March is Women’s History Month so we explored the history books at the Chisago County Historical Society and found four local women to feature! Over four weeks we used social media to share a little bit about these prominent #ChisagoLakes women.
First up was our famous Swedish heroine, Kristina Nilsson. Kristina is the fictional wife of Karl Oskar from the world-renowned series The Emigrants, by Vilhelm Moberg.
Kristina’s story is representative of thousands of emigrants who traveled a long, arduous journey to start a new life in this region. Kristina was a wife, mother, pioneer and friend. Kristina’s character embodied the vital combination of bravery, fortitude, endurance and complexity that immigrants faced as they sought a better life in the United States.
Of interest: Several of the sources for the book series are taken from the life of the Swedish woman Mina Andersson, who emigrated to the United States in 1890. She wrote an autobiography about her life, called The School of Life. She sent this biography to the author Vilhelm Moberg, who used it as a source in his novel suite. Mina Andersson, born 1867 in Bäckefors, Dalsland, died 1955 in Milaca, Minnesota, was a Swedish author. She emigrated to the United States in 1890. The manuscript can now be found in the Emigrants’ House in Växjö.
Ethel Eleanor Mattson Corey
Next, we featured Lindström darling Ethel Eleanor Mattson Corey.
Ethel was born on July 20, 1909 on a farm northeast of Lindström. She attended school in Shafer and graduated from Chisago High School in 1927, and rode the train to school for 12 cents a ride!
An excerpt from Shafer “Swamp to Village”:
“In 1925-28, when several students from Shafer went to Chi Hi, there was no school bus service, but we were the lucky ones, much envied by our classmates. We rode the train! The Northern Pacific freight train left Shafer about 8am and returned mid-afternoon…we had a ball on the train and even had rides in the engine and blew the whistle.”
After high school, Ethel worked at several jobs and even moved to San Francisco for a time. In 1947 she returned and married Howard Corey. They had a son, Harvey, a few years later. Together Ethel and Howard opened a bulk oil station in Lindström, opening a new station on the east end of Lindström and Ethel worked as the bookkeeper.
Ethel took over the business when Howard died of a heart attack in 1956. She was the only female oil jobber in the Minnesota Division of the Petroleum Association. Ethel was active in the Civic Club, was a Cub Scout den mother, a PTA president, a charter member of the Chi Ki Saga Club, the hospital auxiliary and Lindström Historical Society. She was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church.
Ethel Corey died December 29, 1999, and is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Lindström, the city that she came to love.
For the third week of Women’s History Month we celebrated another business and community leader, Marlene Smith.
Marlene Johnson was born October 6, 1935 and grew up on a family farm that had a working sawmill. After graduating from Forest Lake High School in 1953, she married and moved to Lindström to start a family. In 1962, she began working at Plastic Products Company (PPC) as a bookkeeper and in 1972 she married her second husband, the company’s owner, Willard “Smitty” Smith. Marlene was abruptly confronted with running PPC when Smitty died of cancer not long after their wedding. At the time of his death, PPC was experiencing hardship and declining sales. Marlene fought to keep the business afloat and to ensure that their employees did not lose their jobs. Marlene turned the struggling company into a thriving, award-winning business, one that for years was repeatedly ranked as one of the nation’s largest woman-owned businesses.
When Marlene retired in 2013, the company had over $150 million in revenue and nearly 900 employees in plants across the United States. Marlene was inducted into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame in 2014!
For over 50 years Marlene not only served as a corporate leader, she was regularly involved in efforts to improve the community. Her philanthropy is celebrated by many area organizations. Marlene had a passion for preserving historic landmarks, protecting the environment, and drawing tourists to the Chisago Lakes area. Marlene funded the refurbishing of Lindström’s landmark water tower, now prominently featured as a Swedish coffee pot.
Marlene passed away at the age of 79 on April 5, 2015.
Ruth Edelstein (Easton)
In the final week of Women’s History Month we featured local actress Ruth Edelstein (Easton).
Ruth was born in 1905 in North Branch, MN, to general store owners Samuel Edelstein and Ethel Sushansky. As a child, Ruth loved to play dress-up and act in her own skits. Ruth spent a year studying drama at the University of Minnesota then Macalaster College. Ruth finished up her college education at Cumnock School in Los Angeles. She spent much of her life in and around Los Angeles, and adopted the stage name “Ruth Easton.”
During the seven years after finishing college Ruth appeared in five Broadway shows, including “Head First,” “One Shot Fired,” and “Exceedingly Small.” During her career Ruth worked with such notables as Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Al Jolson, and Eddie Cantor.
Ruth enjoyed a successful stage career. She also worked in radio entertainment and appeared several times on the Rudy Vallee Show.
“She really felt that her roots were in Minnesota,” according to Nancy Johansen, a longtime family friend and former Macalester professor, but she retired in California.
Ruth passed away on March 16, 1998.
Thank you to the Chisago County Historical Society for their assistance with these features!
If you have a suggestion of a local woman to feature during 2023’s Women’s History Month, please leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!