Anna Sofia Nystén was born on 22 January 1890 in Västra Eneby, Östergötland, Sweden.
She was the eldest daughter of Samuel August Nyström (1848-1941), a farmer, and Maria Sofia Nilsdotter (b. 24 April 1863) and she had four known siblings: Elsa Maria (b. 1891), August Mauritz (b. 1893), Amanda Lovisa (b. 1896) and Anders Helge (b. 1897).
Her father had previously been married to Anna Lovisa Danielsson (1845-1889) and through that marriage Anna had four known half-siblings: Clara, Carl Niklas (b. 1874), Samuel Gustaf (b. 1876) and Gunnar. The family lived on Farsbro Farm in Kisa, Östergötland.
Anna had been persuaded to travel to the USA by a family friend, Ernst Danböm who had spent time living there with his wife and son. Also travelling with them was Anders Johan Andersson and his wife and five children. The wives of Ernst Danböm and Anders Andersson, Anna and Alfrida respectively, were sisters.
Anna and her group boarded the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912 all as third class passengers (Ann travelling on ticket number 347081 which cost £7, 15s). She would be joining her half-sister Clara in Passaic, New Jersey.
On the night of the sinking Anna was alerted to the danger but calmly dressed, grabbed a basket containing food and few items of clothing and went to the open decks where she encountered the Danböm and Andersson families. She later recalled in a 1932 interview:
"We had gone to bed," she recalled... "but I'm not sure I was asleep. The first thing I distinctly remember was a terrific jar and a sound such as one hears when the bottom of an automobile scrapes the ground as you drive in a deep-rutted road. That was the ship striking the iceberg." - Des Moines Register, 15 April 1932
She later escaped, some placing her in lifeboat 13, and was the only member of her party to survive.
"Of the course the women and children were put into the boats first, but several men tried to get in them too. It was sad, the way families were separated." "I'm not sure the band was playing--as the stories say--but I think it was." - -Des Moines Register, 15 April 1932
From her vantage in the lifeboat she watched the confusion on the decks and later reported large cracking noises as the ship went down. She later described being thankful that the sea was calm, otherwise she feared that her lifeboat would have been swamped.
"Just at dawn we sighted the Carpathia, a German (sic) boat, which picked us up. They were awfully good to us, giving us their first class cabins. Two boys, who had been swimming since the Titanic went down also were picked up and taken to the ship's hospital. Both of them lived, although no-one thought they would." - Des Moines Register, 15 April 1932
Upon Anna's arrival in New York aboard the Carpathia, The Woman's Relief Committee gave her $25 and she later cabled her family back in Sweden to inform them of her survival. Following this she reportedly maintained lifelong contact with another Swedish survivor, Hilda Hellström, who visited her in later years. She recalled in a 1932 interview that a woman tried to buy as a souvenir her basket that she had saved from Titanic, offering her $100. Anna refused the offer but a short time later she reported that the basket was stolen, perhaps by souvenir hunters.
Anna reportedly suffered from nightmares following her ordeal but by the time of a 1937 interview she declared that she was no longer afflicted (Des Moines Tribune, 15 April 1937).
Anna remained in New York until 1915; she had reportedly been saving enough money to return to visit her family in Sweden when the Lusitania disaster occurred and she had second thoughts, as reported in the Des Moines Tribune on 27 October 1969. That year she moved to Iowa, initially to Boone County for a short period before settling in Des Moines.
Anna was married in Des Moines on 20 October 1920 to fellow Swede Frans Otto Arvid Gustafsson (b. 11 August 1890), an automobile mechanic who had come to the USA in 1907. Their daughter Linnea Arvida Sofia (b. 23 September 1919, later Mrs Jack McDermott, d. 19 July 1989) had been born the previous year and they went on to welcome three sons after their marriage: Arvid Harry (b. 10 November 1920), Engnar William (b. 15 September 1925-1994) and Arthur Sigvard (b. 9 August 1928-2007). Their second born, son Arvid, died on 29 July 1924 aged just shy of his fourth birthday.
Anna returned to Sweden twice during her lifetime, she reporting that her friends thought her "crazy" for doing so, considering her past experiences. On one such voyage, in a 1953 interview, Anna stated that she ship she was on stopped in mid-ocean, causing her alarm and sending her into hysterics; the ship's doctor who attended her, on hearing of her past experiences, assured her that she had every right to feel upset. On 5 September 1946 the Des Moines Tribune reported that Mrs Gustafsson applied for divorce proceedings:
"...Married in 1917 (sic), Mrs Gustafson is charging her husband, a mechanic for the Des Moines school system, with cruel and inhuman treatment, claiming he became drunk three or four times a week, and had a bad temper. She said she has had to "fight" for money from him for the last 12 years. They have three grown children... Gustafson is contesting the case and asking for a divorce in his cross petition, claiming his wife was quarrelsome and had beat and kicked him on several occasions." - Des Moines Tribune, 5 September 1946
In May 1953 Mrs Gustafsson, then a resident of 836 Boyd Street, Des Moines was again interviewed by the Des Moines Register at the time when she had seen the Fox film Titanic where she reportedly cried quietly throughout the screening in a Des Moines theatre:
"I wanted to see the picture, still not," Mrs Gustafson said later in the evening. "I would not feel good if I did not, but I cried. I remembered some things." ... "I thought of my father and mother in Sweden and many time I have wondered why I was saved, and others not. For that I have no answer" - Des Moines Register, 17 May 1953
In the 1960s Anna wrote letters to several national newspapers in an attempt to contact other Swedish survivors; she received just one reply, from Gunnar Tenglin.
Anna later worked as a cook at the Grand View College and was a member of the First Lutheran Church in Des Moines and she had her family lived at 836 Boyd Street in Des Moines for many years. In November 1969 she moved to the Lutheran Home for the Aged at 1101 Grand View Avenue, Des Moines.
Anna would give occasional interviews regarding her time on Titanic, one of which was recorded on 24 October 1974. On 26 March 1972 she gave another interview to the Des Moines Register, then still a resident of the Des Moines Lutheran Home. She gave another interview to the Des Moines Tribune on 15 April 1975.
Anna's estranged husband Arvid died on 5 February 1966 and she would outlive him for over a decade. Following a week-long illness, Anna died following complications from surgery on 28 March 1977 aged 87 and was buried in Resthaven Cemetery in Des Moines. She was survived by several siblings and three children.
Her last surviving child Arthur died in Tulsa, Oklahoma on 27 October 2009. Her daughter Linnea McDermott died in Des Moines on 19 July 1989 following an intestinal complaint and left behind a widower and three sons.