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History

Swedish Immigrants in 1919, the year the Institute was founded.

The Institute, founded in 1919 as a branch of the YWCA of Saint Paul, addressed unmet needs of immigrant women and their families by providing support services as well as English and citizenship classes. In 1931 Alice Sickels became the Institute’s first executive director. She expanded the services provided by the Institute, and in 1932, the Institute held its first Festival of Nations. In 1938, the Institute became an independent agency.

In 2019, the Institute celebrated its centennial through commissioning partnerships with the Ramsey County Historical Society, Immigration History Research Center Archives at the University of Minnesota, and local historians and authors in order to share the Institute’s rich history with the wider community.

Throughout its 100-year history, the Institute has offered innovative programs to meet the changing needs of Minnesota’s immigrants. The exhibit and articles linked below offer a glimpse into this history:

These projects were made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Heritage Fund.


To learn more about the history of the Institute, please visit the Institute’s archives, International Institute of Minnesota (1920-2004), located at the Immigration History Research Center Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries. Here are just a few highlights:

  • The Institute offered the first English language classes in Minnesota. Classes were held on the west side of Saint Paul and served mostly Mexican immigrants.
  • During WWII, the Institute, in partnership with the War Relocation Authority, helped get Japanese-Americans out of internment camps and working as translators at Fort Snelling. Men worked as translators and codebreakers at Fort Snelling. Institute caseworkers helped their families find and homes and employment for their wives.
  • After WWII, the Institute served “displaced people” who came to the U.S. to re-start their lives. Support was also provided to the returning soldiers’ “war brides.”
  • As soon as the U.S. government began its refugee resettlement program in 1974, the Institute started resettling Lao, Hmong, and Vietnamese displaced by the war in Vietnam. The Institute hired Minnesota’s first bilingual case manager. Today our case managers are reflective of the many refugee and immigrant communities we serve.
  • The Institute has resettled more than 25,000 refugees from almost every region in the world since 1974.

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