Helga (Jonsdottir) Stephansson



Life and Work

Early on in her life, Helga was involved in helping her family's situation through domestic work. Since her arrival in Shawano County, USA, Helga worked as a servant girl on American farms. In 1876, the first Icelandic wedding in the United States took place with the marriage of Stephan Guthmundsson to his first cousin, Helga Jonsdottir, who was nineteen.

After her marriage, Helga worked hard to build a future with her husband and parents. Yet her marriage was not a passionate love affair but more of a marriage based on convenience and family expectation. In 1889, Helga, who was pregnant, moved with her husband to the Markerville area because North Dakota didn't offer them what they needed to survive. Her husband grew grain successfully and Helga had enough flour to bake bread for many months.

Helga and her husband had a partnership of equals in farm chores, but also in matters of ownership and decision-making. She retained ownership of whatever she earned and purchased and this was significant at that time because women did not have property rights. Helga had eight children spanning twenty-one years which gave her little time away from child rearing, reading and writing letters home. She always took care of her children when her husband was away on speaking engagements.

The death of her son Gestur, who was struck by lightening, made Helga very uncomfortable when thunderstorms occurred. Helga made significant contributions to the growing community of Markerville. She was an active member of the Vonin Ladies Aid Society, a local woman's organization that helped out with community service.