S.7 E.7: “I Go To America”

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alumna and Swedish immigration historian Joy Lintelman '80.
Posted on February 2nd, 2021 by

Historian Joy Lintelman, Gustavus Class of ’80 and Professor of History at Concordia College – Moorhead, on the life of Mina Anderson (the inspiration for Wilhelm Moberg’s fictional Katrina in his novel The Emigrants and subject of Lintelman’s award-winning study of Swedish immigrant women in the US), researching the now vanished Eastside Flats neighborhood of Minneapolis, and developing an exhibit about Swede Peter Bergstrom in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Season 7, Episode 7: “I Go To America”

Greg Kaster:

Hello and welcome to Learning for Life @ Gustavus, the podcast about people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College. In a myriad ways, the Gustavus liberal arts education provides a lasting foundation for lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Kaster, faculty member in the Department of History.

What was it like for Swedish women to emigrate from Sweden to the United States in the 1800s? One way to answer this question is to read Vilhelm Moberg’s 1949 classic novel The Emigrants, the first of his four epic Emigrant novels. That’s not necessarily a bad way to begin as long as you then also read historian Joy Lintelman superb study I Go To America: Swedish American Women And The Life Of Mina Anderson, which won the Minnesota Book Award for non-fiction in 2010. Among the many things you will learn from the latter book is that the fictional Katrina at the center of Moberg’s novel is loosely, or perhaps the better word is selectively, based on the life of Mina Anderson who’d allowed Moberg to draw on her memoir and writing his series.

Professor Lintelman, I am doubly proud to say graduated summa cum laude from Gustavus in 1980 with a degree in history. She went on to earn her PhD in history from the University of Minnesota where she studied with the distinguished immigration historian Rudolph Vecoli. Since 1989, she’s been a member of the history department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she has chaired her department and currently directs the Heritage and Museum Studies program. An outstanding teacher scholar, Dr. Lintelman has won her college’s distinguished teaching award, and in addition to her prize-winning book has many dozens of articles, book chapters, conference papers, invited presentations and book reviews to her name.

I’m delighted she could join me today to talk about her own background and career path. Her book, Swedish American Women like Mina Anderson, and the research she’s begun on a former Swedish American neighborhood in Minneapolis known as [Eastside Flats 00:02:04]. Joy, it’s so great to have you on the podcast. Welcome.

Joy Lintelman:

Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s great. I don’t remember the last time we saw each other. It was maybe when I think you came back to Gustavus in 2010 or something like that to do probably a talk about your book, I imagine.

Joy Lintelman:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Good to reconnect here. How are things going? So you’re at Concordia. How was is that? It’s Northwest to the Twin Cities, right?

Joy Lintelman:

Right. It’s about a four hour drive Northwest on I-94.

Greg Kaster:

How are things going for you there? Are you doing hybrid, online, all of the above?

Joy Lintelman:

This semester has been mostly online, and I think next semester is going to look about the same. I thought I was tech savvy before this, but I’ve become a lot more tech savvy now.

Greg Kaster:

Well, yeah. Maybe if we have time later we can talk about your work in the Digital Humanities. This is the first time I’ve taught, last semester probably like this, first time I’ve ever taught … I don’t know. Have you taught online before? It’s the first time for me. Maybe you’ve taught online before.

Joy Lintelman:

No, I hadn’t. Just a little bit at the end of last semester, and then now this semester.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. So we’re in the same boat. I don’t know. I sometimes feel lucky we’re in a discipline where reading still matters. Some of it is just you have to read whether we’re online or not.

Joy Lintelman:

Exactly.

Greg Kaster:

Let’s talk a little bit. We’re both historians so we can appreciate origin stories. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? How did you come to Gustavus?

Joy Lintelman:

I grew up in Southern Minnesota on a farm outside of Fairmont which is an hour or so South of Gustavus. I knew I wanted to go to a private school versus a state school just because it seemed more manageable, but I didn’t know what liberal arts education was at that point. My sister had gone to Gustavus and got a nursing degree. She was in that generation where they told women, “Well, you’ve got pretty good grades. Do you want to be a nurse or a teacher?” She chose nurse, but she was very happy with Gustavus’ nursing program, and I visited her when she was there. I’d liked the campus and I felt, “Why not?”

Greg Kaster:

My mom grew up on a farm. What kind of farm did you grow up on?

Joy Lintelman:

Oh, gosh. Well, we never had a heck of a lot of money. My dad did some sharecropping. Yes, you can do that in Southern Minnesota.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

First, dairy cattle then beef cattle. By the time I came along, we had some hogs and he was mostly working as a hired man, but I still got the hogs, sheep, chickens. I was in [inaudible 00:04:56].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I wish my mom, at least by the time I was visiting my farm family down in Newman, Illinois, my cousin still … Actually, no. He hired someone to farm. It was all grain, soy beans and corn. I don’t remember any animals and I was always disappointed. I wanted cattle, I wanted pigs.

