Christine’s foremother Selma in the kitchen of her tiny house in Wentworth, Wisconsin
Great Grandmother Selma’s tiny house on the Wentworth, Wisconsin farm

About this Foremothers story

This story from Christine Higgins is about her inspiring foremother Selma Marie Bjorklund (nee Soderland) from Finland. As Christine describes Selma’s journey, we see how she overcame adversity while maintaining an open and generous heart throughout her life. Christine Higgins is a visual artist, a retired art teacher, and former colleague from the Augusta, Maine Public Schools. She is also a dear friend and fellow activist painter with ARRT! Her website is In this story, Christine shares some remembrances of her foremother Selma that illustrate her courage, fortitude, and kindness.

Note: I edited Christine’s longer family chronicle to focus on Selma’s story and Christine’s relationship with her. RB

Selma Marie Bjorklund, nee Soderlund

Christine Higgins writes, “During my childhood, there were frequent summer visits to my father’s family farm in northern Wisconsin. Wentworth was a mostly first generation Scandinavian immigrant community. My great-grandmother Selma Marie Bjoklund lived in a tiny house on the Wentworth farm. Although she spoke mostly Swedish, my siblings and I managed easy communication. We loved to spend time with her in what seemed like a playhouse to us. She would make us Swedish rice (cream, butter, sugar and rice), and Swedish coffee, also rich with cream, that you would put into the saucer, over a cube of sugar, and slowly let that melt into a delicious sweetness. Water came from an indoor pump with a bucket under the sink, and the toilet was a two-holer in the barn. Because she was smaller than my grandmother, she was lovingly called “Little Gramma” by the third-generation children.

In my adult years, I learned more of her life story.  One year after her mother’s death in 1900, Selma was told that she had to leave Finland to go to America.  Because of the Russian occupation of Finland and years of conflict, the family was poor. Other male family members had previously traveled to North America to work in the mines, so there were already connections.”

Selma Leaves Finland, comes to America

Christine continues, “At the age of 18, Selma was contractually bonded to work at a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota. So, she traveled alone, arriving in the port of Boston in 1901.  How she made it to Duluth, from Boston is unknown, but a story about her arrival in America says that she saw a very bright red fruit, which she bought, probably starved for fresh food, and immediately bit into it.  Imagine the surprise when she tasted her first tomato, and disliked so much that she spit it out.”

It was in Duluth, a large commercial shipping hub, that she met her future husband, Alfred Soderlund, at the boarding house.  Alfred had immigrated from Esse, Finland, an hour from Selma’s Kronoby home, but they had not met before.  Family history says that she walked down the stairs, as Alfred came up, and they saw each other.  It was love at first sight.   She was married within a year, and a young mother in that same time frame.  Alfred owned a tavern and had the funds to pay off her contract.  My grandmother, Myrtle, is the 3rd of 5 children; including one who died in infancy.

Selma’s Positivity in the Face of Adversity

Christine concludes, “It is her courage and fierce independence that I admire the most. Positivity in the face of adversity. An American pioneer, she faced many challenges and hardships, yet always found resources to send back to Finland.   She never returned, but kept close contact with her relatives, some of whom still remember her with fondness, and thanks for the generous packages of goods such as clothing, crocheted doilies, dried beans, raisins, and potatoes.  The connection of family is still cherished, to this day.”

Christine Marie Johnson Higgins

edited by Robin Brooks

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Stories of Our Foremothers is funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts