C.Institutions and Organizations

       Around the turn of the century, Hungarian communities were established in numerous cities in the northeastern United States. In the majority of communities the churches were the first to be built. In Hungary, village life centered around the church and church-related activities. Consequently, in the United States the community churches provided a link with the homeland for thousands of struggling immigrants, alone and far away from their land of birth.

According to the United States census of 1920, the 473,538 foreign-born and native-born Magyars were categorized by faith as follows:


Roman Catholic






Eastern Orthodox


Lutherans (Evangelical)




Baptists, Presbyterians and Others



       Hungarian immigrants of the Roman Catholic faith, in most cases, organized their own congregations. There was no planning commission to direct the work of the Hungarian immigrants in America, churches simply sprang up wherever congregations were strong enough to support them. Many times twenty-five or thirty families already formed a congregation, then requested a priest, usually from Hungary. The first Roman Catholic congregation to present such a request was in Cleveland, Ohio in 1891. In response, Reverend Charles Boehm was sent to America. Reverend Boehm worked tirelessly to organize congregations and build churches in numerous communities. The first Roman Catholic church built by Hungarians in North America was St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ohio, dedicated in 1893.





The Roman Catholic Church founded by the Hungarian Community in Buffalo c. 1910. The priest shown is Rev. Charles Boehm, one of the first Roman Catholic Minister to come to the United State





       By 1911, thirty-four Hungarian Roman Catholic parishes were already established, located in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota.43 In total, Roman and Greek Catholic Hungarian immigrant congregations established approximately ninety churches in America.

       The construction of the church was usually financed entirely by the immigrants. One influential community leader and newspaper editor wrote in the early 1900s:


...that in the building of the Hungarian Catholic churches, neither our Homeland, nor the Catholic Church in America gave any financial assistance whatsoever.44


The cost of purchasing property and building a church in the 1900s, which also included a rectory and a church hall or school building was around $20,000. When this amount is compared to the meager income of a struggling immigrant laborer (about $1.50 a day), it is surprising to find that so many congregations were willing to take on such a financial burden. Also remarkable was the short amount of time in which these church debts were paid, most were paid in full within seven to ten years.

       Roman Catholic Hungarian-Americans constructed schools alongside their churches, which were also financed and maintained by the congregation. Hungarian language parochial schools flourished, especially during the 1920s and early '30s. Some twenty American cities had full day Hungarian-American parochial schools. Buena Ventura was the first Hungarian Catholic education center. It was founded near McKeesport, Pennsylvania around the turn of the century to prepare nuns for Hungarian language instruction





on a parochial elementary level. Most classes were conducted in Hungarian in these schools.

       The Great Depression of the '30s brought a reversal to this situation, however, as church incomes dwindled and the financial upkeep of the schools became virtually impossible. Following the Depression, this problem was compounded by the fact that "the Roman Catholic hierarchy withdrew from active participation in Hungarian-American affairs..."45 Americanization of the churches gradually took place and the Hungarian congregations could do little to reverse the new policy of the church. Hungarian language instruction in parish schools was not encouraged, which resulted in the gradual dissolution of these classes.


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       The Reformed Church in the United States was the first to begin work with Hungarian immigrants of the Protestant faith. In 1891, the first two Hungarian congregations of the Reformed church were organized nearly simultaneously in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Reverend John Kovacs and in Cleveland, Ohio by Reverend Gusztáv Jurányi. The Hungarian Reformed churches grew quickly, forty-three congregations were organized with over 7,500 members by 1922.46

       The Magyar Presbyterian Church in America also developed rapidly. The first congregations were organized in 1898 under the leadership of Reverend Julius Hámborszky. By 1922 the Presbyterians had established thirty churches and sixteen missions.47

