The Norwegian-American Historical Association
Copyright © 1992 by the
NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
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
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
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