Freda Ohlsson Ranney Oral History Interview, 1982  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Ranney, Freda Ohlsson
1982 (inclusive)
3 file folders
5 photographs
2 sound cassettes
1 compact disc
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Freda Ohlsson Ranney, 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

Freda Ranney was born on July 5, 1890 in Kabelvåg, Norway, which is on the Lofoten Islands. Her parents were Ernest Ohlsson and Karin Krogstad, and Freda was one of four children. She had older twin sisters, Anne and Lena, and an older brother, Ellis. When Freda was one year old, the family moved to Hammerfest, where they remained for eight years. After that, they moved to Narvik, which is near the Swedish border. Ernest was a tailor and had his own business wherever he went. In 1905, Freda's father decided to immigrate to America and settled in Tacoma, WA. He sent for the girls and their mother a year later. Ellis was attending machinist school at the time and planned to meet the family when he was finished. When Freda and her family arrived in Liverpool, they had to have a doctor's examination, and the doctor told Freda's mother that there was something wrong with her eyes. Freda's mother was sent back to Norway, and the girls continued on without her with the help of a Swedish man. Karin came several months later and was soon after diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Once in Tacoma, Freda obtained a variety of jobs. She did housework, worked at a laundry, managed a Norwegian rooming house, and worked in a restaurant. When she first got the restaurant job, she made pies, pastries, and custards, but the flour made her sneeze, so she then became a waitress and made sandwiches. Freda met her husband, Daniel Ranney, at this restaurant when she was twenty-six years old. Daniel was from Iowa and was working as a waiter at the restaurant. They were married at Freda's sister's house and then moved to Seattle, where he did more restaurant work. After Daniel's parents retired, he and Freda moved to Long Beach, CA to be closer to them. They remained in California for sixteen years, during which Daniel worked for the Ford Motor Company and Freda was a seamstress at Parker Brothers. She made things such as draperies, slipcovers, and pillows. After Daniel's parents passed away, they moved back to Tacoma, where Freda worked at Schoenfelds and Daniel owned various restaurants. They bought a house in September 1951, but Daniel had a stroke and passed away in December. Freda remained in the house for the following twenty-seven years and then moved to the Tacoma Lutheran Home. She retired at the age of sixty-five but was then asked to sew slipcovers for Stebners, which she did for another fourteen and a half years. After Daniel passed away, Freda spent her money travelling to Europe, Japan, China, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1972, she visited Norway. Freda has belonged to the Daughters of Norway since she returned to Tacoma from California and has served as a marshal and trustee. She also belongs to the Scandinavian Fraternity, which raises scholarship money. Through the years, she has also continued to make traditional Norwegian dishes and was surprised at how easily her Norwegian came back to her when she returned to Norway.


Full Name: Alfreda Wilhelmina Dorte Ranney. Maiden Name: Alfreda Wilhelmina Dorte Ohlsson. Father: Ernest Axel Ohlsson. Mother: Karin Krogstad. Brothers and Sisters: Anne Ohlsson, Lena Ohlsson (Anne and Lena were twins), Ellis Ohlsson. Spouse: Daniel Ranney.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Interviews with Freda Ranney were conducted on April 17, 1979 and November 9, 1982 in Tacoma, WA. The interviews contain information on family background, emigration, work, marriage, community involvement, and Norwegian heritage. Also available are photographs of Freda as a baby, Freda at age fourteen, Freda in her later years, and Freda at the time of the interview. The interview was conducted in English with some Norwegian towards the end of the interview.

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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
22, side 1 TAPE 22:
22, side 1 005/01: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Freda was baptized a Lutheran, and her full name is Alfreda Wilhemina Dorte Ohlsson Ranney. She was born in 1890 in Kabelvåg in the Lofoten Islands. Her father was a tailor. She was one year old when they moved to Hammerfest. About that time iron ore was discovered in Sweden. The only way to ship the ore out was through Narvik where they moved when she was nine. They stayed in Narvik until she was 15 and then came to America.