       Magyar Reformed churches and Presbyterian churches were already established when, in 1904, six churches elected to become part of Hungary's Reformed Synod. Some of the ministers believed that the only way to retain a cultural identity was to become part of the Reformed Church of Hungary. Others bitterly protested such a union and much controversy developed over





the issue. By 1911, however, the newly-affiliated church, under the leadership of Zoltán Kúthy had expanded into twenty-two congregations.48 The Reformed Church of the United States and the Magyar Presbyterian Church lost several congregations to the Reformed Church of Hungary. By 1920 the Reformed Church of Hungary had established forty-six congregations, with 9,000 members, thereby becoming "the largest element in Magyar Protestant church life in America."49

       Following the First World War, the Hungarian Reformed Church ceased its relationship with Hungary's Reformed Synod and became the American Hungarian Reformed Church. Today there exist approximately 120 Hungarian Reformed Churches in America, divided into the western, central and eastern districts of the United States. It is the largest of the Hungarian-American Protestant churches. The American Hungarian Reformed Church is independent of other Reformed churches in America. A separate bishop is chosen to guide and coordinate the work of the congregations.

       The American Hungarian Reformed Church has strived to maintain the cultural and ethnic identity of the individual congregations. The church has always been an avid supporter of Hungarian language instruction. Between the two world wars, churches in fifty-six cities offered Saturday or Sunday Hungarian language instruction and sixty-eight churches conducted summer school classes.50 In recent decades, however, that number has been greatly reduced.


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       The first congregation of Hungarian Jews in the United States was "B'nai Jeshurum," founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1866. Initially, Hungarian Jews maintained cultural and social ties with the larger Hungarian-American





communities. One of the earliest Hungarian libraries was established by Hungarian Jews in New York City around 1900. Hungarian Jewish immigrants were generally more educated than other Hungarians. Consequently, they frequently provided the professional leadership in business and cultural endeavors initiated on the part of the Hungarian-American community in general. Several examples of this were found in the early Hungarian community of Cleveland, where the first Hungarian doctor and lawyer were Jews who aided other immigrants with guidance, support and free services in times of need. Hungarian Jews were involved in planning the first Hungarian parade in Cleveland and in erecting the statue of Kossuth in 1902.

       Hungarian Jews assimilated with greater ease. By the end of the Depression, the majority of Jewish Hungarian organizational and religious leaders withdrew from active participation in Hungarian-American affairs.51 Many of the children and grandchildren of the first Hungarian Jewish immigrants left the orthodox tradition for temples with more reformed practices. (The majority of the Hungarian Jewish temples established in the United States were orthodox in tradition.) During the 1970s, Hungarian Jewish congregations were still active in New York, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis.


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       Mutual benefit or self-help societies were among the first organizations established by Hungarian immigrants. They were organized in response to a desperate need for security at a time when, if a worker was maimed or killed in an industrial accident, his family was left destitute. Immigrants in America without dependants also joined because of the funeral benefits. Without membership in such an organization, there was no guarantee one would receive a proper burial.





Illustration showing the many types of assistance provided by Verhovay Fraternal Association. Founded: 1886.





       Initially, immigrants established sick benefit societies for fellow countrymen within their own communities. Some of these societies then expanded, establishing chapters in many parts of the home state or even in other areas of the northeast United States. By the early 1900s, there were mutual benefit societies with religious, political, occupational and homeland district affiliations. According to one author's estimate, 1,046 Hungarian mutual aid and health insurance societies were active in the United States by 1910.52

       Despite the fact that the purpose of these groups was basically to provide assistance in times of need, their by-laws and constitutions differed considerably. Some only allowed Roman Catholics or Greek Catholics to join, some only admitted Protestants. The Munkás (Workers) sick benefit chapters disallowed members who were regular church-goers. There was a society which forbade educated Hungarians to serve in any elected capacity. This was undoubtedly in response to numerous get-rich-quick schemes and shady business and real estate deals which were generally perpetrated by Hungarians with more than average education. Many immigrants invested and lost money in such unsuccessful schemes.

