Lithuanian Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
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Lithuanian Americans

Mark A. Granquist


Lithuanian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Lithuania, a country in northeastern Europe. Lithuania is the most southern of the Baltic states, bordered by the Baltic Sea on the east, by Poland and Kaliningrad (Russian Federation) in the southwest, Belarus in the east, and Latvia in the north. The country has four main regions: Dzūkija, the southeast; Suvalkija, the southwest; Žemaitija, the northwest; and Aukštaitija, the center/northeastern lakes. Lithuania has 750 rivers and 4,000 lakes. It measures 25,174 square miles (64,445 square kilometers), making it slightly larger than West Virginia.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Lithuania in 2012 was 3,525,761. The majority, 79 percent, are Roman Catholic; other significant religious affiliations are Russian Orthodox at 4.1 percent and Protestant, including Lutheran and Evangelical Christian Baptist, at 1.9 percent of the population. While small in population, Lithuanian Muslims and Jews also have active communities. A quarter of a million Lithuanian Jews perished during the Holocaust. According to 2009 figures, 84 percent of the population is ethnically Lithuanian, 6.1 percent are Poles, 4.9 percent are Russians, and 3.9 are percent Belarusians. Lithuania and the other Baltic republics formerly under Soviet rule were hit hard in the 2008–2009 European financial crisis; the country's gross domestic product (GDP) fell 15 percent in 2009 alone. However, economic reforms by the government have helped Lithuania recover quickly. The GDP rose 1.3 percent in 2010 and 5.8 percent in 2011, making Lithuania's economy one of the fastest growing in the European Union.

The first significant wave of Lithuanian immigration to the United States began in the late 1860s. Many settled in Pennsylvania, where they worked in the coal mines; others made their way to urban areas, such as Boston and Chicago, where the majority worked in industry, stockyards, and slaughterhouses. The number of immigrants who arrived before 1899 is unknown, however, because until that year the U.S. Immigration Bureau recorded Lithuanian immigrants as Polish or Russian. The second wave of immigration had a greater impact on U.S. Census figures. Following World War II, a flood of displaced refugees fled west to escape the Russian reoccupation of Lithuania. Eventually 30,000 dipukai (war refugees or displaced persons), including educated leaders and professionals who hoped to return someday to Lithuania, settled in the United States. Many of these post-World War II Lithuanian immigrants settled in Southern California. The third wave of immigration to the United States began after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990; this wave ebbed with the decline of the dollar and the entry of Lithuania into the European Union in 2004.

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey reported an estimated 654,004 people of Lithuanian descent in the United States, which is around 0.2 percent of the U.S. population. The states with the largest populations of Lithuanian Americans are Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut.


Early History The Lithuanians are ethnically part of the Baltic group of Indo-European peoples, most closely related to the Latvians. While Lithuanians started to form a distinct group in the early second century, it was not until Duke Mindaugas united several groups in 1236 to form the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that a Lithuanian state was established. During the fourteenth century the state grew in importance by maintaining a strong monarchy and annexing neighboring lands. Vilnius became the capital in 1323.

Lithuania became one of the largest kingdoms in medieval Europe and remained pagan for many years despite attempts by the Catholics and the Orthodox Church to Christianize it. In 1386 the region forged a close alliance with Poland and the two crowns united, and the following year Lithuania accepted Roman Catholicism as its official religion. The combined forces of Lithuania and Poland defeated the German (Teutonic) invaders of 1410. By 1569, Polish language and culture had begun to dominate the Lithuanian upper classes, although the peasantry remained culturally and linguistically Lithuanian.

In the eighteenth century, the rise of Russia, combined with the weakness of the Polish-Lithuanian state, led to increasing Russian domination of Lithuania. In 1772, 1793, and 1795 Poland was partitioned. By the Page 112  |  Top of Articlesecond partition, whatever remained of Lithuanian Belorussia was transferred to Russian rule, and in the third partition, Russia incorporated Lithuanian territory east of the Nieman River. Throughout the nineteenth century, Russia attempted a program of “Russification” of Lithuanian lands, which included the prohibition of Lithuanian language and literature, the imposition of Russian legal codes, and the forcible integration of Uniate (or Byzantine Rite) Catholicism into the Orthodox Church. Beginning in the 1880s, a nationalistic movement emerged, challenging Polish cultural domination and Russian governmental controls. Following the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the organization of the Lietuvi Socialista Partija Amerikoje (Lithuanian Socialist Party of America), a Lithuanian assembly convened and demanded a greater degree of territorial and cultural autonomy.

Russian rule of Lithuania came to an end with the German invasion and occupation of the territory during World War I, and the Lithuanian Republic was born in 1918. Achieving actual independence proved more complicated, with opposing forces of Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union involved in the new country's dealings, but within two years the region attained self-rule. From 1920 to 1940, Lithuania was an independent nation with a free-market economy that traded agricultural products with European and Scandinavian countries.

Modern Era With the outbreak of World War II, political upheaval returned to Lithuania. In 1940 the Soviet Union took over control of the country only to lose it to the Germans from 1941 to 1944. Soviet forces then retook Lithuania at the conclusion of the war, and many thousands of Lithuanian refugees fled westward along with the retreating German army. Between 1940 and 1954, armed guerrilla fighters, called “Forest Brothers,” fought for Lithuanian independence. The Soviet Union responded harshly to these challenges to its authority, enacting mass deportations and other cruelties.

In 1990 the freely elected Lithuanian legislature declared independence, and the Soviet Union, itself very weakened during this time, was not able to force Lithuania back under its power. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia recognized Lithuania's autonomy. Independence hero Vytautas Landsbergis led the new Lithuanian government with members of his Sajudis political party/movement. They enacted strong economic and social reforms concerning, for instance, land reform and restitution of property, health care, and citizenship. One of their first pieces of legislation restored Lithuanian citizenship to those who requested it. Their policy of full employment and payments for illness, disability, maternity leave, and old age were extremely ambitious. Many of their economic policies proved to be slow and ineffective, largely due to the overwhelming impact of the global economy and rising energy costs.

A new constitution was needed, but Sajudis members disputed what should be in it, and passage of the constitution was delayed. Failed policies and infighting were major reasons why voters rejected Sajudis leadership in 1992 and voted in those who had been members of the former Communist Party. In this 1992 referendum, a majority of the electorate voted to approve a new constitution based on earlier Lithuanian constitutions, as well as those from France, Germany, and the United States. The new constitution addressed human rights, defense, and minority status; laid out a structure for the legislative and executive branches; enumerated democratic principles such as freedom of speech and religion; and instituted social rights, including free education and health care. While the policies of the Communist Party differed from those of Sajudis, economic hardships continued due to high energy costs and price deregulation. A banking crisis erupted in 1995 after the country's two largest banks were charged with embezzlement, leading the government to suspend their operations. This ultimately led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Adolfas Šleževičius in 1996.

The Russian financial crisis of 1998 and other global economic crises greatly impacted both economic and political reforms in Lithuania. However, by 2004 the country was stable enough to gain membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Its 2007 application to join the eurozone was rejected because of its high inflation rate. In 2009 the country's first female president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, was elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Lithuanian leaders hoped to meet all the requirements for joining the Eurozone by 2014 or 2015.


The first Lithuanians immigrated to the New World long before the American Revolution. As early as 1660, Aleksandras Kursius, a Lithuanian physician and Latin teacher, is believed to have lived in New York, then known as New Amsterdam. During the U.S. Civil War, people with Lithuanian surnames fought in the armies of both the North and the South. It is difficult to know exactly how many Lithuanians came to the United States before 1900 because they were recorded as Poles or Russians in census data. The best estimate is that during that time nearly 400,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the United States.

Lithuanians had many reasons to emigrate. The abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire allowed peasants more personal freedom, including the freedom to leave; the “Russification” of Lithuania after the failed 1863 uprising led to a compulsory and oppressive Russian tsarist military draft; and Lithuania experienced a famine in 1867 and 1868. Emigration was also motivated by an economic crisis in which many farms failed as industrialization took hold. Many immigrants who arrived during these

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years were peasants and workers with little economic cushion. They lived and worked on farms in the New York area, helped build railroads, and worked in coal mines in Pennsylvania. Many moved to Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, working in the city's factories and its vast slaughterhouses and stockyards. Some became tailors in New York and Baltimore.

