Revealing Past Summers

They had spent a couple of lovely summers at “Strömsborgs Vilohem*” when time came for Dagny and Robert to once again set out to China to fulfill their obligation as missionaries in the year of 1912.

This time was to be quite different in one deciding way. Four of their children were too old to go back to China if they were to have an education to build on in the future. Dagny and Robert came to the conclusion that not only Morris, 14 years, who had been sent home to Sweden as a 7-year-old, but also Dagny-Edla, 12, Martin, 8, and Wilhelm, 6, would have to stay in Sweden and not go back to China with their parents and their two younger siblings – Rolland, 5, and Helfrid, 1.  

After the age of 7, it was not recommended to keep children on in China. At the time there was no Swedish School (it started in 1918) where the missionaries could place their children. It was decided that the boys should stay at the Duvbo mission home in Stockholm and Dagny-Edla was going to stay with the old Sunday school teacher and devout Christian, Lotten Hagelin, who offered to pay for both keep and education. Lotten Hagelin was a childless, rich woman in her 50’s, who had founded Strömsborgs Vilohem and who cared very much for missionary work.

In fact, Dagny and Robert had been amongst the first to get an invitation to stay at Strömsborg when the first house, Elim, was opened for guests. Finally, they could let their children roam free in the woods, go fishing by the dock or swim in the crisp and clear water just a few meters from the house. Something vastly different from their life in China, and surely very recreational.

Lotten Hagelin worked hard to help different missionary societies and cared very much for the Swedish Mission in China. She was a well respected woman and missionaries loved spending time “home away from home” at her summer paradise Strömsborg.

Dagny and Robert were of course very flattered that a woman such as Lotten would like to take on their daughter and pay for both her keep and her education. That way, the missionary society would save some money, Dagny-Edla would get the best care and everyone would be pleased. So they thought.

Dagny-Edla is the girl in white, marked with the number 3. Her mother Dagny is no 1 and father Robert no 6. This is the summer of 1911, one year before Dagny-Edla became the fosterchild of Lotten Hagelin.

But, Dagny-Edla’s time as Lotten’s fosterchild was not to be easy. Lotten knew that Dagny-Edla wanted to become a missionary just like her parents, and thought she knew how to help her achieve that goal. Her methods were sadly not at all suited for bringing up a young girl and giving her the strength she needed in life. Instead of understanding how hard it was for Dagny-Edla to see her parents leave Sweden for at least 7 years in China, she strictly told the girl to get a grip and behave. She looked sternly at the young girl and said: Think of the Chinese that will now receive the gospel, isn’t that more important than having your mother here? (From Dagny-Edla’s own book “Mission in China”)

Dagny-Edla described her ordeal – weeding out thistles on the vast grounds of Strömsborg day in and day out, only getting hard bread to eat in order to prepare herself for the scarce food in China and never getting any praise, only scorn. Lotten told Dagny Edla that she was both dumb and ugly on a daily basis.

But Lotten never saved a penny when it came to education and helped Dagny Edla get into nurse school at the age of 19. The nurse school was with room and board, and Dagny Edla was happy to not have to stay with Lotten any longer, as she had become increasingly insecure and felt she was never good enough for Lotten.

And that is when Lotten changed. She wrote letters to Dagny-Edla, telling her how much she appreciated her and she asked Dagny-Edla to come visit her ever day she had off from school. Dagny-Edla was very surprised, as she had thought she was just a burden in Lotten’s life.

When Lotten got cancer, she thought about what had happened and asked Dagny-Edla for forgiveness. She explained she had only said all those mean things to prepare Dagny-Edla for the hard life as a missionary and to help her be humble. She wowed that none of it had been true. Dagny Edla had a hard time believing this, but forgave Lotten – as did her parents Dagny and Robert.  When they came home from China again in 1920, Lotten asked their forgiveness just before she passed away.

The Strömsborg experience

I wish to leave everything as well preserved as when I recieved it.

The main and most important rule for staying at Strömsborgs Vilohem can be read together with several other, more detailed descriptions of how to take care of the houses and grounds when entering the main house – Borgen.

Set in a golden frame, the rules – written sometime after 1911 – greet every visitor with their polite, but distinct disciplinary tone.

“Wipe your feet well, before entering the house.”

“Think about that what grows in the gardens is not only for you, but for everyone here.”

“Respect those working in the kitchen and make sure you are on time for meals.”

The rules.

The grounds are vast and encompass several houses as well as two docks connected by a beach strip. There is a boat house on one of the docks, and the view offers water as far as your eye can see, with a couple of small islands breaking the blue haze. The recreational home lies quite beautifully on the peninsula of Rådmansö, in the northern part of the Stockholm archipelago.

Back in the days. Only women were allowed to go swimming from this dock.

A surprising discovery
As I had seen photos of Strömsborg in our family albums, and one of my relatives confirmed that this recreational home had played an important part when our family time were on “vacation” in Sweden, resting from their missionary work in China, I thought I’d swing by as I was on my way to visit a friend nearby. I was hoping to recognize some of the milieus in the old photographs I have from my great grandparents.

I didn’t expect to meet anyone other than perhaps some summer guests, renting houses by the week. The grounds are open for visitors, and you are encouraged to act according to the Swedish “Allemansrätt” – the right of public access. Basically, one can walk freely but have to do so with respect.

I passed the house my great grandparents had lived in – Elim – a bright yellow house with a big porch and a quaint, green copper roof, and then passed a small contemplation cottage, to find myself in front of another yellow house with a stairway decorated with big, white shells leading up to the front door.

Above: Postbox in the shape of the main house Borgen, the Elim house where Dagny and Robert stayed, the main house Borgen, the contemplation cottage + interior.

As I was looking around a very nice woman appeared. She offered to show parts of Borgen and told me more about the founder Lotten Hagelin. The house was almost like a museum, with everything carefully renovated and set in place just like it had been back then.

Above: the veranda as Lotten liked it, the dining room, Lotten’s desk, the salon and a portrait of Lotten herself.

As she understood I had relatives with a connection to the grounds, she went to get a box of photographs. I could almost not believe it when she put them down on the small table in front of me. Both were pictures where I recognized relatives of mine. It was perhaps not so strange to find Morris, the eldest son of Dagny and Robert, in one of the pictures, but to my surprise the photos also shows my grandmother Edna and her sister Linnea, sitting on the stairway leading up to the house.

A photo of a photo – a bit blurry. Edna on the stairs down to the right. Her sister Linnea in front – right. All the way up by the door, Morris with glasses and beside him – Dagny-Edla.

As far as I can tell, Edna is around 14 years old in the picture. The photograph must therefore have been taken in 1927. This happens to be the first summer she was back home from China. In 1927, the Swedish School in China closed due to all the turmoil – it was simply not safe to stay on in China, and that is why Olga and Nils took their daughters Edna and Linnea back to Sweden. Perhaps Olga and Nils are somewhere on the grounds of Strömsborg as this photograph is taken.

Edna wears her hair in two long, brown braids, and her blonde sister Linnea sits by her feet, looking just as serious as Edna. The look on my grannys face tells me she is not “at home” in Sweden yet. Perhaps she feels more comfortable speaking Chinese – just as Dagny-Edla did, when she first had to go to school in Sweden. Dagny-Edla wrote in her memoirs that she struggled not to “slip back into Chinese” and avoid getting reprimanded by the well-meaning Swedish ladies who knew she would have to learn the language quickly to get by here.

But Edna was at Strömsborg with other young people, who had gone through the same struggles as she was probably going through at the time – the feeling of loss, the language barrier, the differences in culture, the climate… Edna had never been to Sweden before, and her mother Olga was back for the first time in 22 years. It must have been very much to take in.

1927 is also the year Dagny-Edla finally gets to fulfill her wish and start her work as a missionary in China – a very difficult and perilous journey lies ahead of her – but that is a story for some other time. This must be one of the last photos of her before she sets out on her journey.

I was very happy to make this short stop at Strömsborg. It gave me a sense of how the missionaries spent their summers, the rooms they met in, the atmosphere and the surroundings. Everything adds color and structure and reveals more about them. And to find photographs that are not in the family albums is, of course, something extra.

I was also gifted a book written about Strömsborg to celebrate it’s 100 years. The author – Sven Hedenskog – has done a lot of research about Lotten Hagelin, the houses and the grounds. I was so happy to find even more photographs of my relatives in the book. Especially of Dagny-Edla.

Commemorating Strömsborg 100 years in 2010, Sven Hedenskog wrote the history of Lotten Hagelin and the grounds of Strömsborg.

After having read more about Lotten Hagelin, I also understand more about my grandfather’s sister. I met Dagny-Edla a few times when I was young, and even though it’s well over 30 years ago, I remember her mental strength and perseverence. She showed me her plastic arm (she had lost one of her arms) and said it never stopped her from doing what she had to do in life. She went out as missionary against all odds and without the protection of a missionary society – and she made it. And knowing how her youth had been quite an ordeal as well, I can do nothing but admire her.

But I am not finished with Strömsborg. I will most certainly go there again – there might be more to find there – I am sure I have only started revealing my family’s history in and around these grounds.

Some of the different houses on the grounds, instructions for swimming and a bible embroidery: Throw your burden onto the Lord, and he will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to fall.

*Freely translated: The recreational home of Strömsborg

8 thoughts on “Revealing Past Summers

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    1. I’m happy you enjoyed it, Liz!🥰
      Yes, it was such a surprise and both me and the woman who worked there got goosebumps when we realized several of my relatives were on the photos in the old box she brought out! There were no names listed on the back of the photos, nor the name of the photographer. It would be interesting to reveal the names of all those present in the photos 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Brad! I think I will try to rent one of the houses for a week, to see what more there is to find out. Another relative of mine said there should be a room named after my granddad’s sister Dagny-Edla. If that is correct, it would be wonderful to see that as well 🙂 This time, I could not visit all of the houses, only the one called Borgen. So, lots remains to be discovered! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Good idea! I do hope I can get to stay there for a few days, as it’s a very nice place in summer! I’ll have to remember it for next year – summer in Sweden is already drawing to a close… I hope you have had a nice summer so far, Brad!

          Liked by 1 person

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