My grandmother certainly was not the only Swedish woman immigrant who suffered significant difficulties and adversity in making the commitment to come to America and have to make harsh adjustments.
The stress and strain my dear Grandma Maja endured as a woman, widow, single mother breadwinner was in my opinion cruel and abusive. She bore hidden scars of torture and torment. An intense study of what she faced during the Great Depression has shocked and saddened me. I want the world to know her sorrow and triumph.
In my research to write Maja’s story I looked for life stories of other women who were Swedish immigrants.
I learned details of Mina Anderson Halgren who left behind a lively memoir that helped Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg create “Kristina,” the central female character of his beloved emigrant novels. Mina settled in Wisconsin where she and her husband worked a farm, raised seven children, and contributed to rural Swedish community life.
Author Joy Lintelman in, I Go To America offers readers both an intimate portrait of Mina Anderson and a window into the lives of the nearly 250,000 young, single Swedish women who immigrated to America from 1881 to 1920 and whose courage, hard work, and pragmatism embody the American dream. My book adds yet another story as a tribute.
Professor Lintelman provides additional insights on Life for Swedish women:
The trauma of responsibilities thrust upon my grandmother weighed heavily on her life. I came to look at her struggles as, “logjams” on her river of life. Despite it all, Maja was one of the most upbeat and sweetest optimistic persons I have ever met. How did she do it? How did she manage?
I think the single most compelling reason for sharing Maja’s story was discovering and appreciating the essence of her gritty (framåtanda) selfless conviction.
Maja became steadfastly determined to show her children how the power of resilience can conquer most any adversity. I am so proud of her story and ultimate sacrifices. I am proud to highlight her virtues and valor.
The Great Depression made great demands on widow Maja and her little family; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
After the Stock Market Crash of 1929 Maja adapted herself into a 7 day a week night nurse and became the operator of a boarding house. This was all after experiencing the sudden shock of her husband dying of a heart attack.
Maja became the sole breadwinner and source of income. Maja did her best to be cheerful, optimistic, a leader, and suffered ongoing strains and stresses of many kinds.
The physical stress was harsh. Long hours without sleep was difficult. Maja commented that wealthy clients during years of long hours of employment for her nursing work could be at times overly demanding. Clients were sometimes rude, disrespectful, and difficult. The same was true of meeting the complex unceasing demands of the boarding house residents.
I fell in love with Grandma Maja in many ways. As a Boy Scout I worked hard to follow in her footsteps. Scouting is all about, “being prepared” I grew to admire her inner strength. I was fascinated hearing stories about her life in Sweden. I was fascinated by her stories of the ups and downs of adjusting to life as an immigrant so far from home.
I invested 16 years researching Maja’s story. I first sought to understand her family history, culture, genealogy with many character dynamics and details. I wanted to dissect and understand her upbringing, including what was built into her personality and sought to find out, what made her tick.
I wanted to know details about her decision to come to America. I wanted to know why she decided to remain in the US. I wanted to know about her first 10 years as a Swedish American in Chicago, and learn details surrounding her serving as the devoted mother of four children.
I wanted to know about immigration acculturation and assimilation woes, and fitting in as a Swedish American. What were her priorities in integrating Swedish family traditions from the old country?
I learned that Maja’s status shifted from being mainly a young homemaker mother and abruptly became a widow in the midst of the Great Depression. She mainly did so alone and isolated from her Swedish family overseas. She felt abandoned by her second generation Swedish American husband’s family.
I kept probing seeking to discover how she managed to rally resourcefulness in order to survive. Maja had chronic homesickness to deal with and mostly was successful in setting it aside.
In my research I studied the impact of the Depression on Maja and children as immigrants compared to others. In my early years I conducted informal interviews with Maja’s children and their spouses. I wanted to discern what life lessons they derived and wanted to pass on to future generations.
To delve into details about daily life during the Great Depression I studied published works describing immigrant life in urban settings. I did not find illuminating detail describing a professionally trained Swede immigrant like Maja who assumed the role of primary breadwinner.
In my research about Great Depression life,-I found plenty about “forgotten men”, politicians, government programs for the new deal. I found libraries full of materializes about the “new deal”.
I have become sensitized to what I call, the, “invisible, forgotten, unappreciated, and unimportant lost women immigrant survivors of America’s immigration story in general and especially during the Great Depression 1929-1949.”
Looking back and reflecting, “I started out writing a warm memoir about us, Maja and me,- the best Swedish Grandma in the universe. I came to admire her guts and gumption resilience standing up as a widow against the Great Depression. She struggled mightily as a foreigner with little ones to raise alone in a hostile America that brutalized her.
In my advanced research, I discovered 3 hidden family secrets.
The plot got mighty thick as, one by one, the skeletons danced out of Maja’s closet. How did the traumatic abuses she endured play out in the Maja and family history narrative?
What unknown torture did Maja endure beneath that warm and cuddly exterior?
It is best for the reader to delve into reading the book for yourself. It is available via Amazon.com.
Now, in the aftermath, and the secrets exposed, What do I think of her? And her story?
What you think of Maja counts!
I am so happy to pass along Maja’s wisdom and knowledge to family and others.
For Maja, there is no looking back on her decision to come to America. Our favorite tribute to Maja’s story:
“Maja, we are sure glad you came to this country”……and we meant it!”