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Emigration from Dovre, 1865 -1914 *
    by Arnfinn Engen translated by C. A. Clausen (Volume 29: Page 210)

* This article is adapted from a thesis, entitled "Opphrot og omlegging. Utvandring og økonomisk utvikling i Dovre på 1800-talet," presented to the Department of History at the University of Oslo, 1973. Parts of the thesis have been printed as articles in Arnfinn Engen, ed., Utvandringa - det store oppbrotet (Oslo, 1978).

THIS ARTICLE is an attempt to record the emigration to America from Dovre, a mountain community located in the northern part of Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, and to analyze the background of this movement. By limiting the research to one community it is possible to delve more deeply into the sources than can be done by scholars who deal with larger areas. At the same time it may be possible to broaden the perspective beyond the purely local by casting light on emigration questions of a more general nature, since Dovre is to a degree representative of just those regions which sent the largest percentage of their population to America. Mountain communities throughout Norway were heavily drained of manpower through emigration; furthermore, Dovre was a part of the former Kristians amt -present-day Oppland fylke - the county which for a long time had the highest rate of emigration in Norway.

The principal questions discussed in this article are the nature and the causes of the emigration movement from Dovre. The problem of causes can be presented under two main headings: (1) why do people decide to emigrate, and (2) why do they leave at some specific time? Therefore, the first concern will be to determine the fundamental developments which could induce people to forsake their homes; and the second to analyze the factors which caused certain groups to leave in one year rather than another. It is primarily conditions in Norway which will be studied.


Population changes and economic conditions in a given area are closely connected. Good or bad times are soon reflected in population increase or decrease; and the size of the population in turn has a definite influence on the economy. Economic conditions in Dovre before emigration set in will be examined first.

Table 1: Population, excess of births over deaths, and migration from Dovre, 1801-1865 {1}

Years 1801 1815 1825 1835 1845 1855 1865
Population 1301 1342 1632 1975 1829 1982 2204
Population change   +41 +290 +343 -146 +153 +222
Excess of births over deaths since previous census   191 349 442 187 352 427
Net out-migration since previous census   150 59 99 333 199 205

Looking first at population developments, one finds a pattern which closely resembles developments in the country at large, with slow growth until 1815 followed by a rapid increase up to 1865. An exception is the decade following 1835, when there was a decrease; but still the population shows an increase of about 70 percent during the sixty-five-year period.

Next, with the aid of church records, one can calculate the excess of births over deaths and so estimate the relationship between in-migration and out-migration during the decades separating the various censuses. Then the interesting fact appears that there was a great migration out of Dovre during the whole period under discussion. Actually there was a net out-migration of more than 1,000 persons between 1801 and 1865 - as many as emigrated to the United States up to the First World War.

If the great migration from Dovre before the overseas emigration began is to be explained one must take a look at economic conditions in the community. As was true of most regions in eastern Norway (Østlandet) in the early nineteenth century, the greater part of the population drew its sustenance from the soil. Some 70 or 80 percent of the families engaged in farming either as landowners or as cotters, while most of the others also had some connection with agriculture as laborers or servants. When the rapid population increase began after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, attempts were made to provide for ever more people by subdividing farms. The number of farm units rose from 74 in 1801 to 155 in 1865. But this, of necessity, meant that the farms became smaller and brought in less income. Attempts were then made to remedy this defect by clearing new homesteads. The amount of new land which could be put under the plow was, however, very restricted and it usually proved to be less fertile than the old farms.

Another method of providing a living for more people in the community was to establish new crofts (husmannsplasser). But because of the limited area available, the increase in the number of crofts during the first half of the nineteenth century was not as great as in communities with larger farms and greater demands for labor. {2} Agricultural pursuits in one form or another were, never-the-less, the only form of livelihood available for most of the people in Dovre. If crops failed, then want was not far behind, and crops might fail very seriously in a mountain region. Frost was a particular problem. There was good reason why 45 of the 162 farms (bruk) in Dovre were characterized as "subject to frost" (frostlændte) in the tax rolls of 1866. {3}

The question then arises: how were crops in Dovre during this period? The years 1801-1815 are known to have been trying ones for the whole country. Ivar Kleiven, a local historian, reports that grain froze in Dovre and the neighboring community of Lesja in both 1800 and 1801. 1806 and 1807 were poor years, and frost struck the whole country in 1812. {4} In a diary from Lesja occurs this entry concerning the fall of 1812: "Frost destroyed the entire grain crop throughout the community and in most of the whole country." {5} Want was so great that a full-grown cow would bring in trade only about four bushels of grain. The very small population gain in Dovre between 1801 and 1815 can undoubtedly be ascribed to the hard times during this period which led to a low birthrate, a high mortality rate, and a heavy migration from the community.

After 1814 the crops were more normal, with some rather good years toward 1830. But a turn for the worse came in 1834 when a period of bad years began. A diary from 1834 speaks as follows: "Our grain was extremely poor. The field crops on this farm were stunted and sparse. We had to pick by hand in many places because it was so extremely dry during the haying season." {6} Again in 1836 poor harvests are reported, and in 1837 water froze in the irrigation pipes on July 12. Similar reports about frost and drought occur for practically every year until 1843.

Such a series of poor years naturally created hard times in a community largely dependent on agriculture. Not surprisingly, Lesja parish, of which Dovre then formed a part, was characterized as "the parish in Gudbrandsdalen deepest sunk in poverty." {7} Undoubtedly this succession of bad years was the main cause of the heavy out-migration during the decade 1835-1845. After 1845 there was no serious crop failure until late in the 1860s. People continued to leave the community, but the relative numbers were not as great as in the late 1830s.

Two important factors bearing on emigration emerge from this brief survey of economic and demographic developments in Dovre: (1) The population increased rapidly toward 1865. A great majority of the people were dependent upon agriculture, which still employed traditional methods. As a result the resources within the system were taxed to their limits by 1860. The slightest variation, such as, for instance, a crop failure, would throw it out of balance. (2) Migration out of the community was a well-known phenomenon long before emigration to America began. Leaving the old home district was not a new experience - only the destination differed when the America fever broke out.

These two factors, then, should at least partly answer the first question: why do people decide to emigrate?


In 1866 the first emigrants to America left Dovre and from then on scarcely a year passed without a group departing from the community. But emigration from other districts in the Gudbrandsdal valley had started much earlier. Already in 1832 the first emigrant had left the valley for America: Jehans Persson Nordbu (Johannes Nordboe) from Venabygd. {8} He did not have any immediate followers, but in 1839 a family left from Fåberg and during the 1840s there was increasing emigration from the district.

The emigration movement seems to have spread northward from the southern communities. In 1845 thirty people left from Gausdal, Øyer, and Ringebu, after which departures occurred as follows: from Sør-Fron in 1849, from Vågå in 1853, from Lom in 1854, and from Skjåk in 1857. {9} Two people are said to have left Lesja in 1853 but emigration from there did not really begin until1864 - two years earlier than from Dovre. A total of 346 persons emigrated from Gudbrandsdalen during the years 1851-1855, and during the next ten years 1,569 emigrants left Gudbrandsdalen as a whole. {10}

Why did the movement strike the northern communities of Lesja and Dovre so late? Prior to 1866 a total of about 2,000 persons had left the rest of Gudbrandsdalen while the emigrants from Lesja and Dovre during the same period can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Why were these two communities - which were no strangers to migration - struck by the America fever so much later than the neighboring communities to the south? The population increase in Lesja and Dovre had been just as great as in other parts of Gudbrandsdalen and the economy was not such that it could very well provide a livelihood for more people. One would think that such conditions would drive the young people away from their home communities.