A larger wave of immigration occurred between 1880 and 1914, which included political dissidents who emigrated illegally and Jews who were forced to emigrate. In 1930 the U.S. Census Bureau listed 193,600 Lithuanians in the United States, with almost 50 percent of Lithuanian Americans living in just ten metropolitan areas. Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston had the largest Lithuanian American population. Nearly 20 percent of all Lithuanian immigrants at this time settled in Chicago. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which instituted a national origins quota for immigration, virtually stopped all Lithuanian immigration to the United States until after World War II.

Settled Anglo Americans viewed Lithuanian immigrants as part of the “immigration problem” of the late nineteenth century. The poverty and illiteracy of many of the new arrivals, their Eastern European language and culture, and their devotion to Roman Catholicism put them at a distinct disadvantage in a country where scores of immigrants from a multitude of countries were competing for jobs, housing, and a better life. Because Lithuanians often took low-paying, unskilled labor positions, they were considered less desirable than other immigrant groups. In addition, their involvement in the U.S. labor movement at the turn of the twentieth century led to even more discrimination and resentment from a suspicious American public. Lithuanians played an important role in the growth of the United Mine Workers Union and the United Garment Workers Union and were involved in labor unrest in the meat packing and steel industries. Throughout the twentieth century, however, Lithuanian Americans began to climb the economic ladder.

During the second wave of immigration, U.S. Census figures listed the nationality of those from Lithuania as Lithuanian. In World War II, Lithuania was invaded first by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and again by the Soviet Union in 1944. Lithuanian refugees fled from the Soviets at the end of the war, many under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. Many of these immigrants were middle and upper class, including doctors, professors, lawyers, and civil servants who hoped to return to Lithuania someday, but the ensuing Cold War made this difficult.

A smaller third wave of immigration began after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. With Lithuania's independence, the borders were opened, Page 114  |  Top of Articlebut decades of Soviet rule had resulted in a weak economy. Many of those who emigrated during this wave were younger people seeking better economic opportunities outside the country. Lithuanian immigration has slowed with the decline of the dollar and the entry of Lithuania into the EU in 2004, making countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom better economic options for Lithuanian immigrants.

Accurately estimating the number of Americans of Lithuanian ethnic origin is difficult, in part because of the long period during which Lithuanians were considered part of other Eastern European groups. Modern estimates of Lithuanians in the United States have ranged from 500,000 to about two million. The 2009–2011 American Community Survey estimated the number of Lithuanian Americans to be 680,066. Many Lithuanian Americans live in Pennsylvania and Chicago. In 2011 the small town of New Philadelphia in the coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania estimated its Lithuanian American population at 20.8 percent, the largest percentage in the country. Chicago has been called “the American capital of Lithuania” because of its large Lithuanian population. The only sizable immigrant community in Grand County, Colorado, a predominantly homogenous rural community in the mountains, is that of the Lithuanians.


Lithuanian, the official language of the country, is a part of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family, closely related to Latvian and the now-extinct language known as Old Prussian. Wider relationships, whether to German or the Slavic languages, are difficult to establish. Lithuanian maintains many early features that other Indo-European languages have lost. The first attempts at creating a written version of the language date from the sixteenth century, when the first book in Lithuanian was printed. Strong Polish cultural influences and Russian imperial policies combined to stymie development of the Lithuanian language for hundreds of years; thus, modern literary Lithuanian is essentially a product of the twentieth century. During the many periods of history when Russia and the Soviet Union ruled over Lithuania, Russia forcefully encouraged the population to speak Russian, and as a result most Lithuanians today also speak Russian.

Lithuanian is divided into Low and High dialects, with numerous subdialects. The language uses eleven vowels (a, ą, e, ę, ė, i, į, y, o, u, ų, and ū) along with six diphthongs (ai, au, ei, ui, ie, and uo). In addition to most of the standard consonants of the English language, Lithuanian makes use of č, š, and ž; however, the consonants f and h and the combination ch are used only in foreign words.

Lithuanian “curses” or “oaths” are also informative of the culture. They are a mix of folk beliefs from different times, containing pagan and Christian elements, with references to mythological characters and magic, such as Suk tave devynios!, which literally translates as Twist yourself in nine,” meaning leave me alone, and O tu rupuzgalvi!, which means (“Oh, you toad head”).

Gestures are also an important accompaniment to the Lithuanian language. For instance, it is considered impolite to talk with your hands in your pockets, and one should avoid shaking hands in doorways.

The preservation of the Lithuanian language was a key concern among the initial wave of immigrants to the United States. The cultural domination of the Polinified Lithuanians led to considerable dissension among the members of the Lithuanian American community. Especially in the Roman Catholic Church, Polish prevailed as the official language used in worship and religious education, a practice that came under attack from Lithuanian Americans. Religious organizations and their priests were divided along this issue; eventually, however, the Polophile proponents lost and modern Lithuanian became the language of the community. Immigrants who came after World War II have worked to keep the Lithuanian language alive within the community by developing a network of schools to encourage its preservation. The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community survey reported in 2010 that 42,300 Americans spoke Lithuanian at home (about 6 percent of the Lithuanian American population). Of those who did, 66 percent also stated that they spoke English fluently.

A number of Lithuanian American newspapers are published in Lithuanian, including the Vakarai, published in Chicago and online and distributed internationally. Several universities and colleges offer Lithuanian language courses, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Washington (Seattle), and the University of California in Los Angeles.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Common Lithuanian greetings and other expressions include the following: labą rytą (lahba reehta)—good morning; labą vakara (lahba vahkahra)—good evening; labanaktis (lahba-nahktees)—good night; sudievu (sood-yeeh-voo)—goodbye; kaip tamsta gyvuoji (kaip tahmstah geeh-vu-oyee)—how are you?; labai gerai (lahbai garai)—quite well; dėkui (deh-kooy)—thanks; atsiprašau (aht-see-prah-show)—excuse me; sveikas (say-kahs)—welcome; taip (taip)—yes; ne (nah)—no; turiu eiti (toor-i-oo ay-tee)—I must go.


The large majority of Lithuanian immigrants were Roman Catholic. The first Lithuanian Roman Catholic parish in the United States was the St. George parish in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, founded March 30, 1891. Small numbers of Lithuanian immigrants were Lutherans, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. The dominance of Roman Catholicism in the Lithuanian American community is pronounced due to the religion's influence in a number of Lithuanian Page 115  |  Top of Articleinstitutions. However, the Roman Catholic presence was not universal.

Lithuania adopted Christianity in the late fourteenth century when Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogailo married the heiress to the throne of Poland, converted to Christianity, and was crowned King of Poland as Władysław II Jagiełło. For many centuries Lithuanian Catholicism was Polish in language and orientation. Because Lithuanian was considered to be a barbaric language, Polish was used for all religious business. This language dominance extended to the immigrant communities in the United States as well; early Lithuanian immigrants tended to join Polish-language Roman Catholic parishes, and Polish-leaning priests dominated many of the early institutions of the Lithuanian American community.

The rising tide of Lithuanian nationalism toward the end of the nineteenth century sparked profound changes in the Lithuanian American religious community. Under the leadership of Aleksandras Burba, a priest from Lithuania, some Lithuanian Americans began to pull away from Polish parishes and Polish-dominated institutions and establish their own Lithuanian parishes. More than 100 Lithuanian parishes were formed by 1920. This movement created considerable tension within the immigrant community but also helped define a sense of ethnic consciousness among Lithuanian Americans. Not all Lithuanians wanted to distance themselves from Polish Roman Catholicism, however, and divisiveness soon clouded the ranks of many Lithuanian American organizations.

An immigrant priest, Father Antanas Staniukynas, formed the Lithuanian American Roman Catholic Priests' League in 1909 and was instrumental in the establishment of many Lithuanian American parishes. Staniukynas also contributed to the establishment of religious orders in the immigrant community, including the Sisters of St. Casimir and an American branch of the Lithuanian Marian Fathers. Around the same time, many lay Roman Catholic organizations were also founded; fraternal and social organizations were formed for men, women, workers, students, and other lay groups. Probably the most lasting and impressive achievement was the formation of a large parochial school system in affiliation with the Lithuanian American Roman Catholic parishes, a system run largely by the immigrant religious orders. By 1941 there were 124 parishes. Most of them had a grammar school headed by Lithuanian priests and nuns and taught Lithuanian language classes.

