Students learn about the Homestead Act and the main occupations immigrants and settlers had in Minnesota during the 1800s. Students then read a primary source letter of a Norwegian immigrant’s experience in Minnesota in the late 1800s and participate in a classroom discussion about the letter.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Minnesota | Unit 1: Minnesota’s Three Geographical Regions" where students will look at what makes Minnesota special. Students will study Minnesota’s unique geographical features and how they have changed over time.
22.214.171.124.1: Pose questions about a topic in Minnesota history, gather a variety of primary and secondary sources related to questions, analyze sources for credibility, identify possible answers, use evidence to draw conclusions, and present supported findings.
126.96.36.199.2: Analyze the causes and impact of migration and immigration on Minnesota society during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
188.8.131.52: Geographic factors influence the distribution, functions, growth and patterns of cities and other human settlements.
- Resource: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show resources to the class
- Explain to students that there are many reasons people may choose to move from one country to another. These reasons could include resources, jobs, family, climate, and safety. Minnesota saw a huge influx of people in the mid-to-late 1800s. The state’s population jumped from roughly 6,000 people in 1850 to over 172,000 in 1860. Ask students: Why might someone have chosen to move to Minnesota from another country? What would make Minnesota an appealing place for a new arrival? What would be challenging?
[–Abundant natural resources of fertile farmland and water, a variety of people settling there, a better climate for farming, new opportunities, etc.
–Challenges: the trip to Minnesota, not knowing anyone, being far from family, difficult farm work, etc.]
- Explain that treaties with American Indians and the Homestead Act of 1862 resulted in even more lands being opened for European settlement. Large numbers of people came from Germany and Ireland during that time, followed by Scandinavian and southern and eastern European immigrants. Agriculture was the main occupation during the 1870s. Others worked in manufacturing, mining, trade, and transportation.
- Indicate that students will be reading a primary source that will shed light on immigration to Minnesota in the late 1800s. Explain that many people from Norwegian countries came to Minnesota due to the similar climate and terrain.
- Project the resource, Letters from Norwegian Immigrants and scroll down to Letter 1 dated June 24, 1871. Have students read the letter, either individually or by having volunteers read it aloud.
- Pose the following questions to students to answer either in a whole class or small group setting:
- According to the author of the letter, what are the physical similarities and differences between his home in Norway and Highland, Minnesota?
- What successes does the author describe in the letter? What challenges has he faced?
- Compare the experience of A. Hjerpeland to that of immigrants to Minnesota today. What would have been easier and what would have been more difficult in the past?
- Similarities: both have horses, cows, and sheep; Differences: Minnesota is mostly prairie, deer are heavily hunted
- Successes: good health, harvest work, teacher’s salary; Failures: didn’t travel west for land yet, not much for men to do in winter
- Easier: Homestead Act’s promise of land, much more land available; More difficult: year-round work, lack of community/loneliness, etc.