Undoubtedly this did happen - only at first people did not go to America. If the young could not find employment at home they would leave for other places. This they had done for at least a generation. The migratory tradition was an old one, and there were several choices as to where they might go. There had long been road connections between Dovre and other regions: eastward through Folldalen to Østerdalen; northward, over the mountains, to Trøndelag and northern Norway; and westward to Romsdalen and Møre. There was also a good road to Ottadalen and thence to western Norway (Vestlandet). These roads were familiar and well trodden, while the routes that led to America were strange and unknown. And a ticket to America was a costly affair. As yet there were no relatives there who could help defray expenses. Dovre was not a wealthy community and there were some bad agricultural years around 1860. The lack of relatives and acquaintances in America could also act as a psychological barrier. The decision to break loose was more serious when there was no one a person could go to. And then came the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, which discouraged emigration during those years.

Collectively these factors might explain in part why no one from Dovre is known to have found his way to America before 1866. But from then on the thought of going to America was alive in the community; the road had been discovered and there were many to take it.

The question of how the idea of emigrating first arose is not as relevant for Dovre as for districts where the movement began earlier. There was much mobility in the community and it was undoubtedly common knowledge that people from communities farther south and elsewhere in the country were leaving for America. Furthermore, local newspapers contained much material about the New World. Few issues failed to offer articles under such titles as "American Conditions" and "Oil Wells in America and Canada," or simply letters from emigrants. {11} Even though Lillehammer Tilskuer (Lillehammer Observer), which was then the only newspaper in Gudbrandsdalen, tried to discourage emigration, it did print information about the western continent. Whether this particular material reached the people of Dovre is not known, since the subscription lists from those years are missing.

In 1862 the United States Congress passed the Homestead Act, which granted settlers 160 acres practically free; this promise of land undoubtedly sounded attractive to people living on skimpy soil in narrow mountain valleys. And after the Civil War the construction of great railroad systems began, which created countless jobs for skilled and unskilled laborers. With such allurements one could expect that some young men would make up their minds to leave. This happened in 1866 when the brothers Johannes and Niels Taarud and Johan Larsen Haugen set off for America. The two brothers from Taarud were horse traders who undoubtedly had traveled widely and could thus have caught the America fever in communities farther south. Now when someone had led the way it was easier for others to follow, and at least fifty years were to elapse before the people of Dovre - young and old - lost their desire to embark for America.

One may ask: what was the nature of this mass emigration? How many and how large a percentage of the population left? And who was it that emigrated? More men than women, young or old, singly or in groups? What were their occupations in Norway and what social groups did they represent? How many left and how large a percentage of the population they constituted will be shown in the following table:

Table 2: Emigrants from Dovre in absolute numbers, and emigrants
per 1000 of the median population, 1866-1914 {12}

Years Absolute number Per 1000 of median population
1866-1870 100 8.1
1871-1875 21 1.7
1876-1880 95 8.2
1881-1885 213 18.8
1886-1890 156 13.7
1891-1895 123 11.3
1896-1900 43 3.8
1901-1905 155 12.8
1906-1910 41 2.8
1911-1914 19  
1866-1914 966  

By studying the table one finds that the emigration movement during the period covered divides into three quite well-defined waves or periods: 1866-1875, 1876-1895, and 1896-1914. The crests of the waves were reached in 1869, 1881, and 1903, respectively, while the low points came near 1875 and 1895. Similar wavelike movements appear in emigration figures for Norway as a whole, with high and low points generally falling during the same years in all areas. But the size of the waves naturally varies from district to district.

Until about 1890 Kristians amt was the county with the highest emigration rate in Norway. {13} Within this county the southern part of Gudbrandsdalen had more emigration than the northern part until 1895 or so, presumably because the movement began earlier there. After 1885 emigration from the north increased, but the rate for Dovre is lower than for northern Gudbrandsdalen as a whole during the period studied, even though it is higher than the national average. The rate for Dovre is especially low during the first wave of emigration - only about half as high as in the whole district and barely one-third of the rate in southern Gudbrandsdalen. This can undoubtedly be explained in part by the factors discussed above: other outlets were temporarily more attractive, and emigration may have been too costly a venture at the time.


A total of 940 emigrants departed from Dovre. Of these 542, or 56 percent, were men, but seen in five-year periods the picture varies considerably.

Table 3. Males among emigrants from Dovre compared with percentage
of males among emigrants from all Norwegian rural communities

Number of Dovre males
Percentage of males
Percentage of males
among emigrants from all rural communities

The table tells us that more men than women emigrated from Dovre during all the five-year periods through 1885, but that from 1886 until 1900 women were in a majority. After the turn of the century, however, men were again in the lead. Relatively fewer men departed from Dovre than from the rural communities as a whole during most of the years covered. In contrast to Dovre, women were never in a majority in the other areas as a whole. It is interesting to notice that the male proportion of the emigrant stream from Dovre was greatest during the first five-year period of each emigrant wave and during the time when the emigration rates were at their highest: 1866-1870, 1881-1885, and 1901-1905.

One major tendency in the emigration movement, then, can be summed up by stating that more men than women emigrated, they left earlier, and they continued to emigrate over a longer period of time. It also seems that relatively more men than women decided to leave during those years when emigration was at its height: around 1869, 1881, and 1903. If the two sexes had been motivated by the same factors, then the percentage of men in the emigrant stream should have remained about constant. But there are noticeable variations and the male percentage is highest during the periods of greatest emigration. There apparently were some factors which had an especially accelerating influence on the men.

One such factor might be the situation on the labor market. Difficulty of securing jobs would present a greater problem for men than for women. They would have to provide for a family - or at least for themselves. Generally speaking, such responsibilities did not rest as heavily on women. Hence, stringent times on the labor market would naturally have a stronger impact on men's decisions to emigrate. Factors might also be cited which would have a restraining effect on the emigration of women. The positions traditionally open for girls in cities and on large farms were in domestic service. These jobs were poorly paid, so it was more difficult for a woman than for a man to finance passage to America. Furthermore, these jobs were not as sensitive to market fluctuations as were jobs held by unskilled male laborers. This might explain why the number of female emigrants did not vary as much as did the figures for men. Another cause might be that fathers of families made the decision to leave when the emigration mechanism was most active, and only some years later could they afford to send for wife and children. This situation holds true, however, for only a few men from Dovre. Or it might be that single women decided to leave only when they had male relatives in America, such as brothers or grown-up sons, and that their departure consequently was an aftereffect of prior male emigration.