Religious life in the United States was not without conflict for the Lithuanian Roman Catholics. The old style of autocratic priestly leadership soon gave way to the realities of a democratic and pluralistic America, and the laity demanded an increased role in parish government. After 1945 the influx of war refugees brought new members to Lithuanian American Roman

A grotto depicting Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane at the Holy Cross Church, a Lithuanian parish in Chicago. A grotto depicting Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane at the Holy Cross Church, a Lithuanian parish in Chicago. AKGIMAGES / JAMES MORRIS / NEWSCOM

Catholicism. New religious orders were established, including the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Lithuanian Franciscan and Jesuit priestly orders.

In 1914 the Lithuanian National Catholic Church was formed in Scranton, Pennsylvania. This movement, which broke away from the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States, stressed the Lithuanian dimension of Catholicism. Lithuanian National Catholic parishes flourished in areas of heavy Lithuanian settlements early in the twentieth century.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, a religious divide has often separated immigrants of different waves and generations. Saulius Kuprys, president of the Lithuanian American Council in 2013, said that recent Lithuanian immigrants who lived under the Soviet occupation of Lithuania are less likely to follow the Catholic religion. In Soviet-occupied Lithuania, atheism was strongly encouraged by the state and many Lithuanians never learned Page 116  |  Top of Articleof their country's pre-Soviet religion. For many Lithuanian Americans, however, religion still plays a crucial role in maintaining a national and ethnic identity, providing community centers and other institutions. Newer immigrants participate in the church to embrace the community, but often with less understanding of and commitment to church practice, creating a divide between newer immigrants and the more established communities.

Lithuanian Lutherans hailed mainly from the northern and western regions of Lithuania, areas that had been influenced by Baltic German and Latvian Lutheranism. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century took hold in Lithuania until it was largely eliminated by the Counter-Reformation, yet over the centuries a small Lutheran minority remained. When these immigrants came to the United States during the initial surge of Lithuanian immigration, they tended to develop separate Lutheran congregations apart from the mainstream Lithuanian American community. The German-speaking Lutheran Missouri Synod sponsored several pastors who reached out to this community. After 1945 a second wave of Lithuanian Lutherans formed the Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Exile, headquartered near Chicago. In 2000 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania declared itself in full fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, aligning with a conservative confessional Lutheran stance. In 2006 the ELCL had 21,000 active members, 52 congregations, and 15 pastors.

Passing on religious and cultural traditions to the next generation is of continued importance to the Lithuanian American community. In the 2000s the Lithuanian-American Community Council, for instance, produced two children's workbooks for Christmas and Easter outlining the connection between the cultural and religious traditions of Lithuanians.

Before World War II, Jewish Lithuanians made up about 7 percent of the total Lithuanian population; by 1941, Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland had increased the number of Jews to 10 percent of the total population. Lithuanian Jews were well educated and contributed greatly to many Jewish philosophies, including the Jewish workers' movement, Zionism, and “rational religious thought.” They also had their own dialect of Yiddish. Nonetheless, the Jews of Lithuania were forced to assimilate somewhat into Roman Catholic culture, and many experienced some degree of anti-Semitism. Many Lithuanian Jews immigrated to the United States during the latter part of the nineteenth century and formed their own communities, mainly in the cities of the Northeast and the Midwest. During the assimilation process, these communities became affiliated with larger Jewish communities throughout the country. At the same time in Europe, the rise of anti-Semitism and the Nazi regime had a devastating effect on the Lithuanian Jewish

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The following are some common Lithuanian figures of speech:

badyti akis

to be highly visible, to put to shame, to stick out like a sore thumb; literally “to poke the eyes.”

lyja kirviais

a downpour, a heavy rain; literally “it's raining axes.”

man šakės

to be in a very bad situation; literally, “it's the pitchfork for me.”

nėra to blogo, kas neišeitų įgera

every cloud has a silver lining; literally “there is no evil that doesn't turn into good.”

panosė šlapia

to be inexperienced; literally “to be wet under the nose.”

community. Immediately before the German invasion of 1941, violent anti-Jewish riots erupted. After the German invasion, Jews were either murdered or sent to concentration camps. By 1944 about 90 percent of Lithuania's Jews had been killed.


Two important developments in Lithuania led to the growth of a strong Lithuanian American ethnic identity: the late-nineteenth-century rise of Lithuanian national consciousness and the achievement of Lithuanian independence in the early twentieth century. Lithuanian Americans were staunch supporters of their newly independent homeland during the 1920s and 1930s, and some even returned to assist in establishing the country's economy and government.

In 1930 only about 47 percent of Lithuanian immigrants to the United States had become citizens, despite the formation of many Lithuanian citizens' clubs to promote naturalization. However, with their rise toward economic and social success throughout the twentieth century, Lithuanian Americans began to adapt to life in the United States. The U.S.-born second generation, which by 1930 made up the majority of the immigrant community, assimilated much more quickly than their parents. Generally, Lithuanian Americans were discriminated against or stereotyped as being Slavs or Poles, rather than for being Lithuanians. Also, Catholic Lithuanians experienced discrimination targeted at Catholics in general, and Jewish Lithuanians experienced anti-Semitism.

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Lithuanian immigrants who came to the United States before 1990 were able to have dual citizenship, becoming U.S. citizens while maintaining their Lithuanian citizenship, including Lithuanian voting rights. Because of this, many immigrants were interested in maintaining a connection to Lithuanian politics. However, the 1992 Lithuanian constitution did not allow for dual citizenship, and those who became naturalized U.S. citizens after that time had to renounce their Lithuanian citizenship. One of the best-known Lithuanian immigrants who gave up dual citizenship was Valdas Adamkus, president of Lithuania from 1998 to 2003 and 2004 to 2009. He immigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen. After a significant career in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Adamkus retired in 1997 and returned to Lithuania. He renounced his U.S. citizenship before being sworn into office for his first term as president.

Along with assimilation came the development of an extensive network of immigrant institutions that sought to preserve the community's traditions. Foremost among these were the Lithuanian parishes of the Roman Catholic Church, which were joined together by various religious orders and lay and clerical organizations. In addition, each immigrant community also boasted numerous social and fraternal organizations, newspapers, and workers' societies, all of which helped to buttress a Lithuanian identity.

The post-World War II wave of Lithuanian immigrants—the dipukai—also experienced a surge of Lithuanian pride. These immigrants saw themselves as an exiled community and clung to their memory of two decades of freedom in Lithuania. They developed an extensive network of schools, churches, and cultural institutions to maintain their Lithuanian identity in the United States. Ironically, they felt more able to express their national and religious identity in the United States than they did in their homeland, which was under Soviet occupation, although they also felt pressure to assimilate into American culture. By the second and third generations, however, assimilation and acculturation took a deeper hold, and ethnic identity, though still important, was no longer central to the community's existence.

Patterns of assimilation are different for different waves of Lithuanian immigrants. For instance, in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, new slang and the incorporation of more Russian into the Lithuanian language was common. This style of language is common to immigrants of the third and most recent wave. Earlier immigrants use more traditional Lithuanian. Recent immigrants find themselves feeling pressured not only into assimilating into American society, but also in choosing to adhere to “modern” or “traditional” Lithuanian, if they are so inclined. Because of the differences between pre-Soviet and Soviet-era Lithuanian, Lithuanian American gatherings are now more often conducted in English. While English may be a more common thread between different waves of immigrants, not using Lithuanian potentially furthers the loss of ethnic identification.

In the Chicago area, home to a large Lithuanian community, the two major Lithuanian schools—Čikagos Lituanistinė Mokykla in Chicago and Maironio Lituanistinė Mokykla in Lemont—each cater to a different wave of immigrants. The more recent immigrants tend to have a higher interest in activities that help them to assimilate. These newer immigrants are more readily drawn to organizations such as the Lithuanian Student Association of North America (LSANA) that helps them prepare for American college or university and make connections both within and outside the Lithuanian American community. Families whose ancestors arrived during earlier waves of immigration tend to be more involved with keeping the culture of Lithuania alive. They are drawn to preserving Lithuanian traditions because they or their children did not grow up in Lithuania or it has being many years since immigration.

Cuisine Lithuanian cuisine is influenced by the foods of the land itself and by the various cuisines of its neighbors. More than the other Baltic nations, Lithuanian cooking looks to the east and the south, having much in common with the cuisine of Russia, Belarus, Germany, and the Ukraine, as well as with traditional Ashkenazi Jewish foods. Lithuanian recipes rely heavily on pork, potatoes, and dairy products. One specialty is suris, which resembles cottage cheese. Dark, flavorful mushrooms, herring, eels, sausages, and dark rye breads are also central to the Lithuanian diet. Popular drinks include gira, a fermented nonalcoholic beverage made from black or regular rye bread, and kompotas, a cold fruit tea. Holiday foods include jellied pig's feet, goose stuffed with prunes, and roasted suckling pig. A long table filled with food is considered an important aspect of hospitality and a symbol of affluence. Leaving food on a plate is considered impolite and an indication that the diner did not enjoy the meal.

In some Lithuanian American communities, such as in the Chicago area, one can find Lithuanian restaurants, some that serve only Lithuanian cuisine and others that serve Polish, Russian, and standard American food as well. The menu at Grand Duke's Restaurant in Chicago, for instance, includes such items as sauerkraut soup, beet soup, and cooked peas with smoked pig ears. Mabenka's in Chicago serves dishes such as kugelis babka ziemnieczana, a baked potato pudding, and cepelinaipyzy, dumplings made from grated potatoes stuffed with meat, as well as grilled cheese sandwiches and Yankee pot roast.

Traditional Dress The colorful regional dress of Lithuania was worn in the old country at times of festivals, market days, and special events. Costumes are Page 118  |  Top of Articlebased on nineteenth-century peasant costumes from different regions of the country. They are mainly handmade and are sometimes passed down from generation to generation. Embroidery on women's and girls' costumes often depicts flowers or other nature-inspired designs. The outfits are made up of multiple layers—a skirt, blouse, vest, sash, and scarf or hat. Immigrants in the United States sometimes wear traditional clothing for festivals and for folk dancing. Children who learn folk dancing in Lithuanian American schools, churches, or community centers dress in traditional costumes for performances. Contemporary dress in Lithuania is similar to that in Western Europe and the United States. The daily working clothes of Lithuanian immigrants have never significantly differed from that of other Americans in similar positions.

Dances and Songs Traditional Lithuanian dances encapsulate the stories and the morals of the people, and different steps signify different meanings. Lithuanian dance styles include the rateliai, which is done in the round and was originally danced without musical accompaniment, but is now generally accompanied by instruments such as fiddles; basetles, a bass string instrument played with a bow; lamzdeliai, a woodwind whistling instrument; and kankles, a plucked string instrument. Another dance is the šokiai, which consists of consecutively repeated movements, steps, and figures. Other Lithuanian instruments still played today include ragai, or horns, and skuduciai, the pan pipes. Lithuanian folk songs, called calleddainos, are mainly concerned with the agricultural themes of planting, reaping, and cultivating, or with praising or reproaching animals such as grass-hoppers, mosquitoes, or goats. Other folk songs may be about weddings, rituals, or holidays such as Christmas and Advent.

Lithuanian Americans continue to perform folk dances to celebrate their ethnic heritage. Children often take lessons and perform these dances at recitals and festivals. Large folk dance festivals bring together different Lithuanian dance groups. In 2012, for instance, the Boston Lithuanian American Community hosted the 14th Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival, which included 47 Lithuanian folk dance groups made up of 1,800 dancers from around the world, all dressed in traditional costumes.

Holidays Along with the traditional Catholic and American holidays, there are several festival days of special significance to the Lithuanian American community. February 16 is Lithuanian Independence Day, marking the country's formal declaration of independence in 1918. September 8 is known as Lithuanian Kingdom Day. This celebrates the day in 1514 when the combined Lithuanian and Polish armies defeated 80,000 Russian soldiers at the Battle of Orsha. The Russians lost over 30,000 men while the Lithuanian and Polish armies, comprising 30,000 troops, lost only 500. It is considered one of the greatest victories in Lithuanian history.

Kučios is a symbolic Christmas Eve meal, shared by other Eastern European Catholics, such as Poles. Honoring the twelve apostles, twelve meatless dishes are served, including herring, porridge, and pickled mushrooms. Hay is sometimes put under the tablecloth to represent Jesus' manger. Kučiukai (bite-sized biscuit-like cakes) with poppy milk (poppy seeds boiled with water and sugar) is often served for dessert. Dievo pyragai, symbolic Christmas wafers, are broken while family members announce their wishes for the coming year. A chair, plate, and candle are placed at the table for any family member who died during the year to allow his or her spirit to participate in one last family gathering.

Lent is an important time, and the three days before Easter—Holy Thursday (Didysis Ketvirtadienis), Good Friday (Didysis Penktadienis), and Holy Saturday (Didysis Šeštadienis)—are associated with many legends and traditions. For instance, during these days people avoid lending anything or they will be unlucky, having lent their luck away. Bugs and other pests can be eliminated on Good Friday by bringing sand or dirt from the cemetery and putting it where bugs breed. Easter itself is a time of celebration, family gatherings, and games. Easter eggs are decorated by using hot wax and etching designs, a tradition amongst Baltic cultures.

The Feast of St. Casimir on March 4 is both a Roman Catholic and a national holiday, with celebrations often led by the Knights of Lithuania fraternal organization. St. Casimir, being the only Lithuanian saint, is a very popular figure and hero of many tales and legends. Often muginukas, heart-shaped cookies with colored sugar designs, are made for the holiday.

Health Care Issues and Practices With the formation of a solid Lithuanian American community at the end of the nineteenth century, the need for health care among immigrants became a key issue. Immigrant fraternal and benefit societies provided help for sick or injured Lithuanians, as did social and charitable organizations. Roman Catholics organized Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago, as well as homes for the aged and infirm. Many of these activities came under the control of Lithuanian Roman Catholic orders, especially the Sisters of St. Casimir. Few Lithuanian medical professionals set up practice in the United States until after 1945, following the postwar influx of Lithuanian doctors from the European refugee community.

More recent immigrants who retain strong ties to Lithuanian culture often use homeopathic and herbal remedies that are popular in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe. Some Lithuanian American general stores, such as Lietuvele, a store in an area of Chicago known as Little Lithuania, sell some of these imported products, which include kalio permanganatas (potassium permanganate, used as an antiseptic to treat wounds and abscesses) and karsil (a milk thistle formula used Page 119  |  Top of Articlefor liver health). Immigrants also obtain these remedies by having them sent directly from Lithuania. They also do this sometimes with prescription drugs that are less expensive in Lithuania than the United States. Issues can arise as these prescription and non-prescription formulas are unregulated and sometimes out of date.


Many Lithuanian American families maintain strong social ties. The term “friend” is usually reserved for people who are very close and like a member of the family, while others are designated “acquaintances.” Families and communities support each other socially and economically. Many families in the United States continue to send money and goods to those still living in Lithuania, and established Lithuanian American communities help newer immigrants. Traditional gender roles, with women taking care of the children and household and men working in the public sphere, are still somewhat in place, but many women have important positions in religious and community organizations. Higher education for both young men and women is considered important, and organizations such as Lithuanian Student Association of North America (LSANA) help Lithuanian Americans who are applying to and attending college or university. Many communities with large Lithuanian populations, such as Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C., have Lithuanian day schools and “Saturday schools” that provide classes in language, dance, music, and the cultural traditions of Lithuania. Religious and social organizations, such as the family club, Krantas, or artists' or musicians' organizations, fulfill immigrants' needs for social and emotional support and help them maintain their ethnic identities.

During the first wave of Lithuanian immigration to the United States, the immigrant community developed slowly because most of the new arrivals were young males seeking temporary employment. This made it difficult for immigrants to establish a Lithuanian American identity. Long hours, poverty, and isolation fragmented the community. Slowly, as more families began to settle permanently in the United States, religious, social, and cultural institutions were formed. Then, as now, churches were the cornerstone of the community. A growing sense of nationalism within the community allowed the Lithuanians in the United States to see themselves as a people separate from the Poles and the Russians.

During the wave of immigration after World War II, a significant relationship developed between Lithuanian Americans and the other Baltic immigrants, the Estonians and the Latvians. These groups banded together in the interest of freeing the Baltic Republics from Soviet rule. Their solidarity is especially evident in the creation of groups such as the Joint Baltic-American National Committee (1961) and the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (1968).

A Lithuanian American family of twelve is reunited in the United States in the late 1930s. A Lithuanian American family of twelve is reunited in the United States in the late 1930s. UPI / CORBIS-BETTMANN. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

The third wave of immigrants that came after independence from the Soviet Union are generally less attached to their native culture than the previous waves, as well as less attached to religious life. They have not supported Lithuanian churches with the same enthusiasm as earlier immigrants. Additionally, some of the older generation of Lithuanians who were heavily invested in Lithuanian culture have died, which has negatively impacted the ethnic identity of some families and communities. Other cultural organizations remain strong: the Springfield Lithuanian-American Club, for instance, publishes a quarterly newsletter promoting community events and informing members of important milestones within families. Technology is being used to create new ties and virtual communities, with blogs such as Lithuanians in Springfield devoted to sharing stories and photos about the histories of Lithuanian American families.

Gender Roles Coming from a traditional agricultural society, the first wave of Lithuanian immigrants brought with them rigid beliefs about gender roles. The husband was the head of the family, and women took care of child-rearing, home, and family. This social system was hard for immigrants to maintain in the United States, especially in the urban areas where the majority of the immigrants settled and where more flexibility in gender roles was needed to combat poverty. As the immigrants became assimilated into the mainstream of American life and as gender roles changed in the United States, women's roles began to change and grow. One new independent role for women came through the formation of Lithuanian American religious orders, which afforded Lithuanian women a leading role in their religious community. They headed parochial schools and established institutions of mercy, such as hospitals, orphanages, and Page 120  |  Top of Articlenursing homes. The Catholic Women's Alliance was founded in 1914, the Chicago Lithuanian Women's Club in 1923, and the Omaha Lithuanian Club in 1974. Traditional gender roles are still evident in the songs and dances performed in association with these and other Lithuanian cultural organizations.

While gender roles are not as strict as they once were in the community, those that remain serve as reminders of how things used to be with regard to one's economic and immigrant status. For instance, middle- and upper-class Lithuanian Americans who are well established in the United States primarily hire recent female immigrants who speak Lithuanian for domestic work. Often, these are the only jobs available for these women. But these positions can make assimilation more difficult and may keep women in low-paying jobs, because they may hinder the women's opportunity to learn English. Lithuanian men who are newer immigrants also receive support from the established community in terms of being informed of job opportunities. More frequently than women, however, they seek ties outside the local ethnic community for assistance, allowing them to assimilate more quickly and gain economic power.

Education Like many other immigrant groups, Lithuanians have seen that the road to success in the United States lies with education. Many immigrants from Lithuania, especially before 1920, arrived as illiterate peasants. But the community soon established a system of parochial schools among the Lithuanian Roman Catholic parishes in the United States, many of which were run by the Sisters of St. Casimir. A smaller network of Lithuanian American Roman Catholic high schools and academies appeared later, numbering approximately ten by 1940. Parochial schools still exist, such as Čikagos Lituanistinė Mokykla in Chicago and Maironio Lituanistinė Mokykla in Lemont, Illinois.

Responding to a plea from the immigrant community, the Marian Fathers opened a high school and college in Hinsdale, Illinois, in 1926. Later the college was relocated to Thompson, Connecticut, and renamed Marianapolis Preparatory School. Another early center of Lithuanian education was Indiana's Valparaiso University. Though not strictly a Lithuanian institution, the school attracted a number of Lithuanian students early in the twentieth century; between 1902 and 1915 the school graduated doctors, fifteen lawyers, and fourteen engineers of Lithuanian heritage. Lithuanian refugees of World War II—many of whom were highly educated, skilled professionals—exhibited an intense interest in education. Their main educational contribution to the community was the formation of a series of Lithuanian schools to transmit Lithuanian language and culture to succeeding generations of Lithuanian Americans.

As the educational level of the third and fourth generation immigrants increased, so did their social and physical mobility. With the community more dispersed geographically and more assimilated socially, there were fewer teachers for and students to attend Lithuanian day schools or “Saturday schools” that taught language and culture. Assimilation also meant more marriages between those of Lithuanian heritage and other heritages, resulting in less commitment to learning the Lithuanian language and culture and attending Lithuanian schools. Saturday schools now teach Lithuanian more as a second language than as a language of instruction.

The majority of third wave immigrants, arriving since the restoration of Lithuania's independence, have graduated from college by the time they arrive in the United States. They often immigrate for economic reasons, and economic stability for their family is important. This often translates into a strong emphasis on public, mainstream education (not Lithuanian schools) and higher education at public or private colleges and universities.


The first wave of Lithuanian immigration, which ended around 1920, included mostly unskilled and often illiterate immigrants who settled in the cities and coal fields of the East and the Midwest and provided the raw muscle power of urban factories. They were especially drawn to the garment trade in the east, the steel mills and forges of the Midwest, and the meatpacking houses of Chicago and stockyards of Omaha. Other immigrants opened businesses within their communities to provide goods and services for the Lithuanian American community, thus reinforcing cultural ties.

To assist their people in the economic transition to life in the United States, the immigrants established many institutions, including fraternal and benefit societies and building and loan associations. The fraternal societies assisted needy immigrants and provided inexpensive insurance and death benefit protection. The building and loan associations met the immigrants' banking needs and helped them purchase their own homes. By 1920 there were at least thirty such associations within the Lithuanian immigrant community.

The war refugees who came to the United States after 1945 tended to be more educated and professional. Although many had been leaders in independent Lithuania from 1918 to 1940, as immigrants some had difficulty finding suitable employment in the United States. The language barrier and other factors resulted in many of them taking positions that were beneath their level of training and education. These refugees were an enterprising group, however, and quickly attained economic success.

The third wave of immigrants who during the Soviet era or post-Soviet years; this group was primarily from the middle or upper-middle class. Uncertainty about Lithuania's economy in the new era prompted Page 121  |  Top of Articlethem to make the move. At first, they did not always fare well economically. A 2000 study of recent Lithuanian immigrants to Chicago, for instance, found that many lost their social status upon arriving in the United States. They first found hourly wage positions as domestics, waitresses, cooks, teachers, and musicians and as workers for Lithuanian-language radio stations in the United States or as reporters for Lithuanian-language newspapers. Many of these immigrants, often with support and connections from the Lithuanian communities, eventually climbed the economic ladder and reestablished their social standing. Even those who did not participate in the established Lithuanian American community would seek career and educational connections, support, and counseling from the Lithuanian community. Organizations such as Lithuanian International Student Services (LISS) help provide educational and professional support to those with Lithuanian heritage. The American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011 indicated that the median household income for Lithuanian Americans was $67,179 (compared with $51,484 for the general U.S. population). In addition, 46.6 percent of Lithuanian Americans over the age of 24 held a bachelor's degree or higher (compared with 28.2 percent of the general U.S. population).


Much of the Lithuanian Americans' initial political activity was confined to the immigrant community itself, as immigrants sought to define themselves, especially in terms of the rising tide of Lithuanian nationalism that dominated the latter part of the nineteenth century. Slowly, the immigrant community's interests broadened. The first examples of immigrant political activity came in areas that directly affected the new immigrants, namely labor issues and U.S. relations with the new Lithuanian state.

Lithuanians were active in the formation of some of the first U.S. labor unions, especially in coal mining and the garment trade. The Lithuanian coal miners of Pennsylvania and Illinois became members of the United Mine Workers unions, and local unions of Lithuanian garment workers soon merged with either the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union or the United Garment Workers Union. In other industries, such as steel or meat packing, union organization was slower, but Lithuanian workers were a formidable force in labor agitation. A number of nationalist, Roman Catholic, and socialist immigrant organizations were developed to provide support to laborers. Socialist and radical workers groups, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), succeeded in recruiting Lithuanian workers in the first part of the twentieth century, but these groups declined rapidly after 1920. The Lithuanian community was generally sympathetic to the union cause and supported their fellow immigrants during labor unrest. One of the most well-known characters in the classic 1906 novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is Jurgis Rudkus, who Sinclair based on a real-life Lithuanian immigrant worker. The book portrayed the poor working condition in the meat packing industry in the early twentieth century and led to the government forming the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For some, union activity grew into a wider push for socialism, a political and economic doctrine espousing collective rather than private ownership of property. This sentiment was behind the formation of the Lithuanian Socialist Party of America in 1905. This prewar socialism declined after 1918 as the so-called Red Scare deemed all socialist groups a threat to the American way of life. The first major political push among Lithuanian Americans came after 1918, when they tried to influence U.S. foreign policy to recognize and support Lithuanian independence.

