by Odd S. Lovoll
Occupying the western part of the Scandinavian peninsula in northwestern Europe, and sharing borders with Sweden, Finland, and Russia, Norway is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, measuring 125,181 square miles (323,878 square kilo-meters). The country measures 1,095 miles from south to north, and one-third of its land mass lies north of the Arctic Circle, extending farther north than any other European country.
Norway's population is 4,300,000. Save for an indigenous minority of Samis (estimated at no more than 40,000) confined mainly to the northern half of the country, Norway's population is ethnically and culturally homogeneous. Almost 90 percent of the inhabitants belong to the Evangelical Lutheran state church, five percent are members of other denominations and faiths, and only five percent have no religious affiliation. Norway's form of government is a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The capital city is Oslo. The national flag displays a central blue cross with a white border on a red field. Norwegian is the official language, rendered in two different literary forms, the predominant bokma'l (Dano-Norwegian) and the rural dialect-based nynorsk (New Norse).
Norway (Old Norse: Norvegr or Noregr ) designates the sea-lane—the north way—along the country's extensive coastline as viewed from the south. Maritime connections west and south have, as a consequence of Norway's geography, characterized its history. During the Viking Age (800-1030) expansive forces moved the Norse Vikings onto the historical stage of Europe; their westward expansion extended to Iceland, Greenland, and even to the continent of North America. Some time before 890 Harald Fine-hair consolidated Norway under the Yngling dynasty. The martyrdom of King Olav II of this royal line on July 29, 1030, at the Battle of Stiklestad, made him Norway's patron saint, secured a national monarchy, and established the Christian church as a dominant institution.
Medieval Norway attained its political height under the reign of Haakon IV Haakonson (1217-1263), with territorial dominance to the western islands (the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, and the Faroes), Iceland, and Greenland, and three districts in present-day Sweden. It was then that Norway entered fully into close diplomatic and commercial relations with other European states.
Norwegian national decline manifested itself in dynastic unions with the two other Scandinavian nations, Sweden and Denmark. The Bubonic Plague that ravaged Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century hit Norway, a country with greater poverty and fewer natural resources than the other Nordic lands, especially hard. Norway's population was devastated, resulting in a serious loss of income for the great landowners, the church, and the king. The last king of an independent and sovereign Norway died in 1380 and Norway united with Denmark. In 1397 the three Scandinavian states were joined under one ruler in the Kalmar Union; in the case of Norway the union with Denmark lasted until 1814. The Lutheran Reformation in 1537 resulted in Norway's reduction in administrative arrangements to a province within the Danish state. The idea of Norway as a kingdom, however, remained alive throughout the union period and was evidenced in the term "the twin realms."
The big power politics following the Napoleonic Wars yielded a national rebirth. Rejecting the terms of the Treaty of Kiel, which transferred Norway to the King of Sweden, a constituent assembly meeting north of Oslo at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814, signed a constitution establishing a limited and hereditary monarchy, and declared Norway's independence. Mindful of their pledge to the Swedish throne, but also not wishing to quell Norwegian moves toward independence, the European powers endorsed a compromise that established a union under the Swedish king. The union preserved the Eidsvoll constitution and was based on the will of the Norwegian people rather than the Treaty of Kiel.
The Act of Union signed in 1815 declared, in principle, an equal partnership in the double monarchy of Sweden and Norway. In reality, however, Norway held an inferior position. Politically Norway feared Swedish encroachment and sought full equality in the union. Culturally the new nation struggled against Danish hegemony—a result of the 400-year union—-and engaged in a quest for national identity and cultural independence. There was a surge of nationalism, which was expressed in an idealized and romantic cultivation of the peasantry as the true carriers of the national spirit. Norway's ultimate goal was a separate and respected national status within the Nordic nations. In 1905 the union with Sweden ended after a dispute over foreign affairs, centering on Norway's demand for an independent consular service. The union was unnatural from the start with few, if any, positive elements linking the two countries.
Prince Carl of Denmark was elected King of Norway, taking the name Haakon VII, which linked him to the old Norwegian royal line. The first half-century of full independence witnessed a rapid transformation from mainly an agricultural society to an industrialized and commercial one. The laboring classes gained political influence and from the mid-1930s the Norwegian Labor Party formed the government. German occupation from 1940 to 1945 suspended the Party's political agenda, but in the postwar era it resumed power and transformed Norway into a prosperous social-democratic welfare state. In foreign affairs, the country abandoned its historically neutral stance and joined the western alliance in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1994 Norway completed negotiations for membership in the European Union. A pending national referendum will determine whether or not Norway actually becomes a member.
