Svanhild Johanne Knutsen Sortland Oral History Interview, 1982  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Sortland, Svanhild Johanne Knutsen
1982 (inclusive)
3 file folders
5 photographs
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Svanhild Johanne Knutsen Sortland, 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.

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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

Svanhild Sortland was born on February 2, 1913 in Haugesund, Norway, which is close to Bergen. Her parents were Martin Knutsen and Jenny Førre, and there were ten children in the family. Martin was a fisherman and owned his own boat, and Jenny was a seamstress. Family togetherness was very important in Svanhild's family, and they always helped one another. The children remained at the house until they were sixteen or seventeen. After Svanhild finished school and was confirmed, she began to work as a cook and maid in a home in Haugesund. She remained in this line of work until she was married, and worked in two different places in Haugesund in twelve years. She met her husband, Erling Sortland, when he was home on vacation from sea. Svanhild's brother worked on the same boat as Erling. Svanhild and Erling were married in 1939 and began to build a house soon after. When the war started, Erling was called out, and Svanhild went back to her family. She lived with her sister and worked her grocery store. Erling joined the American Army in England after the war was over, and planned to stay in America for a year. As a war bride, Svanhild received a free trip to America and left in July 1946. Svanhild thought America was a "wild" place at first but adjusted fairly easily. She and Erling had two children, Egil and Evelyn, and lived in Ohio and Tacoma, WA throughout the years. After her children were grown, Svanhild worked in a Tacoma restaurant for ten years. She attends church, helping when she can, and is also active in the Sons of Norway. Svanhild "feels good" about her Norwegian heritage and has maintained traditional Norwegian holidays, cooking, and religion in America. Both of her children can also speak Norwegian, and the family has taken several trips back to Norway.


