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Three Spokesmen for Norwegian Lutheran Academies:
Schools for Church, Heritage, Society
    by James S. Hamre (Volume 30: Page 221)

DURING THE nineteenth century significant changes in the American educational system took place. On the elementary level the free public school system -- the “common” school -- was firmly established. At the secondary level an important change occurred in the type of school: whereas academies supported by private or religious sponsors were the most widespread secondary schools at the beginning of the century, by the end of the century the public high schools had outstripped them in numbers of students enrolled. At the college or university level the development of the elective system heralded important alterations in the patterns and goals of these institutions. Many of these changes involved debates and discussions, which in turn reflected profound differences in philosophy. {1}

The Norwegian immigrants and their descendants have shared this concern for education. One expression [222] of it is the academy movement that flourished among them for about three-quarters of a century. Starting in the 1860s and 1870s the movement gained momentum and was especially popular around the turn of the century. E. Clifford Nelson has written that the great initial interest “led many to assume this kind of education would be a permanent characteristic of the Norwegian Lutherans in America.” But that did not prove to be the case. Many Norwegian Lutherans saw matters differently. The improvement of the public schools meant that increasing numbers of young people were drawn to them, leading to a decline in the enrollment in the academies after World War I. The Great Depression “administered the coup de grace to the academy movement.” {2} It might be noted, however, that a number of the still functioning colleges started by Norwegian Lutherans either began as academies or had academy departments connected to them.

In 1944 B. H. Narveson published an article on the Norwegian Lutheran academies. His discussion provides a good overview of the character, purpose, and daily life of these institutions. One very helpful feature of his article is a list of these schools. It includes a total of seventy-five academies founded by Norwegians. It also gives such information as years of operation, enrollment figures, number of teachers, value of buildings, religious affiliation, and location of each school. A second list provides the names of the presidents who served these institutions. Narveson contended that “the academy has made a larger contribution to church and nation than is generally appreciated.” {3} His discussion is a good starting point for anyone who wishes to understand the academy movement among Norwegians in America.

In a sense the present article can be viewed as an extended footnote to Narveson’s discussion. It seeks to [223] present the underlying philosophy of those who advocated these schools by discussing the views of three men who spoke out in their behalf. One of them, H. A. Preus, provided some of the ideas that initiated the academy movement. The second, D. G. Ristad, presented his views shortly after the turn of the century, when the movement had reached its highest point. The third figure, Olaf M. Norlie, wrote when the decline of the academies was underway. Together their writings help us to understand more fully the fundamental convictions of those who believed that the Norwegian Lutheran academies provided the best pattern of secondary education for Norwegian Lutheran young people in America.

Herman Amberg Preus (1825-1894) was born and educated in Norway. He studied at the Christianssand Cathedral School and received a degree in theology from Christiania University. He served briefly as a teacher in Norway before emigrating to America in 1851. Preus was a pastor in Spring Prairie, Wisconsin, from 1851 to 1894 and was one of seven pastors who organized the Norwegian Synod in 1853. He served as president of that body for many years and helped to shape its outlook. {4}

Preus was concerned that the children of Norwegian immigrants be provided with what he considered to be the proper type of education. During the “common” school controversy which developed in the 1860s and 1870s he was one of the persons who promoted the establishment of Lutheran parochial schools, in opposition to those who encouraged the immigrants to send their children to the public elementary schools. The parochial schools would teach all of the required elementary school subjects plus Norwegian and religion. {5}

The academy impulse grew out of a similar concern. [224] To set the beginnings of the academy movement in their proper context it is necessary to refer to several persons with a different point of view. Rasmus B. Anderson was an energetic and articulate figure motivated by a vision of securing a role for Norwegian Americans in the broader American culture. One of the ways to do that, he felt, was to secure “the appointment of Norwegian teachers and professors in American schools” of higher learning. Such persons would be in a position to assist and guide young people from the Norwegian immigrant communities who might come to these institutions for an education. The young people would then be able to return to their communities as teachers and leaders. Anderson sought the support of such persons as Knud Langeland, John A. Johnson, and the pastor C. L. Clausen.

