By Sigrídur Matthíasdóttir & Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir
Note: This article is drawn from a lengthy academic article exploring a little-studied aspect of Icelandic emigration: single women who made the journey to North America. A link to the entire paper is included at the end of this posting.
On 23 September 1926, Lögberg published an obituary of ‘Ingibjörg Björnsson, a nurse.’ (IR# I250181)
She passed away in Selkirk, Manitoba, on 25 April of the same year. Ingibjörg was born in 1873 at Húsey in Hróarstunga in Nordur-Múlasýsla, the daughter of ‘Björn Hallsson farmer in Húsey and his wife Jóhanna Björnsdóttir.’ They were both descendants, as the obituary emphasizes, of ‘prominent farmers from the East.’ When Ingibjörg was 19, she went to Reykjavík to learn midwifery. She was obviously regarded as eminently suited to this profession because she was ‘encouraged to do so by the local government.’
In 1896, she completed her training ‘with a favourable testimonial’ and then came back to East Iceland, where she worked as a midwife in different areas until spring 1903, when she emigrated to Canada. Ingibjörg Björnsdóttir ‘worked in the same field when she came to the west, in addition to nursing patients in their homes,’ something which she did with great skill. When she died in 1926, she had thus worked as a professional woman in Winnipeg for 24 years. From descriptions of her, it can seemingly be deduced that she was skilled at her profession and had personal qualities that were useful in her work. A short death announcement describes her as an ‘extremely fine and popular woman,’ while according to the obituary she was also noted for her humour.
More interestingly, however, she had been able to acquire ‘considerable more knowledge ... than was usual for young farm girls.’ This was due to her own desire to learn, because ‘there was hardly any teaching other than (what) the homes were able to provide.’ Yet, she ‘could never be without’ reading, and this reading was seemingly a part of her own personal education since she only read the best at hand.
From this, we can conclude that Ingibjörg had social capital in terms of a strong family background, as well as cultural capital revealed in her eagerness to learn and her nuanced taste in reading. As an ‘extremely fine and popular woman’, she also seems to have been respected and, hence, had symbolic capital.
Other single women emigrants in this series: