University of Minnesota

Nelson, Arvid, Papers

Finding Aid


IHRC


Immigration History Research Center, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

Descriptive summary

Creator: Nelson, Arvid, 1890-1967.
Dates: 1889-1967
Abstract: The Arvid Nelson collection consists of a substantial amount of personal correspondence, a large collection of newspaper clippings (both those he wrote and those he found of interest), along with various minutes for Finnish American and Socialist organizations, pamphlets, and event programs.
Quantity: 4 linear ft.
Language: In Finnish and English.
Collection ID: IHRC1668

PROVENANCE

Collection donated to the IHRC by Arvid Nelson's son, Allan Nelson, in 1983 and 1998. Preliminary inventory compiled by Susan Steinwall in 1984, final processing was done in 2004 by Riikka Morrill who also created a new finding aid under the direction of Joel Wurl. Selected items were digitized in 2004 and included in the IHRC Collage image database by Erik Moore. Present finding aid prepared for display on the IHRC website in January 2005 by dAn.

BIOGRAPHY

Arvid Nelson was a product of his time and the communities he inhabited throughout his life. In order to better contextualize his life and life experiences, a brief understanding of the Finnish immigrants that arrived in America and the communities which they formed, becomes important. Finding it harder to survive in rural Finland , the mid-1800s presented a choice to Finland 's peasant population of city life or emigration to America . In the latter part of the 19th century, the political situation within Finland began to impact emigration as well, and efforts to avoid compulsory military service further increased the number of people leaving the country. By the end of the century, over 350,000 out of a population of only three million had left Finland for the United States .

Due to differing reasons for emigration, two distinct Finnish communities formed within the United States . The earlier generations were more inclined to be politically conservative and are referred to as church Finns or white Finns, while later politically motivated Finnish immigrants were much more politically radical and are often referred to as red Finns. This divide among the Finnish immigrant groups was mostly propelled by the efforts of church Finns to separate themselves from the red Finns. The act did little but help “otherize” Finnish immigrants as a whole from mainstream American society, which appeared to understand all Finns as Socialist threats and labor radicals. While Finnish Americans can be found throughout the United States , one half to two thirds of the immigrant groups tended to center themselves around the Great Lakes with strong Finnish communities forming in Minnesota and Michigan . There were, however, active and tight Finnish American communities on both coasts as well. While the number of emigrants in Finland composed a notable percentage of the Finnish population, the reality is that the total number of Finnish immigrants to the United States made up only one percent of the total immigrant population coming to America during the mid-1800s through to the first decades of the 20th century. Regardless, or perhaps because of the small number of Finns within the population of their new homeland, Finnish immigrants and second generation Finnish Americans remained in close-knit communities in which their Finnish culture was kept alive and active.

It was into one of these early Finnish immigrant communities in the United States that a twenty-one year old Jaakko Poukkula (quickly Americanized to Jacob Nelson) came in 1883. Jacob Nelson was most likely aware of the labor movements and socialist ideals that were taking root within the Finnish immigrant communities, but there is no evidence that he was involved with any such organizations. Within a few years, he had met, married, and begun to form a family with a fellow Finnish immigrant Kristiina Tervo. The first of his children (eventually to total four boys and four girls) was born on May 19, 18 90 in northern California . Baptized Jacob Arvid Nelson, he was called simply Arvid for the entirety of his life. Arvid grew up in a relatively poor working class life. Leaving school at the age of fourteen after completing half of the eighth grade, he went to work with his father in the lumber industry. He continued to work after his father's premature death in 1907, which left Arvid as head of the household.

However, despite being forced into the working world at an early age, he continued to read, write, and educate himself (eventually mastering both the English and Finnish languages) and took at least a few correspondence classes throughout his life. Also evident beginning in the early years of his childhood and youth is Arvid's interest in art and journalism. Various personal sketches, as well as published illustrations, and newspaper clippings are found throughout his collection. While he would eventually take his interest in journalism and turn it into one of various careers, at the time of his father's death and for quite a few years to come, Arvid continued to work a variety of jobs in the lumber industry on the west coast, in northern California and Oregon .