These men responded positively to Anderson’s initiatives. Clausen issued a call for a meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 4, 1869, of those persons interested in promoting “true popular enlightenment” (sand folkeoplysning). Out of that meeting came the shortlived Scandinavian Lutheran Educational Society, one of whose main goals was the establishment of Scandinavian professorships in American universities. {6}

H. A. Press was among those present at the Madison meeting. He had earlier prepared a statement on the topic of “true popular enlightenment.” It was published the same day as the Madison meeting, in the March 4 issue of Fædrelandet og Emigranten. At the Madison meeting Preus objected to the manner of proceeding that Clausen insisted on: only those were permitted to speak and vote who would sign a statement supporting the idea of the Scandinavian professorships. Preus and a number of others refused to sign because they felt the procedure was unparliamentary and would commit them in advance not just to a worthy goal but [225] also to the means of achieving that goal. Those who refused to sign felt themselves excluded from the meeting and a number of them decided to hold their own meeting the next day to take up the topic. Preus was chosen as their chairman. A detailed statement was issued by Preus’s group indicating wherein it differed from the approach favored by the Scandinavian Lutheran Educational Society. It is clear that two different philosophies were operative. The March 5 meeting of these “dissenters” was “the start of an academy program that was to flourish among the Norwegian Americans for three-quarters of a century.” {7}

The statement prepared by Preus for Fædrelandet og Emigranten and the one issued by the dissenting group that he led contain many of the same ideas. Both statements will be utilized in the discussion that follows. It is clear that Preus agreed that “true popular enlightenment” is a very important goal; he did not agree that the best way to achieve it was by establishing Scandinavian professorships in American institutions of higher learning.

Before turning to the question of means, however, Preus raised a preliminary question: What is it that constitutes “true popular enlightenment”? His answer was religious in nature: “In the fullest sense it is that enlightenment worked by the Holy Spirit by means of God’s Word concerning God and His gracious will” which is applicable to the individual and the entire people. A people without that light, according to Preus, are still walking in darkness “in spite of the brilliant appearance of enlightenment with which worldly education and civilization, arts and sciences, can surround them.”

It is important to note that Preus sought to guard against the appearance of a sectarian rejection of or withdrawal from the affairs of this world. He stressed [226] that those who do walk in the true light will seek to acquire useful knowledge for the benefit of themselves and others, for “Christians are also for a time citizens of this world, and it is God’s will that all the talents He has given them should receive the greatest possible cultivation.” From this perspective Christianity’s task is “to penetrate, cleanse, and allow all other knowledge and learning.” In fact, a true understanding of worldly learning is regarded as possible only when it is viewed from the perspective of the light that shines from God’s Word.

Preus noted also that from the early centuries Christians have established schools and encouraged learning in ways that contributed significantly to true popular enlightenment. He felt that in America there is a double challenge to work toward that goal: a free church encourages more active participation on the part of its members than does a state church, and the American system of government offers citizens a chance for a larger role in the affairs of state. It would therefore be a blessing if more Lutherans were involved in the affairs of state, for “if we believe that our Lutheran Church is the orthodox, visible church on earth and that our teaching and confession are the pure, unadulterated gospel, we should strive to place the light of God’s Word on a candlestick before all the people and permit our church more and more to become ‘a city on a hill that cannot be hid.“’

With that understanding of “true popular enlightenment” Preus then proceeded to indicate why the means promoted by the Scandinavian Lutheran Educational Society -- appointment of Scandinavian Lutheran professors -- was unsatisfactory. For one thing, he held, we must keep in mind the nature of American schools: in the statement issued by the Preus group they are described as “either religionless or sectarian or even [227] dominated by a purely unbelieving and anti-Christian spirit.”

Preus felt too that it was important to be aware of the influence that professors and fellow-students would have on Lutheran young people: instead of being permeated by and strengthened in their love for the Lutheran Church they might be tempted to deny Christ, drawn into sectarian errors, or led into an indifference that makes no distinction between the Lutheran Church and the teachings of other groups. Further, at these American schools they would be exposed to “the results of modern research in the fields of philosophy and natural science which tend to tear down the Bible and Christian faith, without at the same time receiving the necessary Christian guidance and warning.” They would also be exposed to “modern false philanthropic and humanistic ideas and teachings” and the danger that “an essentially pagan morality would be impressed on them.” All of these factors would tend to have destructive effects.

Preus then asked whether such schools are suitable places for the education of Lutheran youth. Can parents with a good conscience send their children to these schools with the hope that their stay will be a true blessing to the children? Preus answered with a decisive no. He felt that young people fifteen or sixteen years of age would not be equipped to meet the challenges of such a situation. They needed instead “careful tending” (omhyggelig pleie) which would build on the basis that had been laid in confirmation, constant instruction in the word of truth, and the reminder and strengthening that come with regular association with serious, experienced Christians. Such “tending” would not be provided for Norwegian Lutheran young people in the American schools.

