Photo: Stefan Jonasson
A handcarved chest by Hallgrímur Jónsson of Naust (1717-1785) at the National Museum
It happened, once upon a time, that a large party of men were travelling together and pitched their tent, early one Sunday morning, on the fresh sward of a fair green meadow. The weather was bright and warm, and the men being tired with their night's journey, and having tethered their horses, fell asleep, side by side, all round the inside of the tent.
One of them, however, who happened to be lying nearest the door, could not, in spite of his fatigue, succeed in getting to sleep, so he lay idly watching the other sleepers. As he looked around, he discovered a small cloud of pale-blue vapour moving over the head of the man who was sleeping in the innermost part of the tent. Astonished at this, he sat up and at the same moment the cloud flitted out of the tent. Being curious to know what it could be and what would become of it, he jumped up softly, and, without awaking the others, stole out into the sunshine. On looking around he saw the vapour floating slowly over the meadow, so he set himself to follow it.
After a while, it stopped over the blanched skull of a horse upon the grass, around which hummed and buzzed a cloud of noisy blue flies. Into this the vapour entered among the flies. After staying a while, it came out, and took its course over the meadow till it came to a little thread of a rivulet, which hurried through the grass. Here it seemed to be at a loss how to get over the water and it moved restlessly and impatiently up and down the side of it until the man laid his whip, which he happened to have with him, over it, the handle alone being sufficient to bridge it across. Over this the vapour passed and moved on until it came to a small hillock, into which it disappeared.
The man stood by and waited for it to come out again, which it soon did, and it returned by the same way as that by which it had come. The man laid his whip as before across the stream and the vapour crossed upon the handle. Then it moved on towards the tent, which it entered, and the man who had followed it saw it hover for a minute over the head of the sleeper, where he had first seen it, and disappear. After this he lay down again and went to sleep himself.
When the day was far spent and the sun was going down, the men rose, struck the tent, and made preparations for beginning their journey again. While they were packing and loading the horses, they talked on various things, including money.
“Bless me!” said the man who had slept in the innermost part of the tent. “I wish I had what I saw in my dream today.”
“What was your dream and what did you see?” asked the man who had followed the vapour.
The other replied, “I dreamt that I walked out from the tent and across the meadow until I came to a large and beautiful building, into which I went. There I found many people reveling in a vast and noble hall, singing, dancing, and making merry. I stayed some time among them, and, when I left them and stepped out from the hall, I saw stretched before me a vast plain of fair green meadow. I walked for some time over this until I came to an immensely broad and turbulent river, over which I wished to cross, but could find no means of doing so. As I was walking up and down the bank, thinking about how I could possibly get over it, I saw a mighty giant, greater than any I had ever heard about, come towards me, holding in his hand the trunk of a large tree, which he laid across the river. Thus I was able to get easily to the other side. The river once passed, I walked straight on for a long time until I came to a high mound that lay open. I went into it, thinking to find wonderful treasures, but found only a single chest, which was so full of money that I could neither lift it nor count its contents. So I gave it up and bent my steps back here again. The giant flung his tree across the river, as before, and I came to the tent and went to sleep from sheer weariness.”
At hearing this, the man who had followed the vapour was mightily pleased and, laughing to himself, said, “Come, my good fellow, let us fetch the money. If one could not count it, no doubt two can.”
“Fetch the money!” replied the man. “Are you mad? Do you forget that I only dreamed about it? Where would you fetch it from?”
But since the man who had followed the vapour seemed really earnest and determined, he consented to go with him. So they took the same course that the vapour had taken and, when they came to the skull, the man who had followed the mist said, “There is your hall of revel.”
“And there,” he said, when they stepped over the rivulet, “is your broad and turbulent river. And here is the trunk the giant threw over it as a bridge.” With these words he showed him his whip.
The dreamer was filled with amazement and, when they came to the mound, having dug a little way into it, he really and truly discovered a heavy chest full of golden pieces. His astonishment was not one whit the less. On their way back to the tent with the treasure, his companion told him all about the matter.
Whether the two travellers complained of the weight of the money-chest or gave up counting its contents in despair, this story does not relate.
A traveller’s folktale from the collection of Jón Árnason (1819-1888), Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og ævintýry (Icelandic Folk Tales and Legends), adapted from the translation by George E.J. Powell and Eiríkur Magnússon.