Joy Lintelman:

We had soy beans and corn too. I grew up both walking beans and detasseling corn.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s what my mom talked about all the time growing up doing that. Yeah. Well, as one of my graduate school professors said to me when I mentioned my mom had grown up on a farm and my dad had grown up in Chicago in an immigrant family, Greek immigrant, he said, “Well, that’s the American story. You got it.”

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

How did you get interested in history?

Joy Lintelman:

Well, I wasn’t interested in it when I first came to Gustavus. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in. For a while I thought music, and then I quickly decided I didn’t have a talent to major in music. I think I was thinking of being a teacher, and I had to take a history course as part of that program. I took one history course, and in that course I discovered social history. That was the end of it. I fell in love with social history. The book that did it was Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

Which as far as appropriate immigrant history, there are a lot of problems with it, but for me it was just really enlightening the notion that the stories of my grandparents and the neighbors and that sort of thing could be history. I had been schooled like most of us at that point that it was only the great and powerful who mattered, that and in the high school athletic coaches were the primary history teachers. [inaudible 00:06:58] some really good ones. We watched a lot of Alistair Cooke’s America videos.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

I took a history course. It was from Kevin Byrne, and we read The Uprooted, and I was just fascinated. I discovered I love social history, I love research. I worked in a library in high school, so I sort of already loved books and I loved research, but then this really focused it.

Greg Kaster:

That’s a neat story. Kevin Byrne who’s now a professor emeritus, I hope to interview him for the podcast as well, but that’s not important. Kevin was … I think he was the department chair when Kate Wittenstein and I were hired. Man, I remember reading The Uprooted in graduate school. That’s when I first read it and just loved it for the same reasons as you, blown away by it, even though let’s just say it’s problematic today as immigration history. Hanlin who had taught at Harvard for such a long time was one of the giants in the profession. You didn’t major in Scandinavian studies as well, or did you?

Joy Lintelman:

No. Foolishly. I’ll have to give my history department at Gustavus a bit of a hard time because I thought about graduate school, but they didn’t really encourage it, and I think probably it’s because of the way the job market was. Let’s hope it’s not so much that I was female.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

Anyway, I was not really encouraged to do that. When I ultimately decided to go to graduate school, I discovered, “Gee, you need two languages,” and I wanted to study Swedes. I could’ve taken four years of Swedish and I took none. There was no language requirement at that point.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, God.

Joy Lintelman:

I started with Swedish in grad school.

Greg Kaster:

I wondered about that. Well, you’ve been to Sweden. You went there, right? Was it [inaudible 00:08:58] I think when you were in graduate school and you obviously need to read Swedish for your work. I wondered about that. Boy, I hope it wasn’t that because you were a woman. I know when Kate and I arrived in ’86, about six years after you, yeah, the job market was really bad and there were … We had conversations in the department about whether to encourage students to go to graduate school in history or not. My position was and still is go if you want to with your eyes wide open knowing what it involves in terms of [crosstalk 00:09:31].

Joy Lintelman:

Exactly.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. We’re glad you went. How did you decide to go? Was that you graduated and then worked for a time? What happened?

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah. I worked for one year. I actually worked on my German language reading knowledge requirement during that year. As soon as I started working in the corporate world, I worked for Prudential Insurance, I knew that this was not for me and I started investigating graduate schools. I applied to several, got into several, and went where I got the most money.

Greg Kaster:

That’s exactly what I did. I went to Boston University. They gave me the most money. Okay. It sounds good to me, plus I like Boston. Did you know about Rudy Vecoli at that point, that he was at the U and you’d be working with him?

Joy Lintelman:

I did. I also got into Johns Hopkins where [John Hyam 00:10:25] is, which is kind of funny because they didn’t get along with each other.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Joy Lintelman:

But it would’ve been Timothy Smith at Hopkins that I would’ve worked with.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Joy Lintelman:

In the end, I’m really happy I chose the university because Rudy was just wonderful to work with.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. He’s now deceased, but boy, one of the great immigration historians. I didn’t know him personally, but I certainly saw him in action at conferences and knew his work. Maybe actually while we’re on this subject of Vecoli, tell us a little bit about the immigration … Is it called the Immigration History Research Center that he founded or helped to found?

Joy Lintelman:

He helped to found. It was a number of University of Minnesota faculty who were interested I think if I’m remembering correctly in ethnic groups on the Iron Range, and as they wanted to begin researching them, discovered it’s hard to find records. There was no good repository particularly for these Southern and Eastern European groups, Fins, Italians, et cetera, and decided there needed to be a center to start gathering these materials.

