“If I could accomplish something useful for my fellow creatures, I could gladly go on living, but if I must remain so powerless, so dependent, so tied down—oh, then let me be allowed to die!”
So strongly did Rosalie Roos ache for personal independence that she set sail for the New World to escape the stifling caste of womanhood in the Sweden of the 1850s. As her diary and letters make clear, America impressed her as a land of contrasts: freedom and slaves, cold and heat, the fastest communications and the unendurably slowest, the greatest industry and total apathy.
Although she had chafed under the constraints in Sweden, she found the lack of ceremony in America more than a little appalling: “I can’t quite bring myself to accept the customs of American gentlemen: sitting and rocking in their chairs, putting their feet up on chairs, tables, benches, indeed even on window sills, chewing tobacco ceaselessly and then spitting. At dinner Monday there was a Dr. Sloan at the Hammarskolds’ from Dallas, a little town three years old with three hundred inhabitants and he stayed the whole afternoon. He took his seat next to Tant on the sofa saving: ‘I must sit next to you so I can spit through the window.’”
When Roos returned to Sweden she had only scorn for the theories she had heard in South Carolina concerning the positive good of slavery. On several occasions when pleading for improved opportunities for Swedish women to obtain higher education she drew analogies between such theories and arguments for keeping women—for their own good—within the confines of the home. “As little as the slave owner would want to change places with his slave, just so little are you willing to change your condition for that of women,” she said.
Published for the Swedish Pioneer Historical Society.
About the Author
Carl Anderson is Professor of English at Duke University.