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Helmi Dagmar Mattson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: IHRC1513


Papers of Helmi Dagmar Mattson (1890-1974) include an autobiography; correspondence; diaries; handwritten and typescript articles, plays, poetry and books; records and papers relating to the Northwestern Finnish Historical Society; minutes of meetings of the Mt. Solo Washington Finnish Club; bylaws of the Finnish Workers Association (Portland, Ore.); miscellany; memorabilia; photographs and photograph albums; and scrapbooks.


  • 1916-1974


Language of Materials

Mainly in Finnish; some materials in English


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.


Helmi Dagmar Lampila-Mattson was born in Multia, Finland on December 20, 1890. Her childhood was spent in both Multia and Tampere where her father owned a store. She attended a business college in Helsinki and a home economics school in Tampere before emigrating to Canada in 1911. Her brother had emigrated to Manitoba in 1910 and she joined him there, finding work as a maid in a private home. In 1913 she was married to William Mattson, whom she had met the year before, and the couple settled in International Falls, Minnesota. It was during this time that Helmi began contributing poems and then serialized novels to the Toveritar newspaper in Astoria, Oregon. The Toveritar was the Finnish Socialist Federation’s women’s newspaper, an early advocate of woman’s suffrage patterned after the English language paper, The Progressive Woman. After serving as an extremely prolific contributor for nearly seven years, Helmi Mattson was asked to assume the editorship of the newspaper in 1920. She accepted and became editor in May of that year. In addition to the editing of the paper, she also had charge of children’s publications, the Christmas and Spring annuals, and, her largest side task, the editing of the 10-year anniversary publication, the Toveritar Kymmenenvuotias. In 1921, after editing the paper for two years, Helmi Mattson was replaced as editor by a recent arrival from Finland, who, it was felt, would give the newspaper a stronger political emphasis. The Mattson’s returned to Minnesota, settling in Cloquet, but after a year a new request came to Helmi from Astoria. The Toveri newspaper badly needed a translator and editor for its foreign news. In 1924 the Mattson’s returned to Astoria. After three years, the editor’s position on the Toveritar again became vacant when the editor left for the Soviet Karelia, and Helmi Mattson resumed the editorship of the women’s newspaper. In 1930 after the Toveritar as well as the Toveri ceased publication, the Mattson’s moved to New York City. On arriving in New York, Helmi Mattson went to work for the bookstore operated by the Eteenpain newspaper. Here her duties included reviewing books for the newspaper and occasionally translating them into English. Shortly thereafter she became a part of the newspaper staff. She had charge of proof reading and correcting letters from readers. During the eight years spent in New York, Helmi took an active part in the Finnish Worker’s Federation Theatrical Guild. She became curator of the Guild’s library of plays, a job where her duties included having charge of new acquisitions. It was during this time that she adapted Hall Caine’s The Eternal City into the play Tiberin rannalla and wrote Sumusaarella as well as Petolinnun kynsissa plus many shorter, comic plays. It was at this same time that Helmi went on a speaking tour for a nationwide Finnish women’s organization, the Naisten Kansallinen Komitea (Women’s National Committee) which had clubs throughout the country that promoted assistance for the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. The tour was scheduled to take only a few weeks but lasted for two months. During the time she spent in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago, she lost her position at the Eteenpain and the Theatre Guild. The Mattsons, both unemployed, lived off their savings for three months and then returned to the West Coast, settling in Kelso, Washington. It was here that Helmi Mattson spent the rest of her life. Helmi Mattson was perhaps best known among labor-oriented Finns for her novels. Her books span a twenty-nine year period. Novels which appeared in book form were Lannen auringon alla (1926), Aavikon vaeltajat (1928), Mutkaisilla poluilla (1947), and Pauloihin kierretty (1949). Novels which were serialized in the Naisten Viiri were Multamaen tyttaret (1954) and Valkoisen kartanon saveleet which appeared as Valkoisen kartanon savelmia (n.d.) in the Naisten Viiri. Helmi Mattson’s books characteristically deal with themes centering on the class struggle as it affects the lives of Finnish American immigrants. Her heroes and heroines are those who achieve a social and political awareness and willingness to fight the evils of capitalistic society. Her later novels, however, display a more pronounced historical, rather than ideological emphasis and, in fact, her later works were criticized for not reflecting the “spirit” of the laboring movement. Helmi Mattson’s one great creative love was poetry. Her poems span her entire lifetime from the first short contributions in the Toveri to the many memorial poems she wrote for friends’ and acquaintances’ obituaries in the Tyomies-Eteenpain. Many of her early poems were collected and published by the Toveritar in a volume called Vapautta varrotessa (1920). Since that time her poems frequently appeared in newspapers, annuals, and “juhla” publications. Around 1960 a need was felt by the laboring Finns on the West Coast to perpetuate the memory of their political and cultural activiti8es and this interest eventually culminated in the formation of the Pohjoislannen Suomalainen Historiaseura (The Northwestern Finnish Historical Society) in 1961. Helmi Mattson was instrumental in the founding of the NFHS and functioned as a key figure within the organization throughout its existence. The idea of initiating some kind of action toward memorializing the labor-oriented Finnish pioneers on the West Coast was brought up at a regional meeting of such Finns in 1960, and a committee of three was elected to investigate alternative possibilities. This committee met at Helmi Mattson’s home in Kelso, Washington in July 1961, and it was here that the NFHS came into being. After considerable discussion on the best approach, the committee decided to compile a memorial album of articles, personal remembrances and biographies of people active in labor and cultural activities on the West Coast. Helmi Mattson was chosen to edit the publication. Two years went into the compiling of the album and when it was finally ready for publication, she herself advanced $1,500.00 for its publication when the society encountered difficulties in funding the memorial album project. It can be said that Helmi Mattson single-handedly carried this project to completion from the initial conception to the resulting 110 page Muisto Albumi that was printed at the Vapaus Publishing Company in Sudbury, Ontario in 1965. Helmi Mattson’s twilight years were spent in NFHS activities and in occasional work for the Tyomies-Eteenpain as a local correspondent. She passed away in Kelso, Washington in 1974.


3 Linear Feet

Processing Information

The Helmi Mattson papers were deposited in the archives of the Immigration History Research Center in February, 1975. They were acquired from Mr. George Jackson of Duluth, Minnesota through the efforts of Michael G. Karni, Research Associate for the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota. The collection consists of 3 linear feet of papers and correspondence and includes materials that are located in an oversize binder. Almost all of the material in the collection is written in Finnish. The Helmi Mattson Collection was processed during 1975-1976 by Timo Riippa, Research Assistant at the Immigration History Research Center.

Inventory of the Helmi Dagmar Mattson papers.
IHRC Archives
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area