The Mennonite Colonization Board, headquarters at Newton, Kansas, was organized in the spring of 1924 to give financial aid to the movement of Mennonite immigrants from Russia to Canada. The board was constituted at a meeting held at the Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church north of Newton, where by popular election at the meeting seventeen members were elected representing six Mennonite branches (Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren Church, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite Church, Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) from Pennsylvania to Kansas, nine from the latter state. The first officers were D. E. Harder, president, D. H. Bender, vice-president, J. G. Regier, secretary-treasurer, all from Harvey County, Kansas, with J. G. Wiens and O. O. Miller as additional members of the executive committee. Later J. M. Sudermann became president and executive secretary, P. C. Hiebert, secretary, and H. E. Suderman, treasurer. These men, with O. O. Miller and John Lichti, constituted the executive committee to the close of active operations in 1926. In 1947 the Mennonite Colonization Board was dissolved and its assets turned over to the Mennonite Central Committee.
The Mennonite Colonization Board had two active projects. The one was financial aid to immigrants to Canada. By 1 August 1925, $15,000 had been raised and sent to Canada, $12,000 as loans to be repaid. The second project, colonization of Russian Mennonites in Mexico, arose because of the inability of some of the prospective Russian emigrants to pass the Canadian health requirements. The Board failed in its attempt to secure admission of these people to the United States, and then turned to Mexico because of the favorable attitude of the Mexican government as well as the earlier (1922) actual establishment of an Old Colony Mennonite settlement from Manitoba in the state of Chihuahua. When the possibility of settlement in Mexico was reported to the Mennonites in Russia there was immediate response and a considerable movement to Mexico set in at once via Tampico and Vera Cruz. The first two groups of six families, a total of fifteen, arrived on 1 July 1924, and settled on a tract of their own choosing near Rosario, state of Chihuahua. By October about 200 persons had arrived. By the end of 1924 approximately $14,000 in cash and supplies had been contributed to this settlement by the Board from donations received in the United States. The Rosario settlement, suffering serious reverses due to climate, also due to the divisive effects of the founding of a second (San Juan) colony near Irapuato about 550 miles south of Rosario, finally disintegrated and by the end of 1925 almost all had gone on to Canada. The Irapuato settlement was organized by several private individuals in the General Conference Mennonite church in Kansas, who solicited individuals to leave the Rosario settlement and finally diverted 24 families from Rosario to Irapuato. In spite of additional aid which the Mennonite Colonization Board finally gave in an attempt to aid and save the Irapuato colony, it too disintegrated, the settlers moving to Canada. A third settlement was attempted at Las Animas near Irapuato by a private individual, A. A. Rempel, himself an immigrant from Russia to the United States a few years earlier, chiefly for his own relatives. A total of 18 families were received by Rempel in November 1924, but by the end of January 1925 they left to go to Rosario (10 families) and Irapuato or Canada. A fourth settlement was attempted at El Trebol, Durango, about 500 miles south of Rosario by 24 families from Russia arriving in late 1925. This colony also disintegrated, most going to Canada, although a few families still lived here in the 1950s. Most of the Russian Mennonites who remained in Mexico (some 35 persons) finally located at Cuauhtemoc, a town adjacent to the Old Colony settlement in Chihuahua. This group was organized into a General Conference Mennonite congregation in 1938. By 1957 the total number of immigrant families from Russia to Mexico was 124, with about 600 persons. The last group of eight families arrived in December 1925. The MBC aided all of the four settlements, although its only own project was Rosario. The total funds received by the Board were: for Canada, loan $11,050, donations $3,096, total $14,146; for Mexico, loan $10,105, donations $22,800, total $32,905 plus two cars of supplies and one car of milk cows.
The failure of the Mennonite Colonization Board colonization effort in Mexico 1924-1925 can be attributed to the following causes: (1) lack of sufficient aid funds to carry the settlements through to self-support; (2) lack of sufficient rainfall in the areas chosen, at least without expensive irrigation; (3) fear of the degrading influence of the Mexican population; (4) no opportunity to earn money by hiring out during the pioneer years as in Canada and the United States because of the low wage scale; (5) the changed attitude of the new Mexican president Calles (succeeding the tolerant Obregon), who in early 1925 issued a decree to the effect that "in the future not more than ten families of foreigners shall be permitted to colonize any particular farming locality."
When the Mennonite Colonization Board was liquidated in 1947 it had succeeded largely through the help of C. F. Klassen in collecting most of the loans advanced to the settlers in Canada and Mexico and had been able to discharge all its financial obligations. The remaining assets were contributed to the MCC relief fund.
Files of J. M. Suderman and H. P. Krehbiel. Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas, USA)
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 99 f.
Yoder, S. C. For Conscience Sake: a study of Mennonite migrations resulting from the World War. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1940: 154-159.
|Author(s)||J. M Suderman|
Cite This Article
Suderman, J. M. "Mennonite Colonization Board (Newton, Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 6 Oct 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Colonization_Board_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=58619.
Suderman, J. M. (1957). Mennonite Colonization Board (Newton, Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 October 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Colonization_Board_(Newton,_Kansas,_USA)&oldid=58619.
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