Sigfrid Eidsness Ohrt Oral History Interview, 1983

Overview of the Collection

Ohrt, Sigfrid Eidsness
Sigfrid Eidsness Ohrt Oral History Interview
1983 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Sigfrid Eidsness Ohrt, 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

Sigfrid Ohrt was born on September 26, 1891 in Eidsness, Norway to Ivar Eidsness and Ragnhild Fjelde. She had eight siblings: Bertha, John, Reginald, Inger, Olaf, Bert, Hannah, and Edwin. Sigfrid's father worked for a newspaper in Bergen and was also involved with a bank. When Sigfrid was nine or ten years old, her father got himself into financial trouble and slipped out of the country. Their house was going to be taken away from them, so Sigfrid's mother took her family to South Dakota, where she had three brothers. They arrived in Boston, MA, and were then put on the train to South Dakota. When they stopped in Chicago, a strange bearded man, whom Sigfrid's mother later recognized as her husband, approached them. He was working for a Norwegian newspaper in Chicago and wanted a couple of the children to stay with him. Although Ragnhild was not pleased with the idea, Olaf and Reginald, then eleven and fourteen, respectively, stayed behind. The rest of the family continued on to South Dakota, where Ragnhild kept house for her bachelor brother. Four years later, Sigfrid's father moved to the northern border of North Dakota, and Olaf and Reginald went to Saskatchewan, Canada to claim homesteads along the southern border. Eventually, Sigfrid's father built a house for her mother in Ambrose, ND, and there was not enough money to keep Sigfrid at home. She still had one more year of school and found work in Portal, ND, where she boarded with a family and completed the seventh grade. She was later sent to live on her brother's homestead for a while and then attended the eighth grade in Ambrose, where she stayed with another family and earned room and board. This family moved to Aberdeen, WA and decided to take Sigfrid with them to look after their little girl. In Aberdeen, Sigfrid found a waitressing job and after a year, found a place of her own to live and began to attend a business college. By the time she finished college, Sigfrid had been away from home for four years, and she went to visit her brothers. They had finished their obligations on their land in Saskatchewan and had opened a store and boarding house near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. They asked Sigfrid to run their store for them, and when she was twenty-two, she met her husband there. They were married one year later and in 1919, moved to the West Coast. At this time, they had two sons, Daniel and Wallace. They settled in Medford, OR, where Sigfrid's husband opened a welding shop and they had another son, Robert. In 1927, they bought a farm in Rogue River, where their only daughter, Mary Ann, was born eight years later. In 1936, the family moved back to Medford so the boys could have more opportunities, and after the war began, they moved to Bremerton, WA. There, they bought a hotel, which Sigfrid operated. After the war, they moved to Tacoma, WA, where they remained for twenty-two years before living in various other cities in the Pacific Northwest. Sigfrid has not kept in touch with any of her relatives in Norway, but she did visit in 1971.


Full Name: Sigfrid Eidsness Ohrt. Maiden Name: Sigfrid Eidsness. Father: Ivar Eidsness. Mother: Ragnhild Fjelde. Paternal Grandfather: Johannes Eidsness. Brothers and Sisters: Bertha Eidsness, John Eidsness, Reginald Eidsness, Inger Eidsness, Olaf Eidsness, Bert Eidsness, Hannah Eidsness, Edwin Eidsness. Spouse: Does not provide his name. Children: Daniel Ohrt, Wallace Ohrt, Robert Ohrt, Mary Ann Ohrt.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Sigfrid Ohrt on July 28, 1983 in Tacoma, Washington. It contains information on family background, emigration, schooling, work, marriage and family, and Norwegian heritage. Also available are "America, Here We Come," "My Father, Ivar Eidsnes," and "Growing Up in South Dakota - 1901-05" by Sigfrid Ohrt. 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

Related Materials

To search and view Pacific Lutheran University's digitized images, visit our Digital Assets Website

Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Cindy Klein 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
258, side 1 025:
Sigfrid Eidsness Ohrt. Born in Eidsness, near Bergen, Norway. Born on September 26, 1891.
258, side 1 072: PARENTS
Ivar Eidsness and Ragnhild Fjelde.
258, side 1 102: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Bertha, John, Reginald, Inger, Olaf, (Sigfrid), Bert, Hannah, and Edwin. These are the names they went by for most of their lives. Changed names when they came to America.
258, side 1 169: FAMILY LIFE IN NORWAY
Lived in a rural community along the banks of the Eidsness Fjord. Father made his living in Bergen. Worked for a newspaper. Involved in a bank. A sergeant in the military. Wrote articles, witty things. Quite talented. Mother had a child every year. Took care of the cows. Came from a mountain family. Could make cheese. Did the farm work.
258, side 1 243: EIDSNESS
Small community. Small farms with cows and sheep. Bergen was the nearest largest town. People made their own clothes. Used their own wool. Mother had a spinning wheel. Had a dressmaker come in to sew for the family. Had a shoemaker come in to make shoes.
258, side 1 284: CHILDHOOD
Went to school. Sigfrid was quite the actor as a child. Brothers made a swing for her. Played in the boats. Fished. Would throw a small rock up. It'd land on the back of her hand. Threw the rock up again and caught it. Community celebrated May 17th, Norway's Constitution Day. Community would march 2 by 2. Person in front carried a big flag. The children had small flags. Would have a big bonfire on one evening in June.
258, side 1 365: SCHOOL
Started at age seven. Went six days a week. First day of school, older sister Inger and her friend escorted Sigfrid to school. The schoolmaster, a young man, asked her to write a "4." She did it upside down. He told her how to do it right. Used slate boards and slate pencils. School was in Vassel, near a lake. They used to skate on the lake. Girls weren't allowed to swim in the lake. They could only wade.
258, side 1 416: CHILDHOOD (See also I-284)
Had a lot of freedom. Used to pick berries. Would pick small red berries called tyttebaer. Brought them in to Bergen and sold them at the market. Had relatives so they could stay overnight.
258, side 1 442: SCHOOL IN NORWAY (See also I-365)
Had been in school for three years. In Norway, had to memorize the lessons. Sigfrid had to get up early to study. Had religious training in school. Had to study the catechism and Bible history. Had other studies too.
258, side 1 482: CHURCH
Neighbors would gather. Had a boat big enough for the neighborhood. Four men would row across the fjord to the church. Sat in the church for long services. The children got restless. Mother would have to keep them quiet.
258, side 1 515: GRANDPARENTS
Remembers her grandfather. A fine man. Lived with his second wife, who didn't take much interest in the grandchildren. The house Sigfrid lived in had two parts. Her family resided in the larger half. Grandfather lived in the other half. Grandfather and his wife had a room called the "stue." Had their bed and belongings in there. Had a storage room, which the grandchildren were not allowed to go in. They weren't allowed to visit his grandfather without permission. Sigfrid would follow her grandfather around on the farm. He'd take her in the boat with him when he went fishing. She has pleasant memories of him. His name was Johannes Eidsness. His wife had a great big apron. Whenever she was outside, she'd gather sticks for the fire and pack them into the house. People were very thrifty.
258, side 1 578: CHRISTMAS
Mother seldom left home, she was so busy. She did go to the school Christmas program. They'd dance around the Christmas tree. Sang Christmas carols. Dancing, one ring of adults, a ring of teenagers coming the opposite direction, and on the outside, a ring of smaller children going in the same direction as the adults. Served refreshments. Had first chocolate there. Celebrated for two weeks. Met at neighbors' homes. Mother came with them.
Father was involved in many programs in Bergen. He was talented and very generous with his time. So generous that he neglected his family. When Sigfrid was 9-10, he got himself into trouble. Couldn't fulfill his obligations. Slipped out of the country. Income wasn't sufficient to take care of his family. The grandfather had given his home to her father, the eldest son as was the custom. The house was about to be taken away from the family. Grandfather was very helpful. Helped mother pack things and dispose of things that were to be seized by the government. Mother had three brothers, young men who had recently come to America. They had acquired farms in South Dakota. They sent money to help her bring her family to America. They needed help on their farms, so John was 16 and Inger who was 13 were sent tickets before the rest of the family. Sigfrid thinks that they left Norway in the spring. Bertha who was 17 was regarded as an adult. She was very helpful, a second mother to the rest of the kids.
