This Catholic prayer book was donated by the granddaughter of Joseph Schwartz, a Czech immigrant who came to Texas from Austria in 1892. Mr. Schwartz and his family came to Texas by passing through Galveston Island, which was a port for immigrants coming from Europe during the late 19th century, similar to Ellis Island in New York, City and Angel Island in San Francisco. He and his wife Sophia Loika had more than 15 children, and spoke fluent German and Czech. According to the donor, the Schwartz family lived in the house they built for over 70 years, until its demolition in 1969, which is when the prayer book was found.
During the late 19th century, Czech immigrants who came to Texas came mostly from the Moravia and Bohemia regions that now make up modern-day Czech Republic. During the 19th century though, these regions were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Austria-Hungary, German was the dominant language, yet the prayer book that belonged to the Schwartz’s was written in the Czech language. This reflected how Schwartz and his family kept their culture and ethnic identity during Austrian-Hungarian rule.
The Schwartz family settled in Moravia, Texas, a farming community mostly settled by Czech immigrants in the late 1800s. Many Czech immigrants that came to Texas started out their new lives as farmers. In Europe the technology boom of the Industrial Revolution made it more difficult to make a living by farming. As a result, many Czech farmers and their families immigrated to North America, looking for new opportunities in farm land.
When the first Czech immigrants came in the 1850s, many settled in the Gulf-Coast region of Texas, starting out as tenant farmers. Tenant farmers would farm small plots of land for a landowner. The landowner typically provided the tenant with food, housing, seeds and the equipment needed to bring in the crop. After harvest, the landowner would sell the crops produced by the tenant. After deducting the costs of the materials provided to the tenant, the landowner would share the profits of the crop with the tenant. This system of farming is also sometimes referred to as “sharecropping.” The early Czech immigrants typically farmed mostly cotton and corn as their cash crops. In addition to their cash crops, these early farmers used gardens to grow food for their families. Over time, the Czech communities in Texas were able to buy their own property and farm their own land, while still raising and sending their crops to market.
As more families became property owners, the Czech community grew into thriving towns. By the time the Schwartz family came to Texas, Czech communities like Moravia, Texas provided support for new immigrants joining their community. As early as the 1880s, support networks had been organized in order to help the Czech communities hold onto their cultural and ethnic identity brought with them from Europe. These helped to integrate Czech-Texans into their new country. To help this process, children were taught English in school and use of the Czech language was primarily confined to church activities and in the home. Luckily the Czech community in Texas was able to maintain many aspects of their culture through religion, music and dance.
Several fraternal societies were created in order to advocate and maintain Czech cultural and ethnic identity. These fraternal societies focused on their local Texas communities, but their projects included publishing books and journals in the Czech language, as well as providing insurance and financial services for Czech-Texans.