Emma Mehus Varney Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Varney, Emma Mehus
1981 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette
1 compact discs
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Emma Mehus Varney, 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
Access Restrictions

The oral history collection is open to all users.

Additional Reference Guides

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Emma Varney was born on April 11, 1908 in Nesna, Norway, which is located north in Helgeland near Mosjøen. Her parents were Ludvig Mehus and Eva Pedersen Mehus, and Emma had three older siblings: Elias, Henry, and Sigurd. Ludwig was a fisherman, and he immigrated to the United States in 1910, settling first in North Dakota. Due to a bad tornado, Ludwig later moved to Seattle, WA, where his brother lived. Here, he began fishing again and did construction work on the Smith Tower during the winter. In 1916, he sent for his family and had a home ready for them in Frigaria, WA, where he had established a chicken farm. Emma attended her first eight years of school in a one-room schoolhouse and then went to Vashon Island and Seattle for high school. She married James Varney from Quatsino, Canada and has three sons: James H., L. Phillip, and Richard A. Emma is very active in church and is also a member of Nordlandslaget, Norse Home Guilds, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Leif Erikson League. She has served on the Board of Directors and as Secretary for the Norse Home Guilds, been a Matron for the Order of the Eastern Star, and served as Secretary for the Leif Erikson League. Emma is proud of her Norwegian heritage, but glad that her parents immigrated to the United States.


Full Name: Emma Mehus Varney. Maiden Name: Emma Mehus. Father: Ludvig Mortensen Mehus. Mother: Eva Pedersen Mehus. Paternal Grandfather: Morten Mehus. Paternal Grandmother: Ellen Mehus. Maternal Grandfather: Peder Larsen. Maternal Grandmother: Kristine Larsen. Brothers and Sisters: Elias Mehus, Henry Mehus, Sigurd Mehus. Spouse: James Varney. Children: James H. Varney, L. Phillip Varney, Richard A. Varney.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Emma Mehus Varney on May 27, 1981 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. It contains information on family background, emigration, marriage and family, community involvement, and Norwegian heritage. The interview was conducted in English.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