A folktale from the collection of Jón Árnason (1819-1888), Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og ævintýry (Icelandic Folk Tales and Legends), adapted from the translation by George E.J. Powell and Eiríkur Magnússon. This version has been revised by Stefan Jonasson.
In former times, it is said that there was a married priest in Eyjafjörður, who had several children, and who had taken a poor farmer’s daughter as his foster child. Her name was Ólöf, a maiden fair of look and very courteous. The priest loved her quite as much as his own children and had her taught all sorts of handiwork and such other things as were deemed becoming for a woman to know. At the time of this story, Ólöf was grown-up.
Now the priest, her foster father, secured a living in the East at Möðrudalur and moved there with all his goods – along with his wife, children, and servants – in the early summer. It is said that he went the shortest way, through the wilderness. He left the innermost farm in a valley called Bárðardalur and intended to rest in the midst of the great lava district called Ódáðahraun. At night, the priest reached the resting place with all his company and pitched his tent. But when he had rested there a little while, there came forth from the lava a band of nine armed men. There was no exchange of greetings, for the outlaws fell upon the priest and his company, who were all weaponless, and killed every man’s child, but Ólöf. They carried her away to their dwelling, which was not very far off.
Ólöf soon saw that these fellows were outlaws, living by robbery and theft, and she wailed and lamented her position, which it was not within her power to change for the better. They did her no harm, but would make her sojourn as pleasant as they possibly could. They told her that, when winter should approach, they would draw lots to determine whose she should be, but that in the meantime she should make their meals and wait on them. Ólöf liked one of them the best; he was the youngest and mildest looking of them all.
Now the summer passed until a fortnight before the autumn roundup. The men prepared themselves to go away for a week to gather sheep from the commons. But a few days before they left, the youngest fell ill and kept to his bed. When the day came for their departure, he was a little better, but still not up to the journey with them, so it was agreed that he should follow them, if he got better.
Now the men started off and, when they had got fairly out of sight, the young man spoke to Ólöf in the following way: “I do not wonder that you are unhappy in our company and I should have helped you long ago to get away, if I had seen the slightest possibility of doing so. I must tell you that I, too, have been kidnapped by these fellows, for I am the son of a farmer in Mjóidalur. I have been here two years and have never yet found a chance of escaping. They keep me with them for robberies and thefts, but always against my will. I feigned to be ill in order to get a chance of speaking with you alone, hoping that we might be able to plan some escape from this hideous company. I wish that you should, at least, try to get away while the men are away from here, although it is a great risk. You must strictly follow the advice I am about to give you.
“Tomorrow, I am going away to the skálabúar (outlaws, literally “cabin-dwellers”), as they have bidden me. Two days after my departure, you must be ready to start. When you come out of the door, you will see a dappled horse; take it, bridle it, and saddle it – you will find the saddle in the house. The horse is mine – the best and speediest of horses. No other horse belongs to the robbers. Mount the horse and let it find its own way, but do not whip it, unless your life is at stake. Beware of leaving before the time I have told you. If you should get to the populated district, I beg you to do all in your power to ensure that this lot of wrongdoers is destroyed. But this will not be easy, for they are watchful and wary.
“You must not think of it before next autumn. When the men go sheep-gathering in the autumn, they are wont to rest in a little dale near Skjálfandafljót on the night when people go on their first search for sheep. That is the time when it is easy to attack these robbers. But, if you value my advice, try to arrange that the man who lies apart from the others in the dale be pardoned and granted his life and freedom. Do now as I have bidden you and, if you do not stray from my advice, luck and happiness will go with you.”
Ólöf thanked him for all this and said she would follow his advice. He went his way, but she sat alone, left behind and impatient. She found the life more irksome than ever before and the next day she found longer than a whole year. When she could contain herself no longer, she went out in search of the dappled horse. She found it, not far from the house, and, as she could not understand how it would make any difference if she went one day before the fixed time, she ventured to start off. All went smoothly until, all of a sudden, she heard a shout not far from her and guessed that it was the voice of one of the outlaws. Sure enough, it was, for one of them had seen her passing and recognized the horse she rode. He cried in a mighty voice to his companions, who, after a short while, came together and got so near to her that only a short space was left between them and her. The men ran as swiftly as birds fly and, although her horse was a fleet one, she saw that they would soon overtake her. She determined to give him a stroke with her whip and, when she did, the beast took so mightily to his feet that she nearly fell off. The horse, going half again as swiftly as before, soon left the outlaws far behind and sped to the farm of Mjóidalur, where the young man’s father was still alive. Ólöf told him all about her travels, and also where his son was staying, and the advice he had given her for duly overcoming the robbers.
