Maja Kallgren Wittenstrom (1897-1969)


Grandma Maja’s story never leaves me. Her story provoked a lifelong obsession pursuing a practical and theoretical understanding the essence of grit and resilience tools that can be learned and applied in every aspect of one’s life; career, family, and more. The reader will share reflections and analyses about what is known about grit and resilience, persistence, determination. The author has spent a lifetime dissecting and investigating the Maja story in terms of what is known about theory and practice shared by others.

Grandma Maja left this planet over fifty years ago, but her presence continues to be felt every day. It was digging deeply into studying her life story so that future generations of family might know her that has prompted a sharing in these pages.

It was Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of heroic women of the Great Depression that cries out again for history to properly attend to acknowledging women like Maja and others like her that accomplished what politicians could not in the form of the 1930’s New Deal programs and policies.

Hard times brought out the true character of women who did it all, kept the house, in many cases became the breadwinner, buttressed emotionally broken husbands who could not find work, and most importantly as mothers, took gains at raising rugged individual resilient and independent children. Mothers like Maja explicitly and as role models taught daily lessons during relentless hard times to adapt, make do, to bend, not break when crisis conditions came when push came to shove. Family’s often under the leadership of women held tight to the foundation of explicit family values that became the glue that kept them working together calling forth life sustaining teamwork.

American history has given short shrift to acknowledging the contributions of women like Maja Kallgren Wittenstrom. By and large experts have failed to highlight the pivotal role they played in reversing the catastrophe and economic scourge brought on by the collapse of the American economic system. It is time to present a close-up account of neglected stories like that of Maja struggling to pick of the pieces of her shattered Swedish American Dream.

My Grandma Maja came to America from Solleftea Northern Sweden as an immigrant not motivated to escape a bad situation, but instead heard a calling imagining herself-building a new adventuresome life in the promise of a prospering America on the rise. Her story illustrates her making a contribution to an emerging young society and culture.

Maja’s life lessons shares show how new Americans once here make a positive contribution to the status quo. Retelling Maja’s story, two generations removed brings us back to examine and put under the microscope of time, analyzing the tough times of America’s Great Depression where grit and resilience were essential for survival.

Maja grew up immersed in a Swedish culture where life lessons learned from ancestors guided one’s developmental journey to the kind of adulthood of rugged individualism, grit, gumption and the ability to bounce not break in the face of crisis. Maja’s story is a sojourn reminding and nudging historians to annotate a much neglected and forgotten past. Indeed, women played key roles in turning around America’s Great Depression.

Perhaps the appeal of the book might tweak the interest of Swedes here in America and abroad describing details of a how countrymen struggled in their journey of immigration. Swedes can see the troubles involved in pursuing a, “Swedish American Dream” of keeping traditions of the old country, while integrating Swedish ways with America’s customs and spirit of a new land building a new culture. 

Perhaps the appeal of this book attends to women who share the author’s insistence that it is high time to reveal the injustices suffered by women, particularly women immigrants in settling the America woven together by ethnic traditions from all over the world. 

Perhaps, the appeal of this book attends to those who are interested in closely examining the impact of America’s Great Depression on everyday life of a family who struggle with the economic woes and uncertain times of the 1930’s while government attempted to repair the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the mess it created.

Learning about how our very own ancestors handled circumstances calling forth grit, resilience, persistence and determination just might come in handy when one is called upon to create a personal response to adversity. Besides, who wouldn’t want to equip youngsters of the future generation with an advantage of grittiness in terms of what Meriam Webster defines as,” unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger’?

In 2004, in a dusty attic, I discovered my Grandma Maja’s steamer trunk that she brought with from Sweden as an immigrant coming to America. Inside I found photos, archives and a treasure chest of family history. As if a ghost called out in opening it for the first-time since Grandma died in 1969: “don’t forget me” was heard in the depth of my soul. This book quiets the restless ghost and leaves behind a written account of her extraordinary grit and resilience fighting the rigors of America’s Great Depression.

Every grandson should have the benefit of spirited role models like Grandma Maja to inspire and guide personal development of one’s grit and resilience. In the end, Grandma Maja masterfully taught problem-solving skills exhibiting brave courage toward keeping one’s balance while untangling the logjams one willingly sets out to conquer.

Maja Kallgren Wittenstrom’s grit and resilience was driven by her authentic soul, and a noble purpose of raising her kids during hard times of America’s Great Depression while doing so terribly alone as an immigrant after the sudden death of her husband.  Success in accomplishing her goals and fulfilling her shattered Swedish-American Dream required grit: passion and perseverance over a very long stretch of time: 1932-1949. Grit required constant and relentless movement toward her north star-who she was meant to be since her birth in Sweden in 1897, over the course of years, despite life’s inevitable trials and tribulations. This required a focused capacity to ignore distractions, and to maintain one’s enduring purpose. Grit, fueled her dogged determination to pursue her goals no matter what the costs. An optimistic mindset inspired her attitude.

Despite two breakdowns, Maja reached her ultimate goal. She proudly raised three ruggedly independent gritty and resilient individuals. They learned and practiced that, “come hell or high water”, they possessed whatever it took to bravely stand up to conquer tangled logjam problems encountered in their own rivers of life.

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