In Arvika, Värmland, Sweden, the family of Alrik Bäckman, born in 1902, had heard from his brother and sister-in-law, May Britt’s Uncle Gus and Aunt Ulrika, that jobs were plentiful and living was good in the new land. Although the family was reasonably affluent in Sweden, Alrik wanted to travel and came down with a heavy dose of “America Fever” that culminated in immigrating with brother Gus’s family to Providence, Rhode Island. Alrik found work along with many other Swedes at Brown and Sharpe manufacturing company.
In 1929 mother Astrid Hanning Bäckman, born in 1900, set out for America with May Britt and her little brother Ingemar “Inge” at Alrik’s request. May Britt, born in 1922, celebrated her 7th birthday on board the ship crossing the Atlantic and arrived in the USA in May 1929.
Memories of the departure are bittersweet, as they had to visit every family member in Sweden to say their tearful good-byes. May Britt remembers asking her mother if they had to cry again when she reached another relative. It was the last time she saw her paternal grandparents, Farfar and Farmor. Astrid worked hard to sell furniture and household goods which could not be packed for the trans-Atlantic move. This effort accomplished, she and the children moved to Norland to live with Astrid’s father until Alrik could send for them.
Although she was only 6 years old at that time, May Britt has some very positive memories of her homeland with family, celebrations, healthy living and sufficiency in life (the lagom side of Swedish life). She remembers and reflects on old photos of her family on a kick-sledge (sparkstötting) to travel through the snow. Even today that type of sled is used for winter races in Sweden.
Alrik lived with Gus’s family for a short time at a boarding house, located at 11 West Park Street in Providence, where Aunt “Rika” took employment as a cook in the kitchen and as a housekeeper. They later moved to a tenement house on Calais Street of Smith Hill, where they were living when Alrik’s family joined him.
"The Great Depression of 1929 was underway, and Father, being a rather new worker, was laid off from work," remembers May Britt. "A Salvation Army woman, Signe Hultanius, invited the family to visit the Saturday evening events at the Army Hall. There, among many Scandinavian church folk, they found music, singing and good Swedish food. Signe worked at Butler Hospital and through her contacts obtained work for Mother in a private home with the Barker family. Being highly motivated, Father attended night school to learn English in a local elementary school."
At home the family spoke only Swedish. May Britt quickly picked up the language from her cousin Margit and friends, so was able to start in the regular first grade class. She has positive memories of her teachers and classmates from her classes in Providence, and recalls one child who was a slow learner but was included with all the others in class. There was no “special education” then. May Britt remembers that her Swedish classmates were respectful, dedicated, motivated, well behaved and generally good students.
There were so many immigrants of different nationalities in their neighborhood of Smith Hill — she remembers folks from Russia, Poland, Portugal, Lithuania, many Christians and Jews, but they were all in the same situation.

