established as well. The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in October 1878.[xvii] Baptist, Congregationalists, and Seventh-Day Adventist Swedish churches also were established.[xviii]

Over time, Worcester became home to a cemetery, credit union, nursing home, and hospital for the Swedish population.[xix] Skandia Credit Union opened in 1915, later known as the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company.[xx] In 1921, the National Swedish Federation purchased the Norcross Estate, raising $70,000 from the community to do so. Within a year, Fairlawn Hospital opened, catering to the Swedish population.[xxi]

The first Swedish newspaper, the Nordostern, was issued weekly from 1883-1885. At least nine other Swedish-language papers emerged as well. The most popular of these was the Worcester Veckoblad, which released its first issue on August 21, 1886. Later known as the Skandinavia, the paper merged with the Svea in 1918, which as one time had the largest subscription of any Swedish-language newspaper east of Chicago.[xxii]

Swedes brought their culture to American, including music. Many social organizations in Worcester celebrated music.[xxiii] The Scandinavian National Singing Society (1873), Brage Singing Society (1890s), Swedish Glee Club, Thule Singing Society (1906), Worcester Male Chorus (1922), Swedish Veterans’ Male Chorus, Menelssohn Singers (circa 1920), TeDeum Male Singers, Jenny Lind (1922), and Chaminade Singers (1941) all had their origins in the Swedish community of Worcester.[xxiv]

Lake Quinsigamond was a popular center of Swedish life, reminding many of their homeland. Many Swedes built “villas” along the lake. Svea Gille (1888) and the Engelbrekt Club (1900) centered around appreciation and recreation on the lake.[xxv]

As the Swedish population and social organizations increased, the Swedish National Federation was started in 1903, serving as a central hub of Swedish culture. The Federation was instrumental in coordinating the visit of Prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1907. The annual Midsummer Festival was coordinated by the Federation, preserving a Swedish tradition while raising scholarship funds for Swedish youth.[xxvi] Nine acres of land were bought in November 1885 to establish the Swedish Cemetery; an additional 18 acres were purchased in 1920. The cemetery was beautifully landscape along a small lake.[xxvii]

The Swedish Charitable Society was organized in 1900 to support many needs of Swedish immigrants. Members paid five cents a week, which was used to help new immigrants get settled in the community or others in need, like a supporting a widow of Swedish men who passed in an accident. Later, governmental aid decreased the need for many of these services, but the Charitable Society continued to be a hub of charity and community for Swedes in Worcester for many years.[xxviii]


As immigrants from throughout the world found home in America, intense ethnic rivalries emerged and assimilation became a goal. The Swedish-American community promoted their “inherent values” of Protestantism, Republicanism, and aversion to liquor.

During Word War II, Swedish-Americans assimilation accelerated as immigrants embraced American patriotism in the face of the war. Swedish communities began to dissolve; use of the Swedish language declined. The last reported Swedish language church service was held at the Salvation Army in the 1950s, leaving none of the 13 Swedish churches preaching in their native tongue.[xxix] Individuals and families Americanized their names. Second- and third-generation Swedish-Americans left Swedish neighborhoods for the suburbs and intermarried. This assimilation resulted in a declining interest and need of Swedish affinity groups and businesses.[xxx]

While many of the formal institutions have closed or changed hands, the memories and traditions of individuals remains central to preserving Swedish culture in Worcester County.[xxxi]

Swedish Landmarks in Worcester

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 73 Lancaster Street – On January 1, 1948, three congregations merged to form Trinity. The building is based on Scandinavian church architecture, at the direction of George Jeppson, designed by architect Jens Fredrick Larson.

Zion Lutheran Church, 41 Whitman Avenue – Zion was established in the Greendale neighborhood, where many Swedish employees of Norton Company resided. The church was built in 1948, designed by architect Martin Hedmark. The chapel includes a patriotic fresco featuring a potter representing John Jeppson.

Old Swedish Cemetery, 154 Webster Road and New Swedish Cemetery, Island Drive – Hundreds of the first Swedes in Worcester are buried in the Swedish cemeteries. The Old Swedish Cemetery features a large monument commemorating the founding of the cemetery, as well as an imposing Jeppson Family monument. The New Swedish Cemetery features a monument commemorating fallen members of the Vasa Order and Swedish Lutheran Old People’s Home.

Noteable Swedes & Swedish Firsts
in Worcester


In 1889, Forstedt was elected to the school committee, making him the first Swedish-born person to be elected to office in Worcester.

CHARLES F. (CARL) HANSEN, September 9, 1849 - ?

Carl Hansen is the first known Swedish immigrant to settle in Worcester. He came to America at the age of 16 in 1865, first settling and marrying in Boston. In 1866, the young couple moved to Worcester. Hansen grew up in a musical family and he brought these talents to his new home. He began as a piano tuner and later wrote operas, some of which were produced in New York and Worcester. In 1877, Hansen opened a music store on Main Street in Worcester, which was continued by his son. Hansen was active in local government and known as the “Father of the Public Evening Schools” in Worcester. Hansen’s brother Sven settled in Worcester in 1870.


Johnson was among the early wave of Swedes to settle in Worcester. He started a firearms and sporting goods business, which relocated to Fitchburg in 1891.


The Washburn and Moen Wire Work in Worcester was one of the greatest reasons Swedes settled in Worcester. Moen studied the iron industry in Sweden and brought this knowledge to America. Many Swedes from Värmland and Sandviken became employed at the Washburn and Moen Wire Works. Washburn and Moen was later acquired by the American Steels and Wire Company.

JENNIE PULSON, April 2, 1872 - ?

Jennie was the first child born to Swedish parents in Worcester. Swen Pulson had immigrated to Sweden in 1868, leaving his beloved Katrina Jeppson at home. Katrina was reunited with her sweetheart in 1869, they married, and made a home in Worcester.

Sources & Footnotes

[i] Salomansson, Eric J., Hultgren William O., and Becker, Phillip C. Swedes of Greater Worcester.. Arcadia Publishing, 2002. Page 7

[ii] Salomansson, Eric J., Hultgren William O., and Becker, Phillip C. Swedes of Greater Worcester Revisited. Arcadia Publishing, 2005. Page 9

[iii] Salomansson et al 7

[iv] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 7

[v] Salomansson et al 13

[vi] Salomansson et al 10

[vii] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 7

[viii] Salomansson et al 14

[ix] Salomansson et al 22

[x] Beck, Robert N. “Brief History of the Swedes in Worcester.” Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, North Park University. July 1959. Vol. 10, no 3, p. 105-117. Page 107

[xi] Salomansson et al 14

[xii] Winquist, Alan H. and Rousselow-Winquist, Jessica. Touring Swedish America, Minnesota Historical Society, June 2009.

[xiii] Salomansson et al 22

[xiv] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 25

[xv] Beck 107

[xvi] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 28

[xvii] Beck 112

[xviii] Beck 113

[xix] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 7

[xx] Beck 110

[xxi] Beck 110

[xxii] Beck 116

[xxiii] Salomansson et al 20

[xxiv] Beck 114-5

[xxv] Beck 109

[xxvi]Beck 109

[xxvii] Beck 111

[xxviii] Beck 111

[xxix] Salomansson et al 8

[xxx] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 8

[xxxi] Salomansson et al. Revisited. 8

[xxxii] Beck 105

[xxxiii] Beck 107

[xxxiv] Beck 107

[xxxv] Beck 106

[xxxvi] Winquist

[xxxvii] Winquist

[xxxviii] Winquist