Greg Kaster:

That’s really one of the best, if not the best in the country I guess, premier centers. It’s so funny too. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and my wife Kate grew up in New York City. When we came to Minnesota, of course, Garrison Keillor was all the rage, I had been listening to him at least in Boston and really enjoying it when I was in graduate school at Boston University. The sense that Minnesota is homogeneous, there are Norwegians and Swedes, and that’s pretty much just not true. Even at Gustavus I was amazed at how many Catholic students there were then, maybe close to half, something like that. The diversity of the immigrant experience in Minnesota to this day kind of gives a lie to the idea that it’s just a bunch of Swedes and Norwegians. That’s important to say [inaudible 00:12:40].

Let’s start with the Swedes because that’s what your book is about. Man, I think for me it’s a very moving book. I also like the origin story of that book. Tell us a little bit about how you came across Mina Anderson’s memoir because I think it illustrates so well what a colleague of mine at Gustavus loves to call the serendipity of research.

Joy Lintelman:

Well, I was in Sweden researching another project. I was looking at interaction between Native Americans and Swedish immigrants. I had been at the Immigrant Institute or [foreign language 00:13:23] before as part of my dissertation research and such. I was on a scholarship or a grant there. Back in those days, which I think are long gone, they actually would give me a key to the archives.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, my gosh.

Joy Lintelman:

And I could go down and just take a box off the shelf and bring it up and look through it and go down and get the next one. Partly, it was because they didn’t have a great finding system, so when I said I want to know what collections might have something on Native Americans, they didn’t have a good way to tell me. One of the responses was, “Well, here’s the keys. You can start looking.” And then, that’s exactly what I did.

Greg Kaster:

That’s amazing.

Joy Lintelman:

I knew that having read Moberg’s novels, that he included Native Americans … Part of the series ends with the Dakota conflict, and some deaths of that original group. I started looking through his materials and came across this handwritten memoir. It was written in a couple [inaudible 00:14:38] books and it was the story of this woman who had immigrated as a single immigrant, and that was the topic of my dissertation, Swedish single immigrant women.

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Joy Lintelman:

That of course attracted me. But it was also clear that she had written this memoir at the request of Vilhelm Moberg. That whole story just started fascinating me. I read her memoir, I knew the Moberg’s story, I looked at his notes and realized that he picked and chose from Mina’s memoir for what he wanted his female immigrant to look like, which I didn’t think told the whole story. I decided that back then, “Boy, I would love to do something with this memoir.” I was also kind of influenced by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I love that. I use the movie in our methods course. Gosh, yes.

Joy Lintelman:

What she does in that book which is based on this midwife’s diary from a couple centuries ago, and she uses snippets, extracts from the diary at the beginning of each chapter and then builds on that. That’s exactly how I modeled this book. I took snippets of the memoir and then used them to build that.

Greg Kaster:

I love that about the book, the passages you start each chapter with. Somewhere I read, maybe this is apocryphal, that in your excitement I don’t know if you literally rushed to call your husband, but you must’ve felt so excited as you realized what you were on to.

Joy Lintelman:

I did. [inaudible 00:16:27]. I was staying at a place called [Frute 00:16:31], and this was back when you had to have special phone cards and such, but I was in her kitchen and I called my husband in the US and said, “You won’t believe what I found.”

Greg Kaster:

That is so cool. Yeah. It was sitting there and then you come across it when you’re not even looking for it. Is it really long? You said it’s two [inaudible 00:16:56] books or something.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah. You know those size pages aren’t that long, so maybe like 80 some pages of those size pages. It’s not voluminous, but there’s some really good content. And then, as I researched her more, I discovered that there was a reason that Moberg asked her this because she wrote in newspapers. For a woman who didn’t have a lot of education and lived on a farm and raised seven kids, she found time to follow her creative views and wrote in to the newspapers.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. She’s fascinating, I think. You’re modeling your work as you said on Laurel Thatcher origins. It’s the same sort of thing. It’s amazing what a good historian, very good historian you are and she is and can tease out of a document that might not seem, or a text that to a student might think, “Well, there’s not that much here. It’s not that long.” Let’s talk a little bit more about her life because I find it fascinating. Tell us a little bit about where she grew up and how old she was when she emigrated and why she came to the US.

Joy Lintelman:

Gosh, you’re going to make me review this book that I wrote 10 years ago. She grew up in Dalsland, [inaudible 00:18:34] Dalsland in Western Sweden not too far in the border with Norway and didn’t have a lot of money. Once she was confirmed, she started working doing domestic service kinds of employment, which is very typical for young women in Sweden at that time both in Sweden, and she also went across the border to Norway and worked a bit at a couple of places over there as well. She wanted to go to the United States. There were a lot of people in that time period that she knew had gone. All the publicity that the United States got was quite positive in Sweden. It wasn’t until an uncle who lived in Wisconsin offered to send her money for a ticket or [crosstalk 00:19:43] prepaid ticket that she was actually able to go. She was 23 years old then.