Relations with their native country have always been important to the Lithuanian American community. Tensions ran high among Lithuanians in the United States during those periods when the Soviets controlled Lithuania. Immigrant communities in the United States were fertile ground for nationalistic sentiment, and during the last decades of the nineteenth century many radical Lithuanian nationalists sought refuge in the United States from political oppression in Russia. Most Lithuanian Americans supported the nationalist cause, although a small group of radical communists backed Soviet attempts to forcibly annex Lithuania to the Soviet Union.

When Lithuania was declared a republic in 1918, the immigrant community supported independence with financial, military, and political help. A number of the leaders of independent Lithuania had even lived and studied for a time in the United States. Lithuanian Americans pressured the U.S. government to recognize Lithuanian independence and support Lithuanian border claims in the dispute with Poland. In 1919 Lithuanian Americans collected a million signatures on a petition and 25,000 protested in Chicago to support Lithuanian independence. Joining together for these actions for their home country strengthened ties in the Lithuanian American community.

With the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in 1940, the Lithuanian American community again exerted pressure on the U.S. government for Lithuanian rights. A Lithuanian American delegation, for instance, met with President Roosevelt in 1940 to protest the Soviet takeover of Lithuania. War refugees from Lithuania flooded the United States after 1945, and many new groups and organizations were formed to rally for an independent Lithuania—and to support this cause with money and publicity. Lithuanian Americans worked to keep the dream of an independent Lithuania alive with publicity, lobbying efforts, and various political and cultural activities. These actions moved Lithuanian Americans into the wider sphere of the Lithuanian exile community worldwide, uniting American organizations with others in Europe and elsewhere. Agitation efforts also brought Lithuanian Americans into closer Page 122  |  Top of Articlecontact with other Baltic Americans, with whom they shared the dream of independence for the Baltic states.

Political involvement has continued in the twenty-first century, though it has diminished. During the German and Russian occupations of Lithuania throughout the twentieth century, Lithuanian immigrants feared for the future of their language and culture. To preserve cultural heritage, it was imperative to hold onto traditions through activities like Saturday schools and youth associations. The threat of losing Lithuanian language and culture eased when Lithuania became independent. For instance, multiple generations of Lithuanian Americans in 1989 and 1990 demonstrated for Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union. For some of the youth of the time, the social and cultural connections to the community became a political one, often encouraged by their parents, many of whom were first generation immigrants. This motivation and involvement is less common with more assimilated second and third generations. Political and cultural involvement in the Lithuanian American community has decreased because of the older generation dying out and the third wave of immigrants feeling less of a need for involvement.

While political activity has waned, national organizations such as the Lithuanian American Council (LAC) are still involved in the politics of Lithuania and the Baltic countries. Their initiatives have included promoting the expansion of NATO and the European Union into the Baltic countries; supporting Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts; promoting a visa waiver program for Lithuanian citizens entering United States; and supporting U.S. economic and military cooperation with Lithuania.

Another issue impacting Lithuanian Americans' political involvement is that of dual citizenship. Immigrants before 1990 can have dual citizenship, but the constitution of the newly independent Lithuania (approved in 1992) states that any Lithuanian who has citizenship in another country must denounce their Lithuanian citizenship. This means that third wave immigrants are unable to vote in Lithuanian elections or to be directly involved in Lithuanian politics if they become U.S. citizens. First and second wave immigrants, who are usually older, retain their voice in Lithuanian policy and thus may feel more of a need to remain involvement in such matters. This divide reflects the differing mindsets between first and second wave immigrants and third wave immigrants. First and second wave immigrants fled foreign occupations of Lithuania and initially believed they would return there, while third wave immigrants came primarily for economic reasons from a state that was already independent.

Initially, the Lithuanian immigrant community was mostly working class, and many aligned themselves with the Democratic Party during the twentieth century. Although they were not a real force in national politics, Lithuanian Americans used their numbers to dominate local politics, electing local officials, state legislators, judges, and occasionally members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In turn they became loyal supporters of the local Democratic political machines in areas such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. In many communities Lithuanians formed their own Democratic clubs for the support of political and ethnic priorities. A smaller number of Lithuanians were attracted to the Republican Party, especially after 1945. Along with some members of other Baltic groups, these Lithuanians blamed the Democrats for the betrayal of Lithuanian independence in the Yalta agreement of 1945, which extended Soviet territories to the west of Russia. Post-World War II immigrants, because of their strong anticommunist feelings, often favored the Republicans. As the community has grown and diversified, Lithuanians of the early twenty-first century continue to be strongly involved and active in both major political parties; some have even become important political figures. Most notable are Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who began serving as the Senate Majority Whip in 2007, and Representative John Mondy, a Republican from Illinois.

Lithuanians have long been active in the U.S. military. Soldiers with Lithuanian names served under George Washington. In the American Civil War, 373 Lithuanians fought for the Union, and 44 fought for the Confederacy. Lithuanian Americans were especially interested in both World Wars, since they directly influenced the fate of Lithuanian independence. In 1918 a group of 200 Lithuanian Americans who had served in the U.S. military went to Lithuania to help in the fight for freedom. Lithuanian Americans had a strong military presence in World War II and have continued to serve in the military.


Activism Father Jonas Zilinskas (1870–1932) was instrumental in developing the Lithuanian Alliance of America and served as its president.

Emma Goldman (1869–1940) was a radical political activist. She was born in present-day Kaunas, Lithuania, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. She immigrated to the United States in 1886 and became a political leader in the anarchist and communist movements. She wrote and lectured extensively in support of atheism, revolution, birth control, and “free love,” and she wrote a famed autobiography, Living My Life. She founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth in 1906. In 1917 she was arrested, and the FBI had her deported to Russia in 1919. While she supported the ideals of communism, she later became disillusioned with it and left Russia to live in Europe and Canada; she was eventually allowed to return to the United States to lecture. She died in 1940 in Toronto, Canada, but Page 123  |  Top of Articlewas buried in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, among the graves of other like political activists.

Art Victor David Brenner (1871–1924) was a Jewish Lithuanian who designed the Lincoln penny. He was an artist, sculptor, engraver, and metalsmith. He immigrated to the United States in 1890 and changed his name from Viktoras Barnauskas.

Vytas Valaitis (1931–1965) was a Lithuanian photographer and journalist who worked for several major publications, including Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He won numerous prizes for his work.

Business Lane Bryant (1879–1951) was the creator and manufacturer of the Lane Bryant clothing company for larger women, as well as the first clothing maker to introduce maternity clothes. She began working in the garment industry when she immigrated to New York from Lithuania in 1895. Her second husband, Albert Maslin, who was also Lithuanian, helped with her business. She was born in Lithuania as Lena Himmelstein and was raised there by her grandparents. In 2002 her great-grandsons started the company Fashion to Figure, which also designs clothes for plus-sized women.

Juozas (Joseph) P. Kazickas (1918–) was a businessman, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and philanthropist. He was born in Lithuania and was part of the resistance movement during World War II. He became a refugee in Germany and later immigrated to the United States. He received a doctorate degree from Yale University and an honorary doctorate from Lithuania's Kaunas University of Technology. He has worked throughout his life to help free Lithuania and help the Lithuanian people. He founded the Kazickas Family Foundation in 1998. He recounted his story in his memoir, Odyssey of Hope (2006).

Film Jonas Mekas (1922–) is a filmmaker, writer, and curator. He has been called “the godfather of American avant-garde cinema.” He was born in the farming village of Semeniškiai, Lithuania, and was sent to a forced labor camp in Germany by the Nazis in 1944. After the war, in 1949, he and his brother were brought to the United States by the UN's International Refugee Organization. Together the brothers started Film Culture magazine. Jonas Mekas wrote the movie column for the Village Voice and in 1970 cofounded the Anthology Film Archives, a repository of avant-garde cinema. He has published numerous books of poetry and prose. Mekas has also produced a number of award-winning films, including The Brig, which won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1963, Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), and Sleepless Nights Stories (2011). In 2007 he created a short film each day for a year (365 films) and posted them online. He has won numerous awards and honors, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award (2007) and the Baltic Cultural Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Arts and Science (2008). The Jonas Mekas Center for the Visual Arts opened in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2007.

Robert Zemeckis (1951–) is a film director, producer, and screenwriter. He was born in Chicago to a Lithuanian American father and an Italian American mother. He is particularly known for his special effects in comedy and drama. His films include Romancing the Stone (1984), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Back to the Future (1985), Forest Gump (1994), Contact (1997), Castaway (2000), and The Polar Express (2004).

Journalism Ellen Cassedy is a Jewish Lithuanian writer and journalist. She is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (2012), which explores how Lithuanian Jews and non-Jews are dealing with their Nazi and Soviet past and its impact on their lives today. She is also the author of the play and short film Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Previously a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, she is a regular contributor to VilNews, the international web magazine based in Vilnius, Lithuania. She is a frequent speaker on Jewish and Lithuanian issues. She translates work from Yiddish, and with her colleague, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, she won the National Yiddish Book Center 2012 Translation Prize for translation of fiction by Blume Lempel. Her articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and journals, including the Huffington Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Telegraphic Bridges, and the Utne Reader.

Liūtas Mockūnas (1934–2007) was an important figure in Lithuanian journalism and literature. He was a writer, editor, cultural critic, and activist, whose works included social commentaries such as Pavargęs herojus (Tired Hero), published in 1997, about the Lithuanian resistance to the Soviet Union, and Laisvės horizontai (Horizons of Freedom), published in 2001. He was an active member of Santara-Šviesa, a Lithuanian American organization that supported Lithuanian independence, and edited its publication Akiračiai: Atviro Žodžio Ménraštis (Viewpoints: A Monthly for the Free Word). He was born in Lithuania, then moved to Germany with his family in World War II and to the United States in 1949; in 2005 he moved back to Lithuania.

Music Pink (1979–), born Alecia Beth Moore, is a pop singer, songwriter, musician, and actress. She is of Lithuanian-Jewish, German and Irish ancestry. In 2000 she released her first solo album, Can't Take Me Home, a double platinum hit. In 2002 she collaborated with Christina Aguilera on the soundtrack for the film Moulin Rouge. Her second album, M!ssundaztood, was a rock-infused recording that sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Her third album, Try This, was even more rock based and earned her a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Pink is also an animal rights activist.

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Politics Alexander Bruce Bielaski (1883–1954), an American of Lithuanian descent, was a lawyer and the first director of the Bureau of Investigation (now the FBI), from 1912 to 1919. He was later the head of the National Board of Fire Underwriters team of arson investigators and president of the Society of Former Special Agents.

Richard Joseph “Dick” Durbin (1944–) is a Lithuanian American who has been the senior U.S. Senator from Illinois since 1997. Since 2007, he has been the Senate Majority Whip, the second highest position in the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate. He was formerly U.S. Representative for the Springfield, Illinois–based Twentieth congressional district.

Sidney Hillman (1887–1946) was a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who led the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union for over thirty years. After decades of leading the union, in 1941 he became director of the United States Office of Production Management. He also helped get President Franklin D. Roosevelt elected by rallying support from labor. The Sidney Hillman Foundation bestows its annual award to journalists and writers whose work supports social justice and progressive politics.

John Mondy Shimkus (1958–) has been the U.S. Representative for the 19th congressional district of Illinois since 1997. He is a member of the Republican Party.

Science and Medicine Marija Alseikaite Gimbutas (1921–1994) was a renowned archeologist born in Vilnius, Lithuania. She fled Lithuania during World War II while it was occupied by the Soviets and immigrated to the United States in 1949. She is known for developing the Kurgan hypothesis. Kurgan

Portrait of Lithuanian-born American singer and actor Al Jolson standing beside an NBC radio microphone, November 1932. Portrait of Lithuanian-born American singer and actor Al Jolson standing beside an NBC radio microphone, November 1932. HULTON ARCHIVE / GETTY IMAGES

is the Russian term for graves built by Proto-Indo-Europeans. Her hypothesis was the result of studying Kurgan burial mounds and linguistics in order to understand the origins and migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. She taught at Harvard University, where she was made a fellow of Harvard's Peabody Museum, and the University of California at Los Angles (UCLA), where she was the Chair of European Archeology, created the Institute of Archeology, and was the curator of Old World Archeology at the Cultural History Museum. She cofounded the Journal of Indo-European Studies and wrote The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974), The Language of the Goddess (1989), and The Civilization of the Goddess (1991). She was awarded an honorary PhD from Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1993.

Sports Richard Marvin “Dick” Butkus (1942–) was a Lithuanian American who was a linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s and 1970s. He was named first-team All-NFL for six years and played in eight Pro Bowl games. A serious knee injury that did not respond to surgery ended his career. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. His jersey number was retired in 1994, considered a high honor. In 2000 he was named to the NFL All-Time team. He has also done a number of commercials, including for Miller beer and Fedex.

Vitas Gerulaitis (1954–1994), a Lithuanian American born Vytautas Kevin Gerulaitis, was a professional tennis player in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1975 he won the men's double title at Wimbledon and in 1977 he won the Grand Slam singles title in the Australian Open. From 1977 to 1983 he was in the top ten ranking of international players. He was also known for having a wild life and was treated for substance abuse and accused of cocaine dealing. His father was a Lithuanian and Baltic States tennis champion and taught tennis in the United States for many decades.

Joseph Michael Jurevicius (1974–), who is of Lithuanian descent, was a football wide receiver. He was originally drafted to the New York Giants and played for them for four seasons from 1998 to 2002. He then played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until 2005, when he signed up with the Seattle Seahawks and then the Cleveland Browns. He played in two Super Bowl games. He has a tattoo of a Vytis, a swordsman on a horse which is the national symbol of Lithuania, on his right bicep.

Jack Sharkey (1902–1994) was born Joseph Paul Zukauskas to Lithuanian parents. He was a world heavyweight champion boxer in the 1920s and 1930s and the only person to fight both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

Johnny Unitas (1933–2002) is considered a legendary hero of the football world. Nicknamed “the Golden Arm,” he was named the National Football League's Page 125  |  Top of Articleall-time greatest quarterback at events marking the league's fiftieth anniversary. His parents were Lithuanian immigrants and his surname was a phonetic transliteration of the common Lithuanian name Jonaitis. He holds the record for most touchdown passes with at least one touchdown pass in forty-seven consecutive games. He was the first quarterback to pass more than 40,000 yards. He played in ten Pro Bowls, was named Most Valuable Player three times, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Stage and Screen Charles Bronson (1920–2003) was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky. A popular movie actor of Polish-Lithuanian heritage, Bronson is known for his action roles in such movies as The Great Escape, Once Upon a Time in the West, Death Wish, and Hard Times.

Ruta Lee (1936–), an actor, was born Ruta Kilmonis to a Lithuanian tailor. Although born in Montreal, she has made significant contributions to American film and lives in the United States. She has appeared in films, theater, and television since the 1950s. Some of her most notable films include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, and Witness for the Prosecution. She has had leading roles in many theater productions, including Annie, Peter Pan, Mame, Irene, Woman of the Year, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She has made over 2,000 appearances on television in shows such as Perry Mason, Power Rangers, Twilight Zone, Murder She Wrote, Roseanne, and HBO's 1st & Ten.

John C. Reilly (1965–) is an American film and theater actor, singer, and comedian. He was born and in Chicago to a Lithuanian American mother and an Irish American father. He has been in over fifty films and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Chicago (2002). He was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song “Walk Hard,” which he performed in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007). He has also appeared in the comedies Step-Brothers (2008), Cyrus (2010), and Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and the critically acclaimed films Boogie Nights (1997), Gangs of New York (2002) and Magnolia (1999).

Jason Sudeikis (1975–) is an actor, comedian and writer of Lithuanian descent. In the 1990s he performed with the improv troupe ComedySportz and was a member of Second City in Las Vegas. He was hired as a sketch writer for Saturday Night Live in 2003 and then a cast member in 2006. His film roles include Horrible Bosses (2011) and The Campaign (2012).