258, side 1 721: LEAVING NORWAY
Mother hid things in the hayloft for other family members, rather than having things taken away. Hid a saddle in the hay. Brought her hand sewing machine and spinning wheel with her. Sigfrid had a special friend that she wanted to say goodbye to. While the rest of the family was carrying out things down to the boat landing, Sigfrid went to her friend's house. Grandfather came down to the boat. Was very sad. Knew he'd never see them again. Bert was his special pet. Tears rolled down his cheeks when he said, "I know I shall never see any of you again." They loaded their things into the neighborhood boat. A neighbor rowed them to the boat landing where the boat would come that would take them to Bergen. Spent the next night in Bergen. Next day took a boat across the North Sea to Liverpool, England. Rough ride. 14-year-old brother got away from the family while in Liverpool. They had to spend three days there. He got lost. They had to send the cops out to find him.
Went on the Cunnard Line. Traveled steerage. People from many countries on the boat. Wore different kinds of clothes. Smelled on the boat. They were curious about the different languages they heard. Tried to get close enough to listen but mother got mad. Mother got seasick. They came to America in 1901, probably in the spring.
258, side 1 848: ARRIVAL
Landed in Boston, Massachusetts. Exciting when they first saw land. Went through the immigration building. They had a young woman from home traveling with them. She couldn't come in as part of their family. Immigration officers asked who had supplied her ticket. She told them an unmarried man in South Dakota. They asked if she intended to marry him. She said no. She intended to pay him back. She was quite indignant. Mother had to have a place to go. They were very particular. Had to have someone who would be responsible for you.
258, side 1 895: TRAIN TRIP
They were put on the train to South Dakota. Stopped in Chicago. A strange man approached them with a big grin on his face. He was bearded. They didn't recognize him. He seemed glad to see them. Mother recognized him as her husband. He'd disguised himself with his beard. He was in trouble with the law in Norway. He was very lonely. Wanted a couple of the children. Mother didn't like the idea. He ended up getting a couple of the boys, Olaf, 11 and Reginald, 14. They stayed with him for a couple of years.
Mother kept house for a bachelor brother. He had a farm with cows and equipment. He became involved in a well-drilling business that proved to be more profitable than farming. With the help of the children, mother was able to take care of most of the farm work. They lived very comfortably. They were supported by their father and mother's brothers. Father was writing for a Norwegian newspaper in Chicago. The family was never together again as a family after coming to America. Most of the children were in their teens by then.
258, side 1 995: NORTH DAKOTA
About four years later, Sigfrid's father came out west. Land was opening up in North Dakota and somehow he was involved in locating settlers who wanted land. The younger boys (Olaf and Reginald) were too young to take land in the states but in Canada because they needed more people, males were encouraged to come and take homesteads. When the two boys were 17 and 18 they were allowed to take land provided that their parents were close enough to help. Father took up a homestead on North Dakota's northern border and the boys took up homesteads on the southern border of Saskatchewan, Canada. Each one got 160 acres. They lived in a shack. An 18-year-old cousin was in on this. The three boys built a shack on the corner joining the three pieces of property. They had to find work in towns. Began to work their land. Made it eventually. Got titles to their land. People would help each other with their farms. People worked on both sides of the border until immigration stations sprang up everywhere. Her brother did some work in Ambrose, N.D. The boys worked on big farms eastern North Dakota when help was needed with the threshing. Earned enough money to get started with. Most got by by exchanging labor. Father built mother a house. She had cows. There was water in the slough. She milked cows, made butter and cheese. Sigfrid was farmed out. The couldn't afford to have her at home. Got work in Portal, North Dakota. Had one year of school left. Worked for her board there. In the fall, when she was 15, she was sent to live in her brother's shack. They had their first calf. Needed someone to take of it while they were helping with the threshing. Sigfrid was supposed to stay with a young woman on a neighboring farm who'd just got married. Her husband was helping with the threshing too. He came home early because the work was too hard for him. Sigfrid didn't want to stay at their place so she moved into the shack.
