History of the Czechs in Baltimore

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For the American soccer club, see Baltimore Bohemians.

The history of the Czechs in Baltimore dates back to the mid-19th century. Thousands of Czechs immigrated to East Baltimore during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming an important component of Baltimore's ethnic and cultural heritage. The Czech community has founded a number of cultural associations and organizations to preserve the city's Czech heritage, including a Roman Catholic church, a heritage association, a festival, a language school, and a cemetery. The population began to decline during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as the community aged and many Czech Americans moved to the suburbs of Baltimore.


By 1870, there were approximately 1,000 Czech Catholics in Baltimore. Within a decade that number increased to over 5,000.[1] In 1870 there were 766 Bohemian-born residents of Baltimore, making Bohemia the third largest source of immigration to Baltimore after the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Germany.

According to the US Immigration Office, the Baltimore Czech community numbered around 10,000 people between 1882 and 1910.[2]

In the 1920 United States Census, there were 7,750 Czechs, making Baltimore the fifth largest city for Czechs in the United States. Only Chicago, New York City, Cleveland, and St. Louis had larger Czech populations. In the same year 3,348 people spoke the Czech language, making Czech the third most commonly spoken Slavic or Eastern European language after Polish and Russian.[3] During the same year, 7,000 Czech Roman Catholics belonged to the St. Wenceslaus Roman Catholic parish.

By the 1930 United States Census, the Baltimore Czech population decreased slightly to number 7,652 people.[4]

In 1940, 1,816 immigrants from Czechoslovakia lived in Baltimore. These immigrants comprised 3% of the city's foreign-born white population.[5] In total, 4,031 people of Czech birth or descent lived in the city, comprising 2.9% of the foreign-stock white population.[6]

In the 1960 United States Census, Czech-Americans comprised 57.5% of the foreign-born population in Southeast Baltimore's tract 7-3. The Czech community was then centered in Baltimore's Ward 7.[7]

According to the 1990 United States Census almost 22,000 Americans of fully Czech or Slovak ancestry lived in Maryland, most of whom lived in or near Baltimore.[8]

The Czech community in the Baltimore metropolitan area numbered 17,798 as of 2000, making up 0.7% of the area's population.[9] In the same year Baltimore city's Czech population was 2,206, 0.3% of the city's population.[10]

As of September 2014, immigrants from the Czech Republic were the fifty-eight largest foreign-born population in Baltimore.[11]


19th century[edit]

Baltimore's former Little Bohemia, East Monument Historic District, June 2014.
C.S.P.S. plaque on a crypt at Bohemian National Cemetery, June 2014.

The first Bohemian Jew to arrive in Baltimore immigrated in 1822.[12] Between 1820 and the Civil War, around 300,000 Central European Jews arrived in Baltimore, many of whom were Bohemian Jews.[13]

Czech immigration first began in large numbers after the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, bringing thousands of Bohemian Forty-Eighters to Baltimore. The Czech immigrants came from the regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, which at the time were part of the Austrian Empire and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because the United States Census Bureau counted the Czechs as "Austrians" until 1881, it is difficult to know an accurate count for Czech immigrants before that time. Even after 1881, many Czechs were still listed as Austrians because of their Austrian citizenship.[14]

The next great wave of Czech immigrants occurred from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Enough Czechs had immigrated by 1860 that a small colony was formed.[4] The developing community was thriving by the 1870s (construction had commenced in 1867), which was known then as Little Bohemia or Bohemia Village.[15] Numerous rowhouses were built to accommodate the growing Bohemian community, which continued to grow throughout the 1880s and 1890s. The homes were constructed by Bohemian immigrants, most notably the architect Frank Novak (1877-1945).[16] Many of the immigrants who settled here worked as weavers and tailors or owned market stalls.[17]

The majority of the Baltimore Bohemians were Roman Catholics. In 1870, there were around 1,000 Bohemian Catholics and within a decade that number had increased to over 5,000.[1] The St. Wenceslaus parish was organized in 1872, in order to serve the needs of the growing population, becoming the Bohemian National Parish of the Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore.[18]