22, side 1 048: EMIGRATION
Father, Ernest Aksel Ohlsson, was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Mother, Karin Krogstad, was born in Trondhjem, Norway. There were four children in the family: twin sisters, one brother, and Freda. Father emigrated to America in 1905. In May 1906, Freda, her mother and two sisters received tickets to come. Her brother was attending machine school in Trondhjem and was getting practical experience as an apprentice machinist on a ship. When he completed his sailing time, the ship would dock in Boston. He planned to meet the family there and proceed to Tacoma.The family left Trondhjem by ship, arrived in Hull, and went to Liverpool where they had a doctor's examination. Mother had had to sit by the window with things blowing in her eyes. They said she had glaucoma and sent her back to Norway. Freda was 15 and the twins were 19. They weren't allowed to return to Norway and stayed on in Liverpool for three weeks before they continued to America. A Swedish man helped them arrange boat travel from Liverpool to New York. He was from Nebraska and had daughters their ages.
22, side 1 144/02:
Her sister wrote to the father in Tacoma and told them the trouble. He was staying with a Swedish friend who also helped him to find a house and furniture for the family. The house was ready when they arrived in Tacoma. Freda stayed home and kept house, and the older girls got housekeeping jobs. Mother came in August 1906 on the Stavangerfjord. Soon after arrival, she became sick. The doctor diagnosed cancer and tried to operate, but the cancer was too far advanced. She died the following April. The brother joined them in Tacoma shortly after her death.
22, side 1 208:
Freda got a housework job but was fired. The lady had instructed her to wash the windows, but not wash out the rag afterwards. Freda washed out the rag, because she finished the job early. So, the lady fired her and short-changed her in payment. Freda couldn't speak English very well, but her figuring was just fine. She found an English-speaking friend, and together they confronted the lady who paid Freda the extra 50 cents. Freda learned more English at another place where there was a small boy. After that she worked at different places.
22, side 1 242/03: TRIP OVER
The Swedish man sat beside the girls from New York to his destination in Nebraska. "All the time when we stopped in Chicago to change trains, he stood with us all the time. Of course, we were very young you know. In them days there were looking for white slaveries. We were scared of that. There were people dumb enough to go if anybody said to come..." It took nine days from New York to Tacoma. Mother had packed food in the suitcase--"spekekjøtt" and "kavring". But one day, tiring of that, they ordered from the train menu. They arbitrarily selected the top item, and it turned out to be chicken which cost one dollar per person. This was a lot of money compared to wages paid in those days; Freda worked a ten-hour day for one dollar at the laundry. On the boat trip, "I danced so much I didn't have soles left on my shoes". In Liverpool, many newcomers arrived with fiddles, accordions, etc., and there was music and dancing all the time. That's how Freda spent her three weeks in Liverpool: "I had a good time."Food was provided on the boat and "they fed us in Liverpool the whole time." It may have been the Swedish man who paid their expenses.
22, side 1 322: GRANDPARENTS
She didn't know her father's people at all. Her paternal grandfather was a tailor at the palace in Stockholm, Sweden. Father learned the trade and earned a living in his own shop wherever they moved. Mother's family, the Krogstads, were well-respected people in Trondhjem. Before emigrating to America they stopped to visit them; the relatives were gracious and entertained them very nicely.Freda attended grammar school in Norway. Her brother learned some English when he attended school in Trondhjem.
22, side 1 368: SETTLING IN AND WORK
After her father died, Freda lived with the married sister. Freda got a job in a Norwegian rooming house in Tacoma through her brother-in-law. She had charge of it for awhile when she was only 18. But, she decided to quit and began work for the Olympic Laundry on A St. After that, she worked in a restaurant. "I tried a little of everything". At the restaurant, she met her husband who was a waiter. She was 26, "so I had plenty of time. Did lot of different jobs in between". She always managed to care for herself.
22, side 1 400/04: MARRIAGE
Her husband was born in Iowa, and his parents had recently retired to California. He was the youngest of nine children and felt he should be close to parents. He and Freda were free, so they moved to Los Angeles, later buying a home in Long Beach. They stayed there 16 years until the parents passed away; she didn't care for California--didn't know anyone. Her husband was a restaurant man, but he couldn't get work very easily in California; everyone hired Mexicans. Freda found work in a laundry to help with expenses. Her husband's nephew realized Freda had many skills and got her a job in 1927 at Parker? Brothers--one of the nicest stores in Los Angeles. Freda worked there sewing draperies, slip-covers, pillows, etc., until they moved back to Tacoma right before Christmas. Once in Tacoma, she went job hunting at Rhodes and Schoenfelds. The latter called her and she started work the following morning. "So you see, I had very good luck."