But wouldn’t the results be different if there were [228] Lutheran professors in these schools? Preus acknowledged that such might be the case if there could be a guarantee that such professors would be “faithful Lutherans,” although even then the young people might be influenced by the other professors and students. But it was the matter of a guarantee that was the stumbling block for Preus. What guarantee, he asked, would the congregations have that these professors would be “confessional Lutherans” and not false friends or open enemies of our Lutheran Church? He felt that such professors must be competent in Norwegian as well as English and possess a solid grounding in the Lutheran faith. He asked where persons with such qualifications could be found. And even if they could be found, what assurance was there that they would be sought out and appointed? Given the many divisions among the Norwegian Lutherans in America, he felt that it was unlikely they would agree in their choices. And as far as the Scandinavian Lutheran Educational Society was concerned, Preus noted that some of its members had deserted the Lutheran Church. To work with such persons to promote “Lutheran popular enlightenment” seemed both “un-Lutheran and unreasonable.”

What, then, in Preus’s view, would be the best means for promoting “true popular enlightenment”? The program that he proposed dealt with schools at several levels. At the elementary level he stressed the importance of having “qualified Lutheran teachers” take over the English district schools. If this could not be done, the Norwegian Lutheran congregations should initiate separate parochial schools where the children could be instructed in Christianity as well as all other necessary subjects, “all in a Christian spirit and under Christian discipline.”

Luther College, the college established by the Norwegian Synod in 1861, also played a part in Preus’s [229] thinking. He noted that its original purpose was to educate pastors and teachers. The more the college came to fulfill this purpose the more the need for an additional type of institution -- “middle schools” or academies -- would be felt. Such schools would provide education beyond the elementary level whereby the confirmed young people could be fitted to “fulfill their duties as Christians and citizens and work for the blessing of church and state.”

These “middle schools,” Preus held, should be established in the areas having the largest concentrations of Scandinavians so that the young people could obtain additional education without neglecting the farm work during the busiest time of the year. “I call them middle schools,” said Preus, “because they must be intended to form a link, a transitional stage, between the elementary school and the various institutions at which the young person will seek the final preparation for the particular earthly calling or life’s work which he intends to enter.” As such the academies could prepare the young people to enter either Luther College or some technical institute. The academies would provide instruction in various subjects. They would also offer religious instruction so that young people would get a better knowledge of Scripture, be established in Lutheran doctrine, and become acquainted with the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, church history, and the main teachings of the most common sects. These schools must also provide “thorough instruction” in the Norwegian and English languages.

Preus acknowledged that his proposals would cost money. But he felt they offered a far better means of promoting “true popular enlightenment” than would the installation of Norwegian professors in American colleges and universities. And it seems clear that many persons within the Norwegian-American community [230] came to share his views. In the years that followed, quite a number of academies came into being in areas of heavy Norwegian settlement.

D. G. Ristad (1863-1938) was born in Norway, received part of his education in that country, and taught school there for several years before emigrating. In 1887 he came to the United States, where he received his theological education. His career as a clergyman in America included several pastorates and the presidencies of Albion (Preus) Academy, Albion, Wisconsin (1901-1906), Park Region College, Fergus Falls, Minnesota (1906-1916), and Lutheran Ladies Seminary, Red Wing, Minnesota (1916-1919). He belonged to the Norwegian Synod and, after the church merger of 1917, the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, which he served as vice president and president of its Eastern
district. {8}

Ristad was also interested in fostering and preserving the Norwegian cultural heritage in America. He was involved in the bygdelag movement. He also served as the first president of the Norwegian-American Historical Association, from 1925 to 1930, and later as its vice president. {9}

In 1906 Symra, the periodical of the Decorah-based literary organization of the same name, published a fifteen-page article by Ristad dealing with the Norwegian Lutheran institutions of higher education in America (Om de norsk-lutherske høiskoler i Amerika). His discussion does not deal with individual schools but seeks rather to present a general statement of the character and purpose of these institutions. {10}

Written at a time when interest in and support of the academies seemed to be at a high point, Ristad’s article breathes a spirit of confidence concerning their future. “Their activity,” he said, “is still in its beginnings, in [231] the first period of development.” Later in the article, after noting what the people who belong to the Norwegian Lutheran churches in America have accomplished in the field of education, he offers this observation: “On the basis of what has taken place we venture to conclude that the Norwegian Lutheran schools are still in their infancy; what they have accomplished, and what they are, are but a herald of what they ought to become and can become.”

In the opening part of his article -- which contains observations that apply to the colleges as well as the academies -- Ristad noted that “it is common to call the schools that Lutherans of Norwegian descent have established and operate in America Norwegian-Lutheran.” He felt the name was appropriate, for in their origin, activity, and purpose these schools were both Norwegian and Lutheran. He regarded the adjective “Lutheran” as the most descriptive one, for “it is with the intention of educating the young as Lutheran Christians and thereby preserving and strengthening the Lutheran Church in America that these schools are operated.”

