Letters to Immigrants in
the Midwest from the Telemark Region of Norway*
by Øyvind T. Gulliksen (Volume
32: Page 157)
* Earlier versions of this essay have been
presented as the annual Knut Gjerset Lecture at Luther College,
Decorah, Iowa, in 1984 and at the conference of the Society
for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study at the University
of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, in 1985. The Council
for Cultural Affairs, Telemark county, and The Norwegian Research
Council supported the research by travel grants.
Scholars who have studied Scandinavian immigrant letters
have focused almost entirely on letters sent by immigrants
in the United States back to family and friends in Scandinavia.
For historians of Scandinavian immigration to the United States,
these letters provide valuable source material. They contain
firsthand observations and comments about American life, written
by newcomers to inform readers back home about life in the
New World. People in Scandinavia then often decided whether
or not to emigrate on the basis of these letters.
The label “immigrant letters” could possibly be extended
to include that part of the correspondence which went the
other way. The study of “Amerika-brev” (letters from America)
has not given enough attention to the fact that letters back
to Scandinavia were part of a two-way process of communication.
Reading Theodore Blegen’s extensive collection  of America
letters published in the volume Land of Their Choice (1955)
one wonders what happened to the letters from Norway which
at least some of these letters writers must have received.
What do letters sent to immigrants in the United States from
various parts of Norway during the period of mass immigration
tell us? Obviously these letters do not reveal much about
immigrant experience, but they may tell us something about
the effects of emigration on those who stayed at home. Letters
sent from the Old World did not contribute to such important
changes as did the letters from America, although they may
perhaps have convinced some immigrants to stay in America
and others to return home. But on the whole such letters had
another function. If letters from immigrants in America informed
Norwegian readers of a world they did not know, the purpose
of letters from home was primarily to help the immigrants
stay in touch with a known world, a familiar world they did
not want to forget and could not completely let go. Of course
many recipients of these letters, at least before the turn
of the century, realized that they would not see their mother
country again. Letters from home helped to keep alive that
private world which had shaped the immigrants before they
decided to leave. The letters, for as long as they kept coming,
were reminders of a past which the process of assimilation
could not eradicate.
The most serious problem for the scholar who wants to study
letters which immigrants received from home is the lack of
available source material. Surprisingly little has been done
to study or even to collect letters in this category, despite
the fact that such letters to Norwegian settlers in the Midwest
must have been almost as numerous as letters going from Norwegian-American
communities back to Norway. It may already be too late to
acquire a significant number of these letters from the time
of mass emigration, 1837 to the early 1920s. Most such letters
are irretrievably lost. Since they were the only written records
left behind by a good many people, the loss is a tragedy.
Such letters could have contributed to our  understanding
of regional history in Norway, particularly of life in rural
communities in times of great change.
Because of the scarcity of collected material in public archives,
a scholar interested in this particular kind of research must
undoubtedly devote much time and effort to hunting for sources
himself. Easiest to find are letters from home printed in
the Norwegian-American press. Sometimes private letters of
more general interest were sent to such newspapers; some letters
were even written for newspaper publication, just as were
some letters sent the other way. Letters seem to have been
a popular genre in newspaper publishing on both sides of the
ocean. In Decorah-Posten, for instance, letters from various
regions of Norway were offered to the readers all over the
Midwest. One particularly interesting example in this context
is the letters written by Torbjørg Lie. For close to
thirty years, from the 1890s to the early 1920s, Torbjørg
sent about 145 letters from Upper Telemark to be published
in Decorah-Posten. The wife of John Lie, a regional writer
much read among Norwegian settlers in America, she recorded
in her letters what she experienced as a woman on a small
farm in Telemark in those days. She wrote about visits to
neighbors, and about going with her children to the nearest
large town. She told about her own household and those of
others, about livestock, weather conditions, food prices,
sickness, and people who have died in her community. She used
local gossip and humor. Her letters often have a touch of
poetry. In 1894 she submitted a series of letters titled “bregneblad”
(fern leaves). She was no doubt conscious of her readers’
interests. Sometimes she would include her own childhood memories
specially for the readers of Decorah-Posten who came from
her own area of Telemark, sometimes also a poem of hers, intended,
she said in a letter of 1891, “to lull the immigrant reader
into pleasant dreams about bygone days in the old country.”
The editors of Decorah-Posten, well aware that letters from
home would be popular among readers in the United States,
also encouraged subscribers to submit letters they received.