22, side 1 460/05:
She worked at Schoenfelds until her husband took sick and passed away in 1951. After that, she could have retired, but Stebners ? asked her to make slipcovers. She worked there for fourteen and a half years, retiring at the age of 85. "I had a lot of experience. It sure didn't hurt me any. It helped me a lot, I can do anything that comes along". They had bought a house in Sept. 1951, and Dan died in December. She continued to live in the house for 27 years, then decided to move to the Tacoma Lutheran Home. There were no children in the family.
22, side 1 490:
When she was little, her father had a shop with people working for him. Freda was able to use one of the machines, so she sewed doll clothes by herself. He bought her a second-hand machine in Tacoma for 5 dollars. "I sewed all my life; nobody taught me". Mother didn't sew but she did knit and taught the girls how to knit stockings and do fancy work. Bringing up was very strict.
22, side 1 513/06: RETURN TRIP TO NORWAY
After her husband died, she worked and spent her money traveling to Europe, Japan, China, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1972, Freda returned to Norway and visited Hammerfest, Narvik and Trondhjem. Hammerfest and Narvik were hit hard during World War II and had changed greatly. She stayed at relatives in Trondhjem. One relative, Ulf Skanka ?,owned a jewelry shop.
22, side 1 538: TRADITIONS
Everyone was Scandinavian in Tacoma. She joined the Daughters of Norway when she returned from California and still belongs. She was a marshal and trustee. She also belongs to Scandinavian Fraternity on 19th and Union, a lodge that has meetings and raises money for scholarships.
22, side 1 561:
After marriage, she got away from Norwegian cooking. In California, they didn't know any Scandinavians, and her in-laws were "old" Americans. Her mother-in-law was Irish and was an excellent cook; she taught Freda how to make American foods. Freda continued to cook some Norwegian food because "he [husband] had to learn to eat that too!". Although he didn't like lefse or lutefisk, he was fond of her krumkake, hjortetakk, cookies, and meatballs. Her husband had a sister in Atwater, California with a big farm and all types of fruits, nuts and raisins.
22, side 1 606/08:
Freda didn't like America when she first arrived. She figured to make enough money and return to Norway. But then she became involved in things. She doesn't know why her dad came over--probably because there weren't many prospects for the children. One sister went to Trondheim to help relations, and the other worked for another family. Her brother had to go to sea. When she was 14, her mother found her a job at a kiosk, a small brown house where postcards, stamps, newspapers, cigarettes, etc, were sold. Freda likes work: "I'm happier when I'm busy, cause I've done it all my life".Hammerfest she saw her old school and brown church. Her folks were great on going to new places. When they moved to Narvik, it was a new town and housing was short. They lived in a big house where everyone had to use the same kitchen. Father had a shop right in the house. Mother cooked and cared for the roomers, which kept her and the kids busy.
22, side 1 685:
Freda attends Unity Church but hasn't been too active. In 1927, her brother "changed " her religion. He sent her the Unitarian paper to read and she became quite interested in their ways. Freda thinks it has helped her--something to fall back on.
22, side 1 702:
Freda speaks Norwegian to Mrs. Berger ? at the Tacoma Lutheran Home when they don't want other people to understand. As young people, they gradually stopped speaking Norwegian as their English got better. She has nieces and nephews around the Seattle-Tacoma area. "Det var morsomt o gå hjem og se gamle Norge. Men jeg tror ikke at jeg går dit igjen."
22, side 1 752:
End of tape.
23, side 1 TAPE 23; SIDE I:
23, side 1 007: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Full name is Alfreda Ohlsson Ranney, but she uses Freda. Born on July 5, 1890 in northern Norway in Kabelvåg close to North Cape.Father moved to Hammerfest and they lived there until she was nine years old. Father was Ernest Axel Ohlsson from Sweden and mother was Karin Krogstad from Trondhjem. He came to Norway as a young man, met mother and married. They had four children: two twin girls, one boy, and herself who was the youngest. Brother was Ellis Ohlsson who, after learning his trade in Trondhjem, was a chief engineer on ships. He emigrated to America after he graduated from school and being at sea. Father came in 1905 to see if he wanted to stay. He was a tailor and had his own business wherever he went.Grandfather Ohlsson lived in Stockholm. Mother's father was named Krogstad; he was a "potte" maker in Norway--made crockery. The grandmother had died when they visited in Trondhjem in route to America.