The phenomenon found in Dovre of highest male departures at the beginning of each emigration wave also holds for Norway in general. According to the reasoning offered by Norway's central bureau of statistics, it is especially men who take the initiative to emigrate because the factors that stimulate emigration affect young, unattached men first. When the emigrant stream has continued for a while women tend more and more to join the flow, in part because of encouragement from the previously emigrated male relatives and in part because the movement, as it proceeds, gradually assumes the nature of a family migration. {14}
Since this effect is especially noticeable in the second wave of emigration from Dovre, one may ask whether the women who left during the last part of this movement had some particular connections with the men who had left in the early part of it. Any such connections would help to explain why the number of women, relatively speaking, was largest during the period immediately following the crest years.

Before attempting to answer this question other facets of the emigration movement should be examined. What, for instance, was the age distribution among the various emigrant groups?

The largest number of emigrants fall into the age-group of 15 to 29 years - from Dovre no less than 59.4 percent. This group was particularly dominant during the years following the turn of the century. The next largest group consists of children under the age of fifteen. They are concentrated particularly around the crest years of the two first waves and from Dovre they are also heavily represented during the 1890s, but after the turn of the century there are scarcely any children among the emigrants. The age-group of 30 to 44 years seems to be fairly equally represented throughout the whole period except for a decline after 1900. The number of people beyond the age of 45 is always small and -like the number of children - declines toward the end of the period. No doubt it was hard for an older person to set out on so strenuous a journey. But there seems to be a slight increase in the number of older emigrants in the early 1890s, thus duplicating the pattern set by children. This might indicate that both children and older people were dependent upon others; thus they fall into a category classed as group emigration, which will be examined a little later.

In studying the age-composition of the emigrant movement one notices that the early years of the mass migration are characterized by the departure of families, which means that there is a large concentration of children and elderly people. This is especially true of the first wave. The later years, in contrast, are characterized by the emigration of young people - particularly after the turn of the century. It is also true that some of the emigrants had a tendency to give incorrect information when asked about their age. Two groups frequently misstated their ages: older people seem to have had a weakness for round figures such as 50, 55, 60 - possibly because they were not certain about their age or otherwise found it convenient to give a round number; and many children are given too low an age, no doubt because the price of a ticket varied with the age of the child.

The proportion of married people seems to have been greatest near the crests of the emigration waves, that is, from 1866 to 1870, around 1880, and immediately after the turn of the century. In fact, fifty percent of the adult emigrants from Dovre were married people during the five-year period, 1876-1880. Coupled with the fact that child emigration was also heaviest at the crests of the waves, it might be concluded that family migrations reached their highest proportion during the culminating years of the various emigration movements. Near the end of the period studied, however, the number of married people declined greatly. This agrees with the previous finding that toward the outbreak of the First World War the emigration movement became more and more a youth movement.

An analysis of the material shows that six more married men than married women emigrated from Dovre. No less than twenty-two of these married people appear to have gone over singly, and there is no information concerning their spouses. Of the twenty-two who emigrated alone, fourteen were men and eight were women. This may mean that the other spouse did not leave. In one case the husband is known to have abandoned his family. More likely, however, it means that the missing spouses mentioned some other community as their point of departure and so were not included in the statistics for Dovre. The rest were married couples of which both spouses are known to have emigrated. Of these, sixty-five couples went together while twelve went separately. As regards the twelve latter couples, the husband generally went across first, presumably to earn passage money for the rest of the family.

What has been learned so far, then, about the composition of the emigrant groups from Dovre?

With the exception of a few years, men outnumbered women throughout the whole emigration period. Men dominated strongly during the first years of each wave, while women tended to be more evenly distributed. The young, between the ages of 15 and 29, always predominated and this dominance increased strongly during the last phase of the movement. The number of children and older people - the ones most dependent on others -was greatest during the 1890s and declined toward the end of the period.

There seems therefore to be a relationship between the emigration of children and elderly people; during the 1890s the number of women who went to America was also relatively large. Can there be a connection here? A possible explanation may be that men - especially the younger ones who were the most mobile - were most likely to emigrate during the early crest years of each wave, whereas women, children, and older people were less mobile and conditions would have to be more favorable, less risky, before they determined to leave. But when a number of younger men over a period of years had gone out from the community and thus prepared the way, then it was easier for less venturesome groups to follow in their wake. This early departure on the part of men must have acted as a particularly strong pull on relatives who were left behind. People who had a husband, a father, or an adult son or brother in the United States would find the idea of leaving home less challenging. This mechanism would be most active during the latter part of the emigration wave after men had prepared the way.

Support for this theory can perhaps be found by analyzing how many groups left during the various periods. It seems reasonable to assume that children, older people, and women tended to travel collectively. If it can be established that the number of groups was large during the years when many women, children, and old people emigrated and if at the same time it can be proven that a large number of those who left were related to earlier emigrants, then there would be reason to believe that the above theory is correct.

A "group" is defined here as those persons who traveled on a joint ticket. This is not a wholly satisfactory definition. Children might, for instance, go on a joint ticket while the parents might have individual tickets. Hence this conception may not include all groups who by kinship or other reasons belong together, but with the sources used it was not possible to find other unambiguous criteria.

Table 4. The number of emigrant groups from Dovre per five-year
period, and the percentage of emigrants who left in groups.

Number of groups
Number of people who left in groups
Total number of emigrants
Percentage of emigrants who left in groups

The number of groups is largest during those years when emigration is greatest, which is natural. The size of the groups, which varied from two to ten, was largest (3.6) during the earliest wave, from 1866 to 1875. It should be noted that the number of groups continued large during the two five-year periods following the crest period 1881-1885. While the number of emigrants in 1891-1895 was scarcely more than half the number ten years earlier, the number of groups had dropped by only one-third. Similarly, the proportion of emigrants who left in groups during 1891-1895 was considerably larger during the immediately preceding and following five-year periods. Thus, group migration is seen to have been heavy during the years when many children, women, and older people emigrated, in terms of both the number of groups and the number of emigrants who traveled in groups.

By examining all the 147 groups it was found that in 126 (85 percent) of them there were at least two people who were close relatives, either brothers and sisters or children and parents or spouses. Thus the groups were to a large degree family groups. The next problem was to discover whether these family groups had connections with emigrants such as fathers, husbands, brothers, or Sons who had left during the earlier years of the emigration wave.

It is especially the five-year period 1891-1895 which will be examined, because this is the period in which the composition of the emigrant groups answers this question most clearly. Of all the people who left during this period 63 percent (78 of 123) had near relatives among earlier emigrants; and of the twenty-three groups which left during this period, there are only four in which no one had near relatives among earlier emigrants. Of one of the four groups the numbers can not be identified. In two of the groups young men were accompanied by their mothers, and in the fourth group there are two unaccompanied young sisters. Thus the three last groups all include members who would be less dependent than most upon possible relatives or acquaintances in the United States.

These findings should go to substantiate the theory propounded earlier that kinship was an important motivating factor among the people who would be expected to travel in groups, namely children, women, and elderly people.