But, asserted Ristad, these schools are also Norwegian, in that they are owned and utilized primarily by Norwegians and their descendants. Beyond that their purpose is also Norwegian: “Not only is there instruction in Norwegian language, history, and literature, but the schools’ entire relationship toward everything Norwegian -- especially Norwegian cultural life -- is of an intimate nature. The schools are -- together with the Norwegian-American press -- the living connecting link between Norway and its people and Norwegian America.” Ristad pointed also to another factor that made it possible to call these schools Norwegian: they “present Norwegian-American youth with an understanding of their distinctive features as children with a [232] Norwegian quality (norskhed) marked deeply in their dispositions.” And the schools can help the young people to bring out the beneficial features and subdue those that are harmful.

Having characterized these schools as both Lutheran and Norwegian, Ristad then added a third adjective: “It is obvious that these schools are also American.” The fact that they were both Lutheran and Norwegian did not, in Ristad’s view, make them any less American. He spoke of the schools as being American in such things as organization, plan of instruction, and language, and essentially also in method and the most immediate practical purposes. The schools are American, said Ristad because the Norwegian-American people want their schools to be American - “in this word’s best and most correct meaning.” These schools are as like the American schools as possible without adopting the public schools’ “ religious and pedagogical principles.” Later in the article Ristad noted points at which these principles clashed with those of the Norwegian Lutheran schools.

Ristad saw the academies and other Lutheran institutions of higher education as a result of the unique demands that life in America presented to the Norwegian Lutheran immigrants and their descendants. He said that the Norwegian immigrants had come to America to better their economic condition. After they had established themselves, other interests came to the fore. Religion was one factor that bound them to one another, yet religious conditions in the New World were different from what they had known in Norway. There the state had provided for religious instruction. Here they had to take action themselves. To give their children the type of education they wanted became for them “a matter of conscience.”

The church realized the necessity of educating pastors. [233] Out of that realization came colleges and seminaries. But, said Ristad, the church people realized that a well-educated clergy was not enough. It was also necessary to educate the young people who did not feel called to the ministry. The academies have their origin in this demand. If, asserted Ristad, the public high schools, which deal with young people from ages fifteen to nineteen, can with a certain right be called “folk universities,” then the academies can certainly with even more right be called “the Norwegian congregations’ folk universities.” The tasks of the academies include providing further education for Norwegian Lutheran young people who have completed elementary education, as well as preparing these young people for college, teaching, or other practical roles in life. As that is being done the main emphasis is placed on the growth and unfolding of the Christian personality. And since the academies point rather in the direction of general enlightenment and education for the masses than toward serving those few individuals who are preparing for the learned professions, they can be called “the people’s high schools -- the organized institutions of the Norwegian Lutheran free church for the furtherance of Christian general education in America.” Ristad, it is clear, regarded the academies as having an important role among the Norwegian immigrants and their descendants.

But he was also aware that these schools faced difficulties. He spoke of two major obstacles. One of them came from the state. He granted that there were no laws against establishing private schools, but he felt that the laws did favor the public institutions. And “because of the strong tendency to accelerate the assimilation of nationalities” there were laws that had made the existence of private church schools difficult.

Another facet of this first major obstacle was the [234] challenge coming from the public high schools with their tendency to present a different ideal or philosophy of life. Ristad spoke of the appeal of success. In America, he said, the heroes are the self-made men in business and politics. The emphasis in the public schools is that the way is open to all “to dare and to do.” But the church operates with a different philosophy of life and so must present the students with a different ideal. The principle of obedience and the ideal of service should have a more prominent role in education than self-assertion and the right to dominate. Quite clearly, this is a different understanding of “success.” Ristad was convinced that the Lutheran schools represented a “nobler and sounder culture,” for they developed all the capacities of the young person’s mind in a more well-rounded manner and gave it a more elevated tendency and a longer lasting goal both for society and for the individual.

The second major obstacle facing the Norwegian Lutheran schools came, according to Ristad, from certain characteristics of the Norwegian immigrants themselves. He called attention to the Norwegian “capacity to imitate” -- the rapidity with which Norwegians became Americanized and a part of the new nation. One result was that they tended to regard institutions such as the Norwegian Lutheran schools with some suspicion. Furthermore, Ristad observed, most of the emigrant class, precisely the people who constituted the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, were “simple” folk. As such they felt they did not compare favorably with the “refined” (dannede) people in Norway or the “fine” Americans. As a result, said Ristad, in the realm of cultural life these people have regarded themselves as weak and insecure and “they have not had confidence in the ability of their own schools to fulfill their task.”