During World War II, when firsthand information from Norway
was sometimes hard to come by, the newspaper  ran a special
column called “Breve fra Norge” (Letters from Norway).
In all likelihood, however, the most interesting letters
written to immigrants never saw the printed page, largely
because they were considered to be too private, or of little
interest outside the family circle. In cases where letters
were kept, they often disappeared when the person who received
them died. Letters from home may be difficult to trace today
simply because they were sent to people who lived in a much
less stable society than those who stayed in the old country.
Letters from immigrants to friends and relatives in rural
communities in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries
have been collected in public archives in fairly large numbers.
Letters from America were kept by those who received them
and handed down to the next generation as part of the family
treasure. In a society where farms tended to be kept within
the same family, such letters were not easily discarded. In
the Midwest, however, where farms changed hands more rapidly,
letters from home often disappeared in the process. In addition
letters written to the first immigrants did not have the same
meaning for the next generation of Norwegian Americans, who
did not share the memories or interests of their parents,
and who in some cases did not even share their language. Much
too often one hears the sad story of how letters from home
were dumped when “the old folks” retired from farming and
went to live in a house in town.
The present study is limited to letters sent from just one
region of Norway, Telemarkfylke (county). Telemark was an
area with an exceptionally large number of immigrants. It
has been estimated that between 1837, when the first group
of families left Telemark for the Midwest, and World War I,
approximately 45,000 people left this area to settle in the
United States. Letters must have poured from the area to immigrants
in the Midwest. On the basis of the letters examined here,
it seems that even if they felt they had not much news to
tell, they definitely had questions to ask.
In order to gather material for this study, information 
about the project was sent in 1984 to local newspapers in
areas of the midwestern states where people from Telemark
had settled in fairly large numbers. By the end of 1985 roughly
500 letters had been collected, including the above-mentioned
letters of Torbjørg Lie to Decorah-Posten; copies of
all of them are now in the archives of the Telemark College
Library in Bø. In this same collection there are about
ten letters to an immigrant farmer in Whitewater, Wisconsin,
from before the Civil War. There are some twenty letters to
an immigrant woman in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, from the 1920s
and 1930s. But close to two hundred of these letters come
from one family only. This substantial collection of letters
reads like a novel. Most of them were written by a father
in Telemark to his oldest son, an immigrant in Hawley, Minnesota.
They bear witness to an unusually intimate relationship between
father and son. There are also letters from the immigrant’s
stepmother and from his brothers and sisters. Most of these
family letters were written during a period of twenty-five
years, from the 1880s to the time of Norwegian independence
in 1905. This particular collection is of special value because
it provides the family background of an immigrant who later
became a prominent Farmer-Labor politician in Minnesota. His
name was Knud S. Wefald. His work for the Norwegian-American
press has been honored by a Wefald room at the Norwegian-American
Museum in Decorah.
The arrival of a letter from home was undoubtedly a special
event for all immigrants. Before the turn of the century a
letter could of course take months to reach its destination.
It is known from several America letters that immigrants became
impatient when they had not heard from home for a long time.
Indeed the main drive behind a letter from the Midwest to
Norway would often be the desire to have one in return. “I
can hardly describe the excitement when I opened your long
letter,” explained an immigrant from Telemark in a letter
home. In a letter of 1896 to his parents in Telemark another
immigrant in Minnesota related how eagerly he and his brothers
were looking forward to receiving a letter: “It does 
not matter much whose name is on the envelope when a letter
from Norway arrives. We do not follow the commonly accepted
rule as to who gets to open it. The one who first lays his
hands on it will open it and read it, because his curiosity
must be satisfied.”
If there were several immigrants from one family, a letter
would often be forwarded from one to the other. Some of the
early letters from home were addressed to “our unforgettable
and faraway brothers and sisters.” No wonder such letters
were kept and read over and over again. It is of course impossible
to use information gathered in these letters for statistical
evidence of any sort. But in these letters to immigrants the
family at home would reveal brief glimpses of rural life,
not as written about in textbooks, but as actually experienced
by members of the household. The letters also clearly show
how much the midwestern immigrants were tied to the past,
to places and people in their home community. In some of the
letters the writer from home would ask if the immigrant remembered
such and such an episode or something important which was
said, and then would retell the story as if to make sure that
he or she did. One would probably expect letters to immigrants
to be responses and commentaries to America letters, but entries
of that type are scarce.
