Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, Spring 1918
The train took 8 hours to travel the 300 miles to Minneapolis. At the station, Sessel gathered her satchel and reticule, and stepped off the train. So many people! So much noise! Sessel had never seen so much activity. She was as excited as she was overwhelmed. With a sparkle in her eyes, she marched through the station, a tall, dark haired young woman of 18, wearing a serviceable black skirt, white blouse, button shoes, and a cloak. At the curb, she hailed a coach to take her to the boarding house for young, unmarried Christian women that the doctor had referenced in his letter.
In her room, she unfolded the letter and read it again. An offer of a job in the city! Freedom from farm chores and from sitting on a hard bench all day on Sunday listening to Father read the Bible. Freedom to listen to music, and maybe even dance, Sessel smiled to herself.
Maybe she should change her name before she went to apply for the job. An Americanized name for a modern American working girl. Sessel became Cecile that very day.
The next morning, bright and early, Cecile presented herself at the servant’s door to the house. “A mansion,” thought Cecile, “3 stories. I wonder how many people work here.” She stood a little straighter and took a deep breath before ringing the bell. A woman wearing a black serge dress and white apron, her hair pinned under a lace cap, answered the bell. “Yes?” she asked.
“I’m here for the position”, Cecile said, handing over the letter from the owner of the house.
“This way. I am Mrs. Nelsen, the head housekeeper”, the woman said as she ushered Cecile into a beautifully decorated parlor. William Morris wallpaper graced the walls along with paintings hung from picture rales. Kazakh style rugs were placed carefully over the dark stained floors. Doorways were framed in dark mahogany. Velvet upholstered furniture lined the walls. A wide, gracious stairway led the way to the second floor.
Mrs. Nelson read over the letter Cecile handed her and motioned Cecile to a chair. “Your duties will be to keep the second floor as a maid. You will be given a uniform. The cost will be deducted from your pay. You may take your meals in the kitchen with the rest of the staff. You will have Sundays off. You will be expected at all times to comport yourself as a proper Christian young woman. Do you have a place to stay or will you be boarding in?”
Head spinning, Cecile could only nod at what she was hearing. “I have a place to stay”, she heard herself say.
“I am responsible for hiring staff, but you will meet with the owner, Mr. Acton before you begin your duties. You may start tomorrow at 7:00 am sharp. Punctuality is required. Good Day.” Mrs. Nelsen dismissed Cecile with a nod.
It was her first full day in Minneapolis and she had a new name and work as a maid. In a mansion of all things.
Cecile hurried back to the boarding house and found she had a new roommate. Christine had just arrived and was going to work at a paper factory in St. Paul. The two young women hit it off immediately and become inseparable. Their friendship lasted their entire lives.
Cecile and Christine spent nearly every minute they weren’t working with each other. They walked down the sidewalks of Minneapolis, window shopping and giggling over displays in shop windows. One winter, they joined a group of other young people for sleigh rides in the snow, wrapped in warm blankets, and pulled by 2 strong horses, their hooves spraying clouds of snow with each step. At Christmas time, they sang carols. “Silent Night” drifted into the night air, sung in German, Norwegian, Danish, and English. A young man named Clarence Swenson joined the singing. Cecile pretended to ignore him.