Lodge Diana Birger Jarl No. 3, Vasa Order of America

On March 17, 1928, the meeting of the Birger Jarl Lodge was called to order at 7:45 pm. Minutes indicate that several individuals were missing. The members who were present approved the minutes of the previous meeting, were read a list of people who were sick, and appointed a committee to sell tickets to their upcoming ball. The financial report concluded  the meeting.

A record book of the Birger Jarl Lodge was recently added to our collections. The minutes of meetings date from 1923-1940 and document a fraternal organization in Connecticut that helped newly arrived Nordic immigrants assimilate into American society, sought to preserve Nordic culture, and offered financial support when needed. Benefit societies like Birger Jarl Lodge No. 3 were often formed around an ethnic identity, a geographic location, a church, or a particular business. They were particularly important because there was so government-funded health insurance at the time of their creation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Vasa Order of America, which was the umbrella organization for the New Haven lodge, was founded September 18, 1896, in New Haven, Connecticut, to provide spiritual, physical and financial aid to its members. It was a combination of various sick benefit societies of Nordic origin within the State of Connecticut.

This is a great addition to our collections concerning immigrant populations to America. The only catch is, the entire volume is written in Swedish! It took an international effort for us to even understand the text of a single meeting. It presents a challenge not unlike that of the records of the Young Italian American Club which is primarily written in Italian.

The record book will be available through our Research Center. Ask for Ms 101617.

Letterhead for the Swedish aide society, Ms 101617.

Minutes of a meeting of the Birger Jarl No. 3, New Haven, Conn.

Hartford’s Mayor Mortensen

William Mortensen was born in Hartford in 1903, the son of Danish immigrants. He attended Antioch College in Ohio and took classes at the Hartford College of Law.  For 40 years Mortensen managed the Bushnell Memorial Hall. Upon his retirement, well-wishers included Carol Channing, with whom he had posed for a photograph when the actress performed at the Bushnell. Additionally, Mortensen served as Mayor of Hartford (Republican), a State Senator, and as a member of several other boards and committees. Mortensen earned honorary degrees from Trinity College and the University of Hartford.

Among the many types of papers found within this collection, which is finally being cataloged thanks to our NHPRC-funded grant, are life records, audio recordings, photographs, diplomas and awards, deeds, wills, financial records, diaries, and correspondence from family, friends, and co-workers. The correspondence particularly demonstrates Mortensen’s longtime association with the Seaverns family. The Bushnell Memorial was the brainchild of Mary Bushnell (Hillyer) Seaverns and her mother, Dotha (Bushnell) Hillyer. Mrs. Seaverns’ husband, Charles Frederick Taft Seaverns was President of the Bushnell and worked with Mortensen for many years. Mortensen also maintained friendships with the Seaverns’ son Appleton and grandson Charles.

Mortensen and his first wife, Alice, began the William and Alice Mortensen Foundation. The Mortensen’s gave generously to local non-profit organizations, including the University of Hartford and Hartford Public Library. Mortensen died at his Old Saybrook home in 1990 at age 87. He was survived by his second wife, Trice.

William H. Mortensen Papers and Records, 1922-1990.  Ms 98235

Larrabee Fund

When I was in graduate school the first time, I developed a course to study social movements of the 19th century, including abolitionism, womens’ rights, etc. There were a lot of women’s groups formed to help more unfortunate women. But today, I finished cataloging the treasurer’s records for a charitable fund created by a MAN. Charles Larrabee, in his will, established a fund to care for the “lame, deformed or maimed females” of Hartford. His property reportedly was worth several thousand dollars. His 1847 will bequeathed all of his real and personal estate to the Mayor, Aldermen and Selectmen of the town of Hartford, that the annual income may be appropriated for the relief and benefit for the needy. What his motivation was remains a mystery. I am sure the women whose names are listed in our recently acquired account book (1865-1973) were most appreciative, no matter what his motive.