This small, mountainous state has attracted little foreign immigration; however, modest numbers of northern Europeans came during the nineteenth century and larger numbers of southern and eastern Europeans came to work in its coalfields during the early twentieth century. By the early twenty-first century, West Virginia had one of the nation’s smallest foreign-born populations.
The region that has become West Virginia was settled by Pennsylvania
West Virginia’s small population at statehood worried many of its political and business leaders, as more people were needed to develop the state’s natural resources and farmlands. In 1864, the state legislature created the office of immigration commissioner and made the energetic
Meanwhile, the opening of new railroads and the development of coalfields in the southern part of the state after 1880 brought new immigrants, The mines needed more workers than the state’s native white black communities could provided, so they sought workers from Europe–especially southern and eastern Europe. In 1900, the U.S. Census counted 2,921
West Virginia has not shared the economic and demographic growth that many southern states have had since the early 1990’s. It has also seen little growth in its immigrant population. In 2000, only 1.1 percent of state residents were foreign born–a figure far below the national average. Indeed, the total number of foreign-born residents in West Virginia has increased little since the late nineteenth century.
In 2006, the largest number of immigrants in the state were of
Fones-Wolf, Ken, and Ronald L. Lewis. Transnational West Virginia: Ethnic Communities and Economic Change, 1840-1940. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2002. Hennen, John C. The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916-1925. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. Sullivan, Ken, ed. The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Humanities Council, 2006. Williams, John Alexander. West Virginia: A History. Rev. ed. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2001.