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Volume 33


The Norwegian-American Historical Association

Copyright © 1992 by the
ISBN 0-87732-080-2

In Memory of John R. Jenswold


The quincentenary in 1992 of the voyages of discovery by Columbus has raised our consciousness as to the nature and consequences of European expansion to the Americas. Because of the resulting displacement of native populations and their cultures, some revisionist writings have even maligned the early discoverers and by implication the entire process of migration and settlement. A hundred years ago - when America likewise celebrated an anniversary of European discovery - the historical view accorded a more favorable interpretation to the Columbus expeditions as acts of heroism and an epic advance of European civilization. The challenge to present-day historians is to be sensitive to reinterpretations and new reflections on the past as they seek to identify the basic human quality of all deeds and to free their narratives of bias, mythologizing, and political moralizing.

Volume 33 of Studies, like past volumes, endeavors to fulfill the Association’s commitment to solid scholarship by interpretive essays as well as descriptive narratives. Arlow W. Andersen finds in his recounting of Norwegian-American editorial opinions on the 1892 commemoration that Columbus was in the main given his due; these same pressmen, however, in their commentary on exploration also advanced the cult surrounding the claims of early discovery by the Norseman Leif Ericson. Monuments in his honor throughout the United States and the enthusiasm generated by the dramatic achievements of Norwegian explorers around the turn of the century suggest how heroic feats shaped ethnic self-perception.

In 1868, John A. Johnson, later a prominent industrialist in Wisconsin, contributed articles to the immigrant journal Billed-Magazin on conditions in America, since he had learned that many subscribers sent copies to friends and relatives in Norway. His accounts, here translated by the late C.A. Clausen, are directed at potential immigrants and depict realistic expectations for those who would decide to come to America in the years immediately following the Civil War. The reminiscences of Halle Steensland, another prosperous Norwegian in Wisconsin, in the literary magazine Symra in 1909 reinforce Johnson’s warnings of the travails associated with the journey at mid-century.

The remaining seven contributions are analytical and cover a broad array of issues. Odd-Stein Granhus paints a nuanced and compelling portrait of a unique personality, Emil Lauritz Mengshoel, who advanced his socialist and radical views as the editor and publisher of leftist newspapers in Minneapolis between 1903 and 1925 and as the author of novels about the working class. The article is a timely reminder that the immigrant community was not a monolithic structure but expressed a wide variety of political and religious convictions. In his case study of the fiery conflict between the twin Lutheran churches of Christiania in Minnesota from 1854 to 1864, A. Gerald Dyste identifies marketplace forces as one of the more interesting root causes of Lutheran disharmony among Norwegian Americans. Developing a larger share of the market for a specific brand of Lutheranism was obviously not the only concern of religious leaders, and Dyste does not question their Christian missionary zeal, which resulted in a remarkable organizational achievement. DeAne L. Lagerquist analyzes the educational opportunities for women in the period 1874 to 1920 by examining the programs of three Lutheran institutions of higher learning founded by Norwegian immigrants, St. Olaf College, the United Church Lutheran Normal School, and the Lutheran Ladies’ Seminary. Though there were clear differences in emphasis among the three schools, they were all, as might be expected, exponents of a circumscribed view of an appropriate women’s education. Lagerquist demonstrates, however, that female teachers and alumnae who pursued successful careers served as useful role models and expanded the range of life choices for Norwegian-American Lutheran women.

In his detailed investigation of four rural Norwegian-American reading societies toward the end of the nineteenth century, three in Minnesota and one in the state of Washington, Steven J. Keillor assesses their cultural impact as providers of diverting and entertaining literature in the Norwegian language for farmers and their families during the long winter months. The existence of hundreds of such societies attests to their appeal and the cultural needs they satisfied for rural residents. Their demise was prompted by Rural Free Delivery and the construction of public libraries in the small towns, and even, Keillor speculates, by the circumstance that after the turn of the century men in rural districts mainly withdrew from culture and reading, which then primarily became feminine pursuits. Øyvind T. Gulliksen reflects on the travel narratives, popular religious writings, and autobiography of the Norwegian-American author and publisher N. N. Rønning in order to penetrate and analyze the soul of an immigrant in search of a conciliating exposition of a divided existence. Rønning’s quest was by no means unique; only the specific incidentals and liabilities of his exposure to two cultures set him apart. It was these, as Gulliksen compellingly argues, that his literary imagination reconciled and articulated to give order and unity to a multipartite life experience.

John R. Jenswold, to whose memory the present volume is dedicated, presents in the lead article a creative analysis of the emergence of a Norwegian-American identity during the tumultuous 1920s. Its major components were a wholesome rural heritage and ancient Viking roots, Leif Ericson serving as the quintessential hero and icon; it was a dual identity, neither totally Norwegian nor totally American, but one uniquely Norwegian-American and one that provided acceptable credentials within the social reality of patriotic conformism, consumer citizenship, and suburbanization. It was this twofold identity, Jenswold insists, that was celebrated at the impressive Norse-American Immigration Centennial celebrations in Minneapolis during the summer of 1925. Converging on the same event, April Schultz, in an article reprinted from The Journal of American History, argues from a perspective greatly influenced by anthropological studies the construction of a Norwegian-American identity as an ongoing process, and in doing so, faults earlier scholarship for being, as she asserts, overly assimilationist in its interpretive scheme. Both articles are samples of a continuous and revitalized scholarly debate on collective ethnic memory and commemoration, as well as on the dynamics of the assimilative process and the retention of individual ethnic consciousness.

Rolf H. Erickson is responsible for the bibliographical listings “Some Recent Publications,” assisted with Norwegian titles by Helene Pran Grimsvang and Caroline S. Haslund at the University Library in Oslo. Forrest Brown, as the Association’s archivist, contributes his first installment “From the Archives,” and provides ample evidence of the wealth of valuable accessions to the Archives.

Finally, it is my pleasure once again to acknowledge with much gratitude the untiring and competent assistance of Mary R. Hove in preparing this volume for publication.

Odd S. Lovoll
St. Olaf College


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