Letters were sent both ways to settle financial questions.
When parents died, questions of inheritance had to be settled
through letters to sons and daughters in America. The letters
reveal that heirs far from home were not always given their
due share. In a letter of 1931 a sister wrote to her brother
in Wisconsin to inform him that his father’s estate had been
settled. This was done in a way that may have been fairly
common: “Perhaps you think this strange, but your father told
those who helped set up his will that he wanted to divide
his belongings as he himself thought best. And he thought
that you over there had more than enough already. We would
be grateful if you would accept this arrangement.” Another
father was more concerned about the rights of his son in America.
In a letter the son was asked to appoint a reliable person
to act for him, so that when the time came for the  settlement
of the father’s estate, it would not have to go through a
costly court procedure. When the son suggested that his brother
should act as his representative, the father wrote back to
advise against that arrangement, since, wrote the father,
his brother might not send him a fair share.
Not all families had money to send. Some wrote to their family
in the United States to ask for money, and of course wrote
notes of thanks in return. If the letter writer did not ask
directly for money, he would at least sometimes ask his brothers
to guarantee a bank loan for him. To many it must have been
a humiliating experience to ask for money. Such requests usually
came at the end of a letter, after careful preparation. In
1897 Abraham Jacobson, whose farm outside Decorah is now part
of the Norwegian-American Museum, received a letter from a
nephew of his in Upper Telemark. The conclusion of the letter
reads like this: “I have lots of work to do every day. This
winter I have been working as a lumberjack. I had to stay
away from home for long periods then, leaving my wife alone
with the children. . . . We have two cows and a few sheep.
That is, we do not own the cows yet, because we have borrowed
them from somebody else. I guess I do not have more to tell
you, but I would like to ask if you could please send me one
hundred kroner, so that we could buy a cow for ourselves.
We would of course also be happy with less than a hundred
kroner.” Whether Jacobson sent the money is not known, but
the letter writer at home must have been quite convinced that
his uncle in Iowa had become a man of means. Begging may not
have been common, but sometimes money was lent to help the
farm economy at home. In a letter from the 1920s a farmer
in Telemark wrote to his brother in Wisconsin that he would
soon try to pay off his debt: “Please don’t refuse the thousand
kroner which I will send you in the spring, provided I am
in good health.”
Since the farm economy was the domain of men, most letters
in which money is a concern seem to have been written by them.
Women wrote about different things. Apart from the large file
of Wefald letters, most of the letters discovered seem to
have been written by women in Telemark and kept  by women
in America. Maybe women at home wrote more often than men,
and women were in all probability better keepers of letters.
Women who had grown up together in Telemark kept in touch
through writing. In one such letter of 1905 addressed to a
friend in North Dakota, a young woman wrote that she had received
The Ladies’ Home Journal, and that it had helped her to gain
insight into the education of women in the United States.
The conception of the young American woman as illustrated
in the popular press at the time may have appealed to young
Norwegian readers, but mothers may have been more worried.
When Knud Wefald announced his engagement, his stepmother
in Norway sent him her sincere congratulations, saying: “From
what you write in your letter, I know that she must be beautiful,
but is she also kind and good? Is she a good housekeeper?
Pay attention to that . . . . If she has few intellectual
interests, you should help her to gain some. I know that in
America the woman participates in all things on an equal footing
with her husband.”
Some letters were written by mothers who worried about their
children who had emigrated. Many of these made use of religious
language. The writer would often conclude her letter by expressing
a wish that they would meet in heaven, if not before. It is
not surprising that people at home, who had experienced heartbreaking
scenes of farewell, thought of heaven as a place “where there
is no more parting or breaking up,” as one mother wrote. Below
is an excerpt from such a letter written by a widowed mother
to her son in Minnesota in 1909. Her handwriting is poor,
her spelling inaccurate. It must have been one of the few
letters she ever wrote. She admitted that she was afraid of
becoming a burden to friends in her community:
“My dear son. Thank you so much for remembering me, and for
the money you sent. The Lord will pay you back. For according
to the Word of God, great gifts will be bestowed on those
who help their parents.
“The Devil has tried to convince me that you were dead, and
that I had no more support here on earth. But, thank God,
 I know now that you are alive. Poor Terje [another son],
though, it is as if he is dead to me. If you see him, tell
him that his mother loves him with all her heart and that
she never tires of praying for him.
“You mention that you would like to send a ticket for me
and my daughter this spring. But she says she does not dare
to travel with me alone, so that is quite impossible. Perhaps
you do not even remember how old I am now. I am 68 years old.
“I will not see your face again in this world, but I hope
to see you again in our heavenly dwelling.”
A similar letter, written by a mother to her immigrant son
in Iowa during the 1920s, reads in part:
“Dear Son. I am not much looking forward to Christmas this
year. Too many painful memories. We do not have our own songbird
at home any longer. He flew away to a foreign land in the
west. I do not know if he will use his good voice out there.
Perhaps he still sings the songs of Zion in a foreign land?
“A neighbor brought us a newspaper in which you had written
a column. I enjoyed reading it, but I did not like what you
wrote about having picked up American swearwords. That hurt
me so much I could not sleep until late that night.”
Religious language as used here reveals a sense of loss on
the part of the letter writer. If repression of emotions is
a common trait among Norwegians, the religious language in
these letters provided an important emotional outlet. Through
the religious diction in the letters a collective mentality
of the period may be traced. In some letters the writer will
also give information on religious conditions in the community,
such as pietist revival meetings around World War I. One such
letter records how the youth of Seljord were divided: at the
local 17th of May observance after the church service was
over, they split into two groups with widely different ideas
Letters written by women reveal their special interests and
duties. They tell about having to take care of an old mother,
they mention weaving and crochet work. Sometimes their own
needlework, a handkerchief, a garter, an ornamental 
towel, would be included in their letters, often with the
typically modest note: “it is so ill-made and coarse, I do
not know if you will even care to use it.”
People who rarely wrote to family in America at least had
to notify their relatives about the serious illness or death
of a parent at home. There was little the immigrant could
do to help in such cases, except write a comforting letter
back. A letter writer from Kragerø had expected more
concern: “That you forgot her at the end was a great disappointment
to her [their mother]. You did not even send her or us a friendly
greeting when she was on her deathbed. You who have children
of your own know how the heart of a mother suffers from such
neglect . . . . [But] perhaps your relatives here failed to
tell you in time.”
Like many America letters, mail from home also contained
everyday information about the harvest of barley, rye, and
potatoes, about cattle, or a new horse perhaps, about weather
and farm prices. If immigrants boasted about their new farms
in the Midwest, their families at home also felt the need
to send news of prosperity, although on a lesser scale.
Letters from home also brought the latest shocking news and
gossip concerning people in the community. Some letters would
tell about recent accidents, who had been sent to prison in
Skien and for what reason, and who was reported to have been
in bed with whom. For example, Ole Helgesen, a teacher in
Calmar, Iowa, wrote a diary in the 1870s in which he recorded
notes from several such letters sent from his friends in Upper
In wartime people complained about the rationing of food.
“In America, I suppose you have wheat flour in abundance,”
wrote a farmer in 1917. Often letters would have long lists
of names of people who had died. Letters of 1918 and 1919,
sometimes opened by United States censorship, brought news
of the devastating effects of the Spanish flu epidemic in
parts of Telemark.
Letters written over a period of a hundred years will naturally
differ in style and content. The early letters, written 
from father or mother to their immigrant son or daughter,
or from siblings at home to brother or sister in the Midwest,
bear witness to a once-shared world. A father wrote from Kviteseid
to a son in America: “When you tell about your children, I
visualize them in my mind gathered around the table. What
you write brings to life my memories about the years when
you and your brothers and sisters grew up here.” In a letter
of 1873 a father complained to his son that he had become
terribly short-winded and was barely able to walk uphill.
Once an active farmer, he was now able to do puttering work
only (noget pusleri). The letter ended in a typical tone for
its kind: “Many have died in the parish this last winter.
On Christmas Eve nine corpses lay unburied here. I will not
have to wait long for that final trumpet either, since at
present there are just five men older than me in the community.”
Sometimes a family connection was kept up between branches
in both countries through correspondence into the next generation.
Naturally cousins who had never seen each other would pass
on a different kind of information than the first generation.
To her cousin in the Midwest a young writer included a flower
in her letter: “This is a Norwegian flower. It is called geranium.”
It has been noted that few immigrants wrote home to say that
they regretted having left Norway. Most of them were no doubt
better off in their new country, but some may also have felt
that an expression of regret would disappoint their relatives
in Norway, and consequently they refrained from complaining.