While he was busy leading a Finnish American working class life, he also become involved in an assortment of societies and organizations prevalent in the Finnish American communities he inhabited. Around the start of the second decade of the 1900s Arvid became secretary of the local Finnish branch of the Socialist Party, marking the start of his lifetime involvement in Socialist causes and the movement, both throughout the United States and more specifically concentrated within the Finnish American communities. Having continually submitted articles and opinions to a range of Finnish language publications, in 1913 Arvid was encouraged to apply for a position with Toveri (a Finnish language newspaper) and became manager of the new branch in Seattle , Washington . In Seattle , he continued his involvement with the Socialist movement along with his new job and soon became secretary-treasurer of the Finnish Socialist federation in Washington State . That same year, Arvid met his future wife, Finnish immigrant Helmi Manninen. Within the year they were married, July 15, 19 14 marking their anniversary. The two moved around a little at first, trying to survive on Arvid's minimal salary. They attempted life in Fort Bragg, California where their first child was born on November 22, 19 16, but by September of 1917 they had moved to Superior, Wisconsin where Arvid found work as an editor for the Finnish language Socialist newspaper Tyomies During the ten years that the Nelson's lived in Superior, Arvid established himself not only as newspaper editor, but also in helping people with legal issues as a notary public. He also began to teach Finnish immigrants English, as well as continuing to be involved in Socialist organizations that dominated much of life in Finnish American communities.

His strong Socialist beliefs are evident in the regular personal correspondence he kept with his brother Enoch to whom he introduced the idea of emigration to Soviet Karelia. Enoch eventually made good of this idea and left the United States permanently in 1921 with dreams of establishing a utopian Socialist community in the scarcely inhabited region of Karelia , which borders Finland . Correspondence with Enoch ended in 1933 with no explanation to Arvid (in the 1990s it was discovered that Enoch had been arrested in 1938 and soon after executed). In 1926, Arvid ended his employment with Tyomies, but remained in Superior until the following summer when the Nelsons left to return to California to the Berkeley area. For the next eight or nine years, Arvid found himself without constant employment and earned money through various temporary odd jobs. By 1935 his reputation as a painter and wallpaperer had grown enough to no longer have to seek business out for himself. He had, however, throughout his time of job seeking, remained involved in numerous organizations and continued to contribute the occasional article for publication. With the United State 's involvement in World War II, Arvid was offered the unique opportunity of going to New York in the fall of 1942 to work as a translator in the Office of War Information, sending news from the United States government to the citizens of Finland . He spent only four months in the city, taking instead a job as assistant editor of Raivaaja (yet another prominent Finnish language publication) in Fitchburg , Massachusetts . After a year in Fitchburg , he returned via Superior to California . He was offered positions as a permanent member of editorial boards of various paper, but declined. He did, however, continue to submit articles and was periodically published in one or more newspapers, including publications in Finland .

By 1957, Arvid was tired of working and in January of 1958 he began to collect Social Security checks. However, he remained active and still helped with odd painting jobs for friends and sat on the boards of various Finnish organizations. Additionally, he continued to be involved in publications of Veljeysviesti until 1958. In the spring of 1963 he was forced to end most of his work as a result of developing pronounced palsy. The following year Arvid celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary with his wife Helmi. Briefly moving to Ukiah , California , the couple returned to Berkeley in 1967. Three months later, on Memorial Day, Arvid Nelson died due to the illness he had developed over four years earlier.

By Riikka Morrill, 2004

*This Historical Sketch is based in part on Allan Nelson's thesis Arvid Nelson: A Rare Kind of Finn.


