Sara Nilsen Vanderbilt Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Vanderbilt, Sara Nilsen
1981 (inclusive)
3 file folders
7 photographs
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Sara Nilsen Vanderbilt, 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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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

Sara Vanderbilt was born on July 9, 1905 in Trondheim, Norway to Olav Moxness and Sara Petrine Kristensen Moxness. Olav worked on a ship and died at sea during World War I. There were five other children in the family, and they lived in a big apartment near the high school in Trondheim, renting out rooms to students. Sara's sister Gunvor went to America years before Sara emigrated and worked for Andrew Foss at Foss' boathouse in Tacoma, WA. In August 1923, Andrew Foss sent Sara a ticket to America, and Sara lived with his family upon her arrival. In order to pay Andrew back for the ticket, Sara found a housekeeping job with John Dempsey. She later cooked and cleaned for the Hunt family. Sara met her husband Marcluis Nilsen, a longshoreman, at the Normanna Hall in Tacoma. They dated for three years before they were married in September 1930, and had three children together: John, Delores (Goddard), and Julianne (Russell). Marcluis had a drinking problem and did not give Sara any money to live on. He eventually left her and the children, after which she became a cashier at McChord Air Force Base and Ft. Lewis. Sara also met her second husband, John Vanderbilt, at a hall in Tacoma. John was from Holland, and in 1948, they had a daughter, Elizabeth. Sara attends church and is a member of the Sons of Norway. She did not speak Norwegian in her home in America but has maintained Norwegian traditions, including cooking fattigmand, rommegrøt, krumkake, lutefisk, and smørgrøt. She has also visited her homeland four times and is proud of her ancestry.


Full Name: Sara Oline Nilsen Vanderbilt. Maiden Name: Sara Moxness. Father: Olav Johannes Moxness. Mother: Sara Petrine Kristensen. Paternal Grandfather: Johan Wedege Pettersen Moxness. Paternal Grandmother: Olive Roeskaft. Maternal Grandfather: Nils Kristensen. Maternal Grandmother: Gunhild Wiklun Kristensen. Brothers and Sisters: Gunvor Moxness Bronow, Ruth Moxness, Johan W. Moxness, Bergliot (Bella) Moxness DeRosa. Spouse: Marcluis Nilsen, John Vanderbilt. Children: John Arthur Nilsen, Delores Grace Nilsen Goddard, Julianne Nilsen Russell, Elizabeth J. Vanderbilt.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Sara Vanderbilt on November 7, 1981. It contains information on family background, emigration, employment, marriage and family, community activities, and Norwegian heritage. The interview also provides photographs of Sara and Captain Jorgens, Sara at a logging camp, Sara and Thea Foss, Sara at age eighteen, and Sara at the time of the interview. Also see Bergliot DeRosa, t102 & 103. The interview was conducted in English.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Preferred Citation

[Collection Number, Collection Title] New Land New Lives Oral History Collection. Scandinavian Immigrant Experience Collection. Archives and Special Collections Department. Robert A.L. Mortvedt Library. Pacific Lutheran University. Tacoma, WA 98447

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
115, side 1 019:
Sara Oline Moxness Nilsen Vanderbilt. Born in Trondheim, Norway July 9, 1905.
115, side 1 039: PARENTS
Sara Petrine Kristensen Moxness and Olav Moxness. Father traveled a great deal. Worked on a ship. Went from England to the US.
115, side 1 088: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Gunvor came to America before Sara. Worked at Foss' boat house for Andrew Foss. She married a man who built bridges in Tacoma. They had three children. John worked in the mills. Bella married to Frank DeRosa.
115, side 1 238: GRANDPARENTS
Paternal - Johan Moxness was a principal in Trondheim. Olive was his wife. Maternal - came from Jennestad, up in northern Norway. Her parents moved to Trondheim and had a bakery. Sara's mother came to New York when she was 15.