258, side 2 035: SCHOOL IN NORTH DAKOTA
After spending four years on the farm, Sigfrid's mother spent a couple of years cooking for miners. Family members were working in the mines. This was near the North Dakota and South Dakota border. Sigfrid was sent to Portal, North Dakota near the border to work and go to school. Passed the seventh grade. Father built mother a house in Ambrose, North Dakota. Took one of the first trains that went to Ambrose. A new school was being built there. Sigfrid stayed with a family and earned room and board while going to school. Completed her eighth grade education there. Was 15 then.
258, side 2 153: LEARNING ENGLISH
Community in North Dakota was Scandinavian, but school was taught in English. There were two American families in the area. The teacher wouldn't allow the Norwegian children to speak Norwegian. Sigfrid started in the first grade. Was in the sixth grade after four years. Didn't have any problems learning English.
258, side 2 206: CHURCH
Was confirmed at a Lutheran church when 14. Was confirmed in Norwegian. Her mother had done a good job of raising her. Sigfrid feels that she had always been self-disciplined.
258, side 2 242: WORK
Worked away from home since she was 15. When the two brothers who'd stayed with her father in Chicago had completed their obligations on their land in Saskatchewan they sold it. They were in their early 20s. Started a business in a community of homesteaders. They opened a coalmine. Opened a store and a boarding house. Sigfrid had been away from home, gone to business school, and worked a couple of years. When she was 20, she went to business school, and worked a couple of years. When she was 20, she went to visit her brothers. They needed her help. She ran their store for them. Reginald, who liked the outdoors, bought a fancy team of horses. He wanted to sell insurance or farm equipment. Turned the store over to Sigfrid. There was a 19-year-old girl hired to do the cooking. Baked bread and took care of the three meals every day. Sigfrid would close the store sometimes and help her. They were all young people there. This was in Saskatchewan. Sigfrid wanted to move into town after a year as store manager. They were 25 miles from town. Had met several salesmen who'd come out to take orders. A man from a wholesale fruit company got her a job bookkeeping in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
258, side 2 411: BUSINESS COLLEGE
Family she was living with in Ambrose, North Dakota while attending school (8th grade) moved to Aberdeen, Washington. They had a little girl, Joy, who was a handful. The mother was nervous. Took Sigfrid with them because she could handle the little girl. Sigrid felt free in Aberdeen. She was away from her parents and could do whatever she wanted. Had the family there as her protectors. She went downtown looking for work. Found a coffee shop that needed a waitress. Went in and ordered a waffle and coffee. As she was paying for her food, she asked the young man if she could see the manager. He was the manager. Said she was interested in the waitress job. She got the job and started the next day at 7am. Worked until 730pm. Earned $8 a week. Got one afternoon off. Stayed there for almost a year. Had saved $100. The family who'd brought her had moved to Portland. Had to find her own place. Lived in three places while going to business school. A Jewish man in town who was a leader in the community, was a customer at the coffee shop where Sigfrid had been working. Was impressed with her performance. Needed a bookkeeper. Sigfrid had a friend who worked in his store. He'd seen Sigfrid in the store. Told her friend that the next time she was in the store he would like to talk to her. He offered Sigfrid the job. She never had difficulties getting a job. Worked for him for two years. Had vacation with pay coming. Went back to see her parents. Hadn't been home for four years. It was at this point that she started working in her brother's store in Saskatchewan. (See II-242)
258, side 2 546: MEETING SPOUSE