DESCRIPTION OF THE COLLECTION

The Arvid Nelson collection consists of a substantial amount of personal correspondence, a large collection of newspaper clippings (both those he wrote and those he found of interest), along with various minutes for Finnish American and Socialist organizations, pamphlets, and event programs. What makes this collection unique is the quantity and two-way nature of the “Correspondence” series. Not only did Arvid Nelson keep a large number of the letters he received throughout his life, he also had the foresight to make carbon copies of many of his responses. A noteworthy part of the correspondence is the sub-series of letters between Arvid and his younger brother Enoch. This set of letters has been kept separate from the other folders of correspondence because of its unique nature. The Arvid Nelson collection is the basis of Allan Nelson’s Master of Arts thesis on Arvid Nelson, his self-published chronology of Arvid and Enoch Nelson’s correspondence, as well as the most recent book on the two brothers, "The Nelson Brothers", currently being prepared for publication.


ORGANIZATION OF MATERIALS

The collection is organized in the following way: Series I: Biographical Series II: Correspondence a. Arvid General b. Arvid and Enoch Series III: Organizations Series IV: Newspaper Clippings


ACCESS RESTRICTIONS

The Nelson, Arvid collection is available for public research.

OWNERSHIP & LITERARY RIGHTS

The Nelson, Arvid collection is the physical property of the Immigration History Reseach Center, University of Minnesota.

For further information regrading the copyright, please contact the IHRC.


CITE AS

The Nelson, Arvid Papers, Finnish American Collection, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

Index Terms

Finnish American journalists.
World War, 1939-1945--Civilian relief--Finland.
Cooperative societies.
Cooperative societies--Wisconsin--Superior.
Cooperative societies--California--Berkeley.
Nelson, Arvid, 1890-1967.
Central Co-operative Wholesale (U.S.)
Consumers Cooperative of Berkeley
Workers' Mutual Savings Bank (Superior, Wis.).

Description of Series

This section briefly describes each series in the collection. A more detailed description of the contents of each series may be found in the following section.

SERIES 1. Biographical materials

Series includes fifteen folders containing a variety of memorabilia and personal as well as legal records of events. In addition to the various sketches, childhood publications, and grade reports, this series includes a few legal records and certificates, as well as a sampling of Arvid’s literary work. Family related documents, such as his parents’ marriage certificate and a few business letters his mother wrote, are also included in this series. The files span the majority of his life (his parents’ 1889 marriage certificate being an exception to this), from his 1890 certificate of birth until the 1960s.

SERIES 2. Correspondence

This series has been divided into two sub-series, that of Arvid’s general correspondence and that of the correspondence between Arvid and his younger brother Enoch.

SERIES 3. A. Nelson's activities in Finnish Organizations

Arvid was involved in a variety of the organizations, which were alive and active in most Finnish American communities. From early on there are membership cards to temperance societies and socialist organizations. A collection of posters for strikes or announcing Finnish Festivals are found throughout the eight folders as well. Arvid, active in every community he inhabited over his lifetime, was a member of the local branches of national and international organizations for workers unions and co-operative societies. Additionally, this series includes a few announcements of political debates, along with flyers for smaller productions done by local youths. Some of the folders that fall into this series had previously been separated by individual organization. These twenty folders have remained together, coming at the end of the first eight chronologically arranged files. These files mostly consist of minutes for local co-cooperatives.

SERIES 4. Newsclippings

The series on newspaper clippings is also divided between the first thirteen folders that are arranged in chronological order and the subsequent twenty folders, previously separated from the general collection, which are, for the most part, labeled according to topic or theme. The solely chronological part of the series dates from 1912 to a 1967 publication that notes the passing of Arvid. The second set, those of the pre-arranged thematic folders, include labels such as “Pre-World War Cartoons and Pictures,” “Superior-Protest of Finnish Socialist Party 1925,” and “Finland Press Clippings: 1938, 1939-41, 46.” Of the many newspaper clippings which Arvid Nelson collected throughout his lifetime, those from Toveri, Raivaaja, Tyomies, and various other Finnish language newspapers are most prevalent. Of course, clippings from the local newspapers are also found, a few such publications being The Superior Telegram, Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Herald, The Daily Californian, and The San Francisco Chronicle.