115, side 1 347:
Sara was spoiled when she was a child. Would only drink milk and not water. Had respect for her mother. Father died in WWI at sea.
115, side 1 416:
Sara came to the US by herself, others in her family were already here except her mother and younger brother. Could not speak much English.
115, side 1 425:
Saw a machine with black licorice babies. Ate these until she was sick. First time she had seen a watermelon.
115, side 1 443: CHILDHOOD
Lived in a big apartment by the high school in Trondheim. Rented out rooms to the students.
115, side 1 462:
Charged 10 øre for rides on sleds during the winter. Went skiing at 3 in the morning.
115, side 1 475: FLU EPIDEMIC
They did not get sick. They were not in town much, out in the fresh air. Many people died.
115, side 1 504: SCHOOL
Good school. New when Sara began. Trondheim is a wonderful city.
115, side 1 536:
Doesn't remember much of her father. He was always gone. Brought gifts home for the kids from England, Russia, etc.
115, side 1 570: CHRISTMAS
Tied little red apples on the tree, made paper decorations. The day that the tree went out children came over and they sang in Norwegian a song for burying the tree, putting it in a grave.
115, side 1 597: CHRISTMAS EVE
Put a plate under the bed for the Julenissen with fattigmand or apple on it. Ate pork and lutefisk. Visited grandfather in the old folks home. He was about 99 years old.
115, side 1 662: CHURCH
Started with five years old. Did not go after confirmation. had catechism and religion in the class.
115, side 1 677:
Sara has a big picture Bible in Swedish - Norwegian.
115, side 1 693: CHRISTMAS DAY
Ate fattigmand, coffee, a light meal. Mother did not have a stove. Had to buy everything; cakes, bread, milk, rommegroet, and skinke.
115, side 1 730:
Kids worked hard around the house. Scrubbed the woodwork. Mother sewed a lot.
115, side 1 775:
WORK Work since she was 9. Took care of a baby because both of its parents worked. Did babysitting for the neighbors. Worked until she came to the US at age 18. All the money she earned went to her mother.
115, side 1 820:
Others were in the US before Sara; Gunvor, Bella, and John. Mother and Olav came after Sara.
115, side 1 827:
Sara came to the US in August 1923. Andrew Foss in Tacoma sent her a ticket.
115, side 1 841: BOAT TRIP
Sailed from Oslo. Took the "Stavangerfjord". A wonderful trip. Captain Jergens watched out for her. This was a friend of her father's. Games, she won a bottle of wine. Could not stand after she drank it. Went third class.
115, side 1 902: ELLIS ISLAND
Checked for sickness. Could not speak English. Had learned some in Trondheim, but it was still difficult. She pointed at what she wanted.
115, side 1 928:
Thea Foss met her at Union Station on Pacific Avenue.
115, side 1 939: TRAIN TRIP
Took 2-3 days. A tiresome trip. All mixed people. had to have $25 when you arrived in America.
115, side 1 953:
Went to Thea Foss' house. They had a son, Henry. Sara lived with these people.
115, side 1 967:
Got a job in Tacoma with John Dempsey. He was shipper. She was going to pay back the Foss' for the ticket they had given her to come over. This was on North 9th. She was the upstairs girl. Took care of the boys. Darned socks, made beds. Had to start wearing uniforms, so she left.
115, side 1 1007:
Worked for the Assistant Manager at Bank of California for three years. She did housework at the Hunt's home. Did cleaning and cooking.
115, side 1 1020:
Changed clothes at noon. She was always clean and neat. Catered parties at the Hunt's house.
115, side 1 1056:
Sara learned English writing quickly. Cooking helped her. She did puzzles in the paper. Had a Webster's Dictionary.
115, side 1 1082:
Mat husband at Normanna Hall. He was also Norwegian. Dated three years before they were married. His name was Marcluis Nilsen. He was a longshoreman.
115, side 1 1106: WEDDING
Went to a Norwegian church in Tacoma.
