Tante Johanne: Letters of a Danish Immigrant Family, 1887-1910

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9780930697013: Tante Johanne: Letters of a Danish Immigrant Family, 1887-1910
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Letters [such as these principally written by Johanne Nielsen] have bridged the Atlantic since the earliest days of Danish immigration, and they are documents of great historical interest because they express the thoughts and experiences of the immigrants in their own words. In these letters, as H. Arnold Barton put it, "for the first time in human history, (common people) began to speak directly to posterity."

These letters are unusually rich because Denmark had the first sound system of public education in Europe, so Danish immigrants were well prepared to express themselves. Let these Danish pioneers speak to you as you savor their letters from a century ago. Preface: J. R. Christianson, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

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Algona, Iowa February 8, 1894 Dear Chestian (Christian),

I have waited now so long for a letter from you and I long to hear how you are doing in Chicago. It is hard times all over.

Now I will let you know how we are. Herman has been very ill this winter but now he is a little better again. Has Julia written to you? She was home for Christmas and she got your address. If she has not written, you probably have not heard how ill Sine (Carol) has been. Sine got a school about 40 miles from here at 30 dollars a month and Julia got one at 26 dollars a month. There were only two miles between where they lived. They were both happy because then they could spend time together. Sina started in early October and was to be there for six months, Julia's was for four months. When Sina had taught eight days, she got typhoid fever. Julia left immediately and got her to the doctor. The fever ceased after about one week and she got better. After 3 weeks she was able to sit up and the doctor promised her that she soon could go home and we waited for her every day. Anyway, the house where she stayed was very poor. Some of the windows were broken so she got a cold and then got a fever. Then Julia took Sine's school and let her own go. I had to go up and take care of Sine. I was there for 5 weeks. Then I got a letter that Herman was ill, so I went home and sent Gertrude up to take care of Sine...Now she is finally in Algona. She has been there for two weeks. We hope to get her home late this week. When she came to Algona, she could not walk by herself but now she can walk across the floor by herself. The costs of the doctor and the medicine and all the other things will be more than 75 dollars. But we should not fret over that but instead thank God for letting her live. Johanne Nielsen

Review:

"Johanne Nielsen, her husband, and their three young daughters emigrated from Denmark in the early 1870s. In the mid-1880s, the Nielsens, by then a family of eleven, relocated from Streator, Illinois, to a farm near Algona, Iowa. Johanne's loneliness in America, her longing for a Danish community of worship, and her sense of spiritual isolation find natural expression in her letters to her nephew, who was a Danish Lutheran minister in the United States. Interwoven with this primary exchange, and very much a part of this immigrant family's ongoing communication are letters from Johanne's daughters and from Christian's father and brothers. Their voices add range and depth to the volume.

The editorial commentaries that preface each letter firmly situate the exchanges within their larger historical context. The Iowa farm and the town of Algona figure as muted background in Johanne's letters. Her older daughters taught in rural schools. Their training and experiences contribute some of the more vivid "lived" moments to the correspondence.

Johanne Nielsen never really adjusted to her life in America. Those involved in immigration studies will find this book of particular interest." -- Barbara Lund-Jones, The Danish Immigrant Museum. The Annals of Iowa, page 191-2.

"This selection is culled from more than 12,000 letters comprising the Hansen-Mengers collection in the Danish Immigrant Archive, Dana College. "Tante" Johanne Nielsen and her husband Herman left Denmark in the early 1870s, settling first on a farm in Streator, Illinois, before moving on in the mid '80s to Algona, Iowa (again taking up farming). Carefully edited and introduced, each of the forty-four letters combines to describe the physical hardships encountered by the Nielsens and other immigrants, and in Johanne's case (echoing Rolvaag's Beret in Giants in the Earth), the smoldering psychological burdens of immigrant life for a woman who, in body at least, eked out a living working the American soil but who, spiritually and emotionally, was far away in Denmark, the land of her dreams." -- Gerald M. Haslam, Brigham Young University. Scandinavian Studies. Fall 1998 Vol. 70 # 3 pp 410-2.

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Nielsen, John W., J. R. Christianson, Lu
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John W. Nielsen; Luther College, Decorah, Iowa J. R. Christianson
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