Sokol Baltimore, a Czech gymnastics association, was founded in 1872. Members met on Frederick Street near Fell's Point.[19]

In August 1879, the Fairmount and Chapel Streets Permanent Building, Savings and Loan Association No 1 Inc. was founded to serve the needs of Czech immigrants.[20] The bank was located on the second floor of Anton Rytina's Bar at 1919 East Fairmount Avenue. All bank records were written in the Czech language until 1948.[21]

In 1880, the politician Vaclav Joseph Shimek helped establish the Grand Lodge Č.S.P.S. of Baltimore, the Baltimore chapter of the Czech-Slovak Protective Society. Shimek was the owner of the Bohemian Hall and the six-time president of Sokol Baltimore; he was also instrumental in helping found the National Sokol Organization.[22] Shimek's Bohemian Hall, now the United Baptist Church at Barnes Street and Broadway, was located in the heart of Little Bohemia and was established as a meeting place for the Czech community.[23] Shimek allowed the Hall to be used to hold Knights of Labor meetings for working-class Czech tailors and garment workers.[24]

In 1884, the Grand Lodge Č.S.P.S. of Baltimore constructed the Bohemian National Cemetery, a cemetery for irreligious and Protestant Czechs and Slovaks.[25] While the majority of Baltimore's Bohemians were Catholic, the Czech-Slovak Protective Society was largely composed of secular and religious freethinkers. The cemetery served as an alternative to the Catholic cemeteries where other Bohemians were buried.

20th century[edit]

St. Wenceslaus Lyceum, June 2014.
Ze Mean Bean Café, Fell's Point, June 2014.

A newspaper geared towards the Czech community titled Palecek was established in 1902.[25] The same year Sokol Baltimore moved to a new location at Shimek's Hall.[19]

The Bohemian Building, Loan and Savings Association was established in 1900, in order to serve the needs of Czech immigrants.[26] Two years later, in 1904, the Madison Bohemian Savings Bank was also founded in order to aid Czech immigrants,[26] particularly the Czech farmers of the Hereford Zone of Northern Baltimore County.[27]

The Baltimore Telegraf, a Czech language newspaper founded by Vaclav Shimek, began publication on February 20, 1909. The newspaper would continue in print until 1951.[28]

The Golden Prague Federal Savings & Loan Association was founded in 1912. The bank was created to aid the Czech community, but later expanded to serve non-Czechs as well.[29]

A Czech immigrant living in Little Bohemia named William Oktavec invented screen painting in 1913. Screen painting became a popular form of folk art in Baltimore's working-class immigrant communities. During the peak of screen painting in the 1930s and 1940s there were approximately 100,000 painted screens by over 100 artists.[30]

In 1914, the Bohemian Catholics built the church of St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore, which by now had 7,000 members. St. Wenceslaus held services in both the Czech and English languages.[31] At its height in 1920, the parish was the fourth largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

In 1915, August Klecka became the first Czech-American to be elected to the Baltimore City Council.[32] Klecka represented Czech voters and ran the Slavic Building and Loan Association.[33]

With further construction in Little Bohemia the Czech community continued to grow. By 1927, the construction was finished in Little Bohemia. As the Czech population continued to expand, Czechs began to move into Patterson Park and became an important component of the neighborhood's growth.[34]

In 1954, Sokol Baltimore moved its organization to a new building on the 2900 block of East Madison Street.[35][36]

In the 1960 United States Census, Czech-Americans comprised 57.5% of the foreign-born population in Southeast Baltimore's tract 7-3. The Czech community was then centered in Baltimore's Ward 7.[7]

The Fairmount and Chapel Streets Permanent Building, Savings and Loan Association No 1 Inc. changed its name in 1960 to the Fairmount Federal Savings and Loan Association, Inc. In 1963, they moved their headquarters to Baltimore's suburb of Rosedale.[20]

In 1970, the Bohemian Building, Loan and Savings Association changed its name to the Slavie Savings And Loan Association Inc.[37]

