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Mail Order Bride: Nellie Surface


Pam Surface


A bright sunny day in 1917 a young girl of 17 years, satalone reading the newspaper. Suddenly, her face lit up. What was it thatshe was reading?


WANTED: Strong, healthy young

woman to be wife. Must be

willing to work hard. Write to

Ed Surface, Messler, Missouri


She had a great idea. She wanted some excitement. Sheran to find some paper and a pen. This was the beginning of an excitingadventure for Miss Nellie Renville.

Nellie Renville was born August 11, 1897 in Dufun, Canada. Her parents were John and Sarah Renville. Nellie had ten brothers andsisters. They were: Edward, John, Sarah, Joe, Ernie, Evelyn, Eva, Delia,Frank and Norbert.

Nellie did not learn to speak the English language untilshe moved to the states, when she was about seven years old. Nellie isa true Frenchman.

When Nellie and her family moved from Dufun, Canada, theymoved to Caribou, Minnesota. John Renville was a good farmer, but in orderfor things to run smoothly, everyone had to pitch in and help. As a littlegirl, Nellie had to milk cows, feed the pigs, cut and stack hay. Nelliesays, "When I was home, I worked like a man."

Maybe that is why Nellie was so excited when she read thatlocal newspaper. Nellie led a lonely life in Caribou which is far in thewoods with no neighbors to go and visit within miles. Nellie had begunto get restless. She wanted a different life, so when she was reading thenewspaper, Nellie thought this might be the answer.

The next few months was a time to get to know each otherby corresponding with letters. Finally, the Mr. Edward Surface, whom Nelliehad never seen, wrote and said he would be sending Nellie the money in thenext letter. This was to be used for the train ticket Nellie would needto get to Missouri. Nellie began her plans very secretly.

One dark night, Nellie knew the time was right. The familyhad had a hard days work and they were all sleeping very soundly. Beingthat Nellie had an upstairs bedroom, she had to throw her bag out the window. The next step was to patiently wait for morning.

The next morning, Nellie took the horses and her bag outto the field to stack hay as usual. When the town mailman came by, Nellietied up her horses and caught a ride into town with him. Nellie could feelher heart beating fast as she bought her ticket at the Lancaster train station. Nellie began her long journey to Messler, Mo. in the year 1917.

As Nellie was coming into Messler, Edward had begun toworry that maybe she had gotten off in the town Bell City which was sixmiles away. So, Edward had taken a train to Bell City and had just missedthe train Nellie was on. A friend of Ed's was there and took Nellie tohis home. Here she stayed until they were married. Nellie and Edward Surfacewere united in marriage September 21, 1917. Nellie had just turned 18 yearsold.

Nellie and Ed stayed in Missouri for one year. Then Nellie'sbrother, Edward, came and all three of them went to Arbakka, Canada. Theylived with her grandparents for another year. Back to the U.S.A. to Northcote,Minnesota for a year. On to Humboldt for one more year and finally to Hallock,Minnesota. Nellie and Ed lived in Hallock for about 20 years.

Nellie and Ed had 8 children. Nellie was 19 when she hadher first child. The children are: Grace, Frank, Wilmer, Lee, Darth, Louis,Neil and Phyllis. Out of six of her boys, five of them were in the service. Nellie is a five star mother.

By this time, Ed was a section foreman for the railroadand they had moved to Niagara, North Dakota. Not long after, Ed was killedin a car accident January 1, 1944. He was 44 years old. Nellie has kepton living in Niagara for the past 35 years.

Nellie now has 25 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Being one of these grandchildren, I know Nellie as a grandma instead ofa mail-order bride.

Some of Grandma's hobbies were quilting, crocheting, andalso embroidery work. Grandma writes many letters. She says this is hermain hobby. She enjoys watching a few T.V. programs and she reads quitea bit. Grandma also enjoys getting together with some of her lady friendsand playing a good game of canasta or solitaire.

Nellie Surface still lives in Niagara, North Dakota. Itis always fun to visit your grandparents, but when you know that your owngrandmother was a mail-order bride, it makes her sort of special. Mostimportant of all, especially when you know that she gives the biggest kissesand hugs.


Surface, Dorothy, Interview, January 15, 1974

Surface, Nellie, Correspondence, January 8, 1974

iew, January 15, 1974

Surface, Nellie, Correspondence, January 8, 1974