But Ristad felt that the accomplishments of the [235] Norwegian Lutheran church people in the field of education in less than half a century testified to the fact that they strove for higher things than material comfort. He saw them as a people who, impelled by their Christian faith, “have become not only a community of believers but also a cultural community” (ikke blot trossamfund, men ogsaa kultursamfund). He thought that Norwegian Lutheran academies could make a valuable contribution to the development of American society, because the Christian principles on which they stood could build sound, strong, and noble characters.

Ristad closed his article with these words: “The Norwegian people are in many respects a richly gifted people. This is evident also from their history in America. They owe it to themselves, to their adopted land, and to the giver of these gifts to develop their natural endowments. The Norwegian Lutheran institutions of higher education will help our people meet this triple obligation.”

Olaf M. Norlie (1876-1962), the son of immigrant parents, had an active academic and professional career. He received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota and was also awarded several honorary degrees. He served as pastor, book editor, college professor, archivist, and statistician, and as “pres., sec., or treas., of many religious, historical, educational, and statistical societies.” {11} He has been described as a “tireless collector and compiler of statistical and historical matters in various areas.” {12}

Norlie was also a prolific writer of books, pamphlets, and articles. Among his best known works are Norsk Lutherske Menigheter i Amerika, 1843-1916 (2 volumes), Norsk Lutherske Prester i Amerika (the first issue covering the years 1843-1913, the second, 1843- 1915), Who’s Who Among Pastors in All the Norwegian [236] Lutheran Synods of America, 1843-1927 (jointly edited), and History of the Norwegian People in America. The last-named work, published in 1925, was intended to be “a scholarly, comprehensive, and authoritative history of the Norwegian people in America” to mark the centennial of Norwegian-American immigration.

Two of Norlie’s works will be utilized as a basis for this discussion. The main one is The Academy for Princes, published in 1917. The other is a short section of the above-noted History of the Norwegian People in America. Written at a time when the academies were declining in enrollment, these works were a strong plea for support of and participation in these institutions. They also reflected Norlie’s sense of frustration as he observed the Norwegian immigrants and their descendants increasingly giving their support to the ever more numerous public high schools. {13}

The Academy for Princes is a work of over 200 pages. It is written in a manner that seems designed to capture and hold the attention of young people and their parents. The entire book consists of conversations and discussions created by Norlie as having taken place among various people, mostly Norwegian Americans, in an unnamed rural community. These people are given names and the reader is able to associate certain viewpoints with certain individuals. In this manner Norlie provides a picture of the debate on education among Norwegian Americans in the second decade of the twentieth century. The book is illustrated with a number of pictures and graphs.

The thesis of the book is that we are “princes and princesses, real children of God,” and that “as royal persons we ought to receive a royal training.” To illustrate this point Norlie had one of the conversations center on a picture of the royal family of Norway hanging [237] on a wall in a home. The young boy in the picture was Prince Olav. All who were present agreed that he would have the best training possible, including private teachers. That enabled one person to make the point that our children too are royalty who can have the best of everything, “the knowledge of the Word of God.” The book sought to make the point that the Norwegian Lutheran academies can provide that knowledge while the public high schools can not.

But it is obvious from the conversations Norlie created that many Norwegian Americans of that time did not share these views. Some of the parents were pictured as maintaining that they could not afford to send their children away to school or that the academies were generally inferior to the new public high schools. Other arguments against the academies were that young people who attended them would be at a disadvantage in getting a job and that the academies were seldom accredited by the state, something that would hamper persons who wished to study at a university. Some of the young people were portrayed as reluctant to attend an academy since they did not want to be different from their friends and feared their ridicule. “I have been told,” said a girl in one of the accounts, “that the boys who go to the academy nearly all become preachers, and the girls become preachers’ wives or missionaries.” The girl made it plain that she had no desire to do that.

Moreover, Norlie’s account portrayed real differences of opinion among the clergy. One chapter consists of a conversation between a farmer -- who had been an ardent supporter of the academies -- and his pastor. The farmer was disturbed because he had heard that the pastor was going to send three of his children to non-Lutheran schools: a state university, a college of another denomination, and the public high school. Yet prior to that time the pastor had been an outspoken champion of [238] the Lutheran schools and a critic of the public schools. The farmer sought to learn what had happened.

The pastor told his story. As a poor young man he had managed to work his way through a church academy and college. He then decided to teach for a time, but found that his education was not recognized as readily as was that of persons who had attended state schools. He had to accept a position at lower pay. Later he attended a state university to better his position and again encountered certain difficulties. Yet even these trying experiences did not turn him against the church schools. He emerged rather as one of their ardent defenders. “I have held,” said the pastor, “that the church schools are better than the state schools, because the church schools teach Christianity. . . . On the other hand, even though the state schools have many Christian teachers, they are institutions either un-Christian or anti-Christian, and leave the mind worldly, indifferent to orthodoxy or opposed to it.” That had been the uncompromising stance that he had taken in his ministry also.