In 1986, the Czech and Slovak Heritage Association of Maryland, Inc. was founded in Baltimore. It has since grown into a national organization that offers courses on the languages, culture, and history of the Czechs and Slovaks. In 1987, the association started the Czech and Slovak Heritage Festival.[38]

The Slavie Savings And Loan Association Inc., changed its name to the Slavie Federal Savings and Loan Association in 1987.[37]

The Czech and Slovak Language School of Maryland was founded in 1988. The school was held at the parish hall of the St. Wenceslaus Church. After a few years the school moved to the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church and then to the Maryland School for the Blind. The school offers the only Czech and Slovak language courses in the Baltimore area.[39]

The Slavie Federal Savings and Loan Association closed its original location on Collington Avenue near Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1993.[40]

Ze Mean Bean Café in Fell's Point opened in 1995. It is a restaurant which offers Slavic and Eastern European fare, including Czech cuisine.[41] The restaurant was founded by Yvonne Dornic as an ode to her Czechoslovakian-born father Ivan Dornic.[42]

In 1998, Sokol Baltimore moved to a new location at St. Patrick's Parish Hall on Broadway in Fell's Point.[36]

21st century[edit]

In 2000, the Slavie Federal Savings and Loan Association became the Slavie Federal Savings Bank. The bank's headquarters were moved to the Baltimore suburb of Bel Air in 2001.[37][40] By 2008, people of Slavic descent still made up ten percent of Slavie's customer base.[40]

In 2007, the Golden Prague Federal Savings and Loan Association was purchased by the Bradford Bank and merged into it.[43]

After the 2011 Virginia earthquake damaged St. Patrick's Church, Sokol Baltimore had to move their organization to a different location. The new Sokol building is on Noble Street in Highlandtown.[36]

The National Slavic Museum opened in 2012. The museum focuses on the Slavic history of Baltimore, including Baltimore's Czech history.[44]

In 2014, after 114 years of business, federal banking regulators closed Slavie Federal Savings Bank after the bank's capital was depleted by bad loans.[40]

As of 2014, there is still a small Czech population in Baltimore, but only a few traces of the community still remain. Little Bohemia is no longer a majority Czech neighborhood, as many Czechs have moved to the suburbs. While St. Wenceslaus still exists, the ethnic character of the parish has undergone a gradual change from a mostly Czech parish to one that is multicultural and multiracial, first as many Poles and Lithuanians moved into the neighborhood, and then as the neighborhood shifted to having an African American majority.[citation needed]

The Madison Bohemian Savings Bank is still in business, but is now headquartered in Baltimore's suburb of Forest Hill.[26] The bank no longer limits its loans to Czechs.[27]


Czech and Slovak Heritage Festival in Parkville, Maryland, October 2014.

Between the 1860s and the 1910s, Bohemians chartered at least 20 building and loan associations. The first Bohemian organization was chartered in 1877, around 20 years after Bohemians started to arrive in the city in large numbers.[45] Some of these associations were Jednota "Blesk", "Vlastimila" (sisters' benevolent union), the "Ctirada", the "Jaromíra", and the "Zlatá Praha" ("Golden Prague").[46]

The annual Czech and Slovak Heritage Festival still exists and is held in Baltimore's suburb of Parkville.[47][48]

In Ellicott City, located not far from Baltimore, there is a Czech pastry shop named Kolache Kreations that offers Czech cuisine, such as kolache. It is the only kolache shop in Maryland.[49]

As of 2014 there were only 1,000 screen paintings left.[50]

The American Visionary Art Museum features a permanent exhibition on screen paintings, including a re-creation of a row house and a documentary titled "The Screen Painters" made by folklorist Elaine Eff.[50][51]

Historically, there was a strong connection between the Czech and Slovak communities in Baltimore and the Czech and Slovak communities in Prince George County, Virginia. The members of the two communities would often travel back and forth between Baltimore and Prince George County in order to cooperate on events.[52]

Notable Czech-Americans from Baltimore[edit]