Now the next winter and summer passed away.
In the autumn, the neighbours gathered together in order to destroy the outlaws at the right time and Ólöf was to lead the expedition. And, to cut a long story short, the men were all killed except the one who was farthest from the group, the farmer’s son from Mjóidalur. He went home with the expedition to his father, but, because he had partaken in the outlaw’s misdeeds, he was judged at the next Alþingi and sentenced to death, although it was left to the king’s mercy to determine his fate. Arrangements were made for him to sail on a vessel from Akureyri the next autumn. Many lamented his fate, Ólöf not least among them, for people affirmed that they were secretly very good friends. Before the young man embarked, he turned to Ólöf and begged her not to marry for five years, if she received no news about him during that time. But she gave him no answer, nor did she seem to pay any heed to his words.
Now time passed and Ólöf stayed with her kin in Eyjafjörður. Many hopeful youths wooed her, as she was deemed to be above all the women in those parts of the country, but she refused to marry anyone, saying that marriage was not her intention. People attributed his strange conduct to her melancholy and to a sort of madness that her stay in the company of the skálabúar might have brought upon her. So men ceased courting her.
Five years passed and, in the sixth, there came a vessel from foreign lands to Eyjafjörður. On board was a fine-looking man who spoke Icelandic. He was appointed by the king to the open seat of sýslumaður (magistrate) in Vaðlaþing. This young man soon became popular and beloved throughout the district. When he had been there for a short time, he wanted to secure a farm and a housekeeper – even a wife – to take care of his domestic affairs.
All pointed to Ólöf as the fittest of women in those parts, but they told him, at the same time, about her strange and stubborn determination not to marry. The magistrate said he would try to see if her determination remained the same when he was the man concerned. He asked Ólöf to be his wife and she gave him a decisive denial. But by the assiduous entreaties of the magistrate and the influence of many good people, she yielded at last and gave a rather unwilling consent.
Now a grand wedding feast was prepared and, in the midst of the company gathered at the table, the magistrate rose and said: “I hereby make it known to all that I am the son of the farmer at Mjóidalur, who was taken prisoner by the outlaws of Ódáðahraun and later given up to the king’s mercy, after the sentence of death had been passed upon me by the court of Alþingi. When the king heard the story of my life, along with my answers to all questions on the matter, he not only pardoned me, but aided me in finishing my schooling. In three years, I acquired so much knowledge in law and the legal affairs of the country that I was found fit to be entrusted with my present office. It gives me no little pleasure that the woman sitting at my side should be the same one who formerly saved my life when the other men were killed and that a chance has been afforded to me to reward her virtue and constancy.”
All marvelled at these words, for they thought the farmer’s son had long since died.
The feast was a gay one and the young couple began a happy life together at a fine and good farm in Eyjafjörður. They lived in joy and contentment to an old age.
In October 2016, the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter IODE awarded 14 scholarships and one bursary. Once again, the recipients were an inspiring group of young people.
The Jon Sigurdsson Chapter has been awarding scholarships since 1937. The first scholarship established was the IODE Music Scholarship and this coincided with the establishment of the School of Music at the University of Manitoba. To date, over 500 scholarships have been awarded.
Scholarships are given to students entering university and to returning students as well as students whose studies have been interrupted due to health reasons, family responsibilities, or financial difficulties. Scholarships are offered in specific faculties and fields of studies, including social work, agriculture, music, education, and women’s studies. The scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic excellence, good citizenship, and leadership potential. Application forms for next year will be available in May 2017.
Johanna Gudrun Skaptason Memorial Scholarship
Colin Schroeder is a first year student at the University of Manitoba and next year intends to enter the Asper School of Business. In high school, at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, he was an honour roll student who was involved with student government and athletics. Colin was a co-captain of the varsity basketball team and was awarded the Basketball Manitoba Ron Meyers Leadership Award for leadership on and off the court. Colin is of Icelandic descent. His grandmother is Erla Helgason Wankling, a former Fjallkona and past president of the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter IODE.