Detailed Description of the Collection

SERIES 1. Biographical materials

Series includes fifteen folders containing a variety of memorabilia and personal as well as legal records of events. In addition to the various sketches, childhood publications, and grade reports, this series includes a few legal records and certificates, as well as a sampling of Arvid’s literary work. Family related documents, such as his parents’ marriage certificate and a few business letters his mother wrote, are also included in this series. The files span the majority of his life (his parents’ 1889 marriage certificate being an exception to this), from his 1890 certificate of birth until the 1960s.
BOX 1.
FOLDER 1. Personal 1908-1911
FOLDER 2. 1912
FOLDER 3. 1913-1928
FOLDER 4. 1930-1935
FOLDER 5. 1941-1956
FOLDER 6. 1964
FOLDER 7. Education 1908-1924
FOLDER 8. 1924-1927
FOLDER 9. Family Related 1908-1955
FOLDER 10. Work-Finances-Legal 1908-1913
FOLDER 11. 1914-1916
FOLDER 12. 1916-1927
FOLDER 13. 1928-1929
FOLDER 14. 1932-1945
FOLDER 15. 1946-1959


DESCRIPTION OF THE SUBSERIESDESCRIPTION OF THE SUBSERIES

SERIES 2. Correspondence

This series has been divided into two sub-series, that of Arvid’s general correspondence and that of the correspondence between Arvid and his younger brother Enoch.
SUBSERIES 1. Arvid Nelson - General correspondence
The first set of correspondence is composed of forty-six folders that begin with a 1909 letter and continue until the year of his death, 1967. It includes notes to and from his mother, his siblings, later his children and grandchildren, as well as letters with friends and other members of organizations with which he is involved or had an interest. The content of these letters is about as varied as the correspondents. He discusses anything from his son’s health to the financial troubles or the allegiances of various organizations. The letters are written interchangeably in Finnish and in English. Most of the correspondence between fellow Finnish American organizers is in Finnish, as well as letters written to his wife. The letters are organized chronologically.
BOX 2.
FOLDER 1. General 1909-1913
FOLDER 2. 1914-1915
FOLDER 3. 1916
FOLDER 4. 1917
FOLDER 5. 1918 (January-July)
FOLDER 6. 1918 (August-December)
FOLDER 7. 1919 (January-July)
FOLDER 8. 1919 (August-December)
FOLDER 9. 1920 (January-June)
FOLDER 10. 1920 (July-December)
FOLDER 11. 1921
FOLDER 12. 1922
FOLDER 13. 1923
FOLDER 14. 1924
FOLDER 15. 1925
BOX 3.
FOLDER 1. General 1926
FOLDER 2. 1927(January-July)
FOLDER 3. 1927 (August-December)
FOLDER 4. 1928 (January-April)
FOLDER 5. 1928 (May-October)
FOLDER 6. November 1928-1929
FOLDER 7. 1930-1931
FOLDER 8. 1932-1934
FOLDER 9. 1935-1937
FOLDER 10. 1938-1939
FOLDER 11. 1940
FOLDER 12. 1941-1942
FOLDER 13. 1943
FOLDER 14. 1944
FOLDER 15. 1945
BOX 4.
FOLDER 1. General 1946
FOLDER 2. 1947
FOLDER 3. 1948
FOLDER 4. 1949
FOLDER 5. 1950-1951
FOLDER 6. 1952
FOLDER 7. 1953
FOLDER 8. 1954-1955
FOLDER 9. 1956
FOLDER 10. 1957
FOLDER 11. 1958
FOLDER 12. 1959
FOLDER 13. 1960
FOLDER 14. 1961-1962
FOLDER 15. 1963
BOX 5.
FOLDER 1. General 1925, 1964-1967
Selected items from this folder have been scanned and can be viewed following the links below.
IMAGE: Harvesting on the Seiatel commune 1925 3 x 5.5 in. Photography view
Harvesting on the Seiatel commune located in Karelia, Russia, then the Soviet Union.
IMAGE: Harvesting on the Seiatel commune 1925 3 x 5.5 in. Photography view
Harvesting on the Seiatel commune located in Karelia, Russia, then the Soviet Union.
IMAGE: Harvesting on the Seiatel commune 1925 3 x 5.5 in. Photography view
Harvesting on the Seiatel commune located in Karelia, Russia, then the Soviet Union.
SUBSERIES 2. Arvid Nelson - Enoch Nelson
The collection of letters between Arvid and his brother Enoch has been kept separate due to its distinctive quality. While this subseries of correspondence leans more heavily toward those written by Enoch to Arvid, there are enough copies of letters Arvid wrote in response to gain a sense of the nature of their correspondence. These letters span from 1914-1933 and cover Enoch’s eventual emigration to Soviet Karelia in 1922, from where he offers readers an insight into his experience abroad. These letters end in 1933 without explanation and it is not until the 1990s that members of the Nelson family learn of Enoch’s arrest and execution in 1938. For the most part, these letters are written completely in English and the eleven folders are organized chronologically.
BOX 5.
FOLDER 2. Arvid and Enoch Nelson 1914-1918
FOLDER 3. 1919 (January-June)
FOLDER 4. 1919 (July-December)
FOLDER 5. 1920
FOLDER 6. 1921
FOLDER 7. 1922
FOLDER 8. 1923
FOLDER 9. 1924
FOLDER 10. 1925
FOLDER 11. 1926-1928
FOLDER 12. 1929-1933


