Nellie Johanneson Blomeli Oral History Interview, 1978

Overview of the Collection

Blomelie, Nellie Johanneson
Nellie Johanneson Blomeli Oral History Interview
1978 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette
2 compact discs
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Nellie Johannseon Blomelie, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 2535357586
Fax: 2535357315
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

Nellie Blomelie was born on April 12, 1893 in Aga, Hordaland, Norway. Her father's name was Johannes Johanneson, and there were ten children in the family, six boys and four girls. Johannes died in 1911, and in 1914, one of Nellie's brothers and his wife visited from America and decided to have their mother return back with them. Nellie's mother took six of the youngest children with her, leaving Nellie and one of her sisters in Norway. Nellie and her sister remained in Norway for two more years before immigrating to America as well. While visiting one of her brothers, who was attending Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nellie met her husband Olaf Blomelie, who was also from Norway. Olaf and Nellie were married in 1919, and in 1921 they took a call to a mission field in Sereaf (?), Alberta, Canada. While living there, they had two daughters, Lillian and Helen, and later had two more at their next location. In 1930, they received a call to North Dakota and lived there for nine years, followed by a seven-year stay in Vancouver, British Columbia. The next call was to South Bend, Washington, but the people there were not very receptive to Christianity, and the Blomelies only stayed there for one and a half years. Olaf then went to Bush Bay, Alaska, and while he was there, Nellie and the girls moved to Tacoma, Washington. In 1962, Olaf fell ill, and they moved to Parkland, Washington. He died in February 1968, and Nellie then moved into an apartment at the University House. While living there, Nellie heard about a tour group that was taking a trip to Norway. She decided to join the group and spent five weeks travelling and visiting old friends and relatives. In America, Nellie honored her Norwegian heritage by continuing to cook Norwegian foods and finishing her Norwegian costume, which she used for syttende mai and other events.


Full Name: Nellie Blomelie. Maiden Name: Nellie Johanneson. Father: Johannes Johanneson. Brothers and Sisters: There were ten living children [six boys and four girls]; an eleventh died as an infant. Nils Johanneson, Petra Johanneson, Sam Johanneson, Henry Johanneson, Gertrud Johanneson. Spouse: Olaf Kristian Blomelie. Children: There were four daughters in the family. Lillian Blomelie, Helen Blomelie

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Nellie Blomelie on April 21, 1978 in Tacoma, Washington. It contains information on her family background, emigration, experiences as a mission pastor's wife, return trip to Norway, 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

Custodial History

The Oral History collection project was started during an experimental course on Scandinavian Women in the Pacific Northwest. Students in the course were encouraged to interview women and learn about their experiences as immigrants to the United States. The project was continued and expanded with support from the president's office and by grants from the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, from the Joel E. Ferris Foundation and the Norwegian Emigration Fund of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project was directed by Dr. Janet E. Rasmussen. The collection was transferred to the Archives and Special Collections Department.

Acquisition Information

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Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Inger Nygaard Carr using a cassette recorder. A research copy was also prepared from the original. To further preserve the content of the interview, it is now being transferred to compact disc. We deliberately did not transcribe the entire interview because we want the researchers to listen to the interviewee's own voice. The transcription index highlights important aspects of the interview and the tape counter numbers noted on the Partial Interview Transcription are meant as approximate finding guides and refer to the location of a subject on the cassette/CD. The recording quality is good

The collection was transcribed by Mary Sue Gee, Julie Peterson and Becky Husby.


Rasmussen, Janet Elaine. New Land New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific Northwest Tacoma, Washington University of Washington Press 1993