23, side 1 156:
The two sisters were twins--Lena and Anne Ohlsson. All came to America and both were married. Anne married a newspaperman, John Sole?, from Norway; when he came here he began a Norwegian newspaper. They had two daughters, Gudrun Swanson and Clara Mann who live in Tacoma. Lena married a salesman and lives in Seattle.
23, side 1 205:
From Hammerfest, the Ohlssons moved to Narvik which was a new place and close to the Swedish border. There was a railroad being built to ship the iron ore out of Sweden to the port at Narvik. Father opened his tailor's shop, and they stayed there until Freda finished school; then they moved to America. She was baptized and confirmed a Lutheran in Norway. She was scared that she'd forget an answer during confirmation, so she studied hard to pass. As a child she skied a lot and took a first prize when she was eleven--nice snow and hills in Norway.Children had to learn things in Norway that would prepare them for life. She made a pair of stockings--didn't like it, but did it anyway. She always lived in town, so she learned cooking, knitting, dusting, etc.
23, side 1 277: CHRISTMAS IN NORWAY
"Wonderful". Made all sorts of cookies and had a big time. Everyone stayed home on Christmas Day but then had 13 days to celebrate. Christmas Eve was at home with presents and tree. Food was risengrynsgrøt and pork spareribs; on Christmas Day, they had "rype" [ptarmigan] with gravy and trimmings like potatoes. She also made cookies, julebrød, julekake, berlinerkranser, fattigmand--enough to last until New Year and stored in tin cans. Hjortetakk [cookies] were rolled and baked like doughnuts. She has an iron from Norway to make krumkake, and she continued to make these things in her home at Christmas.
23, side 1 354:
In Norway, she doesn't remember going to church on Christmas Day. She remembers going with her sisters when she was very young. When they began to sing, she didn't know the hymns, so she'd sing "Ja, vi elsker dette landet". Her sisters were so mad, "they'd push me off the seat. I was so little; I didn't know any different. I had to keep still".
23, side 1 373: EMIGRATION
Her father came first in 1905 to Tacoma. He had friends here who had written to him. He stayed with the Jakobsons until his family came a year later after he sent tickets back to Norway. He worked in the lumberyard until he met someone in the tailoring business, and then began work in a tailor's shop before the family came. The brother needed to finish his sailing time in order to get his engineer's license. When that was done, he came to Boston and then Tacoma.
23, side 1 414:
Freda was excited to emigrate. They spent 2,3 weeks in Trondhjem visiting relatives. In May-June 1906, they left Norway by boat. They came to Hull and took the train to Liverpool. There they had a physical exam, and the examiners said something was wrong with mother's eyes. Freda wasn't allowed to return with her mother to Norway. A Swedish man asked about their problem and then made arrangements for them to accompany him. The twins were 20 years old at the time. The ship took them from Liverpool to New York. In Liverpool they stayed in a hotel and ate mostly "kavring" [rusk biscuits], a pickled meat and hard-boiled eggs. [Tells the story about ordering chicken at the hotel versus the train--see t022c.]
23, side 1 512:
Mother stayed in Trondhjem with her folks and then bought a ticket direct to New York. Father and girls had readied a house by then. Girls went through Ellis Island "they put a cross on the back and you go in different stalls like animals".
23, side 1 535:
America was so different than Norway. On the train, they bought a food package and there was a pie in it. They'd never eaten pie, and "we threw that out the window--it was so soft and funny. We weren't going to eat that!" The Swedish man kept the girls close by; he got off in Nebraska and the girls continued to Tacoma. One had written to Dad and he was there to meet them at the depot--a little red box. He had shaved off his whiskers, and the girls didn't recognize him. He stayed at 11th St. with Mr. and Mrs. Jakobson, and took the girls on the cable car which scared Freda. They rented a house, and everyone got a job. A friend found work for Freda, but the lady fired her. [Tells the story about washing windows--see t022c.] Freda worked there for one month.
23, side 1 607: SETTLING IN AND WORK
Father got his own house. Freda did all sorts of jobs; laundry, rooming house, cannery. In the rooming house, she cleaned rooms daily for which she received her room and board. It was Norwegian boarding house where newcomers came; they all spoke Norwegian until they learned some English. From there she went to a laundry, then to a restaurant in downtown Tacoma. She made pies, pastry, and custards, a skill which she learned from someone else. She had to quit that job because the flour made her sneee. She moved upstairs and became a waitress, working from 6 am making sandwiches. She worked there until she met her husband. At the time she was staying with her sister who was married to a newspaperman from Norway. He started up and ran the Tacoma Tidende.