Hildur Guttormson Memorial Scholarship
Ashley Hayward is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in the University of Winnipeg’s Conflict Resolution program. She began her university studies 10 years after graduating from high school and at a time when her children were very young. While studying, Ashley continues to be very active in her community. She is co-president of Agape House Eastman Crisis Centre, a board member of École Provencher parent advisory board and intends to run in the 2018 election for trustee in the Louis Riel School Division. Ashley is Métis and will be the first person in her family to earn a university degree.
Members Memorial Scholarship
Madison Hergert-Schmidt is in the Faculty of Education working on a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in history as well as a Bachelor of Education. Her long-term goal is to complete a Ph.D. in history. Besides being an honour roll student, Madison is very involved in figure skating in her community of East St. Paul. She has taken on a position on the board of directors of the East St. Paul Skating club, acts as social media coordinator for the club, and coaches in the learn to skate and figure skating programs. She has competed at the national level in the National Synchronised Skating Competition.
IODE Music Scholarship
Natalie Kathler is a first-year student at the Canadian Mennonite University. She successfully completed Grade 10 violin practical exam. She teaches violin and is a violinist in the Winnipeg Youth Orchestra, where she was awarded their Long Service Award. In high school, she was very active in their music program. Natalie’s goal is to be a language and speech pathologist. She is fluent in English and French.
Kristen and Albert Stephensen Music Scholarship
Amanda Robertson is a clarinettist and is pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Performance at the University of Manitoba. During her high school years, she taught clarinet to fellow students during her lunch hour and spare periods. She also led the clarinet section in the high school orchestra. For the last two years, Amanda has been teaching clarinet clinics in Winnipeg. She intends to pursue a career in performance and teaching private students for a career. Last summer she was accepted into the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Institute in Whistler but was unable to attend due to financial challenges, but she will be applying again to attend in 2016. Amanda grew up on a farm near Beausejour, Manitoba, and helps out with the care of the livestock.
Anna Skaptason Memorial Scholarship
Jessica Kendel is completing an integrated Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba. She intends to teach choral music at the high school level. She is volunteering as an assistant conductor to Dr. David Sawatzky with Cantemus, which is an all-girls choir and part of the Pembina Trails Voices. Jessica says, “I love working with young people and I love music. Combining the two has been a brilliant success.” Besides a love for choral music, she plays piano and flute.
Snjolaug Gillis Memorial Scholarship
Jenna North is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Manitoba. Her long-term goal is to become a nurse practitioner. She grew up in Birtle, Manitoba, and was very active in student government in high serving as vice president and president. Jenna volunteers at the Women’s Health Clinic as a birth control and unplanned pregnancy counsellor. There she provides counselling to women, as she says, “by providing them with as much information needed so that they can make an informed decision.” Jenna grew up in the foster care system, which means that she has accomplished a great deal without the support of a family.
Gyda Naylor Memorial
Bethany MacLean is studying at the University of Winnipeg in the Faculty of Education in the early/middle years program. She has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. She has been consistently on the dean’s honour roll as a student of highest distinction. Bethany has travelled to India and Romania on humanitarian missions. She has been active in her church’s music and youth program. Bethany plays ultimate frisbee and has coached six- to ten-year-old children’s soccer. For a number of years, she has been involved in the River East Transcona School Division summer day camp.
Eugene and Rose Clyde Memorial Scholarship
Bailey Gillies is studying at the University of Winnipeg with the intention of becoming a guidance counsellor. As well as pursing her studies, she is currently working at Taking Charge, which is an educational non-profit organization that provides opportunities for academic upgrading and career exploration for sole parents and women. Bailey has volunteered in the community and at university and she has independently taken on related courses and workshops. Bailey is of Icelandic descent. One ancestor, Johannes Gislason, came to Canada in 1876 and changed his name to Gillies when he settled in Southwestern Manitoba.
Skip and Margaret Skaptason Memorial Scholarship
Lilianne Tran is in her fourth year in the Faculty of Agriculture. She is majoring in animal science and intends to go on to veterinary medicine. Her volunteer work has been extensive – visiting inner-city schools to create a sense of security and stability for the students, involved with a number of animal hospitals and rescue shelters, helping out at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Perhaps her most important undertaking is as co-event planner for A Concert for Carter. Carter was Lilianne’s friend who lost his battle with cancer. For the past two years, this event has raised $16,000 for CancerCare Manitoba. As the daughter of immigrant parents she is proud to call Canada her home.
