Selma Inez EricksonOral History Interview, 1979  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Erickson, Selma Inez
1979 (inclusive)
2 file folders
2 sound cassettes
2 compact discs
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Selma Inez Erickson, 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

The daughter of Norwegian and Norwegian-American parents, Selma Inez Erickson was born in 1903 in Turtle Lake, North Dakota. Selma was the third child out of eleven. Her father was born in Bergen, Norway and immigrated to Rock Dell Township in Minnesota when he was two. Her mother, also of Norwegian descent, was born in Rock Dell Township. While in North Dakota, Selma's father farmed on a homestead, but after ten years with only one good crop, the family moved to Osakis, MN, where Mr. Erickson worked as a carpenter.

When Selma was seventeen, she took her fourth year of high school as teachers' training and began teaching at Osakis High School. She worked in the Osakis area for three years and then went on to teach for two years in Rochester and one in a Cherokee Indian School in Oklahoma. Encouraged to become a nurse, Selma began training at Deaconess Hospital in Minneapolis, MN when she was twenty-five. Nurses were in demand at this time, and she worked as a private nurse in Osakis, Alexandria, and other places in Minnesota. Following this, Selma studied at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis and decided to become a mission nurse. She was stationed in South Africa at a dispensary-store for seven years, where she lived with special patients and some younger native girls. The special patients Selma cared for were a set of triplets born prematurely to a local Christian family. Selma considers the time she spent in South Africa as the highlight of her life. She finished her mission work in 1945 and then returned to Portland, OR, where her parents lived and continued nursing in Oregon, Washington, and California.

After returning to Rock Dell to visit her grandfather, Selma became interested in genealogy. When she moved to Seattle in 1957, she joined the Genealogical Society at the Seattle Public Library and in 1966, became the chairman of the Scandinavian interest group. Selma celebrates her own Scandinavian heritage by continuing to cook special dishes and speaking and writing Norwegian.


Full Name: Selma Inez Erickson. Maiden Name: Selma Inez Erickson. Father: Ingvald Emil Erickson.. Mother: Helen Larson Alseth. Paternal Grandfather: Ingebrigt Erickson. Tvedt Paternal Grandmother: Synneva Rasmusen Fjaeren. Maternal Grandfather: Gjermund Larson Alseth. Maternal Grandmother: Guri Nopson Mehus. Brothers and Sisters: Hjalmar Ludvig Erickson, Mabel Gertrude Erickson, Lilah Grace Erickson, Luella Mae Erickson,, Ruth Viola Erickson, Clifford Ernest Erickson, Cordelia Emily Erickson, Theodore Olaf Erickson, Donald Lloyd Erickson, Dale Floyd Erickson.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

INSERT SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTEThis interview was conducted with Selma Erickson on July 2, 1979 in Seattle, WA. It provides information on Selma's family background, her experiences as a teacher and a nurse, her return trip to Norway, and her interest in genealogy. The interview also contains five papers by Selma ("Scandinavian Contributions to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence," "My Family Record, with Emphasis on the Halling-side," "The Ingvald E. Erickson Family," "Selma Erickson Writes of Christmas in Zululand," and "My Childhood on the Farm in North Dakota"), a poem by Selma entitled "A Visit to My Birthplace," Selma's family tree, and two letters from Selma to the interviewer, Janet Rasmussen.

