The Swedish Satchel



Fredrik Ortegren, age nineteen, arrived from Sweden in New York in 1903, carrying the leather satchel his loving father had made for this trip. The story of Fredrik’s life begins in rural Sweden, far north of Stockholm. The lifestyle there at the end of the century conveys the warmth of the family with six children, the father often traveling north to barter with fur trappers for desired fox, lynx, and mink furs, mainstays of the Ortegren furrier business.

The Swedish monetary depression at the end of that century leaves the generation of young adults with little future. Their parents with loving unselfishness send their sons and daughters to The New Country, comprising the biggest human migration in human history as Northern Europeans land on American soil. Fredrik’s biography tells of shipboard experiences, the arrival and travel from New York to Boston, his search for employment in what was to him a big city, Boston. He lived with his sisters in the boarding house owned and operated by his aunt.

After a year in Boston, Fredrik became restless to see more of America and traveled by rail to San Francisco. Later, in 1906 he almost lost his life in the San Francisco Fire and Earthquake. Though a confirmed bachelor he fell in love and married in 1917, bought a house in Albany, California, had a son, a daughter, and then lost his wife. Confronted with his wife’s sisters who came to take his children, as was the custom then, he tells them kindly, “If I give my children away, I will have nothing,” thereby becoming one of the few single fathers of his generation.

His life embodies a man of responsibility who put his children first in any consideration. He learned what they learned in their early schooling, improving his English speaking and writing skills, and when they enter college he became an at-home student, engrossed in college subjects.

Though a factory worker he weathered The Great Depression, taking his young children on enriching trips to the Golden Gate Museum, Golden Gate Park, and the San Francisco Opera House to hear Rigoletto. His habit of requesting specific books on philosophy and history for his children to bring home from the public library affected their attitude on the value of learning.

In The Swedish Satchel, the love of Fredrik’s Swedish parents comes through in his love for his children, and later his children’s children. A generational biography, it shows how the Swedish culture flows into American lives.

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About June Stephenson

June Stephenson is the author of 20 books about women’s issues, parental responsibility, the humanities, philosophy, comparative religion, music, architecture, parenting, sexual abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, incest, crime, women’s studies, aging, tyranny, family, marriage, and divorce. The accomplished author has a degree from Stanford in economics and a Ph.D. in psychology with 25 years of teaching experience in history and English. Stephenson’s well-researched and documented approach combined with an easy-to-read style, offers readers enrichment and enjoyment. She also is an award-winning artist with many red ribbons from juried art shows throughout California. Stephenson has two daughters and two granddaughters, and lives in Palm Desert, California, with her Labradoddle named Happy.

2 Responses to “The Swedish Satchel”

  1. Anna Lisa (Westlund) Sheridan September 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I believe that your father and my grandmother were brother/sister. I think I have movies of you when you came to Belmont to pick up David John in 1950. If this is true, I would like to get a copy of this book. I am trying to fill in the blanks in a “family history” for my daughters.

    • June Ortegren Stephenson Bailey October 31, 2012 at 4:20 am

      Yes Anna Lisa, you are right. Your father’s name was Elmer and your grandmother was very dear to me. But I was not the one who came to Belmont to get David. That was Martha’s cousin Freddie who came from Texas and took David home to raise him as one of his own sons. I don’t know if David knows the story of his mother and father, and that would be just as well. I knew your mother and father before that had you and I believe a brother? I would like to hear from you again. Sincerely, June