There was some variation in the composition of the groups. All the groups have been examined and classified into the following types:

1. Married women with children
2. Married couples (or widowed people) with or without children
3. Siblings
4. Other related individuals, such as unwed mothers with children or adult children in company with parents
5. Individuals not related by blood

Table 5. Types of groups from Dovre per five-year period

Years Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5 Total
1866-1870 -- 6 1 1 4 12
1871-1875 -- 2 -- 1 1 4
1876-1880 2 10 3 1 2 18
1881-1885 7 14 5 5 3 34
1886-1890 1 8 8 5 6 28
1891-1895 4 10 7 5 -- 26
1896-1900 -- 2 -- -- 2 4
1901-1905 2 10 6 3 -- 21
1906-1910 1 -- -- -- 1 2
1911-1914 -- -- -- -- -- --
Total 17 62 30 21 19 149

There is a concentration of type 1 - married women with children - during the periods 1881-1885 and 1891-1895. The first crest can easily be explained because it coincided with a period of exceptionally heavy emigration from Dovre. The second crest must be seen as a manifestation of the growing tendency noted above toward group emigration during 1891-1895 following a heavy departure of men early in the period. Sixteen of the seventeen married women counted as leaving singly with children apparently had husbands who had emigrated earlier, but only eleven of these have been identified. The rest of the husbands may have had jobs at the time of departure in other communities and given them as their home address.

The length of time which elapsed between the departures of the husbands and the wives varied all the way from one to twelve years, with the most common being from one to three years. In one case it was the wife who went across first, accompanied by one son of eighteen and another only two years old. Later she wrote to friends in Dovre asking for help to sell the little farm she had left behind her. "I wish that the remainder could be used to pay travel expenses for my husband and Oline, together with Ole and Syver [Oline's children]. Dear Hans and Marie, try to arrange this, for I am so anxious to get my husband and children over here with me." {15} The general rule was, however, that the husband went across first in order to earn sufficient money to buy tickets for the rest of the family.

Type 2, married couples or widowed people, possibly with children, was the dominant type of group throughout the period, no less than 61 out of 149 (45 percent). There seem to have been especially many such groups during the early years. The figures for Dovre are small but the tendency is the same for the whole country. It would seem natural for families to stick together at a time when difficulties were at their greatest and when there were as yet few contacts in America.

Among the sixty-two groups of type 2 there were seventeen couples who were unaccompanied by children, which left forty-five couples or widowed people with a total of 114 children. Of these sixty-two families there were thirty-six who had near relatives in America such as brothers or sisters of husband or wife, parents, or adult children. Especially after 1885 many of the families - twenty-four out of thirty - had near relatives among earlier emigrants.

Groups of type 3 - siblings traveling together - were most numerous during the 1880s and 1890s. A pair of siblings composed each of the thirty groups in this type, or a total of sixty people. Fifteen of the groups, rather evenly distributed over the period, had relatives among earlier emigrants. These were unmarried, mobile young people who were less dependent on relatives than were members of certain other groups. As a matter of fact, it was often people of this type who became contact persons for later family groups.

Groups of type 4 occurred most commonly during the two five-year periods from 1885 until 1895. Thirteen of these groups consisted of unmarried mothers with children while eight consisted of adults accompanied by a parent. In spite of the fact that only four of the unmarried mothers had near relatives in the United States, the social stigma of having had children out of wedlock may have induced them to emigrate. Among the eight groups consisting of an unmarried adult accompanied by a father or mother, highly mobile people who brought along a widowed parent, only three were found who had emigrated relatives. As the leaders of these groups were young people one may assume that they felt they could make their way in the new land without depending on relatives.

The groups in type 5 consisted almost exclusively of young unmarried people who for one reason or another chose to travel on a joint ticket. A total of thirty-nine people were included in the nineteen groups. Presumably they were close friends who had decided to emigrate together or there may have been distant relationships which were not registered in the sources at hand. In eleven of the nineteen groups of this type there was at least one person who had a near relative among earlier emigrants.

Some information is also available concerning the social background of the emigrants from Dovre. The sources reveal that members of the landowning class formed the largest share of the first wave of emigration - thirty-nine percent as compared with 22 percent from the cotter class, but in the second wave the cotters took the lead with 34 percent as against 26 percent for the independent landowners. The reasons for the increase in the cotter class may be twofold: passage had become cheaper and people now had relatives in the United States who could help with the tickets.

In conclusion one might generalize about emigration from Dovre after 1865 that it tended to spread from the center of the community to the outskirts, and that it was transformed from a family movement to a youth movement, thus also becoming largely a migration of individuals as compared with the earlier group migrations. And finally, the labor element, the proletarian strain, tended to become more marked, thus making it in a double sense a mass movement.


Certain factors will now be examined which tended to stimulate emigration or create variations from community to community once the fundamental causes were present. In other words, an answer to the second question posed at the beginning - why some specific time was chosen for emigrating - will be sought.

If one could ask every emigrant why he or she left, a wide variety of answers would result. The causes were complex and diverse. In his book Emigrasjon og diktning (1971) Jørund Mannsåker has analyzed a wide spectrum of motives for emigration as they found expression in Norwegian literature. {16} It was primarily the fight against poverty that caused people to leave, but arrogance on the part of the ruling element in society could also drive out lesser folk. Civil and religious restrictions could also play a part - or the stigma attached to a child born out of wedlock might induce a young man or woman to leave the community.

In letters, emigrants explain in their own words why they left. Several of them mention the ready access to land in the United States as compared with Dovre and the relative ease of making money there. These economic causes were undoubtedly the most important for many people. This is also evident from answers to questionnaires the emigrants had to fill out when they signed travel contracts. The great majority of people from Dovre stated that they went to America in order to earn money or because they sought "more income."

But it is apparent from the letters that more personal matters often played a part. For example, a farmer's son felt the sting of community gossip because he "had become friendly with a poor girl" so strongly that it clearly contributed to his emigration.

When social conditions in Norway were such that many people saw no economic future for themselves at home, or if they felt themselves oppressed and at the same time had some knowledge of America, then they were potential emigrants. The only push then needed might be some more exact information about conditions over there which could be provided either by emigrated relatives who were urging them to come to a land of greater opportunities or by the wealth of promotional literature distributed throughout Norway. These factors will be examined more closely.

How could people in a community like Dovre, for instance, secure information about conditions in America? The most important source of knowledge was undoubtedly letters from people who had left. Since through the years a considerable number of people had emigrated from Dovre, leaving relatives and friends behind, numerous "America letters" must have been sent back to the community. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how many letters were sent. Very few of them have survived, but from those that have, one can get some idea of the type of information they provided concerning life in their new homeland.

Naturally the emigrants wrote about labor conditions in the United States - the possibilities of securing work and the wages received. Once they got a homestead they wrote about farming methods and the price of their produce. There was also considerable comment about social, religious, and political affairs which were different from those in Norway. The America letters had a double function. First, of course, they were a means of keeping up contacts with those at home, but in so doing they also spread information about America and thus influenced potential emigrants. Very likely letters were the most important source of information which people in Norway had about conditions in the New World.

