Mary Olivia Erlander, was born October 16, 1870, the sixth child of Swedish immigrants John and Inga Stina (Petersdotter) Erlander. Inga Stina was John's second wife, and the older sister of his first wife. Mary, the youngest daughter grew up during an era when "a woman's place" truly was the home. Women were considered the moral guardians of home and society. In middle-class homes, like the Erlanders', a woman was expected to manage her household, usually with the help of one or more hired servants. A succession of young, Swedish immigrant women served the Erlander household.
Young middle-class women, like Mary, were expected to learn how to fill their free time "productively." They were taught to paint, sew, play music, and to read. Mary became very adept at sketching and watercolor painting, filling the Erlander home with art. The painted borders in the parlor are one of Mary's many contributions to the atmosphere of the Erlander home.
Mary also designed and painted the family's outgoing Christmas cards, her father's business cards, and note cards that she frequently sent to friends. Samples of her work are shown here.
During the construction of their new home at 404 South 3rd Street, Mary's older brother, Alfred, then eleven, often walked baby Mary to see the home being built. Mary lived in the house most of her life, selling it to the Swedish Historical Society of Rockford in 1951.
Mary died January 13, 1968 after an extended illness at the age of 97.