Yet that position got him into trouble. At a synodical meeting the pastor was told that he was too radical, that he should hold his tongue. He was informed that “speaking against the state school was just as foolish as speaking against the secret societies. The Church in a fight with these institutions would merely make plain to the world its impotence. . . . Many of the pastors,” he observed, “openly knock their own schools whenever they can” and “church people, pastors and professors included, want to be like the world.” And so the clergyman who had ardently promoted the cause of the church schools was finally moved to say, “I am tired of the fight and have surrendered unconditionally.” From that point on he would allow his children to choose the schools they wished to attend, for “I have dropped this academy agitation and do not want to resume hostilities." [239] That, of course, was not what Norlie proposed to do. But the account was indicative of the struggle going on within the Norwegian-American community.

The conversations created by Norlie indicate that the Norwegian Americans of that time had a variety of attitudes toward the public schools. One was of the type attributed to the troubled pastor: they are “either un-Christian or anti-Christian.” Another speaker made the related point that “the influence of the high school is tremendously secular.” Repeatedly the point was stressed that the public schools do not give instruction in Christianity, although one speaker added the comment that he did not want them to do so: “It is illegal and would cause a clash between the Sects and a clamor for spoils, and a meddling into the Church’s affairs by the State.”

More positive attitudes were also reflected. One person spoke of the public schools as “a smelting pot, in which the raw material from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas are made into good, intelligent, useful, loyal American citizens.” Another man is portrayed as serving on the local school board even though he sent his own children to a Lutheran academy. He is made to say: “I think a good deal of our free public institutions, especially the public school system; and I do all in my power to improve the schools . . . by getting high-minded, moral, Christian men and women as teachers, getting textbooks that do not antagonize Christianity, keeping a check on the social and athletic life of the schools, and so on.” He sent his own children to an academy so that they would get instruction in Christianity. He distinguished the two kinds of schools in this way: “The high school is a state school to train its growing generation into intelligent and moral citizenship; every one of the native-born boys at this school is in line for the presidency of the United States and is a [240] temporal prince. The academy is a church school to train the children of God, the heavenly princes, for their work in the Church and in the State and for a successful entrance into their Father’s country beyond the grave.” Norlie also portrayed a professor in the service of the church as saying: “Let us quit knocking the state schools. We need them. They are really not rival schools, but allies.” The professor quickly added, “they need us also,” and his attitude was summed up in the words, “I believe in the public schools. They are doing good work. It is no shame to attend them. But I believe more in the church schools. They are trying to furnish the foundation and life of Christian character, and in so far, at least, far surpass the state schools.”

The development of strong character was seen as one of the positive contributions of the academies. It was one person’s opinion that “it takes the Word of God to make Christian character, which is the strongest and best type of manhood and womanhood.” It is of interest to note that in support of that contention Norlie called attention to the high rate of crime in the United States. The question was raised as to whether the absence of Christian instruction might be the primary cause of a criminal record worse than that of Europe. Several graphs were included to depict the growth of the public schools and decay of the church schools on the one hand and the increase in crime on the other. The impression conveyed was of a relationship between the two.

Two themes noted in the views of the writers discussed earlier were also present in Norlie’s book: the academies will strengthen and support the Lutheran Church; and they will foster the preservation of the Norwegian heritage and culture. Speakers in the book repeatedly made the point that it was important for young people to receive training in the Scriptural principles on which the Lutheran Church is founded. In [241] that way they will develop a love and loyalty for their church. One example of the other motif involved a family which spoke a “cultured,” that is, correct English, when English was spoken and a “cultured” Norwegian when Norwegian was used. The family made it a policy to speak Norwegian in the home, for the father believed that “it was a right and a duty and a privilege to learn about one’s forefathers, their history and life, their language and religion. . . . Our roots draw nourishment from the soil of our ancestry.”

Another note present in Norlie’s book was that the academies provide a good setting in which to find a marriage partner. One father was described as saying to his daughter, “If you go to a church academy you may meet your partner for life there. He will probably be of your nationality and religion and standard of training and tastes.” On the other hand, if she went to the public high school she would most likely meet a man of “another nationality, religion, and social set.” She was told that she might get a good husband at the high school, but “the chances are better at the academy.” Another father reflected a similar sentiment: “I want my children to marry Lutherans, Lutherans who have been trained to be both Christian and churchly. If I send them to a Lutheran school they may there meet their future helpmeets.”

