Martha Dagsvik Nilsen Oral History Interview, 1983  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Nilsen, Martha Dagsvik
1983 (inclusive)
3 file folders
5 photographs
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Martha Dagsvik Nilsen, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 253-535-7586
Fax: 253-535-7315
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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Martha Nilsen was born on December 15, 1894 in Kvalnes, Tjoetta, Norway. Her parents were Sverdrup Dagsvik and Rebecca Ericksen, and there were at least thirteen children in the family: Edvin, Nilsine, Signe, Einar, Lucie, Agny, Line, Marte, Sverre, Georg, Aslaug, Johan, and Anne. Anne had a twin who was a stillborn. The family lived on a farm, where they raised a few crops and various animals. Martha's father was a schoolteacher who traveled from place to place, and her mother and the children tended to the farm while he was away. Martha raked hay during the hay season and fed and milked the cows. When Martha was fourteen, she was confirmed and began to work in town. She worked in a cafe and then did housework for various families. Martha met her husband Nils Nilsen when he came to Kvalnes to visit his family. He had been in America for many years, and Martha later immigrated to Tacoma, Washington to marry him. Martha and Nils had two children, Viola and Noble, and Nils was a fisherman, which kept him away from his family often. Martha returned to Norway three times, once in 1937 with Viola, in 1962 with Nils, and in the late 1960s with two of Nilsine's children. In Tacoma, she remained active in the community, belonging to the Ladies Aid at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and the Daughters of Norway. She also continued to make Norwegian foods, including rice mush, broed, morlefse, krinalefse, goro, fattigmann, krumkake, and berlinerkranser.


Full Name: Marta Johanne Nilsen. Maiden Name: Marta Johanne Dagsvik. Father: Sverdrup Nikolai Dagsvik. Mother: Rebecca Elisabeth Ericksen. Paternal Grandfather: Nikolai. Maternal Grandmother: Marte Ericksen. Brothers and Sisters: Edvin Mork Dagsvik, Nilsine Tanke Dagsvik, Signe Dagsvik, Einar Angal Skroeper Dagsvik, Lucie Falk Dagsvik, Agny Julliete Sol Dagsvik, Nikoline Dagsvik, Sverre Reinhart Dagsvik, Georg Dagsvik, Aslaug Dagsvik, Johan Dagsvik, Anne Dagsvik twin with Marte, Marte Johanne Dagsvik (deadborn). Spouse: Nils M. Nilsen. Children: Viola M. Woods, Noble R. Nilsen.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Martha Nilsen on March 2, 1983 in Tacoma, Washington. It contains information on her family background, emigration, settling in, return trips to Norway, and Norwegian heritage. Also available are photographs of Martha at ages seventeen and nineteen, Martha and her family during her first visit to Norway, and Martha at the time of the interview. The interview was conducted in English.