Greg Kaster:

And she goes by herself, right?

Joy Lintelman:

Yes, she does.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Was that unusual for a woman that age to go alone or not?

Joy Lintelman:

No. It’s a real mix. Some went with neighbors, some went with relatives, some went when their siblings came back home to visit, and then took them back. You’d get women as young as 15, 16 traveling alone.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. She winds up with her uncle in Wisconsin. Tell us a little bit of how she eventually winds up in … I forget if it’s Saint Paul first, but ultimately Minneapolis, right?

Joy Lintelman:

It’s mostly Saint Paul.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. Mostly Saint Paul. Yeah. Okay. How did she get from Wisconsin to Saint Paul? Why that move?

Joy Lintelman:

Well, she ends up with her uncle who she discovers lives, I don’t know, 10 or 12 miles outside of the nearest town. He was not in particularly good health, and it seemed like a situation where he basically wanted her to take care of him. He was not married, and that wasn’t what she had been looking for at all in coming to the United States. She felt isolated, she wasn’t able to earn money there, and so she just decided this wasn’t going to work for her and walked back into town and found a job there and started to learn English, learn the ways of working in the United States. Then, when she decided she wanted to earn more money, she thought it would make sense to go to the Twin Cities, a larger urban area where the wages were higher. That’s how she ended up in Saint Paul.

Greg Kaster:

Was she working still as a domestic in Saint Paul initially?

Joy Lintelman:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. How did that work? That’s another thing. I’m a labor historian by background, 19th century US. Was she working for Anglo-Saxon gentry, middle class? Did any Swedish immigrants themselves employ Swedish domestics?

Joy Lintelman:

Some did, but 1890s Saint Paul, there aren’t a whole lot of really wealthy Swedes yet at that point.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Joy Lintelman:

It’s primarily middle and upper class Anglo families that she worked for. It might’ve been a different story in Chicago or some areas where there were a few more wealthy Swedish immigrants, but there weren’t so many at that point.

Greg Kaster:

I find it interesting the amount of writing she does. I’m not going to even try to pronounce the newspapers. You can do that. How did she come to do that?

Joy Lintelman:

You mean Svenska Amerikanska Posten?

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Thank you. Yes. That one. Exactly. That’s a prominent Swedish newspaper, Swedish American newspaper, right?

Joy Lintelman:

That’s correct. It’s one of the more prominent ones in Minnesota for sure and in the Midwest. If you know the American Swedish Institute, that was built by Swan Turnblad who ultimately was the owner of Svenska Amerikanska Posten through most of its life. One feature of that newspaper was a section called [foreign language 00:23:42], or Voice of the People. It was basically a page or more where people just wrote in. They could write in and ask questions about what’s happening in the world around them, they could share news from the homeland, they could share news about themselves and what they’re up to. If you start reading these columns, you discover that there were correspondents who start talking to each other through this page.

They post questions and others write in the next week or two and respond. She engaged in this sort of community. I ultimately found that some of these writers would get together. They would have picnics. A lot of them were either in the Twin Cities or in the surrounding rural areas. She ends up on a farm outside Milaca which isn’t so far from the Twin Cities.

Greg Kaster:

That’s so cool. That sounds to me like a treasure trove of social history, that column, and the way you can trace connections of what they’re writing about, but also just how the connections developed in and through that column, connections among the correspondents. That’s so cool.

Joy Lintelman:

Right.

Greg Kaster:

Go ahead.

Joy Lintelman:

One could probably do something amazing with the metadata and searching … When I was doing this, Svenska Amerikanska Posten was not digitized. I was looking at microfilms and that sort of thing. I’m sure I missed a lot of her writing, but you could do amazing things I think now following those connections. Maybe this is a retirement project. Maybe I’ll have to [crosstalk 00:25:37].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I’m just thinking. There you go, Joy. Yeah. There’s your retirement. If anyone could do it, you can do it. That would be sort of akin to what Thatcher Ulrich does which is just phrasing all the different connections that Martha Ballard had with the women whose baby she was delivering.

Joy Lintelman:

Right.

Greg Kaster:

That’s so cool. By the time of her death, what is her class standing, would you say? Did she experience mobility or she’s still sort of working class?

Joy Lintelman:

That’s an interesting question. She’s certainly better off than when she and her husband first started. They owned the farm. I don’t know if I’d call her middle class. I also have more trouble with those designations when you’re looking at farmers.

Greg Kaster:

Sure. Right. It’s hard. They owned a farm. That’s an accomplishment. That’s some independence.

Joy Lintelman:

Right. They started with a log cabin, and then built around that. It’s a reasonable sized farmhouse and barn, livestock. They did okay for themselves.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. At the time of her death, was she known in the Swedish American community in Minnesota or not?

Joy Lintelman:

Not broadly. Among that little group of writers for Svenska Amerikanska Posten, yes. But I think Moberg discovered her because he started reading through the newspapers. I think I mentioned this in the book and I have to review the details, but I think he put an ad in some of the Swedish American newspapers. The Posten was defunct by then, but I think she subscribed to Swedish periodicals. I think he had put in an ad requesting people to share their stories because he was working on this book. I think she may have responded to that.

Greg Kaster:

I think that must be in the book because I read you saying that somewhere.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah. It’s been a while.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s okay. You remember a great deal. The other thing that, if you can remember this as well is first of all, the way you took her life and situated it in this larger context of Swedish American women, I wonder if you could just say a little bit about that research. The book is incredibly researched. It’s also really well written. As I said, I find it moving just as I find Ulrich’s book about Martha Ballard and the movie as well moving. Tell us a little bit about the research that went into this book beyond reading her memoir and reading the newspaper.

Joy Lintelman:

Well, okay. Part of it drew on my dissertation research, which as I said, I looked at single Swedish immigrant women. One of the main sources that I used for the dissertation was letters, [inaudible 00:29:14] letters that these women wrote home, and many of which had been gathered at the Immigrant Institute where I spent part of my research time. I read probably several thousands immigrant letters. They were just fascinating. Women writing from all over the country with just a wide range of experiences, some hating it, most liking their decision outlining lots of things about their … They’ll describe the room and the tasks they do each day of the week and their employers. They compare their jobs in the US to what they had been doing at home. They tried to convince their friends to immigrate. Those letters were a huge resource.

The other thing I did was basically go through Mina’s memoir with a fine-tooth comb and any kind of potential reference that I could cross-reference somewhere else, I tried to follow up. That meant looking through city directories and census data and church records, and finding out fascinating things. She had all her children baptized in a local church, but she never officially joined. She attended the [crosstalk 00:30:48], but she wasn’t officially a member.

Greg Kaster:

That’s interesting.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

That’s so cool. I always tell my students [inaudible 00:31:01] reading your book and there we are and however long it takes one to read the book, but the amount of time, and much of it just meticulous and tedious research work that goes into that recreating the world that she was a part of, situating her in that larger world, I think that’s the hidden part maybe of history, unless people pour over the footnotes. Most readers don’t. It is a fabulously researched book and written book as well. The thing about Moberg … Tell us a little bit about how the real Kristina, Mina Anderson, how her life was different than the fictional Kristina in Moberg’s novels.

Joy Lintelman:

Okay. Kristina was married in Sweden and had children. There’s this classic heartbreaking story. They were struggling financially and short on food. There had been a bowl of barley porridge placed in, I don’t know, an outdoor shelter or something to cool. Her younger daughter who was very, very hungry discovered it and gobbled up as much as she could. Because of that, her stomach burst. I don’t know about the medical background of this, but apparently the grains of barley expanded. Anyway, she died and that was a turning point for the Kristina character. Her husband Karl Oskar had wanted to go to America, and she didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to leave. The death of the daughter pushed her over to being willing to follow him.

All along the way, she’s a hardworking, dedicated, devoted mother, but she longs for Sweden. Karl Oskar is depicted as the one who’s always looking towards the United States, toward the future, and Kristina’s looking back longing for the homeland. That’s even, as I talk about in the book and as you can see on several statues both in Sweden and the United States, this has been set in stone, images of Karl Oskar looking ahead and holding hands with Kristina who’s turned back looking to Sweden. That’s just not the way that Mina was at all. She wanted to come to the United States, she had set goals for herself, she said numerous times in the memoir, “I don’t regret the decision that I made.” Moberg depicted Kristina as really regretting it.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I know it’s in your book, but this quote still stands out of my mind. It’s from Mina about … I can’t quote it exactly, about how well she’s done, what a good decision was is essentially what she’s saying. One of the things your book shows so well is how she and so many other women really had so much more agency maybe than, I guess if that’s the right word, than Moberg’s Kristina seems to have, especially these single women who came on their own. Everyone needs to read your book. This is an assignment, people. Anyone who’s only read Moberg. I’ve actually never even read Moberg. I only saw the movie. Is it Max von Sydow? That’s a long time ago, boy.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah. And Liv Ullmann.

Greg Kaster:

Liv Ullmann. Yeah. Gosh. I remember the visuals. God, that could’ve been in the 1970s I think.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah. It was in the ’70s. I remember having done research at the Swedish Institute. It was aired there, one of the earliest showings. Some people were aghast because there was naughty language and [inaudible 00:35:28] stories. They felt it was inappropriate to [crosstalk 00:35:33].

Greg Kaster:

That’s funny. This reminds me, in preparing for this conversation, I don’t even know how or where I came across this. Somewhere that there’s a remake of The Emigrants being done as we speak. There was a big deal about the Swedish actress I’ve never heard of. Anyway, I’ll send that to you. I had no idea that was in the works. It was all dated 2020.

Joy Lintelman:

I hadn’t heard of that.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I certainly hadn’t. I’ll send it to you. What was that? Go ahead.

Joy Lintelman:

There was a musical, Kristina musical.

Greg Kaster:

Really? I didn’t know that. Wow. Oh, my gosh.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Also, I find it interesting about Mina because she must have had some sense of the historical importance or significance of her journey and her willingness to … Maybe she wanted to be in a novel. I don’t know. But her willingness to share with Moberg. That also is an act of independence, and also the writing of it too. She wasn’t that formally educated at all, right?

Joy Lintelman:

Correct. She just went to the basic school in Sweden.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

I think she was a pretty smart cookie.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s a great story, it really is. What’s wonderful about the book too is the way you [inaudible 00:37:01] as a window onto Swedish American women more broadly. Everybody, buy the book. It’s in paperback, published by the … Is it the University of Minnesota or Minnesota History, historical? I can’t remember which-

Joy Lintelman:

Minnesota Historical Society.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:37:18] is superb, so get the book. The other thing, reading clubs. Actually, it’d be perfect for reading clubs. The other thing I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about is your research. I know it sounds like you came back from sabbatical [inaudible 00:37:35] get back into all the busy work here. It’s hard to keep up what we’ve done in sabbatical, but your research into Eastside Flats, first of all, just the name alone for me conjures up a working class neighborhood rightly or wrong. It just makes me think urban. This is a Swedish neighborhood that no longer exists.

Joy Lintelman:

That’s correct. A lot of your listeners may have heard of Bohemian Flats.

Greg Kaster:

Right. In Saint Paul, right?

Joy Lintelman:

No. It’s in Minneapolis, but it’s on the West side of the river, or it was on the right side of the river.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Joy Lintelman:

Basically, right by West bank of the University of Minnesota. That’s much more well-known because it was more heavily populated, not for many Swedes, but some Bohemians. There was a WPA book, Works Progress Administration, written about Bohemian Flats which has been republished by I think MHS Press. People are familiar with that areas, but Eastside Flats is basically across the river and a little farther North.

Greg Kaster:

Okay.

Joy Lintelman:

It existed under what is now the 35 Avenue and 10th Avenue bridges that go across the Mississippi. Underneath there is where this neighborhood was. It’s on a land now that’s owned by the [inaudible 00:39:16] of Minnesota.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. This was a Swedish immigrant community?

Joy Lintelman:

Yes. Almost entirely Swedish immigrants. There were a few Norwegians and a sprinkling of a few other ethnicities, but mostly Swedish. It was small. Maybe the largest, 80 to 100 households, and existed roughly from the 1870s. I think the last guy moved out of there in maybe 1954, 1955. It was interesting because it was pretty isolated. It’s on the river flats and it’s not easy to climb up to the street level. One thing I kept reading about when I was reading newspaper accounts of the area’s people who had fallen down or slipped and died when they were trying to get up or down from the flats. It was a community I had not heard right before my sabbatical when actually someone asked Byron Nordstrom a question about Eastside Flats and he said, “I don’t know. Ask Joy Lintelman.” I said, “I don’t know either, but I really want to know more about this place. That started me in on this topic. I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with it, but I want to present the story of this neighborhood and how it fits into Swedish American history in Minnesota or urban Swedish Americans.

Greg Kaster:

Right. First of all, I’m an urban guy in many ways, but also I just love that too, this image of all the Scandinavians became farmers. No. There are plenty of urban Scandinavians in Chicago and the Twin Cities. I’m curious too. Was this a neighborhood that was … Was it mostly residential? Were there businesses there as well, grocery stores, that sort of thing, churches I assume?

Joy Lintelman:

Almost all residential. This is small and the houses are not particularly well constructed, and they never owned the land. They owned the structure that they built on the land. I actually had one instance of a guy who was asked to … The power company that owned the land at that point said, “We need to use the land for something else now.” He deconstructed his house, took it up and reconstructed it again near the university on Ontario street or something like that.

Greg Kaster:

We all may need to be doing that at some point.

Joy Lintelman:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Joy Lintelman:

There was a mission from at least one of the churches which would’ve been just a one room, two room thing, and there were a couple tiny little stores that were operated periodically down there, but most of the people had to climb up up the cliffs to do any kind of shopping or worshiping, all that sort of stuff.