115, side 2 024:
Lived in an apartment until their house was built on North 9th. Married in September 1930.
115, side 2 058:
Wages when working was $25 at the first place she worked. $45 for the Hunts.
115, side 2 069:
Husband did not give her any money to live on. She made money to buy groceries. Husband was a drinker. She had a little garden so the kids could have vegetables. Milk was expensive.
115, side 2 119: CHILDREN
John Arthur is a doctor in Los Angeles, California. He put himself through school.
115, side 2 164:
Husband left her and the kids. She worked at McChord and Fort Lewis. She was a cashier. Worked at the Depot ?, worked at automotive things. Put things in a coil for tanks during the war.
115, side 2 209:
Divorced from first husband.
115, side 2 242:
Daughter, Delores lives in Spanaway. She's married to Sam Goddard. They have six children.
115, side 2 319:
Daughter, Julianne is an insurance broker. Had lived in Alaska, now lives in Tacoma and commutes to Seattle. She was married and is now divorced.
115, side 2 419:
Sara met her second husband. He was from Holland, John Vanderbilt. She met him at a hall in Tacoma.
115, side 2 454:
Moved out of house on North 9th. Could not live there once she was remarried. Moved to Graham, had twenty acres.
115, side 2 489:
Elizabeth was a daughter from this second marriage.
115, side 2 510:
"My life may have been bad, but I'm making up for it now." Never borrowed money to take care of things. Talks about welfare in the US.
115, side 2 583: TRIPS BACK TO NORWAY 1969
A wonderful trip. Took train from Oslo to Trondheim. She could still speak fluently.
115, side 2 618: CHANGES
Not many in 1969. More her last trip back. Houses torn down. Few horses.
115, side 2 649:
Breakfast in Norway is pickled beets, cheese and bread. Had oatmeal when she was a little girl.
115, side 2 672:
Took toaster over to relatives in Norway. They enjoyed how the toast popped up.
115, side 2 679:
Went to where her father's name is. Place where all those on ships are listed.
115, side 2 700:
Ate rommegrøt and whole meat. Very good meat. Made onion gravy. Krumkake and many cookies. Stayed with relatives, all in Trondheim.
115, side 2 754:
Sara did not speak Norwegian in her home in America. Had Norwegian food at home; fattigmand, rommegrøt, krumkake, lutefisk, smoergroet. Lamb and cabbage was a favorite.
115, side 2 792: CHURCH
Belonged to a church on Stevens Street, a cozy, little, white, church.
115, side 2 812: ORGANIZATIONS
Belongs to the Sons of Norway. Goes to circles. Distance makes it hard to get to meetings.
115, side 2 843: CITIZENSHIP
April 28, 1947. She studied for the test. Did not pass the first time, prepared and passed the second time. Mother and brother were citizens before Sara. She worked for the Red Cross.
115, side 2 890: HAPPY TO BE A NORWEGIAN
Speaks in Norwegian saying that she likes to be from Norway. She had visited her homeland four times.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Economics aspects--Norway
  • Naturalization
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Personal Names :
  • Vanderbilt, Sara--Interviews (creator)
  • Foss, Thea
  • Goddard, Delores (Nilsen)
  • Moxness,Gunvor
  • Nilsen, John
  • Russell, Julianne (Nilsen)
  • Vanderbilt, Elizabeth
  • Vanderbilt, John
  • Dempsey, John
  • Foss, Andrew
  • Moxness, Olav
  • Moxness, Sara Petrine Kristensen
  • Nilsen, Marcluis
  • Corporate Names :
  • Emmanuel Lutheran Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Normanna Hall (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Sons of Norway (U.S.) Norden Lodge No. 2 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Stavangerfjord (Steamship)
  • Family Names :
  • Kristensen family
  • Moxness family
  • Nilsen family
  • Røskaft family
  • Vanderbilt family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Trondheim (Norway)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Cashiers
  • Domestics