       One of the largest and oldest national organizations was the Verhovay Fraternal Insurance Association founded in Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 1886. The founder, Mihály Pálinkás, witnessed a Hungarian immigrant, suffering from lung disease, thrown out into the street for not being able to pay his rent. Pálinkás was so disturbed by this incident that he organized the Verhovay with twenty-eight members and a capital of $17.25. The association was named after a member of the Hungarian Parliament, but in the 1950s became the William Penn Insurance Association. By 1945 assets had mushroomed





to $7,408,000 with 364 lodges throughout the eastern and midwestern United States.53

       The second largest was the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America founded in 1896 by Sándor Kalassay with 320 members in Pittsburgh. The federation developed rapidly, growing in members and assets. One of the greatest accomplishments of the federation was the founding of an orphanage and old age home at Ligonier, Pennsylvania after the First World War. The entire project's initial cost was more than $50,000. The old age home still serves Hungarians today.

       Unlike the Verhovay, the Reformed Federation retained its Hungarian character. Hungarian summer school camp has been sponsored each year by the federation, books and educational materials have been published on a regular basis. Scholarships and grants have been awarded to deserving Hungarian-American students. Assets of the federation were reported at $46 million in 1970.54


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       The first Hungarian-language newspaper in the United States, Számuzottek Lapja (Journal of Hungarian Exiles), was founded in 1852 for the purpose of uniting Kossuth's followers. Another noteworthy Hungarian publication was the Amerikai Nemzetor (American National Guard) founded in 1883 by Gusztáv Erdélyi, who was noted as one of the pioneers of Hungarian-American journalism.

       According to estimates from 1852 to 1911, approximately 110 Hungarian-language publications were established in the United States.55 These newspapers, magazines and journals provided a wide variety of information and news, along with news from the homeland. In addition to the daily newspapers





The Statue of George Washington erected in Budapest in 1906 by Hungarian-Americans





there were publications to suit every type of interest, including denominational or religious bulletins, literary magazines, comic (books), organizational newsletters, political journals, scientific magazines and English-language Hungarian newspapers. Many of these publications were short-lived, however, having neither the financial support nor the readership necessary to sustain themselves. Those which survived did so by widening their scope in order to appeal to a greater number of Hungarian immigrants. Two became dailies, the Szabadság (Liberty) founded in 1891 in Cleveland, Ohio and the Amerikai Magyar Népszava (American Hungarian People's Voice) founded in 1899 in New York City.

       Szabadság was founded in 1891 by Tihamér Kohányi, who worked tirelessly to keep the financially troubled newspaper in existence. It became a daily in 1906, with peak circulation reaching 40,612 in 1942. More than half a dozen smaller newspapers eventually merged with it. Szabadság played a prominent role in guiding and unifying the opinions and actions of the Hungarian-Americans. The newspaper assisted the immigrant's adjustment while keeping them in touch with news from the homeland. The editors of Szabadság initiated and involved the Hungarian community in such projects as: erecting a statue of Louis Kossuth in Cleveland in 1902 and gifting the city of Budapest with a statue of George Washington which was erected in City Park in 1906. (Where it can be found even today.)

The Hungarian-language daily, Amerikai Magyar Népszava (American Hungarian People's Voice), also helped the Hungarian immigrant adjust to life in America. This New York-based daily reached a peak circulation of 27,984 in 1942.56

Another Hungarian-language newspaper founded in the 1890s was the Katolikus Magyarok Vasárnapja (Hungarian Catholic's Sunday), established in





Editors, reporters, and production assistants of, a New York-based daily founded in 1899





1893. Initially it was the Sunday bulletin of St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church in Cleveland. Although the Vasárnap never became a daily, it is one of the oldest Hungarian-language newspapers still in existence today. According to estimates published in the mid-1970s, there are approximately seventy publications (newspapers, periodicals and journals) still serving the Hungarian communities in the United States.