Another source was the newspapers, but it is uncertain how many readers they reached. They cost money, and not every family in a poor community could afford to spend for such a luxury. There was, however, no lack of material about America and emigration in the newspapers. Lillehammer Tilskuer was the only newspaper in Gudbrandsdalen until 1883, when Husmanden (The Cotter) appeared. During the 1860s the Tilskuer frequently contained articles with such titles as "A Bit of Information for Travelers to America," "Conditions in New York," and "Railroad Worker's Life in Western America." {17}

The editors were plainly opposed to emigration but this did not prevent the frequent appearance of advertisements from emigration agents and shipping companies. Railroad companies in the United States and shipowners who transported people across the ocean developed a very active apparatus for enlisting emigrants, which was aimed at Norway in the form of an extensive advertising campaign. During the 1870s and 1880s there were fewer articles about emigration but a growing volume of advertisements. And the advertisers spared no arguments in order to secure passengers. "Our line carries neither cattle nor Irishmen," declared, for instance, an announcement by the North German Lloyd Line. {18}

There were also advertisements by Norwegian Americans who were home for a visit. They offered to act as guides: "those who wish to emigrate can secure sound information and good travel companions." {19} Very likely these Norwegian Americans received commissions from shipping companies for recruiting passengers. An announcement in the Lillehammer Tilskuer of 1883, for example, reads as follows: "Americans at home for a visit can obtain free return tickets and highest commissions by immediately getting in contact with the main ticket office of the Thingvalla Line in Christiania. {20}

In the sources covering Dovre a total of twenty-seven persons were found who left for America twice; they evidently had been home for a visit. There are no indications that any of them actively campaigned for emigrants, but several of the men were accompanied by many neighbors on their return trip. And at least three of them got married while they were at home, became fathers, and took a family back to America with them. In late May, 1879, a group of sixty-one persons from Dovre left for America, and among them was one Norwegian American. And again in May, 1892, another group of thirty-seven were entered in the emigrant protocol, including an American who had been home on a visit. Other such groups left in the spring of 1900, 1902, and 1903.

It can not be said with certainty that these Norwegian Americans were the cause of so many people emigrating from Dovre in their company. But they can serve as an illustration of the so-called "Yankee system," that is, the shipping companies making use of returned Norwegian Americans to recruit emigrants. It is not unreasonable to assume that people who were thinking of emigrating would gladly accept the opportunity of accompanying someone who was already an experienced traveler.

Even though Norwegian Americans may not have engaged actively in the recruiting business in Dovre, undoubtedly agents of various types did. General agents were commissioned by various steamship lines to recruit passengers for their vessels; they in turn had sub-agents operating throughout the country. In 1881, for instance, there were thirteen general agents registered in Christiania, who had a combined total of 6,254 sub-agents distributed throughout Norway. {21} To be sure, the same person might serve as sub-agent for several general agents, so the number of agents was not actually as great as the list would indicate. Nevertheless, the figures prove that the system was well organized and must have played an important role in furthering emigration at the time.

In Gudbrandsdalen most of the general agents had at least one sub-agent in each community. For instance, A. Sharpe, the agent for the Allan Line, had a total of thirty-eight sub-agents in Gudbrandsdalen during 1881-1882, three of whom were in Dovre.

There were eleven persons in Dovre who together represented ten agents or shipping companies. Some of these sub-agents served as representatives of several general agents. The sexton in the community, for instance, was in the employ of seven companies; and between them the eleven persons referred to represented twenty-one separate assignments. Such positions were usually held by prominent people in the community. Besides the sexton, a station master and a merchant were also active as sub-agents in Dovre.

Information about America, whether factual or propagandistic, unquestionably weighed heavily when a person was considering emigration. But it must have been still more important for the prospective emigrant to know that he had relatives or close friends across the Atlantic who would welcome him and help him adapt to a new way of life.

The source material from Dovre shows that many of the emigrants had contacts when they arrived in the United States because either they themselves or someone in their company had near relatives there. Of the total number of emigrants from Dovre half had been preceded by relatives. In the late 1860s every fifth emigrant had a near relative in the United States, while by the turn of the century three emigrants out of four had relatives to receive them.

Thus though 50 percent of all the emigrants from Dovre had been preceded by relatives, an even larger percentage had contacts in the United States because they were in the company of others who had relatives there. Of all those who traveled in groups 59 percent either had relatives in the United States or were accompanied by people who had. But there undoubtedly were many more who had close contacts in America. Only such immediate relatives as parents, children, or siblings have been considered here, not more distant relatives such as cousins, aunts, and uncles. But such connections might also be of great help when a person arrived in a strange land. Furthermore, there undoubtedly were many emigrants who had contacts with friends rather than blood relatives. Social bonds in a small community like Dovre were widely ramified through friendships and relationships and the fact of having friends or relatives in America was surely a major consideration when people decided to emigrate.

This line of reasoning raises the question whether the difference between the emigration of families and the emigration of individuals is as significant as many scholars would seem to imply. {22} Certainly there were many emigrants who went unaccompanied by close relatives, and their situation would differ in various respects from that of others who traveled as a closely-knit family group. But most individual emigrants seem to have been accompanied by friends, or preceded or followed later by members of their own family. Thus they also were part of a family migration except that the family did not leave as a unit.

What was the actual journey to America like? How much did it cost and how was it financed? And what were the objectives of those who made it?

After the American Civil War most of the emigrants went by steamship. The transportation of emigrants gradually became big business and several shipping companies flourished as a result. Some firms like the White Star Line, the Allan Line, the Inman Line, and the American Line were based largely on this type of traffic. The Danish Thingvalla Line was also very active during the height of the emigration movement, but Norway did not get its own company until 1910 when the Norwegian America Line was founded.

About 20 percent of the total number of emigrants from Dovre went with the Allan Line while 17 percent and 12 percent went with the White Star Line and the Thingvalla Line respectively. The rest were distributed among the other lines. Toward the end of the century, the White Star Line forged ahead and carried about 50 percent of the emigrants from Dovre up to the outbreak of World War I.

Spring was the favorite season for leaving. The journey was long and there were many things which would have to be set in order on the new homestead before the coming of winter. It was well to have the whole summer in which to plan and labor. During the emigration period as a whole more than 70 percent of the emigrants left during the months of April, May and June. And of these, May was easily the favorite. Between 1880 and 1900, for instance, more than 50 percent of all emigrants from Dovre chose that month for departure.

The cost of the trip naturally depended on how far inland one was going, and the price of tickets varied somewhat from shipping company to shipping company. In 1867, for example, passage to New York on a sailing ship cost 14 speciedaler or 56 kroner. By 1880 the price on a steamship had increased to 110 kroner; some ten years later it was reduced to a little less than 100 kroner, only to rise again after the turn of the century. A trip to southern Minnesota cost 210 kroner in 1868-1869; this price remained constant until around 1890 when it was reduced to about 170 kroner. By 1910, however, the price had risen to about 250 kroner. Tickets to the Dakotas cost a little more than to Minnesota.

There seems thus to have been some variation in the price of tickets, with a marked decline in the early 1890s. A more thorough study done in Denmark shows that prices decreased between 1866 and 1893. This supports the findings here, since the same shipping companies operated in the two countries. {23} It is interesting to note that this price reduction coincided with the heavy emigration around 1893. The present sources were too limited to furnish proof of a connection between these two phenomena; but it would be reasonable to conclude that a decline in prices was one of the factors which caused an increase in emigration. In Denmark this reduction in prices coincided with an increase in real wages. Whether or not this was also true for Norway, it is true that more cotters and laborers emigrated during this period than previously - people who, it must be assumed, were financially harder pressed than independent landowners.

