A Historical Perspective on the 100th Anniversary
Speech given by Ted Olsson
Even a brief chronology of the League would be inappropriate tonight. I have summarized
that in the printed program. So, tonight instead let’s focus on the founding of the League.
Muriel Beroza, our historian, has again graced me with facts; Gunilla Ramell has kindly
translated Swedish for me. We all look forward to Muriel’s forthcoming history of the
League, none more so than I.
In studying this history, several themes stood out: 1) the sense of communal effort to
produce an Annual Midsummer; 2) Midsummer’s symbolic bond for immigrants far from
home; 3) our history up til now and the legacy we pass on. I would like to touch on
these topics briefly tonight.
The League was formed to continue the efforts of the committee which produced a Swedish midsummer at the Midwinter Fair held in Golden Gate Park on Monday, May 14, 1894. Each of us here tonight who had a part in New Sweden ‘88 knows exactly how a common purpose can create new friendships and strengthen alliances. As a congress of organizations, the League was formed to annually produce Midsummer, to represent Swede’s interests here, to provide mutual aid for needy fellow Swedes, to receive visiting dignitaries and celebrities, and to erect a meeting hall. For a century it has fulfilled this mission, last year celebrating its centennial Midsummer. In place of its Scandia Hall, burned down during the 1906 earthquake, it has maintained Sveadal.
The initial League of 1895 consisted of 26 delegates representing 10 organizations, which I have listed in this evening’s program. Of these The Swedish Society was the oldest and largest organization, and remains the oldest to this day. Peering into the lives of these people a century ago, I saw a vibrant Swedish community here. Before the birth of the League, there were numerous Swedish clubs. At the time these clubs were merely the Swedish contingent among many Scandinavian clubs flourishing in the Bay Area.
At the turn of the century a directory of Scandinavians in San Francisco and Alameda counties, reveals them to be enterprising professionals and tradesmen. At the time of the League’s birth, the largest organization was the Scandinavian Society of San Francisco, a social and benevolent association, organized in 1859. With 300 members in 1900 and weekly meetings, it was the oldest Scandinavian organization and the one from which most of the national clubs had sprung. It kept a library with books and newspapers in the several languages and held numerous dinner dances. By the time of the League’s first Midsummer, called “The Day of the Swedes, the Scandinavian Society was already celebrating its 35th Midsummer. The League’s uniquely Swedish Midsummer was celebrated outdoors as a traditional picnic with contests and children’s games. For example, it was reported that at the next Midsummer there would be a tug of war to determine whether Oakland or San Francisco had the most “pull”.
From the beginning the League’s proceedings were known to all through Vestkusten, which exhorted readers to support this second midsummer and complained that some of the League meetings were poorly attended. In retrospect it is amusing to see the dynamic and fervent arguments battling for the soul of the Midsummer celebration and of the League itself. P.M. Paulson of the Swan temperance society, in an article to a Chicago Swedish newspaper, attacked the idea of the League’s self-proclaimed dual patriotism. But in particular he railed against dancing and drinking at midsummer. This would lower us to the level of the Germans, French, or even Irish, which would jeopardize our chances to rise as stalwart Americans. Thereafter every issue of Vestkusten labored to assure all that the League would be neither a political nor moral force, but would leave those matters to individual choice. Instead it would work for harmony in the community, reproducing a Swedish midsummer as remembered fondly by all immigrants, thereby giving their children a heritage to cherish.
In reading my grandfather’s speech for the second Midsummer, I feel the significance of those century old arguments as well as the passion of new immigrants attending our Midsummer today. In his time, Alexander Olsson cherished the memory of a Swedish Midsummer: a carefree, sunlit day and night, with friends and family picnicking, dancing, and singing. All those who heard him would immediately picture loved ones, symbolically reunited on this national day though separated by great distance, who they never expected to be able to see again. Even the speeches in their native tongue were a respite from their chosen American destiny. As immigrants, they nurtured these roots.
In composing these thoughts tonight I am acutely aware of how much history we don’t know. So, I am particularly grateful that through new and old institutions we are attempting to preserve our history and heritage. The young Swedish Cultural Events Committee together with the venerable Swedish Society, have begun a museum at its Swedish-American Hall to archive our local history. I encourage all of you to consider donating family mementoes to this endeavor.
The 110 year young Vestkusten provides fresh perspectives on the changes in our local community and those in Sweden. Just this month two articles showed the further evolution of our community. One indicated that two Vasa lodges merged due to dwindling membership. The other indicated that the Swedish government again has had to reduce its consular presence in our community. These signs of the times signal us to consider how our community will look one hundred years from tonight, a quarter century from now, next decade.
Many things have changed in the intervening century. So, tonight we celebrate how the efforts of individuals, such as all of you here tonight as well as all of our predecessors, whether anonymous or remembered, have kept alive this League. For this Swedish-American Patriotic League has been true to its founders’ vision: to produce an annual midsummer festival for local Swedes to fondly remember their heritage; to help member organizations collaborate and cooperate; and later, to maintain Sveadal as a unique Swedish American retreat. What of this heritage will we be able to pass onto our children? How strong will be the link with modern Sweden as it changes with Europe? How much historical sense or even curiosity for the past will our children have? Just as we look upon old pictures and recognize no one, what will they remember of our time and efforts, when they don’t know any individuals? Even with continuing immigration, the ties must attenuate as succeeding generations become more American and less Swedish. So, our challenge now is how we can perpetuate this legacy that we celebrate here tonight.
Since a speech should be like a lady’s evening dress: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting, I conclude by wishing us all well as we consider our own role in furthering the Swedish-American Patriotic League. Would you please stand and join me in a typically Swedish four-fold hurrah for the League.
To the Swedish-American Patriotic League,
for what it has been and what,
we pledge, it is to be:
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!