Elizabeth Swados (1951–) is an award-winning composer, writer, and director whose works include the Broadway musicals Runaways (1978), Doonesbury (1983), and Kaspar Hauser (2009). Runaways received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography. She has written music for many classical dramatic productions and television specials as well as books such as My Depression

Members of the Lithuanian American Hall on 46th Ave. in Chicago chat while cooking. Members of the Lithuanian American Hall on 46th Ave. in Chicago chat while cooking. ST PETERSBURG TIMES / ZUMAPRESS / NEWSCOM

(2005) and At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater (2006). She is the recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and a special International PEN citation.


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The official publication of Lithuanian-American Community, Inc. It is published ten times a year in English and geared toward the general public. It is available via subscription and on the publications page of the Lithuanian-American Community website.

Teresė Vekteris, Editor
6125 McCallum Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144
Phone: (800) 625-1170
Fax: (856) 428-6014

Čikagos Aidas (Echo of Chicago)

One of the largest Lithuanian-language weekly newspapers published in the United States, it was established in 2003. It is distributed free of charge in the Chicago area to over 1,000 locations. The full newspaper is available online and it also has its own music radio station.

Leonid Khodos, Editor in Chief
704 South Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, Illinois 60090
Phone: (847) 272-9222
Fax: (847) 215-8455

Dirva (The Field)

Lithuanian-language weekly newspaper that contains items of interest to the Lithuanian community of Cleveland, published since 1916.

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19807 Cherokee Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44119
Phone: (216) 531-8150

Draugas (Friend)

A Lithuanian-language newspaper published in Chicago by the Lithuanian Catholic Press Society, published three days a week. It is the oldest continuously published Lithuanian language newspaper in the world, celebrating its one hundredth anniversary in 2009. It includes a weekly supplement called Kultūra: Menas Literatūra Mokslas (Culture: Art Literature Science).

Dalia Cidzikaitė, Editor
4545 West 63rd Street
Chicago, Illinois 60629-5589
Phone: (773) 585-9500
Fax: (773) 585-8284

Lituanus, The Lithuanian Quarterly

A multidisciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal that covers Lithuania and the Baltic region. It publishes research articles in English as well as essays on literature and art. It is published by the nonprofit Lituanus Foundation, Inc., and has 2,000 subscribers.

Elizabeth Novickas, Editor in Chief
47 West Polk Street
Suite 100-300
Chicago, Illinois 60605

Vytis (The Knight)

The official publication of the Knights of Lithuania. The magazine, published seven times annually, contains articles in Lithuanian and English about Lithuanian culture, activities, and organizational matters.


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KTYM-AM (1460)

Offers thirty minutes of Lithuanian information and thirty minutes of music programming weekly.

Bobby A. Howe
6803 West Boulevard
Inglewood, California 90302-1895
Phone: (310) 672-3700
Fax: (310) 673-2259

WCEV-AM (1450)

WCEV offers programs in various languages directed toward several ethnic groups: Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Moravians, Montenegrins, Irish, Arabs, and Bosnians.

Lucyna Migala, Program Director
5356 West Belmont Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60641-4192
Phone: (773) 282-6700

Lithuanian online radio stations for streaming can be found at and . Both include news, music, and variety shows from Lithuania.


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Lithuanian American Community (LAC)

The LAC works to preserve Lithuanian cultural identity for future generations and to foster the growth of the democratic institutions of Lithuania. In 2012 the LAC had sixty local chapters in twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia. LAC organizes educational, cultural, religious, community, social, and sports activities; works with Lithuanian institutions, businesses, and organizations; promotes Lithuanian culture in the United States and provides information to Americans about Lithuania; and works for human and civil rights and economic reform in Lithuania.

2715 East Allegheny Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19134
Phone: (800) 625-1170
Fax: (815) 327-8881

The Knights of Lithuania

The Knights of Lithuania is an organization of Roman Catholics of Lithuanian descent that fosters an appreciation of the Lithuanian language, customs, and culture while also stressing Roman Catholic beliefs and traditions. They organize cultural presentations, lectures, trips, choral and dance groups and have a national scholarship fund. Many chapters have junior councils for youth participation.

Andrew Berczelly, National 2nd Vice President
1445 Bernwald Lane
Dayton, Ohio 45432

The Lithuanian Foundation, Inc.

The Lithuanian Foundation, Inc., is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and fostering Lithuanian culture and traditions in the United States, Lithuania, and Lithuanian communities worldwide. It awards grants and scholarships.

14911 127th Street
Lemont, Illinois 60439
Phone: (630) 257-1616
Fax: (630) 257-1647

Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation of America

Founded in 1906, the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation of America is composed of Lithuanian American Catholic organizations, parishes, religious orders, and publications; agencies and institutions; and individuals. It seeks to unite Lithuanian American Catholics, promote Catholic action, and uphold Lithuanian culture. It hosts the one-week Lithuanian Heritage Summer Camp at Camp Dainava in Michigan ( ) each year.

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12690 Archer Avenue
Lemont, Illinois 60439-6732
Phone: (630) 243-0416

The Lithuanian Student Association of North America, Inc.

The Lithuanian Student Association of North America, Inc., is a national nonprofit representing students of Lithuanian descent. It helps students maintain their heritage and educates them about Lithuanian culture and history through events, annual conferences, and collaboration with other international student organizations and assists in educational and professional networking.

6500 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, Illinois 60629

The Lithuanian World Center (LWC)

The LWC is a nonprofit organization established in 1988 whose mission is to attend to the needs of ethnic Lithuanians, care for the preservation of ethnic identity and heritage, and advance the integration of Lithuanians into local communities. It operates a community center that includes banquet halls and sports facilities.

14911 127th Street, Lemont
Illinois 60439
Phone: (630) 257-8787
Fax: (630) 257-6887


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Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture

Founded in 1966 in Chicago, the Balzekas Museum is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Lithuanian culture. The museum celebrates the notable achievements of Lithuanian Americans, the Lithuanian nation, and Lithuanian communities worldwide, and has the largest collection of Lithuanian memorabilia outside of Lithuania.

6500 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, Illinois 60629
Phone: (773) 582-6500
Fax: (773) 582-5133

Institute of Lithuanian Studies (ILS)

Founded in the United States in 1951 to research Lithuanian culture, the ILS consists of the following divisions: Lithuanian language, literature, ethnography, Lithuanian prehistory, history, geography, and Lithuanian American history. It organizes college level courses on Lithuania, symposiums and conferences, and publishes books such as the series Lithuanian Studies.

5600 South Claremont Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60636-1039
Phone: (773) 434-4545
Fax: (773) 434-9363

Lithuanian American Cultural Archives

Run by the Lithuanian Marian Fathers, the Lithuanian American Cultural Archives focuses on Lithuanians in America. It has an extensive collection of early materials on the immigrant community, especially on Lithuanians in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states and includes a library of over 60,000 books and a museum.

J. Rigel, Director
37 Mary Crest Drive
Putnam, Connecticut 06260
Phone: (860) 928-5197 or (860) 923-3043
URL: or

Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania

The library houses one of the largest collections of materials about Lithuania and Lithuanian Americans in the United States.

3420 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Phone: (215) 898-7088


Budreckis, Algirdas. The Lithuanians in America, 1651–1975: A Chronology and Factbook. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1975.

Eitdintas, Alfondas. Lithuanian Emigration to the United States, 1868–1950. Vilnius: Išleido Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas, 2003.

Fainhauz, David. Lithuanians in the U.S.A.: Aspects of Ethnic Identity. Chicago: Lithuanian Library Press, Inc., 1991.

Gedmintas, Aleksandras. “Lithuanians.” In American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation, Vol. 2, edited by David Levinson and Melvin Ember, 588–96. New York: Macmillan, 1997.

Grazulis, Marius K. Lithuanians in Michigan (Discovering the Peoples of Michigan). Detroit: Michigan State University Press, 2009.

Kuzmickaitė, Daiva Kristina. Between Two Worlds: Recent Lithuanian Immigrants in Chicago (1998–2000). Vilnius: Versus Aureus, 2003.

Markelis, Daiva. White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300116