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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
36, side 1 025/10: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Selma Inez (Inas on birth certificate) was born on a farm near Turtle Lake, ND in 1903.
36, side 1 071: PARENTS
Her father was Ingvald Emil, and mother was Helen Larson Alseth, originally Helene Gjermundsdatter. Dad was born in Bergen, Norway on June 25, 1874. When he was two, he emigrated with his family which included mother, dad, and two older siblings. Dad's mother was born in Sogndal, Sogn and moved to Bergen. His father
36, side 1 /11:
was a farmer and worked with the fishing industry. The grandfather's oldest brother, Jakob, got the farm. So, grandfather and the other siblings had to do other things, and he and two siblings immigrated to Rock Dell Township near Rochester, MN in about 1876.
36, side 1 177:
Selma's mother was born in Rock Dell Township. Her mother was also born in America, probably around the Rock Dell area, although her parents emigrated from the Hallingdal area.
36, side 1 219/12:
Selma's parents were married on December 24, 1898 in the East St. Olaf Lutheran Church at Rock Dell where mother was baptized; it was a Norwegian Synod congregation. Her parents had eleven children in all. The two oldest children were born in Rock Dell Hjalmar Ludvig (6-3-1899) and Mabel Gertrude (1901). Then Selma Inez was born on 8-23-1903; Lilah Grace two years later, Luella Mae, Ruth Viola, Clifford Ernest, Cordelia Emily, Theodore Olaf and the twins Donald Lloyd and Dale Floyd.
36, side 1 297:
Dale was about eight years old when he died of a brain cancer at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester.
36, side 1 313:
Ruth (Mrs. Edward Hayes) lives in Ballard, and Selma lives with Cordelia Emily.
36, side 1 324:
Father was a farmer, but like many Scandinavians, he was also a carpenter. He took up a homestead at Turtle Lake, ND but had only one good crop in ten years from 1903-1913. During part of those years, he supported the family as a machinist. They moved to town and he began construction work.
36, side 1 354:
Selma was born right after the move to the homestead. Later on, at the age of nine, she lived with an aunt for a year in Aneta, ND. The aunt had four boys and wanted to have a girl in the family.
36, side 1 378: CHILDHOOD
Selma had a happy childhood. She had cousins that lived across the field and that were playmates with the Erickson kids. The children were brought to church weekly.
36, side 1 399/13: CHURCH
A group of young people had moved from Rock Dell Township to Turtle Lake, so the new ND congregation was Norwegian Lutheran also. Services were in Norwegian. Before school, Selma knew only Norwegian as that's what her parents spoke at home. When she went to school, she had to learn English as the school in ND used only English. Just the oldest children learned Norwegian; Hjalmar and Mabel went to a Norwegian primary school in MN. Lilah and Luella knew some Norwegian, but the younger ones didn't learn any. Selma tries to keep up with her Norwegian by studying and writing.
36, side 1 456:
Discussion about a picture taken before Hjalmar enlisted in the Marines prior to WWI. Aunt Agnes helped get the family ready for this picture; she was an opera singer from Oslo.
36, side 1 478/14:
Father was almost 81 when he died; mother reached the age of 96. After quitting the homestead, they moved to Osakis, MN, when she was 10. Selma took her teacher's training at normal school there.
36, side 1 509/01: LIFE FOR MOTHER
She was a hard worker who knit and crocheted in her spare time. They lived on five acres on the outskirts of town, and everyone learned to work. Mother raised and sold fryers, eggs, and vegetables. Later on, she got a loom, and wove and sold rugs. After moving to Seattle, she continued to make and sell crocheted goods. Discussion about a newspaper clipping from the Seattle Times, Sunday January 9, 1972, which is an interview with her mother about her handwork.
36, side 1 509/02: WORK
Selma taught three years in the Osakis area, two in Rochester and one in a Cherokee Indian School in Oklahoma. The superintendent at the school was the pastor who confirmed Selma. The original teacher was not able to come, so Selma took over the primary grades. After that, she stayed and helped one year at the Indian Mission. People encouraged her to be a nurse, and after prayerful consideration, she applied to nursing school. She had planned to attend Dana College, but she used her savings to pay for her nurses training at Deaconess Hospital in Minneapolis, MN. She was only 25 when she entered in 1928 and finished in 1931.
36, side 1 669/03:
Selma started teaching at the age of 17; the kids were almost her age. There was a shortage of teachers, and she, like many girls, took her fourth year of high school as teachers training at Osakis High School in the normal department.
36, side 1 668: DEACONESS HOSPITAL
The training was bedside nursing making beds, cleaning linens, etc., and studying. There were about 20-25 girls in one class; Deaconess (a Norwegian Hospital) was in demand as a training hospital.
36, side 1 707:
Here she had a chance to use her Norwegian. She took care of elderly Norwegian deaconess' twice and had the chance to speak, sing Norwegian songs and read the Norwegian Bible to them.
36, side 1 731:
After graduation, she was a private nurse in Osakis, Alexandria, and other places in MN. There were few nurses around, so she was in demand. Later she studied at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis before going to Africa in 1938.
35, side 2 012/04:
More discussion about work.
After Bible study in 1933-34, she went to Harvey, ND to work as a nurse. She had a great interest in being a mission nurse because of church influence, family attitude, training, etc. During the Depression, she applied to be a nurse in India, but that didn't materialize.
35, side 2 116:
Then, she went to the Mission Secretary (under the Norwegian Lutheran Church) in Minneapolis, and asked where an opening was available. Missions were sponsored in China, Africa, and Madagascar, but the only available opening was in South Africa. She applied, and in preparation, she attended a missionary conference and read up on tropical diseases.
35, side 2 185/05:
Her initial contract was for seven years. She traveled on a German-African boat via Hamburg, Germany and South Hampton, England and then along the western coast of Africa. Her destination was a Zulu mission in Natal in the southeastern part of South Africa. The country, prior to WWII, was a British colony and was called the Union of South Africa.
35, side 2 245:
She was stationed at a dispensary-store; the nearest doctor was 12-14 miles away at Esohwe. He made regular stops at the store, and emergency cases were taken to him. She lived in a house with some special patients and some younger native girls who helped keep house. Most patients spoke Zulu, so Selma had a tutor who helped her with the language. During WWII there were blackouts. The South Africans fought in North Africa, and had a training camp outside of Esohwe. She had a visit from a Jewish doctor who observed that she had a wider selection of medicine in her dispensary than he did. Selma ordered her supplies from an English pharmaceutical.
35, side 2 340/06:
Selma was to have been relieved in order to take a course in midwifery, but her replacement died while returning from a furlough. Selma was able to go later when a Zulu nurse took over the dispensary. She attended a six-month midwifery course offered at Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital in Johannesburg. In the US, there was only one place to receive this training, and Selma had not been able to take it. She had delivered two babies before taking the course, but did not encourage the practice.
35, side 2 383:
Her special patients were a set of triplets born prematurely in a government hospital in Durban. At six months of age, the mother brought one girl to Selma for medicine. Six months later, she met up with the family when another triplet was very ill. Selma walked two miles to reach the home, and found the babies were badly undernourished. The parents were Christian and loved the children. So the mother gave Selma permission to keep the sick child and even carried it to Selma's house. The little girl, at one year, was only seven pounds. Selma didn't contact a doctor, just fed her small amounts often. Gradually the girl improved. The non-Christian natives believed that twins and triplets were very bad luck, and often killed one or all. These parents, being Christian, kept all three, but were shunned or scorned by older people.
35, side 2 428/07:
Selma cared for these triplets during her time there, and still receives letters from them. She finished her mission work in 1945. She re-applied for more mission work, but wasn't accepted. She returned to Portland, OR, where her folks had moved to be by their youngest son, Ted. Selma continued nursing in OR, CA, and WA Her mother was one of the first residents of the Elsie Foss Sunset Home in Seattle.
35, side 2 525: TRIP TO NORWAY IN 1970
Some of the people she worked with in South Africa were Norwegians as the mission was Norwegian-American; it was named the Hans Skruder (?) Mission. She was interested in visiting Norway to contact both relatives and friends from South Africa. She traveled with a tour group from Tacoma led by Pastor Thompson from Trinity Lutheran, and was accompanied by a good friend of Norwegian descent. The home place was still in the family; her sister had located its owner through the Oslo archives.
35, side 2 618: GENEALOGY
Her interest in genealogy began when she was in the Rock Dell area and visited her grandfather, Ingebrigt Erickson Tvedt. There were a number of relatives around, so she learned quite a lot of family history. After she moved to Seattle in 1957, she joined the Genealogical Society at the Seattle Public Library, and became the chairman of the Scandinavian interest group in 1966. The Seattle Times interviewed several people and ran an article on genealogy; from that came a great response, and membership in the interest group grew to 35.
35, side 2 746:
For the Scan Presence Conference, the Scandinavian interest group contributed genealogical materials. The group has also prepared research information packets for Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic and Danish people. She works as a volunteer for Seattle Genealogical Society from 10-1 on Saturdays.
35, side 1 004/09: CHURCH WORK
Returning from Africa, Selma visited a prayer group and was impressed with the power of prayer. She has belonged to many prayer groups through the years. Her sister, Cordelia, and she have been advocates for mission work and for a mission prayer group. One of her church's pastors, Pastor Rude (sp?), was interested and supportive in starting a mission society.
35, side 1 164/01: NORWEGIAN HERITAGE
They still have lutefisk and julekake at Christmas dinner. Her mother's favorite song was "Vi er saa glad..." which they sang every Christmas.
35, side 1 187: SPEAKING NORWEGIAN
Selma has a mixed accent Sogn, Telemark, Bergen and Hallingdal. She speaks and reads Norwegian, but does not write it.
35, side 1 219:
The highlight of her life was the time spent in Africa.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Education
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Genealogy
  • Missions
  • Norwegian-Americans--Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Personal Names :
  • Erickson, Clifford Ernest
  • Erickson, Donald Lloyd
  • Erickson, Lilah Grace
  • Erickson, Mabel Gertrude
  • Erickson, Selma Inez --Interviews (creator)
  • Fjaeren, Synneva Rasmusen
  • Alseth, Gjermund Larson
  • Alseth, Helen Larson
  • Erickson, Cordelia Emily
  • Erickson, Dale Floyd
  • Erickson, Hjalmar Ludvig
  • Erickson, Ingvald Emil
  • Erickson, Luella Mae
  • Erickson, Theodore Olaf
  • Hayes, Ruth Viola
  • Mehus, Guri Nopson
  • Tvedt, Inglebrigt Erickson
  • Family Names :
  • Alseth family
  • Erickson family
  • Fjaeren family
  • Mehus family
  • Tvedt family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Bergen (Norway)
  • Esohwe (South Africa)
  • Minneapolis (Minn.)
  • Osakis (Minn.)
  • Rock Dell Township (Minn.)
  • Seattle (Wash.)
  • Sogndal (Norway)
  • Turtle Lake (N.D.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Carpenters
  • Farmers
  • Nurses
  • Teachers