Met her husband in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. She was 22 years old then. Got married one year later. They lived in Moose Jaw for several years but Sigfrid wanted to raise her children on the West Coast. Her two oldest children were born in Moose Jaw. Husband had never been on the coast.
258, side 2 565: MOVE TO THE WEST COAST
Had an inheritance from his grandmother. Moved to the coast in 1919. Married in 1916. Two boys by 1919. Didn't know where they wanted to settle. Sold what they had and left. Checked out California. Decided they like Medford, Oregon. Husband opened a welding shop. They lived there until 1927. Then moved to Rogue River, Oregon. Bought an abandoned farm.
258, side 2 611: DEPRESSION
Husband wanted to start a fish hatchery. He built a little house for his family. They had three by then. Had a rough time but made it.
258, side 2 626: CHILDREN
One of the boys turned out to be a writer. They lived in Rogue River from when he was seven until he was 17. He treasured the free and easy life there. When he'd grown up and had children, he would tell them stories about those days. The kids were so impressed with his stories that they'd ask him to repeat them. He thought that if his kids were so impressed then maybe other people would like to hear them, so he wrote a book, "The Rogue I Remember." His name is Wallace Ohrt. The book is an historical account of the area. Sigfrid has two other boys and a daughter who was born while the boys were in their teens.
258, side 2 682:
Moved back to Medford when the boys were in high school. She wanted the boys to get better opportunities. Husband didn't want them running around the streets of Medford. Sigfrid wouldn't stay in Rogue River any longer after one incident. When her daughter was 2 years old, she wandered off to the river by herself. Sigfrid couldn't find her and had nobody to help her. The little girl came back eventually but the incident could have been tragic. Moved in 1936.
258, side 2 732: WWII
Moved to Bremerton, Washington while war work was going on. The boys joined the Air Force. Husband worked in the ammunitions depot. Bought a rundown hotel, which Sigfrid operated. Daughter was about seven then. They did pretty well there. Moved to Tacoma about five years later.
258, side 2 752: AFTER WWII
Lived in Tacoma 22 years. Husband died in 1963. Lived in Lynwood nine years, Seattle two years, and in Bellingham since 1974.
258, side 2 775: CHILDREN (See also II-626)
Daniel, the eldest; Wallace, Robert, and Mary Ann.
Dan has two twin boys, Gary and Larry and a daughter named Carol. Wally has a daughter named Lori and a son named Steve. Bob has a daughter name Kathleen and a son named Robert. Mary Ann has two sons, Chris and Morgan. Sigfrid has nine great-grandchildren.
258, side 2 826: NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE
None of her kids speak it. She hasn't kept in touch with anyone in Norway. Isn't proud of this, but it happened that way. Her mother never learned to speak English. Sigfrid wasn't home after she was 15. Didn't keep up with it. Family was scattered after they came to America in 1901. Husband was of German descent.
258, side 2 851: TRIPS BACK TO NORWAY
Went back in 1971. Visited her home. A very exciting trip. Met a man she had played with as a child. He had stayed in the same place through the years. A cousin that lived in the area told him of Sigfrid's plans to come to Norway. They had flags flying for them when they came. This man had a stroke a few days before they arrived. They were able to meet him anyway. He remembered Sigfrid and her family. Sigfrid was with her sister on this trip.
258, side 2 899: SPEAKS NORWEGIAN
Recognized the Norwegian table prayer when her cousin, Dagmar said it in Norway in 1971. Recites "Ride Ride Ranke." Her grandfather used to hold her on his knee and say this.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Christmas
  • Confirmation
  • Depressions--1929
  • Education--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Marriage service
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian language
  • Norwegian-Americans--Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel
  • World War, 1939-1945

Personal Names

  • Eidsness, Johannes
  • Ohrt, Daniel
  • Ohrt, Sigfrid--Interviews (creator)
  • Eidsness, Ivar
  • Fjelde, Ragnhild
  • Ohrt, Mary Ann
  • Ohrt, Robert
  • Ohrt, Wallace

Corporate Names

  • Cunnard Line (steamship)

Family Names

  • Eidsness family
  • Fjelde family
  • Ohrt family

Geographical Names

  • Ambrose (N.D.)
  • Bremerton (Wash.)
  • Eidsness (Norway)
  • Medford (Or.)
  • Moose Jaw (Sask. Canada)
  • Portal (N.D.)
  • Rouge River (Or.)
  • South Dakota
  • Tacoma (Wash.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Bookkeepers
  • Domestics
  • Farmers
  • Waitresses