Clara Beck Larsen Oral History Interview, 1984  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Larsen, Clara Beck
1984 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Clara Beck Larsen, a Danish 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

Clara Larsen was born on February 24, 1892 in Romdrup, Denmark. She grew up on a small farm and was the fifth of six children. As a teenager, Clara worked as a domestic, which included cooking, cleaning, and washing dishes. While she was working as a domestic, she met a young man who was immigrating to Viborg, South Dakota, and once he was in America, they corresponded. Clara was eventually invited to immigrate to Viborg as well and traveled with the man's sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Sorenson, in March of 1912. They originally tried to leave on the Titanic, but fortunately, no tickets were available. Viborg was a Danish community, and Clara stayed there for two years. Following Viborg, she moved to Arcata, California, where the Sorensons lived and worked as a domestic there. In 1916, she moved to Spokane and lived with Mr. and Mrs. Jensen, whom she had met on the boat trip over from Denmark. While in Spokane, she joined the Danish Lodge and met her husband, Swan Larsen, in the spring of 1917. He was a butcher in Wallace, Idaho, and they were married July 30, 1917. That November, Swan went into the military, and they moved to Tacoma, Washington, where he was stationed. After the war, they returned to Spokane and had their first child, Donald, on August 26, 1920. Shortly after Donald was born, Swan decided to return to Wallace to work as a butcher. The family remained there until Donald was six, and they then returned to Spokane where the school systems were better. While living in Wallace, their second child, Leona, was born on August 23, 1922. Clara did not go back to work until the children were married. She was fifty years old by that time and decided to work in the alteration departments of various clothing stores. Sewing had always been a favorite pastime of Clara's, and she was still working as a seamstress when she was eighty-one. Since emigrating, Clara has returned to Denmark six times, but contends that after living in America for so long, she is thoroughly American.


Full Name: Clara Larsen. Maiden Name: Clara Beck. Father: Laurits Beck. Mother: Kathrine Petersen. Paternal Grandmother: Kirsten Beck. Brothers and Sisters: Kirstine Beck, Marie Beck, Petra Beck, Laurea Beck, Kristian Beck, Lily Beck, Jens Beck, two children died as infants. Spouse: Swan Larsen. Children: Donald Larsen, Leona Larsen.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Clara Larsen on August 23, 1984 in Spokane, Washington. It contains information about her childhood, emigration, marriage, work as a seamstress, Danish heritage, and return trips to Denmark. The interview was conducted in English with some Danish towards the end of the interview.