One may then ask: "How were the America journeys financed?" A substantial sum was involved if a whole family emigrated, even though children's tickets were lower in price. For instance, in 1879 a father taking his wife and five children to Minnesota would have to pay 1,207.80 kroner.

One source of income was the auctions which many emigrants held before departure. There they disposed of all private property which could find a buyer and which could not be taken with them. In the auction protocol kept by the sheriff of Dovre during the years 1870-1900 are found a total of fifteen families who held auctions before emigrating. The proceeds were not always sufficient to defray travel expenses, but in several instances land was presumably sold as well; other emigrants had likely set aside cash for this specific purpose.

Apparently it was also quite common to borrow money from well-situated citizens in order to pay for tickets. In a collection of America letters to a man in Dovre we learn that he had lent money to several emigrants, but when he ran into economic difficulties and tried to collect, he found that it was no easy matter. Furthermore, Norwegians who had established themselves in America were frequently approached by prospective emigrants seeking loans in the form of tickets. One such Norwegian American wrote in 1878: "I see in your letter that there are many who would like to come over to us, but that they lack the necessary money. Unfortunately, we are unable to send tickets to anyone at present because just now we are in the process of buying more land. Also we have had our fingers burned by those we have already brought across; and it seems as if we will have charges against them as long as we live. Practically all those who have helped people come here complain that they have been cheated. In that way some people spoil the chances for others." Undoubtedly there were difficulties both in obtaining and in redeeming loans.

Tickets from the United States, however, often did make emigration possible. Frequently a member of a family went across for the specific purpose of earning enough to send for the rest of the family. Others would ask friends in America to grant them loans in the form of tickets. Or some farmer in the Midwest might send a ticket to a young person in the home community and thus secure needed labor. More than 50 percent of the emigrants from Dovre traveled on such prepaid tickets. Very few of them - only about 5 percent - had prepaid tickets in the late 1860s; but after the mid 1880s well over 50 percent of the emigrants carried such tickets. As might be expected, a larger percentage - 60.3 percent - of those who had close relatives in the United States had prepaid tickets than of those -43.2 percent - who did not.

The Allan and the White Star lines together transported more than 50 percent of those who had prepaid tickets while they transported only 36.5 percent of the total number of emigrants from Dovre. Evidently the agents for these two lines in the United States were more active than the agents in Norway - at least during the period when the system with prepaid tickets was at its height.

Like Norwegian emigrants in general the emigrants from Dovre tended to list Wisconsin, Minnesota, or North Dakota as their destination - no less than 60 percent of the total; and of these states Minnesota, with 40 percent, was the strongest magnet. Some 6 percent gave other states as their destination while 5.5 percent were bound for Canada. 16.2 percent had tickets only to New York City, but presumably a majority of these were going farther west. Finally, there were 13.9 percent whose destination cannot be determined.

With the passing of time there was no particular change in the choice of destination, except that the Dakota Territory did not become prominent until about 1880, after which the region attracted many settlers -including about a hundred from Dovre. Most of them had tickets for the cities of Fargo or Grand Forks, which undoubtedly served as gateways to the Red River Valley. The newcomers seemed to thrive in North Dakota, which became a state in November, 1889. "We can not complain about Dakota," wrote a settler from Dovre, "because here it is so good to live that we can not demand anything better in any respect whatsoever."

The emigrants from Dovre arrived so late that there was hardly any land left for them in Wisconsin. Consequently only about seventy people from the community settled in that state, and most of them went to La Crosse, Eau Claire, Westby, Menomonie, and New Richmond - towns close to the Minnesota border. From correspondence between the brothers Tor and Paul Vigenstad, who had emigrated in 1868, it is learned that Paul had first settled in Wisconsin, but the brothers soon thought of going to Minnesota to obtain land. By 1873 Paul had bought a farm in the northwestern part of the state near Pelican Rapids because in the southern part of the state, "in Blue Earth, where most of our acquaintances live, all land has already been claimed."

Land could still be had in Minnesota when the people of Dovre began emigrating and that is where the greatest number of them went. At first most went to St. Paul and Rochester, but gradually they trekked farther west or north to Mankato, Madelia, New Ulm, Tracy, Benson, and Fergus Falls. Apparently the largest colonies settled in or near Madelia, Tracy, and Sacred Heart. Madelia and Tracy are located in the southwestern part of the state, while Sacred Heart is a small town in Renville county north of the Minnesota River. And it should not be forgotten that the Dovre settlers had their own little town of Dovray in Mower county in southeastern Minnesota - so named by Niels Taarud, one of the first three emigrants from Dovre. {24}

All told, about 380 people from the community went to Minnesota, but additional settlers may have moved there from other states, Wisconsin especially, and some no doubt left the state for North Dakota or other western areas.

Very few emigrants from Dovre went to other destinations than the ones just mentioned. After 1880, a few went to Chicago and some to Boston. Also there were about fifty who had tickets to Canada but some of these may have gone on to Minnesota or North Dakota. It can be concluded that there were no Dovre settlements of consequence outside the boundaries of the states indicated.

No attempt will be made here to tell how fate dealt with the nearly one thousand emigrants who dared to break away from the home community in the hope of winning a richer future under new and challenging circumstances. Were their dreams fulfilled and were they well rewarded for the toil and tears which went into the building of their new homesteads? There is no fully satisfactory answer to these questions. But it is at least certain that their lives were in many respects radically altered. It is equally certain that this great drainage of human power from a small mountain community had effects on the region and the people who continued to live there - effects which have made themselves felt up to our own time.


A few excerpts from letters which Dovre emigrants sent back to their home community will conclude this study. These letters reveal the thoughts which occupied the emigrants and their attitudes toward life in the New World. But first and foremost - better than any other historical sources - these America letters give us a feeling of having personally met and talked with the early emigrants.

In the first letter sent home the emigrant naturally wrote about the journey over, as in the following two letters, one from 1868, the other from 1891.