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
5, side 1 004: FAMILY BACKGROUND
Born Nellie Johanneson. Father was Johannes Johanneson. Shortly after coming to America, she met through her brother, the man who became her husband, Olaf Kristianson Blomelie. She is 84 now, having emigrated when she was 25 years old in October 1916.
5, side 1 051:
Nellie was born in Aga (?), Hordaland in the western part of Norway. Her homeplace is about six Norwegian miles south of Bergen.
5, side 1 065: CHILDREN
Nellie and Olaf had four girls. Nellie came during World War I. Father had died in 1911, and was buried in back of home church in Norway. The oldest brother came from America in 1914 with his wife and they decided to have mother go back with them. The mother, six of the young children, and brother left in 1914, leaving Nellie and a younger sister in Norway. The oldest child was 18 and the youngest, Bertha, was five. Nellie carried her on board the ship. Three days after the boat left Bergen, the war began. Their home was sold and they had no immediate family left in Norway. She and her sister went to an uncle's in Haugesund until the war stopped. But they couldn't wait and in 1916 they took a chance and left. So she and her sister spent 1914-1916 in Norway.
5, side 1 161: EMIGRATION
They emigrated in the fall of 1916; the US didn't enter the war until the spring of 1917. It was a big undertaking--took chances on everything. Only two ships, the Bergensfjord and the Oslofjord, were running; they took the Bergensfjord. It was stormy and awful weather; the trip took nine days. Went to ...... (?) where her older brother, Nels, lived. He had two of the younger children with him--Petra and Sam.
5, side 1 203:
There were six brothers and four girls, plus an eleventh child who died in infancy. Two brothers were married and settled down. A third was in Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis where he had two years left. That's where she met Olaf Kristianson Blomelie from Blomelie, Norway. He'd been here only a little while and was going to be a minister. They were married in the fall of 1919 after meeting in Minneapolis. All the kids came to America except the one that died. The house in Norway was put in "safeman's" hands; the goods were tied up; and the home was sold to neighbors. She worked in Haugesund until she and her sister left in 1916.
Nellie and Olaf took a call to a mission field at Sereaf (?), Alberta, Canada in June 1921. It was a hard place to live--terribly cold and lonely. Her husband would have four calls over 100 miles long. He was gone for long times. They stayed three and a half years then left. "Couldn't stand it any longer. Nearly froze to death." They had two children in Alberta and two in next place where they stayed for three years. Then they received a call to North Dakota in 1930 and stayed in North Dakota for nine years through the Depression. Those were awful hard years also.
5, side 1 291:
The trip from Minneapolis to Alberta in June 1921 took two and a half days. There was no sleeping-- a hard trip. They bought an old car in Alberta for summer use on the prairie, but went by horse in the winter. Parishioners had built a new house; it looked so nice. The first winter was so hard--worse than Minneapolis. They were not equipped for such a winter. Nobody could stand it and the mission field was eventually closed up there.
5, side 1 321:
Of the nine years in North Dakota, seven were drought years until 1934. Then, they went to Vancouver, B.C. for seven years. This was a bad situation also; people were hard up because of political conditions in Canada. Nellie has written epistles on many of these topics--hardships of minister in mission fields, snow, walking long distances, dangerous business. Ministers usually sent on mission assignments were often single because of difficulties.
5, side 1 349:
"You might know how I felt when my husband left me the first Christmas [in Alberta]. That first Christmas--I hated that one; I'll never forget it. I'll never forget." He left her alone at 3 pm Christmas Eve with two small children. She didn't see him until 6 pm the following day. After seven years in Vancouver, they had a call to South Bend, Washington for one and a half years. Then a call to Alaska. While he was in Alaska, she and the kids came to Tacoma, the house where Lillian and Gary live now. The people in South Bend didn't care for Christianity. It was the worst place she ever lived, and there was also a terrible flood there. Her husband ended up in Brush Bay, Alaska. He became sick in the spring of 1962 and died at the age of 75 in February 1968. They had moved to Tacoma in 1966.
5, side 1 404: CHILDREN
There are four girls; three live in Tacoma and one in Portland. Nellie has twelve grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Helen has been organist in a Portland Church. All went to college, but not all finished. The two older girls went to PLC during the war while the family was in Canada. They worked hard to put themselves through college. Helen intended to be a nurse. She worked at Sears in Portland and then married. The second girl worked in a bank and married. Lillian lives in Tacoma. Things were going rough and slow. "Now you know, it seems like you almost lose your appetite to go to church. It's [life] too easy". There is so much to do these days. Her husband served mostly mission churches, not independent churches. It was a hard struggle.
5, side 1 466:
