Before its founding, several benefit organizations across the United States helped recent immigrants with insurance and other forms of financial support. In 1904, nine of those organizations came together in Chicago to create the Slovene National Benefit Society (SNPJ).
Unlike many Slovenian associations at the time, SNPJ was fully secular and had no direct ties to the Catholic Church. Its main business was selling life and disability insurance to members of the Slovenian-American community – many of them manual workers with relatively limited job security. Over the years, SNPJ established subsidiaries, known as lodges, across the United States.
But the organization was just as active in the cultural life of the community. It organized various gatherings, concerts, dances, as well as publications ranging from periodicals to books. Perhaps most famously, SNPJ published the newspaper Prosveta, which for years served as one of the most important voices of the Slovenian-American community.
SNPJ’s membership grew for decades until it reached its post-World War II peak of around 70,000. The organization even maintained an official initiation ceremony for new members.
Over the years, younger generations of Slovenians tended to lose touch with their Slovenian roots, and the community has become smaller, but SNPJ is still around, more than a century after it was founded. Now based in Pennsylvania, the association organizes everything from scholarships and athletic events to tours of Slovenia. It even runs a heritage center, where authentic Slovenian crafts are on display.
SNPJ has also given its name to a borough in Pennsylvania – a town with a population of just 19. SNPJ, Pennsylvania, may be tiny, but it serves as another reminder of the historic role the organization has played on behalf of Slovenian immigrants who sought a better life in a distant land.