Widow of the Grasses

That’s what some people in Finland called a woman left behind when her husband immigrated to America.

(Sorrow, Albert Edelfelt, Finnish National Gallery)

Sadly, it was not uncommon for desperate poverty to force families to separate. Some men planned to earn what was needed to send passage money to their wives. Others planned to work for a while before returning to Finland in better financial shape. Although it often took years, many families were reunited.

Some women, however, never saw their husbands again. Letters stopped coming, the promised wages never arrived, and they were left alone to wonder what had gone wrong. Effectively widowed, these women were sometimes ostracized by their neighbors, or blamed for their husbands’ departures.

(Solvieg, Albert Edelfelt, Helsinki Art Museum)

Another term for the women left behind was Amerikan Leski, or America Widow. In 1905 one such woman, Elisa Valkama, published a song warning other Finnish women about men who left their wives behind. Here are the opening lyrics:

Since you left me, that two-timing husband, I have no pangs of sorrow. It’s a well-known thing in these here parts, an America Widow.

If you are a good upstanding wife or a happily engaged young girl, never never let your husband take to the road, or go traveling to the new world.

Many couples are no longer happy, it’s all because the man’s gone away. America’s call has captured men’s hearts, while he left his wife there to stay.

Do not say it’s America’s doing, there’s all too many wives left behind. Ignominy places them in a prison, there to face censure unkind.

To read the full lyrics, and hear the song, click the image below.

At least a few  Widows of the Grasses managed to make their way to America and search for their husbands. In 1905, a local newspaper  reported  that a woman arrived in Red Jacket, Michigan, in search of  her missing husband, Herman. She found him living with a woman he’d presented as his legitimate wife.

The abandoned woman must have been outraged, but she needed Herman to provide for her and their six children. Herman agreed to leave his illegitimate wife in favor of his lawful one. (Wife #2  responded by promptly emptying their bank account.)

Whether happily reunited with their husbands or not, it’s painful to imagine how difficult the situation was for all the women left behind in Finland—and the men who felt they had no other choice.

I decided to explore this topic in The Weaver’s Revenge in honor of all those who found themselves in that situation.

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2 Responses to “Widow of the Grasses”

  1. Nijole Etzwiler Says:

    Wow! What a sad story. Years ago I met a 90 year old Lithuanian, whose mother had been left that way. They came to Chicago looking for the husband.

  2. Jill Nisbet Says:

    I just finished this book over the holiday weekend and enjoyed it thoroughly. The pages just flew by as I was torn with trying to slow down and saver. That can wait for rereading I had to know what happened. This was a twist I did not see coming. What courage and sisu people had back then. Thanks for enlightening me with little known historical detail and for Chloe and Roelke becoming more real with each book.🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 for sure.

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