Neil Bardal Scholarship
Rochelle Palsson is in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg and hopes to work in the early education field. Before attending university, she has been very active in her community of Arborg. She has taught Sunday school and volunteered as a food preparer at the Sunrise Lodge. Rochelle performed vocal jazz and was part of the school’s gospel choir. She was part of the Icelandic Youth Choir and has been involved in Ukrainian dance. Rochelle’s paternal great-great-grandparents immigrated from Iceland in the 1890s.
Margret Benedictsson Scholarship
Johise Namwira is studying in the Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Manitoba. Her goal is to work in the area of international human rights. As a student intern, Johise coordinated other student interns during the Native Women and Film Festival, which recognized the work of Indigenous female artists through a series of film screenings and roundtable discussions. Recently, she has accepted a volunteer position as an editor for the department’s Feminist and Queer Collective journal, which allows undergraduates to share their research, photography, and creative writing pieces. At St. Amant, Johise works with children and adults with disabilities. Johise has a black belt in karate.
Lynelle Wishneski Bursary
Noel Braucher is a mature student at the University of Manitoba. In 2007, Noel was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and underwent a kidney transplant. From 2010 to 2014, he was a member of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Reserve Group. His motivation to enlist was in part to “reciprocate to Canada the services and compassionate care that his family received.” In 2015, Noel resigned his job as an IT professional to pursue a long-held dream to complete a university degree program. He is majoring in Icelandic and his career goal is to work in film production and technical services. Noel is originally from British Columbia.
The IODE 100th Anniversary Scholarship
Jessica Allard is pursuing a Bachelor of Education in the After-Degree Program at the University of Manitoba. As a single mother, she continually faces challenges. Her first degree was in environmental science. She has worked at an environmental composting facility and with Via Rail as an activity coordinator aboard The Canadian, where she shared with travellers her knowledge of Canadian geography. On return from maternity leave, she has been unable to secure a position that will allow her to live independently and raise her son. This is the motivation to return to university and become a teacher.
Lorna M. Thorlakson Memorial Scholarship
Abigail Lidster is in her third year in the Faculty of Social Work. She attended the University of Regina before transferring to the University of Manitoba. As with many of our scholarship recipients, she is living away from home for the first time. On graduating from high school, Abigail was awarded Student of the Year. Currently, she is employed as a boarding assistant at Balmoral Hall and volunteers as a visitation monitor at the Winnipeg Children's Access Agency.
Excerpts from SCANDIA
(Reprinted with permission from Sigríður Matthíasdóttir, pages 10 - 16)
In the period 1820-1950, about 2.9 million people emigrated from the Nordic countries. This article will consider the unmarried women who emigrated from Iceland to North America in the period 1870-1914. In terms of emigration from Europe, proportionally the greatest number of people came from Ireland, but both Norway and Iceland were not far behind. Those who emigrated from Iceland amounted to 23 per cent of the country's total population. The high proportion of women was a particular feature of Icelandic emigration. As a rule, men had a 'higher rate of emigration than women in the Nordic countries', although there were deviations from this pattern; women, however, accounted for 50.7 per cent of the Icelandic emigrants. According to the Icelandic historians Helgi Skúli Kjartansson and Steinthór Heidarsson, this ratio was 'high and remarkably stable' in comparison to other countries. No figures exist concerning the proportion of unmarried women, but it may be assumed that the number was high, since the general proportion of unmarried women in Icelandic society at this time was large.
Being single was a factor that affected the circumstances and prospects of women who emigrated. The role of married women in their new countries was predetermined to a far larger degree, consisting of care for the home and the family. Single women's prospects, on the other hand, were more precarious, involving greater uncertainty about their livelihoods and future lives. Moreover, it has been suggested that the difference between emigrating when married with children, compared to emigrating as a single person, was greater for women than for men. 'In a period when the married woman's situation essentially was defined by her position in the family', it can be assumed that the decision to emigrate, like the experience of emigration itself, was different for married women and single women. It must be borne in mind that 'wage work was not central to most white women's lives'. Marriage must therefore be viewed as an 'economic opportunity' for women. The process of migration was also structured by a 'variety of social relationships' such as class and nationality.