In a letter in 1874 to his brother in Minnesota, we find the
following statement: “I truly wish I had not helped you go
to America, if it is true that you regret the voyage now.”
In cases when there was no one living on the Telemark farm
left by the immigrants, neighbor families reported the sad
sight: “Everything is so quiet and dreamlike up there now.
One cannot help thinking of all the struggle and toil that
once went on there.”
Letters would also inform immigrant readers of social changes
that had taken place in the region after they had left. It
has been noted that immigrants or their descendants who 
went back to Norway on a visit would often be disappointed
because what they found did not correspond to the vision they
had. Letters from home, however, gave little support to nostalgia.
Readers of such letters could not possibly expect Norway to
have remained the way it was when they left it. Here is one
such realistic description of social changes in an immigrant’s
home community, recorded by a brother in Telemark shortly
after World War II: “Things have changed since you left. People
are much better off than before. When I was young they went
to America, now they take to the cities for work, both boys
and girls. Lots of young people leave their farms. If this
trend continues, we will pretty soon see the mountainous districts
of Upper Telemark depopulated.
On some farms now they no longer bother to plant wheat. As
long as America can sell us wheat, they may be all right,
but we have no guarantee that that will also be the case in
Several writers from about this time and earlier mentioned
how hard it was to get farmhands and dairymaids. But some
things had improved. One farmer boasted that he was able to
buy a new suit in a local store now "just like in America.”
Letters from the turn of the century and the next decades
also reflect the growing industrial life in the region. A
writer from Vrådal recorded in the early 1920s: “This
is May 1st, Labor Day, the day for the Socialists to celebrate.
You probably have some of them in America as well. We have
quite a few here now. Mostly in the cities. Farmers do not
often become Socialists.”
During this era American-made automobiles and motorcycles
came to Telemark. One writer related how the new vehicles
scared the horses: “During church hours now there are motorcycles
parked against the entire church wall.”
Letters from home also provide an interesting source for
the study of written language. The earliest letters are written
in the official Dano-Norwegian, a standard which not all letter
writers had mastered equally well. Later, dialect words are
included in the letters. Some letters, or parts of them, are
in New Norse. Apparently writers did not feel the need, or
 perhaps have the ability, to be consistent. In letters
after World War II people would sometimes turn to a very elementary
English in their letters to immigrants. One such woman, who
for years had written in Norwegian to her relatives in the
Midwest, now felt the need to try a letter in her own fumbling
English: “We in Skafså have not electric lighting, but
now build they a electric power station. We shall faa electric
lighting in 1952.”
In contrast to the more or less scattered nature of the material
referred to so far, the large Wefald collection of letters
has the advantage of a sharper focus in time and place. The
letters provide an excellent source for regional history in
Telemark, a source which is largely untapped. Most of these
letters also have the distinction of having been written by
an excellent letter writer and storyteller. In this particular
case the recipient also deserves to be singled out for a few
comments. Knud S. Wefald of Hawley, Minnesota, entered state
politics in 1912. He won a seat in the United States Congress
in 1922, a position he kept until 1926. Until his death he
was active in state politics in Minnesota. An essay of his
is included in a volume called Third Party Footsteps, an anthology
of writings of Midwestern political radicals published in
1966. James Youngdale, the editor, introduces Wefald as an
outspoken defender of the common man. Wefald’s support of
the Non-Partisan League and later of the Farmer-Labor Party
must to some extent have been influenced by his father’s ideas
and earlier letters from home. Wefald was also an able poet
in the Norwegian language.
In several of his letters Knud’s father discussed his political
views in detail with his son in Minnesota. The father comes
across as a strong supporter of the small farmer and of the
emerging laboring class. He related how he got into bitter
quarrels with the local establishment: with the big farmers,
the influential middlemen, government officials, and also
- occasionally - the minister of the state church. Indeed
Wefald’s father seemed to expect more from the rising working
class than from his farmer friends. “Too many small 
farmers,” he complained, “have fallen asleep. They are totally
blind. Too often they will kiss the hands of those who beat
them most severely.” Even if he felt that he stood alone in
his community, the father knew that he would have “the miserable,
the beaten, the poor people who have fallen into the poisonous
swamps of the capitalists” on his side. Not only did he use
his letters to teach his son about politics in Norway, he
also sometimes offered his opinions about American politics.
