When the Swedish immigrants came to America, whether to Oregon or elsewhere, they searched for support from what could be called “Pillars of Heritage.” This support system helped make the adjustment to the new country easier.
The Pillars of Swedish Heritage in Oregon
by Leif Rosqvist, Editor of New Sweden Newsletter
Undoubtedly, the Linnea Society has meant much to many immigrants. Charles W. Swenson, charter member of the society, said, “Linnea is like expanding your family to include hundreds of good friends — and they are good friends. If something should happen to me and I should need help, friends would come to me from everywhere through the society — and it is the same for all others.”
An elderly woman spoke in glowing praise of the organization. She was lonely when she came from Sweden, but when she learned that Linnea was admitting women, she joined.
At the time the society meant far more to them than in more recent years. “At the time," she said, “we were all ignorant greenhorns. Most of us could not use English and no one, outside of our own people, would have anything to do with us socially. I experienced many disappointments here — nothing was as good as I imagined it would be. But, good old Linnea was just like a mother, a sister and a brother to all of us young girls.”
Similar are the stories you will find in the well-known Swedish-American journalist Ernst Skarstedt’s trilogy of Swedes in the Far West, published 1911, where in the third volume Oregon och dess svenska befolkning [Oregon and its Swedish population] was a part. The book covered the period from 1880 to 1910, and it was organized in the same way as its two predecessors about California and Washington: It began with a general history of the state, moved on to the various activities of the Swedes and concluded with a substantial biographical section of prominent Swedish immigrants.
Today, these stories have become a gold mine of information for both genealogists and readers interested in ethnography, immigration and history in the state of Oregon. Many of the biographies you will find at the Swedish Roots In Oregon (SRIO) Web site. They are an interesting and educational read.
In a nation of immigrants, Oregonians’ relationship with immigrant newcomers was always ambivalent — just like across America. Many immigrants have thrived, but at times laws and prejudice limited rights or banned certain ethnicities altogether. Immigrants of Swedish origin did not in general face this problem.
Swedish immigration to Oregon over the period 1880-1990 as shown by U.S. census, peaked in the 1910-30’s period, after which immigration gradually slowed.
According to the U.S. Census, more than 125,000 Oregonians identify themselves as Swedish-Americans, which is a significant base for Swedish interest.
SRIO has translated about 100 biographies compiled and edited by Ernst Skarstedt, covering Swedish immigration into Portland and Oregon during the period from the late 1800's and early 1900's. In all of these biographies, there is a common thread, and that is “The Swedish Society of Linnea,” one of the oldest Swedish societies in Oregon, or in the entire west, clearly becoming a “Pillar of Swedish Heritage” in Oregon.
Building a community
Linnea was organized October 29, 1888 as “Svenska Bröderna” (The Swedish Brothers), and was founded by Philip W. Liljeson, the driving force behind the formation of a sick benefit and funeral organization for Swedish immigrants.
After four years, on November 30, 1892, the organization changed its name to “Svenska Sällskapet Linnea” (Swedish Society of Linnea). At this time they started to admit women, and after some time there were almost equal numbers of men and women in the organization.
This is well in line with the old Swedish saying, “för mannen är det ej godt att vara allena” (“it is not good for the man to be alone”).
The main charter of The Swedish Society of Linnea was to help and steady the weak and faltering, to aid its members to grow both intellectually and morally, to nourish a consciousness of our national heritage, and to protect our treasured Swedish language.
Key benefits that Swedish Society of Linnea provided the immigrant community was help with benefits during unemployment, funds to cover the sick and funeral costs. This was extraordinary for an immigration-based society in the early 1900's; it was very generous in its dealings with the Swedish population in general.
The Society played a very important role in the cultural and historical development of Swedish heritage in Portland as documented by SRIO and others. The Society sponsored a variety of programs to make it easy for new immigrants to fit in the new foreign environment and to develop contacts for employment and relationships. This was done through activities such as picnics and parties, very much as we do today, and at all occasions Swedish was spoken, Swedish food was prepared and music played, and the Swedish folk tradition was observed.
Besides covering the operational costs for the society itself, paying for sick and funeral expenses, the society has always been punctual in paying benefits to its members and being very generous in its dealing with the Swedish population in general.
The meeting place
A new building was planned and constructed by E. J. Grahs, in Scandinavian Baroque Revival style with a construction system that included stucco, weatherboards, metal and wood. The building was completed in 1910, located at 2066 NW Irving St., Portland. On the lower floor was a banquet hall as well as spaces for a caretaker, furnace, etc. A meeting hall and reception rooms were located on the second floor, and the actual club rooms were located on the third floor.
The cornerstone of the building, Linnea Hall, was placed in the foundation on September 5, 1910. Though the membership reached an estimated 500 in the early 1920's, it declined in the 1930's. By 1946 it had shrunk to 125, and in 1979 the Linnea Hall was sold. In 1980 Linnea Hall was named a Portland historical landmark.
Linnea is still serving the immigrant community together with several other Swedish organizations such as the Vasa Lodges, New Sweden Cultural Heritage Society and the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation. The membership is today stable at about 40 members, several being long time members. Judy Rust, Linnea president, is indicating that current changes in American society are reshaping the Linnea Society to become more of a social club and charity organization, servicing the current Swedish immigrant population.
References and Sources:
The book ”Oregon och dess Svenska Befolkning,” by Ernst Skarstedt
SRIO: The books “Swedish Oregon,” edited by Lars Nordström and “The Swedish Society of
Linnea,” written by E. J, Grahs. Swedes of Oregon, William Carlson Smith.
Material from Swedish Roots In Oregon (SRIO) Web site such as the book “Swedish Oregon,” booklets covering immigration topics, and immigrant biographies from Ernst Skartstedt’s book “Oregon and its Swedish Population.”
Cote of Arms over the doorway at Linnea Hall
Gents night 1931 at Linnea Hall. The men cooked the dinner for the night.
Portland Swedish Folkdance group 1930-1940.
E. J. Grahs and his wife
Linnea Hall in 1910
Linnea Hall in 2009
Interior of Linnea Hall in 1923, old classics long gone...
Old Dining Hall Theater Stage Ballroom Dancing Hall
Judy Rust, President Judy Rust, President and Ross
Fogelquist Vice Council Emeritus
Long time members enjoying themselves, L-R: Wilda Nordwall, Cristina Merryman.
Swedish immigration to Oregon 1880 - 1990
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990
983 3,774 4,555 10,099 10,502 11,032 8,498 6,904 4,538 2,396 1,594 1,031