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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published June 13 2009

Halgrimson: Immigrant’s life story offers inspiration

Joy K. Lintelman is a professor of history at Concordia College in Moorhead. Two of her areas of study are ethnic/immigration history and women’s history. Lintelman is combining those two subjects in her book “I Go to America” recently published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

And it is fascinating. The book is based on a memoir written by one of the 250,000 young, single Swedish women who immigrated to America between 1881 and 1920. The book is interwoven with the letters of others and interviews with some of the immigrant’s friends, children and grandchildren.

Lintelman says that few Swedish immigrant women left written records and that the author of the memoir, Minnie Anderson, explained why she had written about her life in Sweden and America: “It is people who have been educated and can write, who write most of what is published. Those who actually have lived the pioneer life do not write. They are uneducated and have never during their hard working life had time to write, even if they had been able to do so.”

Anderson called her unpublished memoir “Livets skola,” which means “The school of life.” She said it is “a brief, realistic portrayal of my childhood and youth in Sweden, my journey here, and my experiences as an immigrant.”

Anderson was born in 1867 in the western Swedish province of Dalsland. After working at home and later in Norway as a domestic servant, an uncle already in America sent her a ticket. In 1890 she crossed the Atlantic to New York City, traveled to Wisconsin, where she worked long enough to learn English and then moved to St. Paul, where she again worked as a domestic servant.

In 1892, she married Jacob Halgren, a Swedish immigrant tailor, and two years later they purchased land in Mille Lacs County and moved there with their young son. There they built a log cabin, farmed the land and raised their seven children.

Jacob was often gone for six to eight months a year to work at his trade in cities such as St. Cloud and St. Paul, so much of the farm work and child rearing were left to Minnie. When their third son was born, Minnie was nursing her husband, who was ill with typhoid fever. She birthed the baby with the help of a neighbor, took care of two toddlers and cared for her sick husband – and I imagine most of the farm work.

Jacob and Minnie’s first purchase for their farm was a cow that provided milk for the family and butter to sell. When they bought a horse, Minnie became so fond of the mare that she wrote a poem to the animal. The poem is included in the book. She eventually also tended chickens, goats and sheep.

While her life on the farm was moving forward and she was caring for her children, Minnie also found time to help others, to make Swedish holiday delicacies with friends at her Swedish Lutheran Church and to write for the Swedish American press, to which she contributed letters on women’s suffrage and other issues, poetry and prose. She was an amazing woman. Minnie died in 1955. She was still living on the farm.

The book tells a captivating story. While reading it I was reminded of my grandmother who came to America by herself at about the same age Minnie did. And I imagined that many of her experiences were similar, only I know little of them.

At the end of her Introduction, Lintelman says, “I hope she (Anderson) would be pleased with the rich harvest her words have produced.” I’m sure she would have been pleased.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com