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
Born Clara Beck on February 24, 1892 in Romdrup, Denmark. Her parents were Laurits Beck and Kathrine Petersen Beck. They lived on a "not very big" farm and raised wheat and some animals. She was the fifth or sixth child in a family of eight. Only her brother Kristian and she immigrated to America.
278, side 1 072: CHILDHOOD
Her first job at 16 was caring for two little boys. This lasted about a year. Then she got another domestic job that included cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. She does not remember what she was paid.
278, side 1 113: SCHOOL
She liked sewing really well and went to school for two months in Aalborg to learn dressmaking. Then she got the idea of immigrating to America.
278, side 1 122: HOW SHE CAME TO EMIGRATE
While working as a domestic, she desired to attend a dance one evening. The family gave her permission and loaned her a horse and buggy, which she didn't know how to drive. But, she made it to the dance and met a young man who was emigrating to Viborg, South Dakota, the following week. After he was in America, they corresponded. Clara was invited to emigrate to Viborg, and she did - traveling with this man's sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Sorensen. The Sorensens traveled first class; Clara's father had to sell a cow to afford Clara's first class ticket.
278, side 1 166:
She traveled to Viborg, South Dakota, where the young man, Anke Busgard (?), lived, only to find she wasn't expected. But she - "the Danish girl" - was quickly offered a job. She stayed in South Dakota two years.
278, side 1 184: EMIGRATION
They arrived in New York on March 28, 1912, having sailed directly from Copenhagen. Tried to leave on the "Titanic", but it was all booked. So, took a Danish boat, Oscar II. (This was the fateful trip when the Titanic was lost.)
Her parents said neither yes nor no; felt the decision was Clara's. Her expectations of America were positive: big, wonderful land full of opportunities. Preparations for the trip were quick and minimal. She doesn't remember how much money she took only that she had $3 when she reached New York. She expected to stay in America.
278, side 1 239: ELLIS ISLAND
The Sorensens took care of that.
278, side 1 250: SETTLING IN
Viborg, South Dakota was a Danish community. She worked as a domestic for the Larsen family with six children; three were in school and helped Clara with her English. Her duties included housework and childcare.
278, side 1 280: ARCATA, CALIFORNIA
After two years, in 1914, Clara went to Arcata where the Sorensen's lived. She traveled by train accompanied by Mrs. Sorensen's brother. She received employment as a nanny, attended the Danish Lodge in Arcata, and saved her money. From Arcata she moved to Spokane.SPOKANE, WASHINGTON: On the boat over from Denmark, she had met Mr. and Mrs. Jensen from Copenhagen with whom she corresponded. Mrs. Jensen invited her to Spokane. Clara took a train from Arcata to Eureka, a boat from Eureka to Portland, and a train from there to Spokane in January 1916.
She joined the Danish Lodge, Princess Louise, in 1916 to become acquainted. Meetings were held in Odin Hall once a month: card parties, dinners, and socials. She met her husband in the lodge.
278, side 1 369: MEETING SPOUSE
He was the brother of a friend of the Jensen's and worked as a butcher in Wallace, Idaho. They met in March or April 1917, and he called her on the telephone and sent flowers and candy. When America entered the war, he returned to Spokane June 1 to register. They were married July 30,1917 - after a four month courtship. His name was originally Sven Larsen, but it was changed to Swan when he received his citizenship paper. He was from Copenhagen and 30 years old in 1917. In later years in Spokane, he became a painting contractor.
278, side 1 415: MARRIED LIFE
Swan went into the service in November. Clara moved to Tacoma to be with her husband who was stationed there. During this time she worked at the Olympic Hotel. After the war, they returned to Spokane where Swan was a butcher.
278, side 1 420: CHILDREN
Donald was born August 26, 1920, while they lived in Spokane.WORK: While living with the Jensen family prior to marriage, Clara worked as a domestic for a family- cooking, cleaning, and washing. She cooked Danish food because the people thought it was wonderful.
278, side 1 460: EMIGRATION OF BROTHER
She was still in South Dakota. Clara and her employer, Mr. Goodrup (?), bought and sent Kristian a $75 ticket. He worked for a while before being drafted into the Army; he was wounded during the war. He made the army his career, dying in an Army Hospital in South Dakota in 1974.
278, side 1 489: FAMILY LIFE
When Donald was a few weeks old, Swan returned to Wallace to work as a butcher. Clara and Donald joined him soon after. But when Donald became six, they returned to Spokane for a better school system.
278, side 1 510: DANISH LANGUAGE
Not spoken very much and children weren't taught it. Leona was born in Wallace, Idaho, in 1922.
278, side 1 517: WORK
Clara stayed at home until the children were married. When she was 50, she started sewing again - this time in the alteration departments at various stores. She worked 20 years and really enjoyed it. In about 1940, she was paid $20 a week at "Charles". The second store, Zokurs ?, paid $35 a week. Her third job began at the Bon Marche in 1950, the same year she went to Los Angeles for the birth of her first grandchild (Leona's child).
278, side 1 571:
She was in a train wreck on her way back and had amnesia for a while. She returned to work quickly though. The alterations department had 5-6 people, but she was laid off when the Palace store took over the Bon. She went back to Charles to work. She never had trouble finding jobs and was still working as a seamstress at 81
278, side 1 619:
She had a busy life - liked sewing. Kept on at home until her eyesight was too bad.
278, side 1 628: CITIZENSHIP
Shortly after marriage, she and Swan went to night school, studied, and received their citizenship papers in 1917.
278, side 1 647: DANISH LODGE
She's been a member for 68 years, having joined before her marriage. Tells about activities in Danish lodge. Membership now is mostly second generation Danes born in America.
278, side 1 665: CHILDREN
Both graduated from high school. Don worked after school, then married and joined the navy. Leona worked at a telephone company before marriage.
278, side 1 680: RETURN TRIPS TO DENMARK
Clara has made six trips: 1937, 1948, 1962, 1969, 1971, and 1973. She went alone in 1937 to see her parents.
278, side 1 697: ON BEING DANISH
She's thoroughly American after so many years; Denmark reminds her only of family members still there. She and her husband returned in 1948 and 1962.
Neither her husband nor her daughter liked it.
278, side 1 724: DANISH LODGE
This has meant a lot to her.
278, side 1 736: SPEAKING DANISH
Om jul: et stort juletr' - recites verse about Christmas.
When she first came to Dakota, she was paid $3 a week, and when she was 81, she received $2 an hour. "How times change."

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Danish-Americans--Interviews
  • Danish-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Social life and customs
  • Denmark -- Social condtions -- 1945-
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Personal Names :
  • Larsen, Clara Beck--Interviews (creator)
  • Larsen, Donald
  • Larsen, Swan
  • Petersen, Katherine
  • Beck, Kirsten
  • Beck, Laurits
  • Busgard, Anke
  • Jensen, Nils
  • Larsen, Leona
  • Corporate Names :
  • Odin Hall (Spokane, Wash.)
  • Oscar II (Steamship)
  • Family Names :
  • Beck family
  • Larsen family
  • Petersen family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Arcata (Calif.)
  • Romdrup (Denmark)
  • Spokane (Wash.)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Viborg (S.D.)
  • Wallace (Idaho)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Butchers
  • Domestics
  • Seamstresses