SERIES 3. A. Nelson's activities in Finnish Organizations

Arvid was involved in a variety of the organizations, which were alive and active in most Finnish American communities. From early on there are membership cards to temperance societies and socialist organizations. A collection of posters for strikes or announcing Finnish Festivals are found throughout the eight folders as well. Arvid, active in every community he inhabited over his lifetime, was a member of the local branches of national and international organizations for workers unions and co-operative societies. Additionally, this series includes a few announcements of political debates, along with flyers for smaller productions done by local youths. Some of the folders that fall into this series had previously been separated by individual organization. These twenty folders have remained together, coming at the end of the first eight chronologically arranged files. These files mostly consist of minutes for local co-cooperatives.
BOX 6.
FOLDER 1. Organizations 1909-1914
FOLDER 2. 1915-1920
FOLDER 3. 1921-1924
FOLDER 4. 1925-1928
FOLDER 5. 1931-1941
FOLDER 6. 1942-1957
FOLDER 7. 1958-1964
FOLDER 8. Organizations
BOX 7.
FOLDER 1. Central Co-op Creamery Association -Foreclosure and Bankruptcy 1922
FOLDER 2. Berkeley Cooperative Union 1971
FOLDER 3. OWI 1942-1943
FOLDER 4. Berkeley Finnish Socialist Local Minutes 1936-1941
FOLDER 5. Co-op Central Exchange Annual Meeting 1920-1921
FOLDER 6. Co-op Central Exchange Annual Meeting 1923
FOLDER 7. Co-op Central Exchange Annual Meeting March 18-19, 1924
FOLDER 8. Co-op Central Exchange Managers' Meeting, March 10-11, 1923
FOLDER 9. Co-op Central Exchange Managers' Conference March 16-17, 1924
FOLDER 10. Co-op Central Exchange Managers' Meeting October 26-27, 1924
FOLDER 11. Co-op Central Exchange Minutes, Notes, Reports 1920-1922
BOX 8.
FOLDER 1. Co-op Central Exchange Minutes and Reports 1922
FOLDER 2. Co-op Central Exchange Minutes and Reports 1923
FOLDER 3. Co-op Central Exchange Minutes and Reports 1924
FOLDER 4. Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of Mendocino County, CA Original By-laws, Policy, Statements, etc. 1913 1913
FOLDER 5. Cooperation-Leaflets (including speech regarding Finnish cooperatives by Wiliam Martilla) 1916-1919 1916-1919
FOLDER 6. Cooperative Farming - The Odessa Farms, Inc.: Fairfield Co-op Farm and Finnish Colony, ca. 1922 Redwood Valley, CA 1922
FOLDER 7. People's Co-op Society 1920-1921
FOLDER 8. People's Co-op Society 1921
FOLDER 9. Franklin Co-op Creamery vs. Stedman et al. 1923


