The Finnish Boarding Houses.

Once the Finns started to arrive into Newport, they had to live somewhere in Newport. The first generation Finns could not speak English, so they had to live in their own community. The bedrock of that community were the boarding houses, where they got their meals, and where they spent the night. Many of these boarding houses were located on Canal Street in Newport, and, “The newly-arrived Finn might stay with a friend or relative, or he might find a room with a Finnish Family, or one of the local Finnish boarding houses might have an extra room.”[1] These Finnish Boarding Houses were essentially Finnish only, and they catered specifically to Finns in a part of town that was separate from the rest of Newport. These boarding houses were usually run by women and, “a successful Finnish boarding house was operate by one woman who was the cook, greeter, and listener to tales of woe. Her husband generally worked in the mill and when he came home he mended chairs, fixed plumbing and carried in coal for the stove.”[2]

Running these boarding houses was very difficult, as they were catering only to Finns. Success could come down to having one more Finn in the boarding house on one side of the street, versus the other side of the street. “A misstep and undercooked pork chop, an unsympathetic ear, or a substandard serving of beet salad, could lead to the loss of a customer and eventual ruin.”[3] It was also the only way for Finnish women in Newport to provide a source of income, yet few women could successfully run a boarding house because of how tough the competition was. While the Finnish community peaked somewhere between 600 to 1,000 people, it did not grow beyond that, and many times it was below 600. With no new Finns coming in, it was quite difficult to keep growing a Finnish boarding house, so the women who ran them had to be very careful to keep what customers they got happy and content.

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[1] Turpeinen, 11.

[2] Turpeinen, 12.

[3] Turpeinen, 12.