Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Posadas, Barbara Mercedes, 1945-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Rockford (Ill.)--Emigration and immigration--History--19th century; Rockford (Ill.)--Emigration and immigration--History--20th century


This dissertation centers on the ethnic, racial, and religious history of Rockford, Illinois in an attempt to broaden knowledge of ethnic interaction and identity formation. Entitled “‘Us and Them’: The Changing Boundaries of Acceptance and Exclusion for Incoming Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Groups in Rockford, Illinois, 1880-1933,” this project examines the major ethnic and racial groups—Irish, Swedes, Italians, and African-Americans—that came to Rockford during these years. It explores the groups' interaction with each other, each group's acceptance by the larger community, the standards that determined acceptance, and how such standards changed over time. Following the schema suggested by John Higham in Strangers in the Land, I hypothesize that three different boundaries determined the treatment for the incoming migrants, and that each of these three dominated civic life and identity at different times. First, a religious boundary characterized by anti-Catholicism defined the community in the nineteenth century. A political boundary distinguished by anti-radicalism and patriotism held sway from about 1900 until the early 1920s. Finally, a racial boundary typified by anti-black sentiments held sway from the early 1920s onward. Despite change in the central boundary between “us and them” as each period gave way to the next, both weakening and emerging boundaries constituted vital factors in ethnic relations, as multiple boundaries always simultaneously existed in Rockford. For example, the religious boundary remained important in early twentieth-century Rockford, and the racial boundary can be discerned long before its emergence as the community's central boundary. This study argues that religious and political differences between the different groups had been successfully negotiated by 1933, leaving an unprecedented solidarity of identity among European Americans while racial hostilities survived, continuing to marginalize African Americans.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [402]-423).


viii, 434 pages




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