Old Depot Museum hosts immigration and naturization in Kansas exhibit

Franklin County Historical Society/Old Depot Museum News Release

Contact: Deborah Barker, Director - Franklin Co. Historical Society
(785) 242-1232

Immigration and Naturalization Exhibit To Open at Old Depot Museum in May

Ottawa, Kansas, – Most Kansans can trace their heritage to another part of the world. Some came in search of a better life for themselves or their children—many came to join families or friends. Between 1865 and 1880, Kansas attracted immigrants at a faster pace than anywhere else in the United States. The state’s population grew from 107,205 in 1860 to 1,428,108 in 1890—thanks to the irresistible promise of a better life through land and jobs. In 1870, 13% of Kansas’ total population was foreign-born. Employment opportunities, lower cost of living, and ease of integrating into communities in a meaningful way, continue to attract many new immigrants to the state. Today, 6% of all Kansans are foreign-born. And, each year, the U.S. District Court, District of Kansas hosts more than 20 naturalization ceremonies where individuals who have completed the requirements for citizenship take the Oath of Allegiance and become United States citizens.

This is the unique story told in Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration & Citizenship in Kansas, a new exhibit now touring the state. Its first stop will be at the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh in Ottawa. It will open to the public on May 8 and close on July 30. The exhibit illustrates the paths to citizenship taken by Kansas settlers from around the world over the past 150 years, and personalizes the story of immigration and citizenship—who came, where they came from, why they came to Kansas, and why they chose to become U.S. citizens. It features photographs, documents, quotes, and interactive books describing major laws affecting immigration and naturalization over the past 150 years, the consequences of those laws and how they directly affected the life of a Kansan. 

The exhibit was commissioned by the U.S. District Court, District of Kansas to highlight the Court’s role in the naturalization process. A permanent exhibit of the same title is installed at the Robert J. Dole Courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas. The Honorable Kathryn H. Vratil, Chief Judge, stated, “I speak for every one of the judges on this court when I say that participating in naturalization ceremonies is one of the highlights of our professional life. It helps us reaffirm and refocus ourselves on the values that we hold very dear to our hearts as American citizens.” From 1931 to 2010, more than 75,000 new citizens were naturalized in Kansas, an average of 2,400 annually. 

The exhibit project was developed by Jean Svadlenak, a museum consultant based in Kansas City, Missouri, with over 35 years of experience in the history field. “I have been captivated and inspired by the people I’ve met through this project. Their personal stories give meaning to immigration and citizenship facts and figures. Working on this project has given me a deeper appreciation for my own American citizenship,” Svadlenak said.

Admission is $3.00 for adults and $1.00 for students. Preschoolers are free. For more information, please call (785) 242-1232.

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