THE PIONEER IMMIGRATION
Norwegian overseas emigration began earlier than in the other Nordic lands, commencing dramatically on July 4, 1825, with the sailing of the tiny sloop Restauration from Stavanger on the southwestern coast of Norway. The initial emigration occurred in a district with historical ties to England where the idea of emigration as an alternative to staying at home originated. As early as 1821 the enigmatic wanderer Cleng Peerson, "the pathfinder of Norwegian emigration," traveled to America as an agent for the pioneer emigrants. Many Lutheran pietists and Quakers chose to emigrate as a result of persecution by the Lutheran clergy because of their defiance of ecclesiastical law. Religious oppression did not enter into the subsequent emigration. In 1824 Peerson returned briefly to Norway to advise the emigrants, but was back in the United States to meet "the Sloopers" (as they were called because they sailed on a sloop). The Restauration landed in New York on October 9, 1825, with a boatload of 53 immigrants—one of them a baby girl born during an adventurous voyage of 14 weeks.
Annual emigration did not commence until 1836, but a contact had been made with the New World. Individuals had gone to America in the intervening years and even visited Norway to report on life there. The Norwegian exodus rose in the 1840s; by 1865, nearly 80,000 Norwegians had entered the United States. From the southwestern coastal areas the "America fever" had moved along the west coast and inland to the central highland region. Even though no part of Norway was entirely untouched by the overseas exodus, the majority of emigrants in this founding phase of the movement came from the inner fjord districts in west Norway and the mountain valleys of east Norway. It was an emigration of rural folk with a strong family composition. Their move was permanent; they sought a new life in America for themselves and their descendants. As a result, the character of the immigrant community that evolved in America reflected traditions, mores, and religious as well as secular values of the people from their districts in the old country and conveyed a strong familial and communal bond.
SIGNIFICANT IMMIGRATION WAVES
The end of the Civil War brought about a great increase in Atlantic crossings. The number of Norwegian emigrants leaped from 4,000 in 1865 to 15,726 in 1866, heralding the era of mass migration. The migration occurred until 1873 when, in the course of only eight years, some 110,000 Norwegians left their homeland. The second, and also the greatest, period of emigration lasted 14 years from 1880 to 1893, when on the average 18,290 left annually—ten for every 1,000 Norwegians. During this time Norway's emigration intensity was the second greatest in Europe, surpassed only by Ireland. Norway experienced a final mass exodus in the first decade of the twentieth century, although there was considerable emigration in the 1920s as well. Emigration from its beginning in 1825 until the present has affected some 900,000 people. Of the total emigration, 87 percent, or 780,000 Norwegians, left in the period between 1865 and 1930.
In the nineteenth century, Norwegian emigrants headed almost exclusively for the United States. Only since 1900 have other overseas areas, especially Canada, attracted substantial number of Norwegians. Still, the United States remains the most popular destination. A rapid population growth in the last century and a slow industrial expansion left many young Norwegians unable to find gainful employment at home. Surplus labor was syphoned off through emigration. The United States on the other hand had a great need for people to develop its resources. In periods of expanding economy, American society offered seemingly unlimited possibilities. The response in Norway was a rise in emigration. The migration of families gradually changed in the last quarter of the century to an emigration of individuals. It was dominated by a movement of young male laborers who came from the cities as well as the countryside, though the rural exodus was by far the larger. From the 1880s, youths with education and technical training joined the masses who went to America.
Improved transportation facilitated by steam passenger liners, allowed people to move back and forth across the Atlantic, yielding a two-way migration. The Norwegian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that about 25 percent of the immigrants to North America between 1881 and 1930 have resettled in Norway. Still, as of 1990 there were 3,869,395 residents of Norwegian ancestry in the United States, nearly as many as in the home country.
The majority of the pioneer immigrants, the socalled "Sloopers," assisted by the kindly services of American Quakers, went to Orleans County in western New York state and settled in what became Kendall Township. In the mid-1830s the Kendall settlers gave impetus to the westward movement of Norwegians by founding a settlement in the Fox River area of Illinois. A small urban colony of Norwegians had its genesis in Chicago at about the same time.
Immigrant settlements now stood ready to welcome Norwegian newcomers, who, beginning in 1836, arrived annually. From Illinois, Norwegian pioneers followed the general spread of population northwestward into Wisconsin. Wisconsin remained the center of Norwegian American activity up until the Civil War. In the 1850s Norwegian landseekers began moving into both Iowa and Minnesota, and serious migration to the Dakotas was underway by the 1870s. The majority of Norwegian agrarian settlements developed in the northern region of the so-called Homestead Act Triangle between the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The upper Midwest became the home for most immigrants. In 1910 almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans—the immigrants and their children—lived in that part of the United States. In 1990, 51.7 percent of the Norwegian American population lived in the Midwest; Minnesota had the largest number. Minneapolis functioned as a Norwegian American "capital" for secular and religious activities.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound region, and especially the city of Seattle, became another center of immigrant life. Enclaves of Norwegians emerged as well in greater Brooklyn, New York, in Alaska, and Texas. After Minnesota, Wisconsin had the most Norwegians in 1990, followed by California, Washington, and North Dakota.
