The Dream of America


We are proud to announce that we have received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. They advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant making, research, and policy development. Their vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities.
We are using this grant to re-do our beloved exhibit Dream of America into We Are America. We are revitalizing our core exhibit to better address current community concerns, reflect updated scholarship, and contemporary best practices for museum exhibitions. We Are America will present a more holistic portrayal of the immigrant experience by incorporating diverse viewpoints from a number of our 43 first-voice ethnic museum peers in the Chicago Cultural Alliance (CCA), representing more than 30 cultures, and bringing the exhibit up-to-date with present-day immigration trends and scholarship. We will introduce new interactive and digital features, along with opportunities for community-created content, and improve preservation methods for artifacts on exhibit. We Are America will demonstrate that immigration to Chicago has shaped every ethnic group’s lived experience here, and in return, immigrants have changed and continue to change the very nature of the city, using Swedish-Americans and Chicago as a microcosm through which to examine immigration to the United States writ large. While the Swedish-American story shares many similarities with other immigrant groups, it in no way represents all immigrants’ experiences.


Swedish Immigration to Chicago

dream-of-americaOur main exhibit, The Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago, was located on the second floor of the Museum. The exhibit explores the struggles and triumphs of the Swedish immigrant experience and asks the question: would you leave home today in search of a better tomorrow?

The exhibit follows Swedish immigrants from the arduous journey to the new world to building a life and community in Chicago. It examines topics such as why so many Swedes left their homeland and what they packed for their voyage, as well as careers they chose in the Chicago area and the social lives within their immigrant communities. Visitors will encounter authentic artifacts that reflect the experiences and perspectives of immigrants – from household items they brought from Sweden and travel items such as passports and steamship tickets to memorabilia from Chicago-based Swedish-American organizations and Swedish folk crafts produced in the United States and abroad.

Visitors meet many characters within the exhibit, including, Stina Olofsdotter, who is helping her son prepare for his journey to America in 1868; Karl Karlson, whose family arrives in New York in 1893; and Elin Hedman and her daughter Birgitta who passed through Ellis Island in 1924.