23, side 1 656:
Her mother had arrived, but she didn't live long. Mother had cancer, and Freda cared for her until she died on her birthday in April about two years after emigrating. She taught Freda how to cook, so Freda did the cooking and housework for the family; the two older girls were working at other houses. Brother came here also and found work as a machinist. He married and had children; died of pneumonia at age of 40.
23, side 1 710:
The hardest thing in America was "that I couldn't talk". She just picked up English; attended night school but felt it didn't help much.
23, side 1 727:
After Mother died, Father met a Swedish fellow and started a tailor shop in Eatonville. The three girls stayed here as one was married, another did housework, and Freda was working. He was doing well, but somebody told them they'd read in a paper where their father had died. Freda and her brother went to Eatonville, identified their father, and buried him. They never found out what really happened to him. He wrote to the kids regularly, but never said anything about his life. That was in 1909, because sister was married the same year.
23, side 2 SIDE II:
23, side 2 011:
Freda found her jobs through other people. She got the Norwegian rooming house job through her brother-in-law. That place was called the Dewey? House, and it was hers to manage when she was 18. So she invited a friend to help, but the friend didn't get along. Then they both quit. Next she got a job at a laundry through her sister. Then she went to the restaurant. "I was always willing to find out something different".
23, side 2 080: MARRIAGE
Her husband, Dan [Daniel] Ranney, was a waiter at the restaurant and was from Iowa. His mother was Irish and his father Scotch; his ancestors came over on the Mayflower, "so they were old-timers". They started dating and decided to marry. The wedding was at her sister's house and was very simple . She wore a nice suit--purchased on time. They went to Seattle for a short trip, and came back to Tacoma to work. Then they moved to Seattle where he did more restaurant work. When they first married, he didn't want her to work, but she decided she wanted to work out instead of sewing at home. His folks retired to California, and Freda and Dan moved to Long Beach to be near them. In California Dan worked for the Ford Motor Company, and Freda did odd jobs until the in-laws died. Then she worked at Parkers Brothers store--a beautiful store in LA where she made draperies and slipcovers. Freda had picked up sewing. Wages weren't very good.
23, side 2 211:
They returned to Tacoma and she canvassed Schoenfeld's, Rhodes, and other places for a job. She had learned a lot in California and easily got a job making draperies, swags, etc. She worked at Schoenfelds until she retired at 65. But Stebner called her and asked if she'd make slipcovers. She worked there 14 years, so she didn't really retire until she was 85. Her husband owned restaurants in Tacoma--Johnny's Oyster House on Commerce St. was one of them. They had just bought a house. He only lived there three months when he had a stroke and died in 1951. She stayed until she came to the Tacoma Lutheran Home.
23, side 2 285: RETURN TRIP TO NORWAY
She returned to Norway in 1972 with two friends. She visited Hammerfest and Narvik. Their house in Narvik was still there; but both towns had been destroyed and rebuilt. She also visited relatives in Trondhjem and saw Oslo. Her friends enjoyed the trip. They took the ship from Bergen to Hammerfest, a trip that lasted five days. Then, they traveled from Narvik to Oslo by train.
23, side 2 351:
Freda still belongs to Daughters of Norway and Scandinavian Fraternity. In Daughters she was a trustee, and also made the draperies for the Hall. She attended Unity Church when she had a car, but now goes to St. Mark's Lutheran. Her husband didn't like to attend church because he had gone too much in Iowa.
Inger and Freda have a short conversation in Norwegian.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Norway -- Social conditions -- 1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel
  • White-slave traffic
  • Personal Names :
  • Ranney, Daniel
  • Krogstad, Karin
  • Ohlsson, Ernest
  • Ranney, Freda--Interviews (creator)
  • Corporate Names :
  • Daughters of Norway (U.S.) Embla Lodge #2 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Schoenfelds Department Store (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • St. Marks Lutheran Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Stavangerfjord (Steamship)
  • Tacoma Lutheran Home (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Unity Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Krogstad family
  • Ohlsson family
  • Ranney family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Hammerfest (Norway)
  • Kabelvåg (Norway)
  • Long Beach (Calif.)
  • Narvik (Norway)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Dressmakers
  • Restaurateurs
  • Tailors