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Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
232, side 1 023: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Martha Nilsen was born Marte Johanne Dagsvik on December 15, 1894 in Kvalnes, Tjötta (prestegjeld), Helgeland in the middle of Norway. (Tjötta is about 35 km west of Mosjoen, and Helgeland is the southern part of Nordland county.)
232, side 1 065: PARENTS
Father was Sverdrup Dagsvik from Dagsvik, Leirfjord, Nordland (about 20 km northwest of Mosjoen). Mother was Rebecca Ericksen from a Helgeland prestegjeld. Martha's father taught school in and around Kvalnes. They lived on a farm, had 5-6 cows, horses, sheep, pigs, and raised a few row crops and hay.
232, side 1 108: WORK ON A FARM
Martha raked hay during the hay season and fed and milked cows in the barn, traditionally women's work.
232, side 1 124: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
She came from a large family - at least 13 children: Edvin, Nilsine, Signe, Einar, Lucie, Agny, Line, Marte, Sverre, Georg, Aslaug, Johan, and Anne. Anne had a twin who came dead-born. Aslaug died at three years old from appendicitis. Einar, Agny, Marte, and Sverre emigrated from Norway.
232, side 1 208:
Mr. Dagsvik was a schoolteacher who traveled from place to place staying 12 weeks each site. Mother had charge of home, farm, and family when he was away.
232, side 1 232: GRANDPARENTS
Martha remembers only her maternal grandmother, Marte Ericksen, and her paternal grandfather, Nikolai.
232, side 1 254: CHILDHOOD HOME
Their home was two stories; one room was the Kvalnes school place. The local "church" was not Lutheran but a building maybe owned by the state: a prayer house or "bedehus". The preachers were not Lutheran, but they could preach there anyway just for a Sunday or so. She was confirmed at a distant Lutheran church by attending classes and staying away from home for five weeks to do so. Class consisted of Bible reading and memory work. After confirmation she did housework in a town.
232, side 1 300: CHRISTMAS
On Christmas Eve they had lutefisk, meatballs, potatoes, groensaker, and dessert of Christmas cookies: fattigmann, berlinerkranser, also lefse, flatbroed, and risengryngroet. Under the tree, there were packages produced by hand. On Christmas day they had "bedehus" and a dinner with meats (steaks). There was a tree at the bedehus. Christmas lasted 13 days; sometimes the tree was sitting all winter because the family didn't use that room.
232, side 1 360: SPOUSE
Nils Nilsen had been in America many years. She knew his family in Kvalnes where they'd moved while he was in America. She met him when he returned to Norway for a visit. He returned to America and Martha came afterwards; "she had to have time to think".
232, side 1 383: EMIGRATION
Martha had to have papers signed at the prestegjeld. Her mother felt bad; Martha said, "It was a regular funeral!" Her mother cried and cried because so many of them (children) had come to this country. Agny and Martha came together in 1921. She thinks they took both the train and boat from home to Oslo, and the "Oslofjord" (a Norwegian boat) from Oslo to New York.
232, side 1 450: WORK IN NORWAY
She worked in a cafe in Mosjoen about 1911. (There is a black/white photo of Martha taken in a Mosjoen studio.) Mosjoen is close to where she came from.
232, side 1 462: CONFIRMATION
Martha was 14 (1908) when confirmed. Had to stay five weeks at people's house. There were 96 in the class from all around the district; this was the head church where they were confirmed.
232, side 1 479: MOSJOEN
She worked in the cafe. The lady of the cafe put Martha in the window so the men could see her and come in for coffee!
232, side 1 485:
Worked for the Svedin (?) family for seven years. It was a nice family and Mr. Svedin was high in "tolles faktor" (customs). She did cooking, cleaning, and what was necessary: "Mrs. didn't work very much there."
232, side 1 508: OSLO
She did housework for the Skoyins (?) family - nice people. (This was after she was in Trondheim?)
232, side 1 515: TRONDHEIM
Worked for a German family that she didn't like; they were not kind. (There is a black/white photo of Martha taken at a Trondheim studio when she was 19 years old in 1913.)
232, side 1 522: TRIP OVER
She remembers there was a fellow after her all the time, and her sister went up to him and said - "Don't care for her! She's going to get married in America!" There was dancing and music on the boat. She didn't get seasick as the weather was nice. She had been seasick before on the coast of Norway and "you feel rotten".
232, side 1 539: SETTLING IN
Everything went fine. She and her sister went to Minneapolis where her brother was. Martha left Agny in Minneapolis (Agny got married later and lived in North Dakota). Nils met her in Minneapolis, and they returned to Tacoma to be married in Nils' house next door to where she presently lives. It wasn't a very big wedding, but they had a party after.
232, side 1 576: SETTLING IN
Her husband was a fisherman and gone a lot. The present house was built 37 years later (about 1958). Nil's mother was here with Martha; they got along fine.
232, side 1 590:
She learned English herself from hearing others speak. She went to a school for awhile. Citizenship was acquired by marriage. She didn't work outside the home in America. Had two children: Viola Woods and Noble Nilsen. Noble is a carpenter, as is Viola's husband. Viola has four children: Phillip, Kristine, Doris, and Laurence.
232, side 1 635: FISHING
Fishing was a hard life. In summer Nils fished up toward Alaska. Viola tells a story about one of Nils' boats burning on Noble's birthday (he was born on August 13, 1924 - a Friday.) Much conversation between Inger and Viola.
232, side 1 668: CHURCH
Martha has been somewhat active, belonged to and served in Ladies Aid at Emmanuel Lutheran Church on the north side. (More conversation between Inger and Viola.)
She belongs to Daughters of Norway.
232, side 1 700: NILS
Passed away in 1968 at 82 years old. Martha was alone with the children when he was out fishing. She didn't like it because she was in a strange country and had to put up with everything. The language was the hardest thing because she couldn't talk to the people. She managed shopping by sending Viola to shop and pay bills. (More conversation between Inger and Viola about Martha speaking English and Viola understanding Norwegian.)
232, side 1 737: RETURN TRIPS TO NORWAY
The first trip was in 1937; Martha and Viola (15 years old) visited the family. Martha's parents were still alive, her father reaching the age of 103 when he died. (There is a photo of this visit with all the people identified.) Nils and Martha visited in 1962. Martha made a third trip in the late 1960's accompanied by two of Nilsine's children, Ruth and Per.
None. Einar was in Canada, Sverre in Minneapolis, Agny in North Dakota, and Line now lives in Seattle. Johan is in Norway on the family home.
232, side 2 003: NORWEGIAN HERITAGE
Martha makes rice mush, broed, and a soft lefse used for dessert, "morlefse". She also makes "krinalefse". First, a flat round flap is made and then the flap is spread with a batter using a creased (grooved) tool, and it is baked again. (Martha shows the tool she uses for this.)
232, side 2 064:
Martha also makes goro, fattigmann, krumkake, and berlinerkranser.
232, side 2 071: CHRISTMAS EVE NOW
Viola talks about how the second and third generation Norwegian-Americans continue cooking some Norwegian foods, but customs are changing.
232, side 2 115:
Snakker litt norsk. Martha says "Det var meget hyggelig at du kom over aa snakke med oss." Recites a saying about "huldra i huset".

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas
  • Confirmation
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Fishing
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Personal Names :
  • Dagsvik, Anne
  • Dagsvik, Aslaug
  • Dagsvik, Edvin Mork
  • Dagsvik, Georg
  • Dagsvik, Johan
  • Falk, Lucie
  • Nilsen, Martha--Interviews (creator)
  • Nilsen, Nils
  • Nilsen, Noble R.
  • Reinhart, Sverre
  • Tanke, Nilsine
  • Woods, Viola M.
  • Dagsvik, Nikoline
  • Dagsvik, Signe
  • Dagsvik, Sverdrup
  • Ericksen, Rebecca
  • Skroeper, Einar Angal
  • Sol, Agny Julliete
  • Corporate Names :
  • Daughters of Norway (U.S.) Embla Lodge #2 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Emmanuel Lutheran Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Dagsvik family
  • Ericksen family
  • Nilsen family
  • Woods family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Leirfjord herad (Norway)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Tjøtta herad (Norway)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Domestics
  • Farmers
  • Waitresses