The life story of Matilda Lilleby McReynolds (Telia to her family) exemplifies migration and work patterns for Nowegian American women in urban areas. Her parents emigrated from Norway in 1856, married, and settled in Nicollet County, Minnesota. In 1862, during the US-Dakota War, the family left their farm and relocated to St. Peter. They later moved westward to Renville County and lived in Sacred Heart by 1870.
Born in 1870, McReynolds was the seventh of twelve children. Her parents operated a hotel in Emmet Township (Renville County) in 1880. Six people, most of whom were Norwegian, resided at the hotel. The Lilleby daughters most likely asssisted their mother with domestic work at the hotel. Like many other young Norwegian American women in rural communities, some of the Lilleby daughters sought employment in the city, including Telia. Family played a role in Telia Lilleby's migration to the city. In the late 1880s, elder sister Hannah migrated to Minneapolis. By 1894 Telia had moved to Minneapolis and found work as a dressmaker. Five years later she worked as a dressmaker for the Misses McGahn and lived in a boarding house operated by her sister, Anna Mason, on 12 Street South in a working class, ethnically diverse neighborhood.
It appears Telia Lilleby married Lucian Alden McReynolds in 1901 and began using Lilleby McReynolds as her name. After her marriage, she continued working as a dressmaker. The couple lived on Second Avenue, and McReynolds operated her dress business on the second floor of their home. She sewed dresses for some of the Cities' leading women, incluing Bessie Pettit Douglas, and had up to fifteen employees. Son Richard helped his mother by riding his bike to Amluxon's fabric store to pick up goods. McReynolds traveled to New York City twice each year to purchase "fabrics for her business." Her husband's unexpected death in 1910 made McReynolds the family's sole breadwinner, which made her sewing and business skills all the more important.
As a second-generation Norwegian American, Telia Lilleby McReynolds saw her future not on the farm, but in the city. She used her sewing skills to create a business that catered to fashionable Minneapolis women, and many of the Cities' dressmakers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Norwegian Americans. Her life and experiences allude to the broad contours of life in the city for Norwegian American women.
From Norwegian American Women edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum
For Lilleby Family history, see A History of Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, 1872-1972 by Carl and Amy Narvestad