The main purpose of this article is twofold. First, in order to provide an overview of the phenomenon, we will briefly discuss existing studies of single women who emigrated to North America. Second, we will argue that a certain group of women has been forgotten, both in the history of Icelandic emigration and in Icelandic historical accounts of women and gender - the single women who emigrated to Canada and the US, who belonged neither to the class of government officials nor to the 'lower classes' or domestic servants. Our aim is to discuss the women's social position and how they are best positioned in historical research. We suggest that these women had a certain 'capital', and that they also had resources, spanning education, a career or an employment history of some kind, or familial associations, for example. Our study is based on historical sources that have thus far been somewhat underutilised in the field of women's and gender history, namely short biographies of emigrants such as those found in the Vestur-íslenzkar æviskrár (the biographical records of the 'Western Icelanders', the Icelandic emigrants to North America) and obituaries in the Icelandic newspapers published in Canada, the Lögberg and the Heimskringla.
Themes in the literature
The country that the Icelandic women left behind was traditional, rural society with a very small population. Increases in the population between 1820 and 1880, when it reached 72,445, took place without any fundamental change in the means of livelihood or conditions of labour. Urbanisation was very slow, and over 90 per cent of lcelanders lived by farming. In the mid nineteenth century, there began a period that has been called 'the crisis in rural society'. It became harder for people to set up their own households, and so increasing numbers became household servants for life and never got married. For some, the solution to this crisis was to emigrate to North America, although people who were well-off also emigrated.
Most emigrants from Iceland went to Canada, contrary to the trend in almost all other European countries, from where the majority went to the US. The primary Icelandic settlement was in Manitoba, and soon Winnipeg 'had the largest settlement of lcelanders in America'. They settled in other places in Canada as well. Icelanders also emigrated to the US, and in 1910 a substantial number were living there too.
There was considerable international scholarly interest in emigrant history in the 1960s and 1970s, characterised by economic and social approaches based on quantitative analyses.' One of the Icelandic outcomes of this movement was the publication in 1983 of A Record of Icelandic Emigrants I870-I9I4 by the Icelandic historian Június H. Kristinsson. The Record provides a summary of the names of those who emigrated, along with their sex, age, place in their family, and the year they left. There has also been important research on this period by the Icelandic historian Helgi Skúli Kjartansson. This, together with the Record, formed part of a Nordic research project on emigration from the Scandinavian countries to North America.
Such quantitative methods are now thought by many scholars to be too narrow. The Norwegian historian Odd S. Lovoll, for example, writes that the 'human factor may easily disappear in a macro view of this historical phenomenon and in its statistical dimensions'. This also means that it is important to balance the general ideas found in material from official sources with individual experiences and stories. The Icelandic historian Vilhelm Vilhelmsson has recently contended that the past decade has seen a shift in research on Icelandic emigration to North America. He writes that the lives of the emigrants, 'their identities and myth-making have been scrutinized from a considerably more critical angle' than had been previously the case.
Women and emigration from the Nordic countries seem to be a rather under-researched field. The historian Lars Olsson wrote in 2001 that the history 'surrounding the Swedish men and women who settled in America' had tended to be written according to 'an international pattern of interpretation'. Citing the sociologist Kathie Friedman-Kasaba, he stated that this was where 'largely male scholars' treated the 'category of "woman" as passive followers of "the real migrant", the male labour migrant or political exile.’
This is in line with the historiography of Icelandic emigration. The historian Laurie K. Bertram pointed out the contradiction in the fact that 'Icelandic Canadian historiography generally prides itself on Iceland's history of comparatively progressive property and political rights for women', but at the same time, important female-figures 'occupy the outskirts of mainstream history and commemoration'. This is true, for example, of Salome Halldorson (1887-1970), who served in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba from 1936 to 1941 and who was 'one of the foremost female leaders in the Icelandic Canadian community in Manitoba during the 1930s and 40s' along with 'her other well-known female contemporaries'.
However, according to the Norwegian historian Terje Mikael Hasle Joranger, changes are now taking place. Discussing research on Norwegian emigration, Joranger claims that 'Women's gender history, which has been largely neglected in former studies, in recent years has acquired a more prominent place in immigration and ethnic studies.’ He specifically refers to the book Norwegian American Women, published in 2011, the sole subject of which is the participation by Norwegian women in emigration, and their role in their new society.