Greg Kaster:

They must have had good cardio. I don’t know. Are there photographs available of it at all or not?

Joy Lintelman:

There are some. I keep unearthing more. Most of them are of the structures rather than of people in their households. I’m slowly building up a collection. I’ve got someone at the Minneapolis Public Library who knows I’m interested in this. As they go through some of their collections and get more material, they’ll send me stuff. Every once in a while, I get an email and, “We came across something that we think you might be interested in.” That’s fantastic.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Joy Lintelman:

One thing that I really held as a goal with my book on Mina and I sort of do in most of my writing is that I really want to bridge a scholarly and a popular audience. I don’t want to just write for a bunch of other nerdy historians.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

I think I’ve succeeded pretty well with-

Greg Kaster:

Absolutely. We may not have time to get to it, but on my list of topics here is Joy Lintelman as public historian. Absolutely, you do it.

Joy Lintelman:

I still periodically get emails from people who will say, “I just read your book and you’ve helped me understand my grandmother better,” or, “Can you help me find this?”

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

I guess I’d kind of like to be able to do something like that with Eastside Flats and the urban experience beyond just domestic service, which that urban experience I cover in the Mina book.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Right. No. If anyone can do it, you will. You can and will, and I look forward to reading that whether in article form, book form or both. You just reminded me when you said the word grandmother, was it the granddaughter of Mina? I’m trying to remember who you interviewed. Didn’t you interview one of her descendants?

Joy Lintelman:

Yes. When I started the project, there was both a granddaughter and a grandson that she had helped raise. The grandson died early on in the project, but I got to drive around with him in his pickup truck and hear his stories about living with her and growing up on that farm. Now, both of those people have passed.

Greg Kaster:

Did they live long enough to see and read the book?

Joy Lintelman:

The grandson didn’t, but the granddaughter did.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. That’s very cool. You’ve also written this prize-winning article in the journal Minnesota History which is just a terrific … I’m a subscriber [inaudible 00:45:47] terrific journal about the state’s history published by the Minnesota historical society. You won the prize in 2013, the Solon J. Buck Award. I don’t remember the exact title, but I know it’s something in there about Swedish Americans and coffee. I am a huge coffee drinker. I will forever be grateful to Byron Nordstrom, now retired professor emeritus at Gustavus. I guess you had classes with Byron I assume too.

Joy Lintelman:

I did.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Byron who was one of several mentors in the department we were lucky to [inaudible 00:46:23]. Anyway, Byron introduced me to, you can correct my pronunciation, Zoegas or something like that coffee which God, the Swedish coffee, man. Anyway, tell us a little bit about that article which is terrific.

Joy Lintelman:

Food history has become popular. I had started teaching a class on food and global history and had a sabbatical and the Minnesota Historical Society had some funding that was designated for Swedish American research. I was able to access that funding and was told, “Well, you can write on whatever you’d like to write on.” I thought, “Well, I’m interested in food. What direction might I go with Swedes and food?” I didn’t want to do [inaudible 00:47:26] because [crosstalk 00:47:28]. That didn’t seem like a fun topic to pursue. There’s been so much done with that and Norwegians and such. Coffee seems to be so associated with Swedish Americans. I went down that path. One other group has coffee pot water towers.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah.

Joy Lintelman:

The Swedish American communities. I buried myself in Swedes and coffee literature and tried to ask why is it that Swedes are associated with coffee and followed this winding path through its connection to social class status in Sweden, and then therefore social class status in the United States. It’s an association with ethnic festivals, ethnic heritage. It was really a fun piece to do, but that was a sabbatical full of coffee.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s a fun piece to read too in Minnesota history. I know it was 2013. When I came to Gustavus, you may remember this, what was then the old, I guess the cafeteria, but it was a nickel cup of coffee I remember and in the white styrofoam cup if you got it to go, but what I remember is it was a weak coffee, at least by my standards. And then, I remember that’s when Byron introduced me to Zoegas, and there was a visiting Swedish scholar on campus I remember who … I remember this. It just came back to me actually. I said, “Would you like some coffee?” This is a quote, the exact quote, “I’m a Swede man,” he said to me. I just literally remember that. I don’t remember his name. I think Byron maybe had brought him to do some speaking. Anyway, oh, gosh, that’s so cool. The other thing you’ve done, we’ve got a few minutes left here just to talk a little bit about this Peter Bergstrom project of yours speaking of public history. That’s still a traveling exhibit in Clay County? Is that where it is?

Joy Lintelman:

That’s where it’s based. Yeah. If people are interested in it, they could contact the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County and it will travel to you.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. I’m interested in hearing you talk about that a little bit what it’s about. I remember Byron, you may remember, did some kind of traveling exhibit, these panels that went around all over the place of Swedish American history or whatever it was, Minnesota history. Who’s Peter Bergstrom and what’s the exhibit about?