SERIES 4. Newsclippings

The series on newspaper clippings is also divided between the first thirteen folders that are arranged in chronological order and the subsequent twenty folders, previously separated from the general collection, which are, for the most part, labeled according to topic or theme. The solely chronological part of the series dates from 1912 to a 1967 publication that notes the passing of Arvid. The second set, those of the pre-arranged thematic folders, include labels such as “Pre-World War Cartoons and Pictures,” “Superior-Protest of Finnish Socialist Party 1925,” and “Finland Press Clippings: 1938, 1939-41, 46.” Of the many newspaper clippings which Arvid Nelson collected throughout his lifetime, those from Toveri, Raivaaja, Tyomies, and various other Finnish language newspapers are most prevalent. Of course, clippings from the local newspapers are also found, a few such publications being The Superior Telegram, Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Herald, The Daily Californian, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
BOX 09.
FOLDER 1. Newspaper Clippings 1912-1915
FOLDER 2. Newspaper Clippings 1916-1917
FOLDER 3. Newspaper Clippings 1918
FOLDER 4. Newspaper Clippings 1919-1920
FOLDER 5. Newpaper Clippings 1921
FOLDER 6. Newspaper Clippings 1922-1923
FOLDER 7. Newspaper Clippings 1924-1925
FOLDER 8. Newspaper Clippings 1926
FOLDER 9. Newspaper Clippings 1927-1934
FOLDER 10. Newspaper Clippings 1935-1946
BOX 10.
FOLDER 1. Newspaper Clippings 1947-1953
FOLDER 2. Newspaper Clippings 1954-1960
FOLDER 3. Newspaper Clippings 1961-1967
FOLDER 4. Minnesota Daily Star Talks with "Star" Readers January 1923
FOLDER 5. Wartime Clippings: in re: outrages, disloyalty charges, etc. 1917-1918
FOLDER 6. Cartoons Wartime , etc. (clipped, not 's own) 1918
FOLDER 7. Clippings 1918
FOLDER 8. Minnesota Fire of October 1918 Clippings in re: settlements for losses, etc. for some years afterward 1918
FOLDER 9. Tyomies Minnesota fire issue Appeal of Emergency Committee Correspondence with Arnold Ronn
FOLDER 10. Clippings 1919
FOLDER 11. Miscellaneous Print
FOLDER 12. Co-op By-laws Various Societies in U.S. and Abroad
FOLDER 13. Toveri" Editorials 1923
FOLDER 14. J.E. Waller, Bank Cashier Defalcation Case, Fort Bragg, CA May 1922 -idea used in play written by Nelson 1922
FOLDER 15. Newspaper Clippings 1916
BOX 11.
FOLDER 1. Pre-World War Cartoons and Pictures
FOLDER 2. Newspaper Clippings 1919-1923
FOLDER 3. Soviet Government in Wisconsin pamphlet 1924
FOLDER 4. Last copy of "Raivaaja" newspaper March 31, 1944
FOLDER 5. Finland Press Clippings: 1938, 1939-'41, '46 1938-1946
FOLDER 6. Miscellaneous Newspapers
FOLDER 7. Superior - Protest of Finnish Socialist Party 1925
FOLDER 8. Labor Paper vs. Capitalist Sheet Comparisons 1923



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