Swedish emigrants

Emma Christine Lang, 1942

Sven and Mathilda's daughter Emma Christine, who emigrated to America in 1896 when she was 11 years old. Private photo from 1942.


Prior to Mathilda Johansson Magnusdotter and Sven Nilsson getting married in 1885, Mathilda worked as a maid for Mr Rasmussen, who was a teacher at Godsted School, and Sven worked at the Ulriksdal estate. The couple met in Godsted, where Sven arrived when he emigrated from Blekinge in Sweden in 1884. He was the oldest of eight siblings. Mathilda officially emigrated in 1882, but as early as 1880, she was working as a milkmaid at Ulriksdal. Mathilda was the youngest of nine siblings in a farm family from Småland. The family did not own a farm and often moved around for work.


Mathilda and Sven were among the approx. 1.5 million Swedes who emigrated at the end of the 19th century. The vast majority emigrated to America, but more than 81,500 Swedes emigrated to Denmark during those years. To young agricultural workers from Southern Sweden, who did not have the funds to travel to America, Denmark was an attractive labour market. Partly because Danish industry and agriculture were further developed than the Swedish, and partly because in Denmark there was a demand for labour for, among others, large construction works, and finally, because there was a need for labour in the agricultural sector. On Lolland and Falster, the extensive and labour intensive cultivation of sugar beet in particular created a huge demand for labour. However, the Swedes were not the only ones to emigrate during those years. Many Danes also emigrated to America. In fact, the largest emigration took place from Lolland. Although work could be found in agriculture, both the wages and the working conditions were so bad that many Danes chose to emigrate instead in search of a better life.


The story about the Nilsson family's life is one example of how young Swedes from rural areas emigrated to Denmark at the end of the 1800s to put food on their tables. It is also the story of how Sven, as a widower employed in agriculture on Lolland, chose to let his eldest daughter, Emma Christine, emigrate to America after Mathilda's death. Presumably in the hope that she would have a better life there than what he could offer her in Denmark.