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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 [158] 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 [159] 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 [160] 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 [161] 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 [162] 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 [163] 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 [164] 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, [165] 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? Does he?

“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 of celebrating.

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 [166] 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 Telemark.

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 [167] 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 [168] 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 the future.”

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 [169] 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 [170] 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 [171] 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 [172] 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 [173] 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 Fyresdal, 1891-1920.

55 letters to Torjus Larsson and family in the Goodbridge area, Minnesota, from family and friends in Mo and the Porsgrunn area, 1928-1971.

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. [174]

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, 1871-1885.

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 Vinje, 1915.

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. [175]

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, 1945.

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.


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