Introduction to Fiskar-Sofia: Pioneer Pastor’s Wife

A Memoir by Sofia Andersson Franklin

by Christine Swanson

Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of translating a memoir by Sofia Franklin. Sofia was the wife of August W. Franklin, an early leader in the Covenant Church.

While her husband was out organizing congregations, raising funds, visiting parishioners, and preparing and preaching sermons, Sofia managed the home. In addition to raising a family, Sofia was a genuine partner in her husband’s pioneering church work. Sofia Franklin wrote her memoir in Swedish during the 1920s, while living in south Minneapolis.

She looks back on a long life, which began in a village a few miles southeast of Norrköping, Sweden. Her father was a fisherman, working the waters of Waldemarsviken, an inlet that empties into the Baltic Sea. The child was known as “Fiskarsofia” because of her father’s occupation. Sofia was born in 1858, but her memoir picks up the story in the mid-1870s when Sofia was a teenager. At age 26, she immigrated to the United States as the fiancée of August Franklin.

August Franklin was a minister in the Missionsförbundet, known in the US as the Evangelical Covenant Church. Together, Sofia and August raised six children. They served Swedish-American con-gregations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. In some cases, they were instrumental in helping con-gregations grow from a small group of friends into viable org-anizations. They served the Swedish community in the US by help-ing immigrant girls find jobs, organizing assistance for the unem-ployed, and sustaining Swedish language and culture among the American-born children of immigrants. Sofia’s memoir is remark-able because it tells with amazing candor what life was like for this pioneer pastor’s wife. A.W. Franklin has written his own books about building churches in the early years of the Covenant Church and his spiritual journey. Sofia concentrates on the woman’s point of view. It becomes very clear that, without women like Sofia, men like A.W. Franklin could not have accomplished what they did.

As a teenager, Sofia was profoundly affected by the great spiritual awakenings of the 1870s in Sweden. She read the Bible and P.P. Waldenström’s Pietisten. In her memoir, Sofia writes about the danger of following impulse. She struggles with her desire to help her parents find salvation, while behav-ing with proper respect. Sofia writes about the small community of “readers,” who support each other in the face of opposition from the local elite. She reflects on marriage, concluding that partnership with an unbelieving spouse is a danger to a person’s spiritual well-being. She acknowledges the important role of single women in the life of the family, church, and community. Sofia’s own soul-searching led her to America and marriage to August.

Life was not easy for the pioneer bride. August traveled frequently, leaving Sofia alone among strangers. At first, there was no one to tell her how to bake bread with dry yeast or to ease her anxiety in a thunderstorm. Sofia understood, however, that Swedish immigrants appreciated her husband’s ministry, his sermons delivered in the language of the old country.

After a few years, Sofia is able to assist immigrants even newer than herself. Children are born, and Sofia works constantly, contributing to her husband’s ministry while caring for her babies and keeping her home open to a steady stream of guests. Wealthy matrons often show up at Sofia’s door, asking her to help them hire one of the many Swedish immigrant girls looking for work as housemaids. Young immigrants, unprepared for life in America and without family support, often call on August and Sofia for help in times of illness or unemployment. Sofia is instrumental in the Swedish schools, which some Covenant churches offer in an effort to sustain Swedish language and customs among the children of immigrants.

While the teenaged Sofia is introspective and very serious, the young mother looks outside herself. She tells amusing stories about her children and empathizes with the troubles of others. Her concerns are practical: feeding and clothing her family; disciplining and educating children, both at home and in Sunday School; and helping friends in times of discouragement. Sofia is candid about her fatigue from childbirth. She is impatient at times with people who expect help when in need, then fail to contribute when their situations are good. All the while, Sofia is grateful for faithful friends who are vital to this pastor’s family that is always in motion.

The Franklins move to the Midwest as the 20th century begins. By this time, the Franklin children begin to graduate from high school. They find work as schoolteachers, secretaries, shop assistants, nurses, and (for one) a small-time printer. The Franklins remain close as they work hard, fall in love, and endure illnesses. In her sixties, Sofia can look back on an eventful life. She has seen many changes which she points out to her grandchildren in this memoir. Her reflections, full of good will, are inspiring. They are also part of the immigrant story, a part that is seldom told.

One of Sophia’s sons, Nathaniel Franklin, became a distinguished Pastor and teacher. He served the Dawson, Minnesota Covenant Church for 25 years and was Superintendent of Sunday School and Youth Work for the Covenant denomination. Another son, E.O. Franklin taught at Minneahaha Academy and became President of the school. Rachel Franklin Olson was Matron of the Buffalo, Minnesota Covenant Retirement Center.

Sofia’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are publishing the English translation of Sofia’s memoir on the occasion of their family reunion this summer. In doing this, they honor the memory of a remarkable woman and the lives of many Swedish immigrant women like her.

Christine "Kit" Swanson has been a Peace Corps Volunteer (1998-2000) as a Lecturer at the University of Buea, Cameroon, Africa.

See all articles by Christine Swanson