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
59, side 1 007/02: PERSONAL BACKGROUND
Born on April 11, 1908 in Nesna, Norway which is north in Helgeland, close to Mosjøen.
59, side 1 019: PARENTS
Father's name was Ludvig and her mother's name was Eva Pedersen. Her father was a fisherman and later he had a chicken ranch. She talks about her father's fishing days and the bread that her mother would make for these trips, which would last the entire three months.
59, side 1 039:
Housewife's duties in Norway. Cows were kept for a cash crop if the fishing was bad.
Helped in everything. Tells how she learned to read. (See counter I-070). You learned to read and write before you started school.
59, side 1 061/03: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Emma has three siblings. The two remaining live in Seattle.
59, side 1 066: 1910
Her father left for America. (See counter I-102)
59, side 1 070: GRANDPARENTS
Paternal grandparents were Morten and Ellen Mehus. They taught her to read and write. Maternal grandparents were Peder and Kristine Larsen. They came to the U.S. in 1910 to Fargo, North Dakota. Peder worked on the railroad and later came out west.
Name of the farm.
59, side 1 102: FATHER CAME TO THE U.S. IN 1910
He went first to North Dakota. There was a bad tornado. He moved to Seattle where his brother worked for Fidalgo Island Packing Co. He went to Anacortes, Washington for the fishing season. The next winter he worked on the Smith Tower in construction.
59, side 1 121:
Six years later in 1916 the family joined him in the U.S.
WWI broke out in Europe. The North Atlantic was full of German U-boats.
59, side 1 162: TRIP TO U.S.
Took the Bergensfjord to England where they were delayed in the Shetland Islands because of spies on board. The captain was Capt. Irgens. They had left on May 25, 1916. They went from Nesna to Trondheim where they stayed several days before they got on the ship.
No trauma.
59, side 1 224/05: ELLIS ISLAND
First impression of New York Harbor. Impressed by the Statue of Liberty, 60 years later she saw it again.
59, side 1 233: ELLIS ISLAND
Being processed. An iceberg, which was loose, delayed the trip in the British Isles so they were short on food.
59, side 1 257: TRAIN TRIP TO SEATTLE
Long, boring, and hot. Arrived on June 25, 1916.
59, side 1 287/06: EARLY SCHOOL DAYS
No English, but she had a translator. Children learned quickly.
59, side 1 303:
Mother learned English from the children. Her brother attended PLC to learn the language.
59, side 1 318:
Father had a home ready for them upon arrival. They rented rooms at the Frye Hotel in Seattle and then took the steamer "Virginia II" to Frigaria, Washington.
Father was a fisherman at the time. In the winter he developed a chicken ranch.
59, side 1 354/07:
One room school for eight grades. Gardening.
59, side 1 367: HIGH SCHOOL DAYS
Had to board out on Vashon Island, Washington. For the last couple of years, she went to Seattle.
59, side 1 375: CHRISTMAS EVE
Big thing, special meal. Men had four holidays but the women had to work all the time.
59, side 1 399: LUTEFISK
Mother made the lye herself. Butchering took care of everything. Making candles, used sheep tallow.
59, side 1 409:
Electricity came to Frigaria, Washington on Thanksgiving Day 1926.
There was a lot to do on the chicken farm.
59, side 1 434/08: BROTHERS' OCCUPATIONS
Elias got his mates license and got a job on the "Hyak" boat which went to Poulsbo. Her second brother went to Alaska and worked in the cannery for Fidalgo Island Packing Co., and then for Puget Sound Freight Lines, then as an engineer for the Columbia River Bar Pilots. Her youngest brother worked at Puget Sound Freight Lines too.
59, side 1 472:
The Pacific Northwest resembles northern Norway, which makes this area a special attraction to the Norwegian immigrant.
Very important. There was no church at first. She talks about how the church came about. Norwegian-Danish Methodist church.
59, side 1 540/09:
Flu epidemic and treatment during WWI.
59, side 1 598: ORGANIZATIONS
Member of Nordlandslaget, Norse Home Guilds (Board of Directors, Secretary), Order of Eastern Star (Past Matron), and Leif Erikson League (Secretary).
59, side 2 SIDE II:
59, side 2 004/10:
Husband came from Canada. Children's names are James, L. Phillip, and Richard. Importance of heritage to her children, there is little interest.
59, side 2 015:
Background on Norse Home.
59, side 2 026: REVISITING NORWAY
Cousins still in Nesna. Norwegian State churches. Still speaks Norwegian.
In the early days people were ashamed, now they are proud.
59, side 2 097/12: CITIZENSHIP
From her father's papers in 1919. Story of her father's citizenship. Petitioning for individual papers.
59, side 2 121: CLOSING STATEMENT
Glad her parents came to the U.S. Glad the tornado came to North Dakota, which brought the family here.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Education -- Vashon Island, Wash.
  • Family -- Norway
  • Fishing
  • Marriage service
  • Naturalization
  • Norway -- Emigration and immigration
  • Norwegian-Americans -- Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest,Pacific--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel
  • Personal Names :
  • Varney, Emma--Interviews (creator)
  • Mehus, Ellen
  • Varney, James
  • Varney, James H.
  • Varney, Richard A.
  • Larsen, Kristine
  • Larsen, Pedersen
  • Mehus, Eva Pedersen
  • Mehus, Ludwig
  • Mehus, Morten
  • Varney, L. Phillip
  • Corporate Names :
  • Bergensfjord (Steamship)
  • Fidalgo Island Fishing Company (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Leif Erikson League (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Nordlandslaget Fembøringen (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Norse Home (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Order of the Eastern Star (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Larsen family
  • Mehus family
  • Varney family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Fargo (N.D).
  • Nesna (Norway)
  • Seattle (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Construction workers
  • Farmers