"Dear Brother,
"I will now tell you what it was like during the trip. I was well all the time, for which I can not sufficiently thank the Lord. From Christiania to Hull took three days. In Hull we were well treated. From there we went by train to Liverpool, where we were treated worse than swine. On the twentieth we boarded the steamer Virginia which was to take us to Paradise. And now I will describe how it was aboard. When we got on the ship we were chased to the rear deck where we had to stand many hours before we were allowed below deck again. In the morning we got a small loaf of bread about as large as the piece of cheese we used to get at the seter when we were kids. At noon we got three small potatoes and, usually, two small pieces of meat; at supper we again got bread and a bit of butter. I have never before been so plagued with thirst. For three days we had such a storm that the waves washed over the deck and the ship drifted on the waves like a feather in the wind. On the twenty-fourth when we were going to bed we had to hang on with both hands; and everything loose crashed in all directions, so you can imagine how I felt. We did not get on a mail ship as we had paid for, but were put aboard a two-decked freighter which was nineteen days in crossing. In New York we stayed one night. From New York we went by train westward, but things did not go according to expectation. We were delayed four days because the railroad track was damaged. We bought tickets from St. Paul to Mankato where we arrived at night and slept beside a wood pile." {25}

"Dear Aunt,
"During the trip everything went well. We were not very sick. There was a day on the Atlantic when we had a bad storm so that the waves swept in on the deck and then we were a bit sick. We were eight and a half days on the Atlantic and then two and a half days more on land. When we came to the railway station at Necedah and were to get off we could not see anything which might be a town or anyone we knew. So we went to one of the conductors and said: 'We wonder if Necedah is here'. 'Necedah, Necedah' he answered because he could not speak any Norwegian." {26}

The long journey in itself was a great experience for people who had probably never before been much beyond the boundaries of their home community. No wonder they told about it at such length in their letters. Later the emigrants wrote about what kind of jobs were available, about working conditions, and about the wages they received for their labor, as in the next two letters.

Texas, May 13, 1871

"The daily wages here for work on the road go from 2 dollars to 2½ and board is 15 dollars per month. The pay on farms is 25 dollars and at the brick works 30 to 35 dollars. You will likely ask: 'But are not the wages higher?' To that I will answer: 'Yes, a good worker can earn from 3½ to 4 dollars per day and besides be his own master.'" {27}

Necedah, April 18, 1892

"I work on a railroad which passes a short way from my home. It is near enough that I am able to sleep and get my food at home. I receive 32 dollars per month. We begin working at 7 in the morning and keep on until 12. Then dinner, and at 1 o'clock we are at it again and work until 6; then we are free. Ten hours of work and no rest periods. Keep on all the time. I must take my dinner pail along to work. The work day is not long but tough." {28}

Not everyone was equally fortunate in securing a job.

Waseca, October 3, 1869

"On the day I arrived I got a job at 30 dollars per month and free board. As there were so many acquaintances here it did not occur to me nor could I imagine that there would be any trouble about getting paid. I stayed here more than two months so I had 70 dollars coming. As there was so much wrangling about getting the money, which was almost impossible for a newcomer who did not know the language, I stopped working, since I did not want to go on in this hit-or-miss fashion. When I left I was given 10 dollars out of what I had coming. I will have to wait for the rest until fall when the mill closes. Whether or not I will get anything then, I do not know." {29}

Working conditions were often unfamiliar to Norwegians coming to the hot summers in the midwestern and southern states.

Spring Prairie, February, 1869

"During July and August it was so warm where I worked that I am tempted to believe it could not have been hotter for Ole to cook the mush in winter at Runtum than it was where I worked. I could hardly breathe and I was so scorched that I was as dry as birch bark. There were about forty of us who worked in a sand pit. Usually all of us were in the pit in the morning but toward evening only about half of us were left. One day there were only six left. That day I could not work past 3 o'clock, and when I was to go home, I could hardly walk that far." {30}

Those who wrote home were by no means always uncritical of conditions in the new homeland. The myth of the Norwegian American who always bragged about America finds little support in the letters. On the contrary, as in the next two letters, they are often quite critical and concerned about telling what they consider to be the truth.

Waseca, October 30, 1869

"I have travelled through a large part of America and talked with many Norwegians, some of whom have been here a long time and some only a short while. But very few of them are well satisfied. I can honestly say that I do not understand where those people who write so very glitteringly back to our fatherland get their information because hardly a tenth part of it is true. And every day we hear loud complaints from people who claim that they have been fooled and cheated by friends and acquaintances. I know that altogether too many people in my home community, even some in good circumstances, go around pregnant with fantasies about America. If they had seen what I have seen and known what I know, then they would get rid of these notions. I can also honestly say that if everyone in Norway, whatever his position, used both his time and his means with such industry as they do here in America then conditions in Norway would be different. This I have also heard said many times by solid farmers who have been here a long time." {31}

Necedah, February 15, 1886

"I have often wished myself in Norway as the owner of a good little farm. If a family man is to live fairly well here he has to work beyond his strength; and another thing - here it is too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer. There are more sickly people in America than anyone knows. But if they had been in Norway they would have been well because the climate here is not the same as in Norway. I would advise anyone who has a farm and is well-off to keep what he has and not come to America. A bird in the hand is better than ten on the roof. If the farmers in Norway would employ more laborers there would not be so many poor people who have to beg their bread from door to door. Twice as many people could be fed if only the soil were better cultivated." {32}

Letters from relatives who had emigrated earlier could often be the factor which induced people to leave for America. Below is a letter in which a man uses the standard arguments to encourage his young brother to join him; it also contains some information as to how the trip might be financed.

Necedah, December 2, 1877

"I will now include a few words to you, my dear brother, and ask sincerely if you have a desire to come to America. If so, you must not deliberate longer than next spring because you will soon be of the age for military service. So it is high time that you come next spring if you so desire. You can earn more in two months here than you can in Norway in a whole year. You may stay with me when we are not working away from here and I will help you the best I can. Dear father, you must help Ole with some money. You must sell a couple of cattle and grant him a loan. I will help so we can repay you as soon as we have earned enough. I have no money to send now because I bought four cattle last fall. Last summer I lost a cow which cost me thirty dollars. You must write soon and not delay because I long very much to hear whether you are coming in the spring."

But the decision to leave for America was a serious one. It was not easy to return to Norway once a person had made the break - and the journey was long and costly. Anyone who thought of such a venture ought to consider it long and well, as the next letter advises.

Miner, March 11, 1897

"Olianna told me that you were thinking of coming to America. Even though I would be very happy to see you again, I don't want to advise you one way or the other. That would be dangerous, I believe. Everyone should decide for himself. I know you must be lonely now, so it would be more pleasant for you to be with your brothers and sisters if you would like it here. But it also is sad to be so far away from home if one is not contented. You must not take it amiss that I write this way to you. I am not saying that you should not come here, but I do not want to have it on my conscience that I fooled anyone into coming to America."

Not everyone could feel at home in the new land. The cotters Ole Jørgensen and Anne Olsdatter, both about sixty years of age, emigrated to America in 1891 together with their son Andreas and their daughter Anna. Their son Ole had preceded them by eight years. It was not easy for the older people to adapt themselves to the new surroundings, especially not for Anne. Below is the first letter old Ole sent home after his arrival in America:

"As I have the opportunity today I will take time to inform you about how things are here. The land is not as good as we had heard, and I believe that few who write tell the truth. It seems that those who want to live here must work much harder than in Norway, both the rich and the poor. I work on the farm. I have five horses and eighteen cattle to take care of. I have enough work all the time and thank God for having been in good health since I came here. But my wife is in a sad state because she can not feel at home. If her spirits do not improve with time, then I believe that she must be sent back to Norway in the spring. It would be senseless to let her go on weeping here all the days of her life."

And the son Andreas mentions in several of his letters how unhappy his mother is:

November 22, 1891

"Father and Mother will have much to do this winter. They will have seventeen or eighteen cattle and five horses to care for. Ole has a good farm and a beautiful house, but Mother is so unhappy that she only wishes herself back in Norway. If things do not get better with Mother we will have to send her back to Norway in a year or two. But I hope that she will come to like it better because she can have everything so good here. She has a fine house, such as she so often wished for in Norway. Conditions are better here than in Norway, at least for a laborer; so I do not wish myself back at Lien again."

