Norwegian Women Immigrants

A Norwegian girl in traditional dress holding a basket
Illustration of a Norwegian girl in traditional dress with a pail and a decorated basket. Date unknown. Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID 111440

Norwegian women played a vital role in the agricultural and social lives of rural communities. Spurred by a cultural acceptance of work, women on the farm took on both domestic chores and contributed to the family’s economy through production of food and material goods.[1] Those married to ministers had influence due to education and social status.[2] However, women were still segregated from participating in the Lutheran Church’s congressional politics. As a result, Norwegian American women established the Ladies Aid, providing them the opportunity to gather together and participate in a community of faith, engaging in fund-raising activities and hosting weddings and celebrations.[3]

Life in urban areas for Norwegian women immigrants was also incredibly trying and marked a difference between gender roles. Trained in domestic tasks, their talents became valuable to urbanites that often hired them to work as maids. Norwegian American women also sought industrial occupations, particularly in the food and textile markets. These women, often single, moved to larger cities in search of financial opportunities, hoping to earn enough to send money home to their families in rural America or Norway.[4]

Women participating in a sewing circle in Stoughton, Wisconsin wearing Norwegian costume.
Women participating in a sewing circle in Stoughton, Wisconsin wearing Norwegian costume. Date Unknown. Image courtesey of Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID 111688.

Related Stories

The front of the Emigranten Offices in downtown Madison
The Emigranten and Norwegian Language Newspapers
People posing in front of the Norwegian Luthern Church in Juneau
Norwegian Communities in Wisconsin
An Immigrant Family in Rural Wisconsin
An Immigrant Family in Rural Wisconsin

Related Objects

Front side of Norwegian genealogical plaque
Norwegian Genealogical Plaque
a round black stone sitting in fireplace
Lefse Stone

About the Author

Jared Lee Schmidt


Footnotes

[1] Marcia C. Carmichael, Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin’s Early Settlers (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2011), 88.

[2] Odd S. Lovoll, “Norwegian Immigration and Women,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, 58-59.

[3] Lori Ann Lahlum, “Women, Work, and Community in Rural Norwegian America, 1840-1920,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011), 95-105.

[4] David C. Mauk, “Finding Their Way in the City: Norwegian Immigrant Women and Their Daughters in Urban Areas, 1880s-1920s,” in Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities, 119-156.