With Norway still under the reign of the Swedish-Norwegian
king, the elder Wefald was strongly in favor of a republican
system of government. “As a good republican”, he wrote to
his oldest son in Minnesota in 1889, “I wish all kings would
go to blazes.” But he was also skeptical about the future
of American politics, as seen from his vantage point in Norway:
“A better party must emerge in America, a political party
consisting of small farmers and of workers in both country
and city, a party powerful enough to beat both the Republicans
and the Democrats off the field. If not, American politics
will end in disaster.”
It was only natural that Wefald of Hawley, Minnesota, would
transfer this Norwegian radicalism by way of Jeffersonian
ideas of the small, independent farmer onto the then-contemporary
progressive platform. In Wefald’s case some of his American
third-party footsteps can actually be traced back to his father
in Telemark in the 1880s. In a study titled A Voice of Protest:
Norwegians in American Politics 1890-1917, Jon Wefald, a great-grandson
of the letter writer, argues that one of the reasons a number
of Norwegian-American politicians sided with the left wing
in midwestern politics was their past experience of a “cooperative
spirit” in the farm communities back in Norway. These politicians,
claims Jon Wefald, based their political views on “the spirit
of the old country” or “the neighborly relationships” or “the
concern for the public good” in the rural Norway they had
known. If the author had had access to his great-grandfather’s
letters, he would probably have drawn a less favorable picture.
In almost all the Wefald letters from Telemark - the son’s
letters back have unfortunately been lost - the father told
of neighbors who were  fighting each other. There were
sometimes fierce battles in the community over patches of
forest and land. There is more than one account of farmers
who refused to help each other even in times of great need.
Knud Wefald sent money home to help his father out of poverty
and debt, but apparently also to help him in necessary lawsuits
with other farmers in the district. Letters from immigrants
in America may have influenced a democratic spirit among Norwegians
at home; the Wefald letters suggest that the influence went
both ways. As a Minnesota politician Wefald truly learned
from his Norwegian background and from his father’s correspondence.
But in his case the rural life and experience from Telemark
must have provided him with a negative political example.
Seen in this context the Wefald letters may contribute to
Norwegian-American scholarship in the United States, but most
of all they will add to our understanding of regional life
in Telemark during the period when they were written and sent
to Minnesota. The letters appear to be a gold mine of information
about daily life in southern Telemark shortly before the turn
of the century. There are descriptions of the routines of
daily work, of the quantity and the quality of the annual
harvest of potatoes, cabbage, and turnips, as well as poetic
impressions of nature. Not only politics, but also family
life was important to the elder Wefald. He complained in one
of his last letters about getting old: “I wish I had your
age and strength, combined with my own life experience and
the spirit I once had,” he wrote to his son. He sent a moving
letter to inform Knud about the sudden death of Knud’s ten-year-old
brother. He noted children’s play around the farm, summer
and winter. A lover of nature, he described the spring flowers
and many a sunset on the nearby lake, a sight he would not
give up, he said, for all the riches in the world. He was
constantly fighting poverty. More than once he complained
about not having money enough to pay for postage. Yet he informed
his son that giving in and moving to America was absolutely
out of the question.
The letters also bring vivid reports of local fairs, of parties,
weddings, and funerals. The writers are honest enough to 
reveal some of the less commendable aspects of Telemark life.
In 1890 a brother of Knud wrote about what he had witnessed
at the county fair in this way: “There were not many cattle,
but plenty of beer. Fifteen cases full in all. People [were]
drunk to such an extent that they looked more like animals
than the cattle in the show. They fought and quarreled. It
was wild.” At a local wedding that same year, the writer related
this extraordinary episode: “For their church wedding the
pastor gave a sermon on the value and importance of a good
home. He said that Per [the bridegroom] had not grown up in
a particularly good home, since his brothers were such heavy
drinkers. This was too much for one of the brothers, who at
this point was quite drunk, and when time came around for
the church offering, he rose and said, loud and clear: ‘This
sermon was nothing to pay for!’ The pastor told him to keep
still in the house of God, whereupon the brother took his
hat and left.”
After Knud’s father died, Knud’s stepmother had to ask for
more money from Minnesota. In 1902 she wrote: “Perhaps I could
ask you for twenty kroner so that I could buy a sack of flour.
All my pension now goes to paying rent and taxes on the farm.”