Pillars of support
However, the Bäckman family began receiving assistance from the Swedish Corps (church) of the Salvation Army which also became their main social and psychological support. May Britt remembers how she and Inge were teased because they were needy and wore poor, shabby clothes. For two years they attended Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and Sunday School, and they were able to choose their used clothing from the church’s program to help immigrants. She remembers when the Army started their Shoe Festival, the annual “Sko Fest,” at which funds were raised to provide new shoes for the needy at Christmastime.
Churches were important to the Swedish immigrants. Lutheran services and Army meetings were in Swedish but gradually adapted to the times, despite their elders’ protests, as all activities were changed to English. May Britt can recall many Swedish churches: Lutheran, Methodist, St. Ascarius Episcopal, Mission Covenant and Baptist denominations. These were near Friendship and Chestnut streets. The Reslow’s son Leif played recently with his Salvation Army style brass ensemble at Gloria Dei Church which is now a Hispanic bilingual church, and immigrants are still being served.
But the main support and center of activity for these Swedes was the Salvation Army. All the family members became active, participating as leaders, musicians and spokespersons. It's where May Britt met Lloyd Reslow, her future husband. There resided their social group, friends and support system. Many celebrations were included there: St. Lucia, Midsommar, Easter breakfast (Påsk frukost). One winter Lloyd’s mother was chosen to be St. Lucia. May Britt remembers decorating the hall with fresh tree branches for Midsummer. No alcohol was served and the family was raised without any liquor. Aware of their stricter rules, May Britt recalls doing a skit, a parody on the sternness of the leaders — no alcohol, no dancing, etc.
May Britt worked with the Rhode Island State Office of the Army in assistance programs, evaluating the applicants to see if they qualified for services. She recalls one family that applied for help: The woman had lived there for 25 years and spoke no English; the daughter had to translate from Spanish. In contrast, she remembers that the Portuguese folks were more fluent in English. She is able to empathize with immigrants who face the challenge of learning another language and culture as well as with the all-too-often plight of poverty.
Because of the Depression and war and hard times, not many more immigrants arrived at that time. Dad and Mom did become U.S. citizens; May Britt and Inge automatically did so. There was no dual citizenship as many have now, so they relinquished their Swedish citizenship.
May Britt belonged to Vasa Order of America but was not as involved as with the Salvation Army. Both May Britt and her husband Lloyd were on the Swedish Heritage Committee, initiated as part of Rhode Island’s celebration of the Bicentennial. They assisted in planning and participated in many musical programs, including St. Lucia. At one Lucia Fest May Britt was the music director. She recalled asking me to come to the stage to sing a duet with her. One can appreciate how detailed and lucid are her memories.
Another area of interest for the Reslows was the Scandinavian Home Inc. in Cranston, RI. Currently, they are members of the Friends of the Corporation as well as The Gamlas Vänner Society. I can recollect when they often performed at many events.
Lloyd served on the Board of Directors and May Britt was president of the Women’s Auxiliary organization. They also played and sang at Pilgrim Lutheran Church.


Lloyd Reslow’s mother Selma Maria Anderson came to Rhode Island as a young domestic. She had been a Salvation Army soldier in Sweden, so her Army roots go deep. Selma was taking care of her ill friend who was an officer of the Salvation Army on Chestnut Street, when she met Lloyd’s father. She answered the doorbell to find John Frederick Reslow: He was seeking information on times for meetings which he wanted to attend.
John “Fred” Reslow was born in Michigan in the late 1800s, but his family had returned to Sweden when he was 9 years old. He returned to America at age 19. His mother and three brothers also returned and continued to live in the New England area.
Selma and Fred married and settled in Pawtucket, where Lloyd was born in 1922. The family attended the Swedish Covenant Church in Pawtucket as well as the Army in Providence while Lloyd was growing up.
May Britt enjoyed the Army meetings especially because they served good coffee and cookies (“dopp”) which their family could not afford. Her first meeting with Lloyd occurred when she saw him playing in the band. He was such a charming, musically-talented 9-year-old boy. So Lloyd was a musician from early on, but May Britt, with only one year of piano lessons had to acquire her musical skills on her own. Such was the beginning of a devoted, compatible couple and 67 years of marriage with years of service in the Salvation Army.
The Reslows were proud to be Swedish and felt they were not discriminated against in their new land but had to work hard to attain a good living. Many friends were acquired. Musical talents and years in the Salvation Army contributed much to their life in the USA. Tradition has been passed on to their children who clearly speak well of their own Swedish heritage. One grandchild, Kyle Lloyd Reslow, is a glassblower and has made a large 4-foot glass rune stone which decorates the corner of his parents’ East Greenwich home.
The two mothers, Selma and Astrid, being entrepreneurs, opened a Swedish coffee shop with fresh baked goods for a short time along the Post Road in East Greenwich. It became popular and successful. Many years later in 2013, daughter-in-law Patti Reslow and her friend Nancy Swanson opened a successful Swedish bakery called Swede-a-Licious, also in East Greenwich. History is repeated and the tradition is carried on. Such folks are what make this country what it is today.
Lloyd and May Britt Reslow have two children. Daughter Christine is married to Allister Eric Stickland with three daughters: Jennifer, Justina and Evelyn. Son Leif with wife Patti have three sons: Scott, Kyle and Leif Erik. There are four Reslow great-grandchildren. As many other Swedish immigrants have mentioned, the Reslows are proud to be Americans and carry on Swedish celebrations and traditions with their families down through the generations.

By Lorraine Colson Bloomquist
Lorraine Colson Bloomquist is a member of the board of Rhode Island Swedish Heritage Association as well as a Vasa member of Quahog Lodge, Rhode Island. She wrote this with the help of May Britt Reslow, Christine Reslow Stickland and Leif Reslow.