Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Selina (Lee) Sworsky: Hard-Working War Bride

Life after World War II was a time of readjustment for all Americans as servicemen resumed lives postponed by war and women returned to more traditional roles. For new immigrants arriving from war-ravaged countries, the adjustment had the added challenge of building a new life in a different culture. Selina (Lee) Sworsky, a British war bride, arrived in Minnesota in 1946, and immediately set up housekeeping with her husband, Ed. The arrival of twin boys in 1947 followed by a third son in 1954, kept Lee at home until the youngest started school. Naturally resourceful, she found various ways to earn an income, from making doughnuts at a local bakery to cleaning houses. Lee shared her stories in 2008 in an interview with Linda Cameron.

Excerpts from Oral History

LC: Then you went back to work. Where did you work?

LS: I worked at the bakery.

LC: What did you do for them?

LS: I made doughnuts. It’s funny though, the guy I worked for was German and he was a good baker, and very clean, and his wife was German, too. If I had any odd doughnuts I’d always save them cuz there was a young girl that used to come with her mother. I used to give her a little bag of doughnuts. So he were bringing this stuff out to me – the mixture to put it in – he saw this girl with her mother and he said, “They should kill people like that.” I said, “If it were your child would you kill her?” Isn’t that awful?! ...He never answered me....He was a good boss, though. I walked out a few times and went back again. ...And he called me and said, “Come home, Lee!” And I wouldn’t work in summer, cuz Ed wanted me to be home with the kids. So that was good.

LC: And this was at Shopper’s City?

LS: This was Shopper’s City.

LC: Where was it located? It’s close by?

LS: It’s right up on the main road. You know, you go to Brookdale and turn right, and you go up that way [gestures]. It was Shopper’s City, and it’s been so many things, now. But they had Shopper’s City there, and he had the bakery.

LC: How long did you work for him?

LS: Oh, I was there ten years. When the tornado came, ...my boss – he came and took everything they could – the furniture – and they got a trailer and they saved it for us. They were both very good to us. They all were good to us.

LC: It was in the sixties that you worked there?

LS: Yeah. I worked ten years for him.

LC: Is that the only job you’ve had, then, since the war?

LS: No, then I met Thelma. Thelma was my English neighbor. She was an English gal. She came from Milwaukee. Her husband was the head tailor – he went to Chicago and he was the head tailor for Nieman Marcus. Oh, he was a good tailor. He was Italian. So then Thelma said to me one day, “You know what we should do? We should go cleanin’ houses.” I said, “Yeah, we could! Two of us!” So we both went cleanin’ houses.

LC: You had your own business. You were entrepreneurs!

LS: We had our own business. And they’d come looking for us. Because we were English, they thought they had two English maids. Oh, it was so funny! They’d come looking for us. We worked four days a week, but we did four houses a day, too. We’d start early. We’d start early, and we had a key, and we never touched anything, and we were always real honest. We took our tea bags and our tea! [Laughter]

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Sworsky, Selina (Lee); Linda Cameron, interviewer, Selina (Lee) Sworsky Oral History Interview, 2008.