Grandparents. [Nellie refers to "epistles"; most of this information was obviously written down.] Her parents had 11 children, and her dad was a fisherman-farmer. Grandfather was the same--like most people
5, side 1 482:
[There is a repeat of emigration, marriage, and early mission work.] South Bend is about 25 miles south of Aberdeen Washington; it's on an island in the Willapa River. The main occupation is fishing as there is good salmon fishing. It was a nice place, but hard to do church work; people were resistant to Christianity. Then, the river flooded. They were in Minneapolis attending a convention. They came back, and the house and the contents were ruined. They moved to Tacoma and served three years there. After her husband's health gave in, they moved to Parkland. He lived only two years and passed away. She has been alone at the University House for seven years.
5, side 1 536:
She sold the little house in Parkland. With that money and the help of her children, she got the apartment at the University House where she moved on New Year's Eve in 1969 or 1971.
5, side 1 590:
In the apartment house, she heard about some people returning to Norway. It was 52 years since she emigrated, and it was a hard decision for her to make because of money worries. But she bought a ticket to go. She went alone [on a group tour] and enjoyed her first plane trip and the time in Norway. Prior to traveling, Nellie had written to friends and relatives in Norway, and they were ready to meet her. Her husband came from near Bodoe, Nordland, so she spent three days at Blomelie traveling by herself. She returned to her birthplace and saw her home. She thanked the Lord for taking her over safely.
5, side 1 620:
[TAPE BEGINS TO SLIP.] People were wonderful. She saw here old school and working friends. Her Norwegian was still good, but the language was mixed up somewhat. She enjoyed herself staying with a girlfriend one place and her uncle in Haugesund. Met her Norwegian sweetheart again.
5, side 1 666:
She would like to go back, because now the five-week trip seems like a dream. Some of the people have visited her in America since
5, side 1 680:
Norwegians have bettered themselves. [There is a general discussion on her Norwegian friends.] [The tape from 680 to end of Side I is badly distorted because of slippage.]
5, side 1 715:
Talk about the emigration trip [repeat of earlier story].
5, side 1 734:
Learning the English language using an ABC book, newspapers. Talk about husband and brother Henry.
5, side 2 037: BEING A PASTOR'S WIFE
She always wanted to be close to pastors, for example her brother. She was so happy when her husband asked her to marry. It was a hard life as a mission-pastor's wife--not much money and always living in lonely, unsettled places.
5, side 2 069:
She started her Norwegian costume in 1913-14, before the family emigrated. And she brought it with her in 1916 and finished it here. She used it especially around the Bellingham area--which was a little Norway--and Vancouver. Her husband served some of these people in Canada. It was an interesting and hard life--a long drive to parishioners. She never knew if he'd come back alive or if she and the children would ever see him again.
5, side 2 115: NORWEGIAN COOKING
She still cooks Norwegian food. She had a job in Haugesund where she had to cook and she enjoyed it. But she had to change her cooking habits in America; meat was cooked so differently. Setting the table, serving, and presenting the food were other things she learned more about from American jobs. The best of her cooking was learned from her mother, e.g. making lefse at the age of ten. One had to learn cooking and other skills in Norway. They prepared and filled a bridal chest with homemade stuff like Hardanger embroidery, etc. It wasn't like today when parties are held, and everything is purchased and given to the bride. She brought most of her things with.
5, side 2 166:
When she arrived at the Ferndale area, she took out her Hardanger costume--the skirt was finished--beads, ribbons, and materials. She then finished the costume and used it for syttende mai and other different events. In Norway in 1953, she met a cousin who was making Norwegian costumes with all beaded work on the vests. She sent one to Nellie, who finished it in time for her 80th birthday. She has pictures taken of her in it; made an apron, skirt, vest--entire costume from a kit.
5, side 2 227:
[Tape speeds up again.] On Christmas Eve, the kids would come home for miles. There were 22 sleeping over that night.
5, side 2 240:
About Norwegian Christmas.
5, side 2 257:
About the emigration trip
5, side 2 274:
New York and Ellis Island.
5, side 2 296:
New York to Minnesota by train through Chicago. Some reference made about "white slavery" and having to be careful in New York and Chicago. Repeat about Bergenfjord
5, side 2 392:
Teaching children to speak and pray in Norwegian.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Missions
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • World War, 1914-1918

Personal Names

  • Blomelie, Helen
  • Blomelie, Nellie Johanneson--Interviews (creator)
  • Johanneson, Johannes
  • Blomelie, Lillian
  • Blomelie, Olaf

Corporate Names

  • University House (Parkland, Wash.)

Family Names

  • Blomelie family
  • Johanneson family

Geographical Names

  • Bush Bay (Alaska)
  • Hordaland fylke (Norway)
  • North Dakota
  • Parkland (Wash.)
  • South Bend (Wash.)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Vancouver, (B.C.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Cooks
  • Missionaries