The Academy for Princes did not halt the decline of the Norwegian Lutheran academies. By 1925, when his History of the Norwegian People in America was published, Norlie could say, “Never before have patriotic Norwegians and consecrated Lutheran Christians pleaded so eloquently for the support of the Norwegian schools, and never have they been maintained with so much difficulty.” It was his contention that the academies “prospered nicely as long as the Norwegians were Norwegian Americans, but they were starved out for [242] want of students and other support as soon as the Norwegians became Americans.” He maintained that the high-school age is a crucial period in the life of a person, a time when “moral and religious instruction of the right kind” must be provided. He regarded the “secular schools, by their very secular nature,” as institutions that “are de-Christianizing the land, no matter how much some of them try not to do so.” Norlie argued also that the “religious and national heritage of the Norwegians cannot be transmitted through the public schools, for the only nationalism that the public schools will tolerate is that of America, and of England as the Mother Country.” It was his conviction that the public school system “tends to weaken the distinctively Lutheran and Norwegian character of the Norwegians . . . to rob them of their heritage, which should be theirs forever, and which should be their cultural contribution to America.”

This study has looked at the views of three men who promoted and defended the Norwegian Lutheran academies. They wrote at different moments in the three-quarters of a century during which these schools flourished and so they spoke from and to different circumstances. H. A. Preus sought to provide a legitimation of such schools as the best means to promote “true popular enlightenment.” He did so by appealing to what he regarded as certain fundamental principles in the Lutheran theological tradition. D. G. Ristad, who spoke at a time when these schools had gained acceptance, could in a sense take these principles for granted. He sought to interpret the Norwegian and Lutheran character of these schools and to show how they could assist persons of Norwegian descent in making a contribution to the American character. Olaf M. Norlie offered an apology for these principles as he sought to reverse the growing tendency of Norwegian Lutherans in [243] America to desert the academies in favor of the public high schools. He was convinced that the academies should be supported because they were such useful instruments in preserving the Norwegian religious and cultural heritage.

Though they wrote at different times there are certain themes that are common to all three of these men. One is that the academies would strengthen the Lutheran position in America. These men realized that they lived in a country where church and state were separate and many denominations existed. To build up the Lutheran Church in such a context called for the development of institutions that would provide for religious instruction and training. The academies, they held, could be one of those institutions.

A second theme is related to the first: the academies would also be of benefit to the state. These men believed that educated, useful, God-fearing citizens were an asset to society. They believed that the Lutheran tradition was one that sought to foster such citizens. Thus they held that the Lutheran Church could make an important contribution to American society by establishing schools that would educate its people in Christian principles.

A third common theme was that the academies were important for the preservation and transmission of the Norwegian cultural heritage. These men believed that this heritage was a valuable one and could play a useful part in the full flowering of the American character. The academies could help Norwegian Americans to understand and appreciate that heritage.

In this connection the issue of cultural pluralism versus assimilation is relevant. The historian Carl H. Chrislock has noted the existence of conflicting viewpoints within the Norwegian-American community during the early decades of the twentieth century. Some persons held that Norwegians should not strive to [244] preserve their “Norwegianness” in America; they, like all other immigrants, should give up their Old World ways in the attempt to become fully “American.” Others resisted that view, seeking to foster a genuine cultural pluralism. They held that a people did not have to abandon its heritage in order to become “American,” for that which binds Americans together is not complete cultural uniformity but commitment to certain fundamental principles within a context of cultural diversity. {14}

The proponents of the academies discussed here were not primarily concerned with that issue. But their views -- especially those of Norlie -- can be related to that discussion. As noted, Norlie disagreed with a school system that would tolerate no “nationalism” but that of America -- “and of England as the Mother Country.” His Academy for Princes was written at a time when the issue of America’s involvement in World War I was coming to the fore. And within the Norwegian-American community the controversy over language -- Norwegian or English -- was also becoming more intense. In his own way Norlie championed cultural pluralism, convinced that the Norwegians had a heritage “which should be theirs forever.” He resisted, and perhaps resented, all the pressures that were forcing Norwegians to give up that heritage.

It may also be useful to look briefly at the Norwegian Lutheran academy movement in relation to certain developments taking place in American education. R. Freeman Butts has spoken of the competing claims upon the American mind” in discussing the “intellectual foundations of education” in nineteenth-century America. He calls attention to the newer, more secularized and humanistic patterns of thought in such fields as religion, science, and psychology that served to challenge the traditional religious orientation of many people. Some of these thought patterns came to have a significant impact on American education. {15} [245]

In one sense the academy movement can be seen as a defensive reaction to some of these trends. The spokesmen discussed here were committed to what they understood to be a Christian orientation and they felt that that perspective had certain implications for education. They were not prepared to surrender the field to the prophets of new and different creeds. Their goal was to establish institutions in which Christian principles could permeate and influence all areas of study. This effort was worthwhile, they were convinced, because it would have a significant impact on the individual, the church, and society at large.