Joy Lintelman:

That was a result of my ability to go box by box in that archive in Sweden. I was reading some letters and came across Moorhead and the fact that a guy was writing about Moorhead. I thought, “Okay. This is really interesting. I live in Moorhead, so I’m just going to copy all these letters and bring them back.” I sat there for a while. When I teach, I like to do collaborative class projects, and I’ve done a variety of things. There was a Norwegian one I won’t go into, but that preceded this. One year when I was teaching my immigration class, Scandinavian immigration, I decided to make his letters the focus of our class project.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great.

Joy Lintelman:

I had, I don’t know, 13, 14 students researching everything we could about this guy. He was just a fascinating entrepreneurial type who tried a bunch of different businesses in Moorhead which then we were able to track through the numerous papers. He had quite a high opinion of himself and would boast about all of his abilities. He was a police officer in Moorhead for a while. We basically just traced his life and experience again to try to get a picture of one of the paths that a Swedish immigrant might follow that seems pretty unexpected, but really isn’t all that unusual. He was a businessman for a while. He was a farmer for a while. He was a police officer for a while. We created first a website, and then Clay County thought the website was interesting and asked if I would want to help to make a [inaudible 00:52:17] which I did.

What’s fun about the website, one of the Peter Bergstrom daughters became a missionary in Africa, and a son of this daughter discovered the website and he didn’t know, he had never met his grandfather because there was a split. Peter Bergstrom was not very religious at all and his daughter became a missionary. They really were on the outs, and so this grandson didn’t know anything about Peter Bergstrom, but he discovered the website and then contacted me and actually visited Moorhead.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. That’s cool.

Joy Lintelman:

Pretty serendipity.

Greg Kaster:

That’s great. Yeah. That’s fabulous. As you’re speaking about him, I’m imagining here’s another project for your retirement, which is you’re going to write a novel in which, I don’t know, Peter and Mina meet and you can take it from there. I have a feeling that [inaudible 00:53:24].

Joy Lintelman:

He went through three wives.

Greg Kaster:

Okay. There you go. Also, just so interesting. Now, you mentioned a little bit about teaching and your use of some of his letters or all of his letters and the collaboration with students. Actually, that’s where I’d like to end. What is it you enjoy about teaching history?

Joy Lintelman:

My favorite thing is to do research with students, to help them discover the joy of asking questions and digging through whatever you can to find answers and then to experience that exhilaration and fascination and continued curiosity that you get when you find things that help you understand and they help you answer your questions.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s a good feeling. I agree. That’s a good feeling to experience and to share with students.

Joy Lintelman:

Well, and to help students understand that history is so much more than the rich and powerful. I’m still always going to be the social historian.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. No. That’s exactly right. I don’t know what kind of historian I am. I don’t know what the hell I am, but I know I worked with Alfred Young as an undergraduate in Northern Illinois University [inaudible 00:54:54]. He was doing history from the bottom up, revolutionary early America era. It’s a revelation to think people like my farm family, my dad’s Greek immigrant family. Yeah. Exactly. They matter. They make history and they’re important.

Joy Lintelman:

Right.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. I could go on, especially since you’re a historian, for quite a lot longer, but I know you have an appointment and I’m supposed to keep these podcasts roughly 50 minutes to an hour. It’s been so much fun speaking with you. [inaudible 00:55:29] everyone to read, get by, read and read your terrific book and then also the wonderful article on Swedes and coffee. Take that, Starbucks. We don’t need Starbucks. All the best with the rest of your work in this academic year. Hopefully, we get you back to Gustavus at some point.

Just quickly, you are one of … We were chatting just briefly about this before we started recording. You are one of many, many fine historians who’ve come out of Gustavus Adolphus College over the years. I had not heard of Gustavus when I first saw the job ad, and I mentioned this to my then advisor, PhD advisor who’s [inaudible 00:56:14] and he mentioned Jim McPherson, a great Civil War historian, attended, and Sydney Ahlstrom who wrote Religious History of The American People and taught at Yale, and just on and on and on down to some newer, younger people who are making their mark in the field. I don’t know. I just don’t know how many liberal arts colleges can claim the number of historians we can, both in public history and in the academy too. All the best. Thank you so much for taking this time. I look forward to more on … We should talk about Eastside Flats over coffee. That’s what we’ll do when we can.

Joy Lintelman:

Yes.

Greg Kaster:

All right. Take good care, Joy. Thank you.

Joy Lintelman:

Thank you.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. Bye-bye.

Joy Lintelman:

Bye.

Greg Kaster:

Learning For Life @ Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Mathew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing, Gustavus graduate Will Clark, class of ’20 who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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