To Grow Old in a New Country: Perspectives on Immigration and Capability in the USA during the Early Decades of the 20th Century

Ulrika Lagerlöf Nilsson, University of Gothenburg

During the second half of the 19th century, approximately 1 million Swedes arrived in the USA. What happened to these immigrants as they aged, especially in cases where there were few or no relatives to rely on? How was their welfare managed and organized during the beginning of the 20th century? Answers to such questions will not only reveal an aspect of how societies try to care for those who no longer have the means to do so by themselves. Argued for is that it can also tell us something about assimilation processes, in this case the transition from a Swedish to Swedish-American identity. In this paper, some examples of early Swedish Retirement Home’s in the USA will be presented. By examining who founded these homes, how they were organized (funding, personnel, and activities) as well as studying who lived in the homes, we can get an idea of how the needs of the now elderly immigrants were met. It must have been a pressing concern a hundred years ago. Theoretically and methodologically this paper is inspired by the capability approach, which on an overall level refers to how an individual can live a valuable and good life. Searched for in the source material are traces that can show how the organizers tried to give the Swedish immigrants a dignified life when they grew old in a new country. Of great concern was e.g. to provide the now elderly immigrants with an environment reminiscent of the one they once had left. Not least the language seems to have been an important factor. Thus their Swedish heritage was still important, also for the organizers.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 44. Mental Health and Aging