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Poles in Illinois

Poles in Illinois

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John Radzilowski and Ann Hetzel Gunkel


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
244 pages, 6.125 x 9.25, 48 illustrations


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Table of Contents

Table of Contents



About the Book

Illinois boasts one of the most visible concentrations of Poles in the United States. Chicago is home to one of the largest Polish ethnic communities outside Poland itself. Yet no one has told the full story of our state’s large and varied Polish community—until now. Poles in Illinois is the first comprehensive history to trace the abundance and diversity of this ethnic group throughout the state from the 1800s to the present.
Authors John Radzilowski and Ann Hetzel Gunkel look at family life among Polish immigrants, their role in the economic development of the state, the working conditions they experienced, and the development of their labor activism. Close-knit Polish American communities were often centered on parish churches but also focused on fraternal and social groups and cultural organizations. Polish Americans, including waves of political refugees during World War II and the Cold War, helped shape the history and culture of not only Chicago, the “capital” of Polish America, but also the rest of Illinois with their music, theater, literature, food.
With forty-seven photographs and an ample number of extensive excerpts from first-person accounts and Polish newspaper articles, this captivating, highly readable book illustrates important and often overlooked stories of this ethnic group in Illinois and the changing nature of Polish ethnicity in the state over the past two hundred years. Illinoisans and Midwesterners celebrating their connections to Poland will treasure this rich and important part of the state’s history.


John Radzilowski is a professor of history at the University of Alaska and the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including Poles in Minnesota and A Traveller's History of Poland.

Ann Hetzel Gunkel is an award-winning associate professor of cultural studies and humanities at Columbia College Chicago and a former Fulbright Professor at the Jagiellonian University. Her essays have appeared in Popular Music and Society and Polish American Studies. She serves on the editorial boards of Polish American Studies and Ad Americam: Journal of American Studies.


"[The book shows] how much has changed since the first Poles came there, what path they themselves, their descendants and the group as a whole have gone, but also how the Polish diaspora historiography has changed, starting from philopietic collecting of sources through institutional histories, appreciating the social history corresponding to contemporary academic trends and reading interests."—Joanna WojdonMigration Studies - Review of the Polish Diaspora

"It is astonishing that until now we have not had a comprehensive study concerning the history of Polish communities in Illinois. Luckily, John Radzilowski and Ann Hetzel Gunkel’s book, Poles in Illinois, fills that void."—Radoslaw MisiarzH-Net Reviews

“This is a book that needed to be written. . . . Poles in Illinois is not a definitive history of the Polish community in Illinois, but it is a very impressive beginning and a declaration that justice demands further study of this important segment of the population.”—Thomas J. NapierkowskiNaród Polski

Poles in Illinois affords an excellent overview of this ethnic group in the state of its greatest density of settlement. Because of the centrality of Chicago as the capital of American Palonia, it has a wider relevance than other state studies. The authors also address rural settlement in the state, utilizing jubilee books and other local sources to discuss small communities, all too often slighted.”—William J. GalushThe Annals of Iowa

“All in all, Poles in Illinois is one that should not be missed and would be right at home on your bookshelf.”—Mary LanhamPolish American Journal