April 18, 1892

"Mother is not happy here - only wishes herself back in Norway. She weeps all the time. There is nothing else to do: we must send her back next spring. I must go with her if I am still alive and in good health, for I do not want to see Mother go around like this. I believe I will have enough money so that I can easily make such a trip. It turned out to be a sad affair for our parents, this America journey which we undertook."

But old Anne never did get back to Norway. Most of the emigrants remained in the new land for good. They acquired land which they cultivated, and then wrote home about their crops and herds of cattle - and the prices. Also they wrote about misfortunes that struck them, about grasshoppers which left the fields bare, about prairie fires and floods. They wrote about all the new and odd things they saw and experienced, all the new people they came in contact with, and the unfamiliar climate. Gradually the emigrants adapted to the new conditions and felt themselves to be Americans. They were assimilated into the new society, and commented in letters to the people back home about social and political conditions in the new country, conditions which seemed strange to lower-class people from Norway.

Necedah, December 2, 1877

"We are very well satisfied here so I do not regret that I came to America. It is a good thing that everybody here has the same rights - the poor as well as the rich. Everyone has the right to vote for officials; yes, even for the highest official in the land, namely the President. I have voted many a time, but the likes of me had no such rights in Norway. Here you do not need to lift your cap if you meet a pastor or a sheriff."

November 9, 1884

"Here in America we had a presidential election on the 4th of November - the same day all over the country. But we do not know yet which party won, whether the Republicans or the Democrats, because it is claimed that our opponents, the Democrats, have cheated in the election. So I believe and hope that they will lose because they have chosen a poor candidate for President. They are always full of fraud. They favor free trade, with no tariff on imported wares. And who will profit from free trade? It will be England and Germany - because they can make things cheaper than the Americans can. But who will have to make up the revenue that will be lost? We laboring people will have to pay for it in the long run."

In the late 1890s there was an economic depression in the United States which coincided with relatively good times in Norway. When letters came home telling how difficult things were in the United States the emigration movement came to a temporary halt.

"Times here are peculiar. The country is full of wheat and overflowing with all sorts of provisions, but still famine is threatening in the big cities because the laboring class can not find work and consequently can not buy food even though it is low in price. We can by no means blame God for these hard times in America, for he has always blessed the land with rich harvests; but the fault lies with the president and his government, and with the capitalists."

In a series of letters from an old woman are found comments about several of the great events which occurred near the turn of the century - the depression in the United States during the late 1890s, the Spanish-American War in 1898, and World War I - as they appeared to her in the little town of Tracy, Minnesota. When she learned that women had been granted the right to vote in Norway she commented as follows:

"I don't know whether it will be good or bad for your community over there but our pastor says that if women were given the right to vote here they would drive out both saloons and houses of ill fame. In short, they would reform all America. But in this country women have not as yet got the right to vote because the men believe that if they did then the men would soon have to take the women's places and care for the houses and the children. It is not often that I laugh, but still I have to laugh a bit at that notion."

Most of those who emigrated did so because they believed that in America they would find better economic conditions for themselves and their dependents. They hoped to get farms of their own or to discover easier ways of making money. Whether their hopes were always realized is questionable. Many did undoubtedly lead richer lives than they had experienced in Norway even though in America they also had to work hard.

"We are pleased with having come to America because of the children. But we have certainly worked so hard since we came here that we would probably have been just as well off if we had simply remained in Norway. When the children are doing so well, however, we forget about our work and worry. Life is good to us now, God be praised! America has been a blessed land for the poor people who came here."


<1> The sources for these figures are the Norwegian national census reports and the church records for Dovre.

<2> Information concerning economic conditions was gathered from the Norwegian census reports covering the period 180 1-1865, in the National Archives in Oslo.

<3> Herredsbeskrivelse 68. Forslag til skytdlægning for Dovre herred, november, 1866, in the National Archives, Oslo.

<4> Ivar Kleiven, Lesja og Dovre (Kristiania, 1923), 78.

<5> Årbok for Gudbrandsdalen 1952 (Lillehammer, 1952), 62.

<6> Årbok for Gudbrandsdalen 1952, 62.

<7> Oplands-Tidende, May 8, 1839.

<8> Arne Odd Johnsen, "Johannes Nordboe and Norwegian Immigration, an 'America Letter' of 1837," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 8 (Northfield, Minnesota 1934), 23-38.

<9> Årbok for Gudbrandsdalen 1959 (Lillehammer, 1959), 170.

<10> NOS (Central Bureau of Statistics), Folkemengdens bevegelse 1856-1865 (Christiania, 1868-1869).

<11> Lillehammer Tilskuer, no. 34/1861 and no. 27/1862.

<12> These figures are drawn primarily from emigrant protocols for Oslo and Trondheim.

<13> The Valdres district had the highest emigration rate in the county of Oppland.

<14> Utvandringsstatistikk (Kristiania, 1921), 40.

<15> Letter from Marit Jordet, undated, in Sigurd Vadet's letter collection, Norsk historisk kjeldeskriftinstitutt, Oslo.

<16> Jørund Mannsåker, Emigrasjon og diktning (Oslo, 1971), 358.

<17> Lillehammer Tilskuer, no. 82/1866. no. 22/1865. no. 74/1867.

<18> Lillehammer Tilskuer, June 10, 1882.

<19> Lillehammer Tilskuer, February 4, 1882.

<20> Lillehammer Tilskuer, January 10, 1883.

<21> Christiania Politikammer, "Reisekontroll. Journal over agenter, 3. 1881-1882," in Regional Archives, Oslo.

<22> See, for instance, Sten Carisson, "Från familjutvandring till ensamutvandring," in Emigrationer. En bok til Vilhelm Moberg 20.8. 1968 (Stockholm, 1968), 101-122.

<23> Kristian Hvidt, "Informationsspredning og emigration med særskilt henblik på det atlantiske transportsystem," in Emigrationen fra Norden indtil 1. verdenskrig (Cophenhagen, 1971), 129-158.

<24> Information provided in letter to the author from Mrs. Gina Tostengard Granseth, August 11, 1972.

<25> Letter from 1868 in Ingebrigt Vigenstad's letter collection. Copies of all the letters quoted are in Norsk historisk kjeldeskriftinstitutt, Oslo, and in the archives of NAHA.

<26> Letter dated August 2, 1891, in Jakob T. Vigerust's letter collection.

<27> Letter dated May 13, 1871, in Ingebrigt Vigenstad's letter collection.

<28> Letter dated April 18, 1892, in Jacob T. Vigerust's letter collection.

<29> Letter dated October 3, 1869, in Per Kolstad's letter collection.

<30> Letter dated February 1, 1869, in Ingebrigt Vigenstad's letter collection.

<31> Letter dated October 30, 1869, in Per Kolstad's letter collection.

<32> This letter and all the following letters which are not otherwise identified are found in Jacob T. Vigerust's letter collection.


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