The historian Ann-Sofie Ohlander has conducted pioneering work on the emigration of women from Sweden. She writes that in the period 1851-1908, the gender proportions were 833 women for every 1,000 men who emigrated. Looking at the proportion of single emigrant women to single emigrant men, it rose dramatically during this period. In 1851-1860, 462 women in this category emigrated from Sweden, against every 1,000 men. In 1891-1900, the number of women had risen to 981; thus, their numbers were almost equal.
The higher rates of family-based emigration from rural areas at the beginning of the emigration period changed to increased individual emigration from towns in the 1880s and 1890s. This went hand in hand with increased emigration by women, which was usually higher from towns than from rural areas. Migration within the home country ('step migration'), which was more common among women than men, explains this to some extent. Women tended to move to larger cities to find work before making the jump overseas. The study by Icelandic historian Olof Gardarsd6ttir on the connection between the growth of coastal villages in Iceland and emigration to North America indicates that this pattern can be found in Iceland as well.
Single women's agency
The historian Joy K. Lintelman sheds important light on the situation of single women who emigrated from Sweden to North America. She has examined letters they wrote home, and found that since they had more time to correspond, they wrote more about 'public issues', in addition to personal ones, than married women did. Her study provides an interesting insight into the agency of single women. Lintelman has written about a particular Swedish woman, Mina Anderson, who emigrated when young and single, and whose memoirs became one of the sources for Vilhelm Moberg's novels. She discusses the widespread influence of Kristina Nilsson in Moberg's novel about Swedish female emigrants, as a woman who did not want to leave her country, never adapted, and who suffered from 'homesickness conquered only in death'. According to Lintelman, this 'Kristina archetype' ignores 'the majority of Swedish emigrant women, like Mina, who made their own decisions to leave' and 'achieved many of the goals they had set for themselves in immigrating'.
The historian Lars Olsson has also written about a young emigrant woman, Evelina Johansdotter, who was in constant negotiation with her surroundings. In addition to the obvious difficulties facing a young, working emigrant, he also describes her as an agent who actively assessed the advantages and disadvantages of the possibilities open to her. This leads to another important theme in the research on emigration by single women from the Nordic countries, which at the same time sheds light on their agency in their work and working conditions. Being a maid or 'in service' was by far the commonest occupation. In 1900, 61.5 per cent of women in the US who had been born in Sweden gave it as their occupation, a proportion that seems to be in line with the situation in Canada concerning Scandinavian women in general. The historian Eva St Jean writes that according to 'Census Canada, in 1931 58 per cent of Scandinavian female workers were employed in the service industry, mostly in domestic service, but also in restaurants or boarding houses'.
The historian Lars Ljungmark studied the structure of the population of the city of Winnipeg in Canada over a twenty-year period, from 1881 to 1901, by country of birth. He found that 90 per cent of Icelandic women (86 women in total) were 'unmarried and a large majority of them served in a family'. Among the Icelandic women in Canada, Ljungmark found a high proportion of single women working as maids.
Women's work 'existed within a gendered space'. Women's opportunities for waged work were limited. Paid labour performed by white women in British Columbia was 'largely confined to a handful of characteristically female areas'. These varied in content and status. Women, for example, could work as laundresses and in restaurants, or be midwives or teachers, this last being the primary professional occupation open to women in the period between 1840 and 1920.
A forgotten stratum of women - historical sources
The fact that relatively little has been written about emigration from Iceland and the Nordic countries from a gendered point of view makes it important to consider the questions of how to approach the project, the methodology to apply, and which sources to use, and more specifically the types of sources available for the theme, the sort of evidence they provide, and what methods should be used to analyse them. This is all the more necessary because the source material for emigration is vast, including material produced on both sides of the Atlantic, including newspapers, magazines, biographies, written local tales of various kinds, parish registers, censuses, immigration records, emigrants' letters home, and photographs of the emigrants. These sources provide very different and varied types of information and insight.
One task at hand has been to establish the fundamental gendered characteristics of these sources: It seems, for example, that the majority of biographies and letters sent home were written by men. Moreover, an important concern has been to obtain a qualitative insight into the lives of single emigrant women, while at the same time establishing a structural overview of their social position. Gender as a factor easily disappears in the traditional consideration of these sources. In order to balance the traditional view, we thus attempt to bring women's experiences and stories to the fore. Guided by questions such as those outlined above, we have focused on primary sources that we would argue should be examined more closely in research into the history of women and gender: short biographies, such as those to be found in the Vestur-íslenzkar æviskrár and newspaper obituaries.