At the same time she continued to send her advice to the stepson
in Hawley. When he complained in a letter home about losing
weight, she wrote back: “Please, boil some seed of hemp in
milk, strain it, and drink it as soup every day, and you will
put on weight again.” She also added her own blessing with
the Biblical words: “The promise of the 4th Commandment is
given to you, and you will live long in your country.”
This essay has attempted to give some brief glimpses into
what letters from Norway to immigrants in America might reveal.
Such letters will certainly shed light on various effects
of immigration on those who did not go, as well as on regional
history in Norway. They not only ought to be studied as source
material for history; they are also part of a true folk literature.
The letters deserve to be studied along with the America letters
as an essential part of a two-way  communication. This
type of research will rest totally on source material in the
United States; unfortunately, much of it has already disappeared
for good. Collecting what remains demands a joint effort,
an effort which is essential if this important material is
to be preserved.
Below is a list of the letters referred to in the essay.
The Telemark College Library has copies of all of them. All
translations from the letters are the present author’s. Quotations
from America letters are from Telemark lag’s collection, also
at Telemark College Library.
180 letters to Knud S. Wefald in Minnesota and North Dakota
from family in Drangedal, 1887-1911.
145 letters to Decorah-Posten from Torbjørg Lie in
55 letters to Torjus Larsson and family in the Goodbridge
area, Minnesota, from family and friends in Mo and the Porsgrunn
30 letters to Mrs. Alfred Carlson (Alice Nerison) and her
mother Mrs. Knute Nerison (Ragnhild Strand) in Houston, Minnesota,
from family in Vrådal and Vinje, 1912-1980.
25 letters to Mrs. Ole S. (Egelev) Olson in Elbow Lake, Minnesota,
from family and friends in Seljord, 1916-1935.
10 letters to Niri Nilsson, Louisburg, Minnesota, from family
in Brukaasa, Lunde, 1872-1880.
10 letters to Helene Gjermundsdatter Alseth in the Rochester
area, Minnesota, from family and friends in Tinn, 1934-1940.
10 letters to Peder Kjostolfsen Haatvedt (Peter Kestol) in
Whitewater, Wisconsin, from family in Holla, 1852-1862.
7 letters to Abraham Jacobson and family, Washington Prairie,
Iowa, from family and friends in Tinn, 1898-1909. 
7 letters to Gaute Ingebritson Gunleiksrud and his family
in Stoughton, Wisconsin, from family in Tinn, 1889-1891.
7 letters to S. Gudmundsen Opsund from family in Kviteseid,
5 letters to the Vasend family in McIntosh, Minnesota, from
family in Høydalsmo, 1954-1961.
4 letters to Sigurd Hansen Sanden in Rio, Columbia county,
Wisconsin, from family and friends in Sauherad, 1895-1899.
4 letters to Jacob Torgrimsen Bjørtuft in Decorah,
Iowa, from relatives in Tinn, 1851-1857.
3 letters to Sveinung Tovson Rauland in McIntosh, Minnesota,
from a brother in Rauland, 1917-1923.
3 letters to Jacob Grimstead, Lake Mills, Iowa, from family
in Nissedal, 1932-1952.
2 letters to Ragnhild and Jacob Knudsen Mæland in Racine,
Wisconsin, from family and friends in Tinn, 1849.
2 letters to Halvor Pedersen Næsund in Milwaukee from
family in Kragerø, 1845-1856.
2 letters to Joraand Opegarden Midtveit in Willmar, Minnesota,
from family in Vinje, 1919 and 1922.
2 letters to Tor and Olav Langeli in Canada and Minnesota
from their mother in Vrådal, undated.
2 letters to Jørgen (George) and Torjus Felland in
Viroqua, Wisconsin, from family in Mo, 1905 and 1931.
2 letters to Bergit Norjoret in Minnesota, from family in
2 letters to Lake Mills, Iowa, from Aslak P. Vehus, Vinje,
1921 and 1940.
2 letters to descendants of Kari Haugen Tveito Olson, Fillmore
county, Minnesota, from Tinn, 1955 and 1959. 
2 letters to Signe Hustveit Aslaksen, Sheyenne, North Dakota,
from a sister and a friend in Vinje, 1894 and 1905.
1 letter to John Aasten, Seattle, Washington, from Hovin,
1 letter to O. O. Otterholt in Sugar Creek, Wisconsin, from
family in Gjerpen, 1881.
1 letter to S. S. Urberg in Blair, Wisconsin, from a brother
in Bamble, 1915.