All communities and societies are given a unique flair not only by where they are and what they do, but by the unique collection of people that create, live, and flourish there. Sioux City is no exception to this. Since our founding we have been home to many different kinds of groups and populations, all of whom have left their mark on the city in some way. Different people with different backgrounds and different ideas came to Sioux City to practice different trades and follow different beliefs. People have also affected the city and federal political sphere, making their voices heard in their own ways. Though not always peaceably or without tension, Sioux City’s unique patchwork of people have shaped and continue to shape the city we know today.
In the 19th century immigrants poured into America, seeking a golden land of opportunity and often fleeing troubles at home. The East Coast soon became crowded and many immigrants headed west by boat and rail for farmland and job opportunities in Western and Midwestern cities. Most of Sioux City’s earliest immigrants traced their lineage back to the British Isles, though a significant percentage were from German stock. In 1880 the booming meatpacking industry another huge wave of immigration, mostly from areas in northern Europe like Germany and Scandinavia. The final wave of immigration into the Midwest took place from 1900 until about 1920. This time, Russians, Polish, Lithuanians, Italians, Greeks, and Syrians were the main immigrant groups. After this wave, U. S. legislation restricted immigration from 1921 to about 1924. This reduced Sioux City’s foreign-born citizens, but during this time there was a significant increase in African Americans coming to town, looking again for job opportunities. The foreign-born population stayed relatively stagnant until the 1970s, when large numbers of Latinos and Southeast Asians came into the region.
Most ethnic groups that came to Sioux City founded their own churches when they arrived. Various religious viewpoints and religious houses popped up around Sioux City due to the varied groups. Catholic and Protestant churches, Greek Orthodox churches, and Jewish synagogues were all founded in Sioux City, but religious houses were not the only communities founded. Masonic orders like the Abu Bekr Shrine and the Scottish Rite Temple founded thriving communities here. The Hawkeye Club was founded by businessmen for social networking in 1886. The Sons of Norway were founded here in Sioux City around 1915 to promote the heritage and customs of their home country. Women organizations like the Wimodausis promoted women’s interests in the city and gave women a social gathering site.
Many immigrants and newcomers to Sioux City came here for opportunities they could not have elsewhere. The meatpacking industry attracted a large variety of unskilled laborers, but artisans and specialists from abroad came to the city as well, bringing their unique skills and trades into town. Doctors, dentists, barbers, milliners, cobblers, and all manner of other skilled workers made a living by selling their wares and services. As technology and education grew in the city so did the variety of opportunities, and soon the city was home to typesetters, switchboard operators, telephone makers and news and media journalists.
Political leaders from Sioux City’s diverse population have lobbied for Siouxland interests on the local, regional, and national stage. Sioux City has had three different forms of local government over the years. The first was a ward system, which was replaced by the commission plan in 1910. Under the commission plan, a mayor and part-time council elected at-large ran the city. Department heads were elected for two-year terms. This plan was replaced in 1953 by the current council system, in which votes are cast every four years for a five-member city council. Sioux City and its citizens have played a part in national politics as well. Presidents like John F. Kennedy campaigned here, and several federal Senators and Representatives were once Sioux City natives.