  • August Klecka, a politician and newspaper editor.
  • William R. Jecelin, a soldier in the United States Army who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Korean War.
  • Frederick Jelinek, a researcher in information theory, automatic speech recognition, and natural language processing.
  • Nancy Mowll Mathews, an art historian, curator, and author.
  • Ric Ocasek, a musician and music producer best known as lead vocalist the rock band The Cars.
  • William Oktavec, the inventor of screen painting.
  • Michael Peroutka, a Maryland lawyer who founded the Institute on the Constitution.
  • Dutch Ulrich, professional baseball player for the Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Charles Yukl, a ragtime pianist and murderer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "History of the Parish". St. Wenceslaus in Baltimore. Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  2. ^ "Evolution of Our Ethnic Community in New York City". Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association. Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  3. ^ Carpenter, Niles (1927). Immigrants and their children, 1920. A study based on census statistics relative to the foreign born and the native white of foreign or mixed parentage. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. 380. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  4. ^ a b American Guide Series (1940). Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State. United States: Federal Writers' Project. OCLC 814094. 
  5. ^ Durr, Kenneth D. (1998). "Why we are troubled": white working-class politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Washington, D.C.: American University. p. 23. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  6. ^ Durr, Kenneth D. (1998). "Why we are troubled": white working-class politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Washington, D.C.: American University. p. 142. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  7. ^ a b Durr, Kenneth D. (2003). Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 225. ISBN 0-8078-2764-9. Retrieved August 29, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Czechs and Slovaks celebrate common heritage But the backdrop is country's split". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  9. ^ "Table DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000". 2000 United States Census. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  10. ^ "Social Statistics Baltimore, Maryland". Infoplease. Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  11. ^ "The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore: Recommendations to Retain and Attract New Americans". WBAL-TV. Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  12. ^ "Bohemian and Czech Jews in American History". JewishGen. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  13. ^ Silberman, Lauren R. (2008). The Jewish Community of Baltimore. Chicago, Illinois: Arcadia Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-7385-5397-9. Retrieved 2014-08-16. 
  14. ^ "The Bohemians of the United States". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  15. ^ "Market Value". Baltimore Magazine. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  16. ^ Maryland Historical Trust: Listing for Baltimore East Monument Historic District
  17. ^ "Baltimore Municipal Markets". baltimoremd.com. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  18. ^ John Thomas Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County (1881) p 543
  19. ^ a b "Reconciliation & Growth 1865-1917". Maryland State Archives. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  20. ^ a b "Fairmount Bank celebrates grand opening in Rosedale". The Avenue News. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  21. ^ "Community banks in Baltimore fight to keep their niche [Daily Record, The (Baltimore, MD)]". Insurance News Net. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  22. ^ "Sokol Baltimore's Sokoletter - May 2010". Sokol Baltimore. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  23. ^ Shopes, Linda (1991). The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. p. 112. ISBN 1566391849. Retrieved August 28, 2012. 
  24. ^ Hayword, Mary Ellen (1991). Baltimore's alley houses: homes for working people since the 1780s. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 155. ISBN 9780801888342. 
  25. ^ a b "Rokos Family Czech-American Collection - PP145". Maryland Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  26. ^ a b c "Small banks with immigrant roots content to grow slowly". Baltimore Business Journal. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  27. ^ a b "Too Small to Fail". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  28. ^ "Guide to Maryland Newspapers - MSA SC 3774 [OCLC 9483768]". Archives of Maryland Online. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  29. ^ "Still lending a hand in old neighborhoods". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  30. ^ Ward, Daniel Franklin (1984). Personal Places: Perspectives on Informal Art Environments. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. pp. 21–2. ISBN 0-87972-296-7. Retrieved August 28, 2012. 
