Lithuanian immigrants arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, in two major waves: the first in the late 19th century, and the second after World War II. By 1915, Cleveland was home to 10,000-12,000 Lithuanians, and the Dirva (“Field”) was one of several newspapers established in the early 20th century to serve this community. The paper started as the Santaika (“Peace”) in 1915 and was renamed the Dirva in August 1916; by 1920, it was the only Lithuanian newspaper in Cleveland. Published by the Ohio Lithuanian Publishing Company run by Apdonas B. Bartusevicius (Bartoszewicz) and first edited by Vincas K. Jokubynas, the main editor of the Dirva’s early run was Kazys S. Karpius (Karpavicius).
Immigrating with his parents in 1909, Karpius attended Western Reserve University and worked at a number of publications before becoming editor of the Dirva in 1918. He would remain with the paper for the next 30 years, gaining a controlling interest in 1925. During World War I, Karpius had participated in the Lithuanian Rescue Fund, helping care for war victims and demanding autonomy for Lithuania. Karpius remained heavily involved in Lithuanian groups throughout his life, including the Unification of Lithuanians in America (Susivienijimui lietuvių Amerikoje), the Homeland Lovers Society (Tėvynės mylėtojų draugijai) of which he was president in 1924-26, and the Lithuanian National League of America. He was one of the founders of the American Lithuanian Cultural Center (Amerikos lietuvių kultūros centro) in Cleveland as well. During World War II, Karpius met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a member of a Lithuanian independence group. Additionally, he wrote novels, plays, and poems about Lithuanian history and their struggle against the Vikings and Crusaders, and was a member of the Lithuanian Writers’ Association (Lietuvių rašytojų draugijos).
Publishing local, national, and international news, the Dirva was circulated widely in other states with significant Lithuanian populations, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Michigan. Detroit and Pittsburgh had especially large circulation numbers due to lack of their own Lithuanian press. A main goal of the paper during Karpius’s tenure as editor was to keep the older members of the community in touch with news in Lithuania as well as developments in the United States. The Dirva published content local to the various cities it serviced, as well as national and international news, especially news concerning Lithuania and the Lithuanian people. Other content included birthday and death announcements, movie reviews, daily questions, union news, and traffic reports. Reflecting Karpius’s personal interests, the Dirva often included poems and fiction excerpts, as well as news about contemporary authors. In later years, there occasionally, there appeared a few columns in English, generally focusing on international news.
During World War II, the Dirva tried to stay centrist, publishing both anti-fascist and anti-communist content. Some 4,000 Lithuanians, including the last president of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, settled in Cleveland after the Soviet Union’s annexation of their country. These newer immigrants initially thought that Lithuania’s independence would be restored after World War II and that they would shortly be returning home after the Soviet Union was removed from Lithuania, and so created their own organizations rather than joining existing ones. Instead, Lithuania remained under Soviet control for decades. Among the cornerstones of the Lithuanian community in Cleveland that benefitted from this second wave of immigration were St. George Lithuanian Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the Dirva, which increased its publication schedule from weekly to triweekly, before eventually returning to once a week. In the 1960s, the Dirva became the organ of the Lithuanian National Alliance of America, and today it is one of the last Lithuanian newspapers still published in the United States.
Researched and written by Bronwyn Benson