Full Name: Svanhild Johanne Knutsen Sortland. Maiden Name: Svanhild Johanne Knutsen. Father: Martin Knutsen. Mother: Jenny Førre. Paternal Grandfather: Godskalk Knutsen. Paternal Grandmother: Martha Knutsen. Maternal Grandfather: Johannes Førre. Maternal Grandmother: Sønniva Førre. Brothers and Sisters: Magne G. Knutsen, Sigrund Knutsen, Olaf Knutsen, Gina Knutsen, Johannes Knutsen, Sverre Knutsen, Peder Knutsen, Sønniva Knutsen. Spouse: Erling Arthur Sortland. Children: Rev. Egil Arthur Sortland, Evelyn Ann (Sortland) Robbins.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Svanhild Sortland on January 12, 1982 in Tacoma, Washington. It contains information on family background, employment, marriage, emigration, family, community activities, and Norwegian heritage. The interview also provides photographs of the Sortland home in Norway and Svanhild and her husband Erling at the time of the interview. Also see Erling Sortland. 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
126, side 1 005:
Svanhild Johanne Knutsen Sortland. Born in Haugesund, Norway on February 2, 1913. This is close to Bergen.
126, side 1 012: PARENTS
Martin Knutsen and Jenny Foerre. When Svanhild was 5 years old her parents moved to Bømlo, an island outside of Bergen. Sortland is a fishing village. Lykling was the district she lived in. 5-6,000 people lived on the island. Mostly fishing and small farms on the islands.
126, side 1 036: FATHER
Father was a fisherman. Fished all seasons. He had his own boat and was sailing along the coast before Svanhild was born. Lykling was her father's home place.
126, side 1 043: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Ten in the family, some died so there was never more than eight.
126, side 1 047:
CHILDHOOD HOUSE 3-4 rooms, kitchen. Mother was a seamstress. Did sewing for her family and others. Children all had their own chores to do. Helped mother with sewing projects.
126, side 1 068:
BROTHERS AND SISTERS Brothers went with her father on the boat, later went sailing. Magne died when 23 of pneumonia. Olaf was a sailor, steward on a ship. He died in 1975. Johannes was lost during the war. Peder Johannes worked for a marina.
126, side 1 084:
SISTERS Magde has a grocery store close to Haugesund. There was no money to go to school. Many Norwegians worked in stores. Two sisters are alive and married in Norway. Svanhild, the only one to settle in America. Five brothers and five sisters. Her sisters are all married two have died.
126, side 1 105:
Sister married to Roekness and lives in Osteroey, north of Bergen. Gina Kalavik, her other sister, lives near Haugesund.
126, side 1 110:
Mother was from Haugesund.
126, side 1 113:
GRANDPARENTS Maternal grandparents were Johannes Førre and Sønniva Førre. Paternal grandparents were Godskalk Knutsen and Martha. Godskalk is a Scottish name. They were all fishing people. Good living at the time. Always fishing.
126, side 1 127:
Sold fish to big cities. Shipped much to France, England, and Germany. Dried fish went to Italy. A big market for fish at this time. Father first went to sea when he was fourteen and half years old on a seilskute, which had no motor.
126, side 1 145:
During the depression fishing was a good job. After the war people got more money, more education.
126, side 1 149:
Things so different now in Norway. Svanhild will never get used to the system in Norway again. "Like night and day." People do not worry about anything anymore, "taken care of from cradle to grave."
126, side 1 159:
Old people understand the changes better because they lived before and after the war. The young people do not know what it was like before the war.
126, side 1 170:
Was happy as a child. Did not have to know anything different. Family closeness important. Worked together and helped each other out. After 16-17 years old went out of house to work and live.
126, side 1 190:
Always had lots of fish and mother baked bread. "Day went day by day," always healthy. 6-10 children were in many families. Children enjoyed playing with one another, good times. People were peaceful, knew each other. Glad she grew up when she did. Good parents.
126, side 1 223:
Schoolhouse was close.
126, side 1 226: CHRISTMAS
Fish popular for holidays, cod. Christmas Eve had rissengroet, meatballs. Christmas Day had roast, pork, fruit pudding, julebrød, lefse, and cookies.
126, side 1 238: CHRISTMAS EVE
Went to church at 5pm. Could hear the church bells ring at 5-6 in the country and city. They rang in the holidays. Not lots of presents.
126, side 1 250: CHRISTMAS DAY
Could not run around much. Sang around the Christmas tree, played games with the family.
126, side 1 258: SECOND CHRISTMAS
Julefest, held celebration in the prayer house. Barnefest for the children. Jultrefest went until January 20 days of Christmas.
126, side 1 288:
Father would fish during the week, he was home on the weekends. He used to come home every night but the money situation caused him to work more. He was a carpenter on the boat.
126, side 1 310:
Money has made a difference in Norway, things changed after the war.
126, side 1 322: TROLL STORIES
Always heard stories in the evenings, a big deal for Svanhild. Always loved storybooks. Lots of eventyr. Did not believe in trolls but it was still scary.
126, side 1 378:
After school and confirmation she went to town for work. Worked as a cook and maid in a home in Haugesund. Lived at this place. Did this until she was married. Worked at two different places in Haugesund in 12 years. During the war worked for her sister in the grocery store.
126, side 1 399:
Met husband Erling when he was home on vacation from boat, they traveled to town together. Her brother worked on the same boat. He did fishing, gone for long periods of time. After the war she never knew if her husband was alive or not.
126, side 1 428:
Married in Sortland church. Wore a long white silk dress. Small wedding. Not many couples could afford a honeymoon. Start building a home right away. Married in 1939.
126, side 1 441:
War started, Erling went in December 1939. She moved back with her folks, lived with her sister and worked in the store.
126, side 1 460:
Germans were all over Norway, took over everything. Searched houses looking for soldiers.
126, side 1 486:
Worried about her brothers and husband. Very hard time.
126, side 1 501:
People went to church during the war. Lots of meeting, missionaries. 96% were Lutheran missionaries. Mostly Lutheran in the country.
126, side 1 528:
Communication with Erling done with a Red Cross telegram. Message was often old when you got it.
126, side 1 551:
Erling joined the American Army in England after the war was over. He told Svanhild that he was going to America with the troops. He surprised her in Bergen before he left. He stayed in Norway for a month.
126, side 1 619:
Plane crashed in Copenhagen, which put him in the hospital for a few days before he came to Norway.
126, side 1 632:
Erling had planned to stay in America for year he wrote he wrote to Svanhild and asked if she would like to come to America for year. She could get a free trip to America on the war brides boat. Left Oslo with the group July 1946.
126, side 2 008:
150-war brides. Alphabetically gave women rooms on the boat. Svanhild ended up almost in the basement.
126, side 2 015:
No cargo on the boat. Storm on the Atlantic. Svanhild ended up in the hospital because she was so sick from the trip.
126, side 2 021: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Shocked, seemed wild. Helped to see other Norwegians around. Eight girls came over from the home place. Adjusted pretty easy to new things.
Did not have to wait four years since her husband was in the army. Had to stay on her own. She lived in Ohio.
126, side 2 041: LEARNED THE LANGUAGE
Interested to learn. Used her Norwegian and English Dictionary. People were very helpful. Her doctor could Norwegian. When her son was born she could read his little storybooks.
126, side 2 059:
Svanhild worked in a restaurant in Tacoma for 10 years when her children were grown. Helped in the kitchen.
126, side 2 072: CHURCH
Not real active. Helps as she can, Sunday school, etc.
126, side 2 084: ORGANIZATIONS
Have not held an office. Is active in the Sons of Norway. Husband's schedule made it hard to attend meetings.
126, side 2 093:
Children learned Norwegian. Son, Egil Arthur married Beverly Pearson. She is a violinist. He is a pastor. Was always a good child. Had a parish in San Antonio, Texas. Studied at Gonzaga in Spokane. They have two children, Christina and Corina Marie.
126, side 2 144:
Daughter lives in Tacoma. She has a daughter and a son.
126, side 2 145: TRIPS BACK TO NORWAY
Higher prices, new home, changes occur in many ways. More work since the war.
126, side 2 159:
She remembers Norway the way it was. Young people expect more.
126, side 2 169:
A new kind of people in Norway. They think and live differently. So many things that did not exist when Svanhild grew up.
Feels good about it. Does not know anything else.
Holidays, cooking, religion.
126, side 2 210:
Svanhild learned to be a good person, learned religion in school. These things were also in the home.
126, side 2 219:
Says the Norwegian Table Prayer.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Marriage service
  • Naturalization
  • Norway--History--German occupation, 1940-1945
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • War brides--Norway
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Personal Names :
  • Knutsen, Martha
  • Sortland, Egil
  • Sortland, Erling
  • Foørre, Soenniva
  • Førre, Jenny
  • Førre, Johannes
  • Knutsen, Godskalk
  • Knutsen, Martin
  • Robbins, Evelyn (Sortland)
  • Sortland, Svanhild--Interviews (creator)
  • Corporate Names :
  • Sons of Norway (U.S.) Norden Lodge No. 2 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Førre family
  • Knutsen family
  • Robbins family
  • Sortland family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Haugesund (Norway)
  • Ohio
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Cooks
  • Domestics