The Vestur-íslenzkar æviskrár contains short biographies of a considerable number of single women who emigrated to North America. We have identified women in the Vestur-íslenzkar æviskrár who were unmarried and who provided for themselves, at least for some period after their arrival in Canada or the US. Thus far, we have gone through the first volume and have not yet found any women who worked as domestic servants throughout their lives, despite the large number of female domestics. They seem to be largely invisible in the sources used in this project, although not entirely so in the history of women and gender, as some limited research has been done on them. On the other hand, it is important to recognise that these women did not generally belong to the highest layers of Icelandic society and so were not part of the stratum of Icelandic government officials. This observation also applies to the Icelandic Canadian newspapers that carried obituaries of Icelandic immigrants, including a number for women who were unmarried when they emigrated from Iceland.
These examples, which will be discussed further below, seem to present a picture of women that has not been given prominence within the field of women's history in Iceland. We contend that they show a certain variety in women's circumstances and modes of life, as well as a form of agency or scope for influencing their own destiny. The Vestur-íslenzkar æviskrár and the obituaries contain examples of women who learned a trade in order to support themselves before they went to Canada, or after their arrival, and who especially trained as seamstresses. Then there is an example of a woman who was educated at the Women's School in Reykjavík and who supported herself in Canada for some time by teaching. There are also women who pursued an entrepreneurial path, women who led a mobile life travelling between countries, women who were obviously endowed with some extraordinary personal qualities, and, not least, women who could count on good relations or contacts. Thus, members of the forgotten stratum of women become visible in their own right, and not simply in the shadow cast by their men, whether their husbands, their fathers, or others.
... to be continued
By Ken Kristjanson, Winnipeg, MB
On a recent visit to Gramma’s old house, the new owner showed me what the cat had dragged in. Literally. It was a young weasel. As a young man, I was lucky to trap a weasel on what is now Willow Island. I well remember the beautiful white fur much prized by furriers. Fortunately, seeing one in town is rather rare – this first cousin of the mink is a viscous carnivore. As a teenager growing up in Gimli, I and many other boys would catch muskrats and other fur-bearing creatures for extra spending money using traps and snares. My friend Pogo Isfjord was particularly well-known for his prowess at snaring rabbits.
My afi (grandfather) told us kids a story about a weasel that he encountered at our fishing station on Humbug Bay in late fall, sometime in the early 1930s. It was the time before outboard motors were in general use. This meant that the men would row out from the station and set their nets and then, sometime later, they would row back and lift their nets. This happened in all kinds of weather. Generally, the fishermen would be in close proximity to the station.
Nets in those days were anchored by rocks. Large boulders would have stout rope wrapped around them and then they would be tied to the net, thus anchoring one end of the net. The same procedure would be employed at the other end of the net. As it happened this October day, one of the fishermen at the station had lost a rock and needed to row in to shore to find a replacement. As he approached the shore to get another boulder, he saw a murder of crows making an awful racket.
The fisherman beached his yawl and began investigating to see what the fuss was about. He discovered a mature weasel with its leg caught in an old rabbit snare. The bronze wire was attached securely to a small branch. The harder the weasel pulled, the tighter the wire grabbed its leg. From what the fisherman could surmise this life and death struggle had been going on for a while. The weasel lay exhausted from trying to free itself from the wire. The crows, sensing a free meal, swooped in. But the weasel was not done in yet and was able to grab one of the crows. After making a meal of the crow, the weasel spotted its next problem – a fisherman approaching. The fisherman had the same idea as the crows. He determined this would be a fine pelt. The weasel wanted none of this new adversary and, with newfound strength, no doubt egged on by the noisy crows, he finally broke free of the twig and vanished into the underbrush, trailing the wire behind.
A few days later, the weasel with the trailing wire showed up while the men were dressing their catch. Having escaped the wire trap, the crows, and the fur-seeking fisherman, the weasel had earned a reprieve from those at the station. The fishers often overcame long odds in their small boats on the big lake and they sort of adopted the scrappy little weasel. In the Icelandic way of giving nicknames, the weasel was named “Wired.” He hung around all fall, enjoying the delicious fish bits that regularly came his way. It got so that the men looked for the creature when they came ashore. The weasel did not disappoint them and he would take up his spot near the dressing tables – not too close – waiting for the tasty scraps.
Photo: Jana M. Cisar / USFWS
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