Obviously, this article has told only part of the story as it relates to the academies. There were persons within the Norwegian-American community who held views that differed significantly from those discussed here. Their views too deserve to be heard. And if one thinks in terms of practical results one would have to say that the latter views prevailed: the Norwegian Lutheran academies in the United States have virtually ceased to exist. A variety of forces and attitudes contributed to the demise of one after another of these schools.

The purpose of this discussion, then, has not been to offer a defense of or apology for the academy movement. It shares instead Norlie’s contention that the “history of the Norwegian Lutherans cannot be fully understood except in the light of the views these Norwegians hold with regard to education.” {l6} The academy movement was important to many Norwegians in America. The views of the three men discussed here can help us to understand its reason for existence.


<1> R. Freeman Butts, A Cultural History of Western Education: Its Social and Intellectual Foundations (New York, 1955), 430-488.
<2> E. Clifford Nelson and Eugene L. Fevold, The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans, 2 vols. (Minneapolis, l960), 2: 113-l 19, and E. Clifford [246] Nelson, Lutheranism in North America, 1914-1970 (Minneapolis. 1972), 52, 65, note 44.
<3> B. H. Narveson, “The Norwegian Lutheran Academies,” in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 14 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1944), 184-226.
<4> Rasmus Malmin, O. M. Norlie, and O. A. Tingelstad, eds., Who’s Who Among Pastors in All the Norwegian Lutheran Synods of America, 1843-1927 (Minneapolis, 1928), 463. See also the references to Preus in the chapter on the Norwegian Synod in Nelson and Fevold, The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans, 1:151-190.
<5> A clear statement of Preus’s position in that debate is included in his Syvforedrag over de kirkelige forholde blandt de norske i Amerika (Christiania. 1867), 32-36. For discussions of the “common” school debate see Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition (Northfield, Minnesota, 1940), 241-276; Laurence M. Larson, The Changing West and Other Essays (Northfield, Mlinnesota. 1937). 116-146: Frank C. Nelsen. “The School Controversy Among Norwegian Immigrants,” in Norwegian-American Studies, 26 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1974), 206-219; and James S. Hamre, “Norwegian Immigrants Respond to the ‘Common’ School: A Case Study of American Values and the Lutheran Tradition,” in Church History, 50 (1981),302-315.
<6> See Lloyd Hustvedt, Rasmus Bjørn Anderson: Pioneer Scholar (Northfield, Minnesota, 1966), 67-72; Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America. 241-276; Larson, The Changing West, 116-146; and Narvrson, “The Norwegian Lutheran Academies,” l84-226.
<7> Hustvedt, Rasmus Bjørn Anderson, 72. The Preus statement, published in Fædrelandet of Emigranten, was entitled “Hvorledes skal sand folkeoplysning søges fremmet blandt skandinaverne her i landet?” See also Beretning om et møde til fremmelse af folke-oplysning blandt skandinaverne i Amerika, afholdt i Madisons norsk-lutherske kirke den 5te marts 1869 (Decorah, Iowa, 1869).
<8> John Peterson, Olaf Lysnes, and Gerald Gibing, eds., A Biographical Directory of Pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, 1952), 459.
<9> See Odd S. Lovoll, A Folk Epic: The Bygdelag in America (Boston, 1975), and Odd S. Lovoll and Kenneth O. Biork. The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1925-1975 (Northfield. Minnesota, 1975).
<10> D. G. Ristad. “Om de norsk-lutherske høiskoler i Amerika.” in Symra (Decorah, Iowa, 1906), 81-195.
<11> Peterson Lysnes, and Giving, Biographical Directory of Pastors. 401.
<12> Julius Bodensieck, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Lutherun Church. 3 (Minneapolis, 1965), 1760.
<13> Olaf M. Norlie, The Academy for Princes (Minneapolis, 1917), and History of the Norwegian People in America (Minneapolis, 1925), 375-378.
<14> See Carl H. Chrislock. “Introduction.” in Odd S. Lovoll. ed.. Cultural Pluralism versus Assimilation: The Views; of Waldemar Ager (Northfield, Minnesota, 1977), and Carl H. Chrislock. Ethnicity Challenged: The Upper Midwest Norwegian-Americian Experience in World War I (Northfield. Minnesota, 1981).
<15> Butts, Cultural History of Western Education, 473-511.
<16> Norlie, Norwegian People in America. 375.


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