Documenting Swedish America

The photography of Lennart Setterdahl - depicting a lifetime of recording our mutual history in the United States. 

  • Lennart Setterdahl, Swedish American of the Year of the Chicago area in 1987.
  • Documenting Swedish America will open in the Raoul Wallenberg Gallery at the Swedish American Museum, Chicago on Saturday, July 6, 11 a.m. The exhibit closes, Sunday, Sept. 29, 4 p.m.

  • Lennart Setterdahl filming Nya Werlden in about 1975.
  • Driven by a relentless passion to record as much history about Swedish-Americans as possible, Lennart Setterdahl (1928-1995) and his family have made prolific contributions to our understanding of Swedish America and Swedish immigration.

  • ... filming Nya Werlden in about 1975.
  • When Setterdahl (1928-1995) first moved to America, he had no idea it would be a permanent move. Soon after, his wife Lilly and their young sons joined him. What followed was a lifetime consumed by a relentless drive to document as much of Swedish America as possible, both its people and organizations, in a race against time as the early generations of Swedish immigrants and their children quickly aged.

  • During three decades, Lennart Setterdahl crisscrossed the continent several times by car in order to preserve as much as he could of Swedish-American history. His amassed microfilm collection consists of about 1,855 Swedish-American Church archives, more than 1,000 other archives (organizations, clubs, companies, Bishop Hill Colony documents, etc.), and 140 Swedish-American newspaper holdings. On his own initiative, he microfilmed Nya Werlden, published in Galesburg and Chicago in the 1870s, and Kvinnan och Hemmet, published in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from 1888 to 1947, letter collections and diaries. At the time of his death in 1995, there were about 3,000 recorded interviews and about 20,000 photographs in the Setterdahl collection. Of the photographs about 2,800 portray people he had interviewed. His work benefited mostly the Swedish Emigrant Institute in Växjö, Sweden, but it has also enriched institutions on this side of the Atlantic and emigration researchers about Swedes in America around the world.

  • Lilly Setterdahl , who will be present at the exhibit opening, has since published over 20 books about Swedish immigrants, many of which draw on the oral histories Lennart produced.

  • For more info, see Documenting Swedish America: a Setterdahl Family Tradition