  31. ^ Tim Almaguer, Friends of Patterson Park Baltimore's Patterson Park (2006) p 81
  32. ^ Chapelle, Suzanne Ellery Greene (1980). Baltimore: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications. p. 156. ISBN 0897810090. 
  33. ^ Durr, Kenneth D. (2003). Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 225. ISBN 0-8078-2764-9. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  34. ^ Almaguer, Tim (2006). Baltimore's Patterson Park. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 0-7385-4365-9. Retrieved August 28, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Sokol movement finds a site". The Baltimore Sun and the Northeast Booster Reporter. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  36. ^ a b c "Gymnastics, cultural and educational group finds new home in Highlandtown". Baltimore Guide. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  37. ^ a b c "Slavie Federal Savings Bank shut down by feds". Baltimore Business Journal. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  38. ^ Rechcigl, Jr., Miloslav (2013). Czech American Timeline: Chronology of Milestones in the History of Czechs in America. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse LLC. p. 381. ISBN 1491824840. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  39. ^ "Czech out this language class". The Baltimore Sun and the Northeast Booster Reporter. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  40. ^ a b c d "Troubled loans lead to failure of local savings bank". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  41. ^ "Baltimore's Favorite Old World Restaurant Debuts Hot New Look Inspired by Three Generations of Family-Owned Ze Mean Bean Café". Marketwired. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  42. ^ Patterson, Kathy Wielech; Patterson, Neal (2014). Baltimore Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Charm City and the Surrounding Counties. Lanham, Maryland: Lyons Press. p. 35. ISBN 9781493010530. Retrieved 2014-11-20. 
  43. ^ "Bradford Bank ordered to sell". Baltimore Business Journal. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  44. ^ Pamela Wood (June 16, 2013). "Slavic heritage celebrated at museum dedication". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  45. ^ "Baltimore's Ethnic Building and Loan Associations, 1865-1914". University of Baltimore. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  46. ^ Habenicht, Jan (1996). History of Czechs in America. St. Paul, Minnesota: Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International. p. 126. ISBN 0965193209. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  47. ^ "Czech-Slovak festival is Sunday in Parkville". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  48. ^ "Czech and Slovak Festival is Sunday". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  49. ^ "Czech pastry the star at Ellicott City's Kolache Kreations". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  50. ^ a b "Keeping Baltimore’s painted window screens alive". Retrieved 2014-10-17. 
  51. ^ "It's Not Just a Screen, Hon; A Window on Baltimore Tradition". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-10-17. 
  52. ^ "Celebrating Czech and Slovak Traditions". Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 2014-11-19. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ament, Maryanne. Bohemia Village: A Community Study, 1973.
  • "Baltimore's Prosperous Colony of Bohemians", Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1906, p. 16.
  • Eff, Elaine. The Painted Screens of Baltimore: An Urban Folk Art Revealed, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.
  • Hayward, Mary Ellen. "The Bohemians" in Baltimore's alley houses : homes for working people since the 1780s, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.
  • Hradasky, Mary, Scarpaci, Jean A. Oral history interview, 1975.
  • Holzberg, James. "Czech-Slovak Heritage Preserved at Festival and Perry Hall Language School", Northeast Booster, September 23, 2011.
  • Kaessman, Beta; Harold Randall Manakee and Joseph L. Wheeler. "Czechoslovakians or Bohemians", in: My Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1955, pp. 405–406.
  • Kozlik, James Vincent; Neuman, Phyllis. Oral history interview, 1977.
  • McCardell, Lee. "Baltimore's Czech Community Grew From Small Group Settling at Fells Point", Sun, October 10, 1943.
  • Prasch, Lamar. A Rural-urban Ethnic Comparison: the Bohemians; Baltimore, Maryland and Milligan, Nebraska, 1972.
  • Rechcigl, Miloslav, Jr. "Czechs in Early Maryland and Old Baltimore", Maryland Genealogical Society Journal, 52, No. 2 (2011), pp. 293–306.
  • Šimek, V. J. "Baltimore a jeho Čechové" (Baltimore and its Czechs), Amerikán, Národní kalendář, 2 (1879), pp. 145–148.
  • Slezak, Eva. "Czechs in Maryland before 1900", Maryland Genealogical Soc. Bull., 21, No. 1 (Winter 1980), pp. 18–26.
  • Slezak, Eva. "Baltimore's Czech Community: The Early Years", Czechoslovak and Central European Journal, 9, No. 1 & 2 (Summer-Winter 1990), pp. 103–114.

External links[edit]