In a letter from Chicago dated November 9, 1855, Elling Haaland from Stavanger, Norway, assured his relatives back home that "of all nations Norwegians are those who are most favored by
Svein Nilsson, a Norwegian American journalist (in Billed-Magazin, May 14, 1870).
"A newcomer from Norway who arrives here will be surprised indeed to find in the heart of the country, more than a thousand miles from his landing place, a town where language and way of life so unmistakably remind him of his native land."
Americans." This sentiment was expressed frequently as the immigrants attempted to seek acceptance and negotiate entrance into the new society. In their segregated farming communities, Norwegians were spared direct prejudice and might indeed have been viewed as a welcome ingredient in a region's development. Still, a sense of inferiority was inherent in their position. The immigrants were occasionally referred to as "guests" in the United States and they were not immune to condescending and disparaging attitudes by old-stock Americans. Economic adaptation required a certain amount of interaction with a larger commercial environment, from working for an American farmer to doing business with the seed dealer, the banker, and the elevator operator. Products had to be grown and sold— all of which pulled Norwegian farmers into social contact with their American neighbors.
In places like Brooklyn, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle, Norwegians interacted with the multi-cultural environment of the city while constructing a complex ethnic community that met the needs of its members. It might be said that a Scandinavian melting pot existed in the urban setting among Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, evidenced in residential and occupational patterns, in political mobilization, and in public commemoration. Inter-marriage promoted interethnic assimilation. There are no longer any Norwegian enclaves or neighborhoods in America's great cities. Beginning in the 1920s, Norwegians increasingly became suburban, and one might claim, more American.
Acculturation and Assimilation
Norwegian history in America covers a period of 170 years, beginning with the pioneer immigrants in 1825. Viking ancestors had, however, established colonies in Greenland—outposts of European civilization—as early as 985 a.d. From there they found America, commonly associated with the voyages of the Norse adventurer Leif Ericson, around the year 1000 and formed colonies on Newfoundland. These had no impact on the later European settlement in the New World, but they provided Norwegians, and other Scandinavians, with a claim to a birthright in America and gave them their most expressive identifying ethnic symbols.
The pioneers on the American frontier were the new Vikings of the West; Leif Ericson became the quintessential icon of a glorified Viking heritage. Norwegians found a second identifying quality by presenting themselves as an ethnic group with wholesome rural values and ideals. And, in fact, Norwegians were the most rural of any major nineteenth-century immigrant group. In 1900, for instance, only a little more than a quarter of all Norwegian-born residents in the United States lived in towns with more than 25,000 inhabitants. It was the lowest percentage for any European immigrant population. It has been claimed that the Norwegian farmer in America passed on a special rural bond from one generation to the next. Perhaps the greatest contribution was a dedication to farming as a way of life; in 1900, 54.3 percent of the children of Norwegian immigrants were farmers.
In their farming communities Norwegians exhibited a nationalistic solidarity that had no counterpart among other Scandinavian groups. The homeland's quest for a national identity created a patriotic fervor that was transplanted as immigrant clannishness. Even today, as evidenced by the retention of their institutions, Norwegians appear more focused on culture retention than their Nordic neighbors in America. For example, a Norwegian-language Lutheran congregation survives in Chicago, whereas the Swedes, with a much larger population, have not maintained a Swedish-language church.
Norwegians' past in the United States was celebrated at the Norse American Centennial in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in June 1925. A century had passed since the landing of the Restauration in New York harbor. President Calvin Coolidge came to honor the Norwegians for being good Americans and validated their claim of sharing nationality with the original discoverer of America as the Norwegian Americans reflected upon a successful 100 years as an immigrant people. The festivities displayed an attachment to traditional rural values and a cultivation of ancient and heroic Norse roots, but featured heroes from their American experience as well. An impressive pageant centered on the life of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, a hero from the Civil War. The hostilities between the North and the South gave Norwegian Americans a sense of a legitimate place in the United States, because Norwegian blood had been spilled in its defense.
The symbols and content of a Norwegian ethnic identity emerged among the more successful of their nationality in such urban centers as Chicago and Minneapolis. They were the ones who most eagerly sought acceptable ethnic credentials and gathered their compatriots around the celebration of such holidays as Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17, which became the most important identifying ethnic symbol. The day is still celebrated with a traditional parade featuring flags, banners, music, and speeches in Norwegian centers across America. The event, observed since the early days of settlement, communicates American patriotism as well as Norwegian memories; ethnic identities are firmly rooted in positive views of the group's place in America and images of the homeland's culture are equally prominent in the celebration.
There are numerous folk festivals in Norwegian centers. Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota (for information, contact  852-2368), and Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa (for information, contact  382-3378), annually assemble thousands of Norwegian Americans nationwide around a varied program focusing on a Norwegian American heritage.
At such events Norwegian stereotypes are regularly introduced to the amusement of those assembled. Invariably there are stories and jokes poking fun at the ignorance and foolishness of Norwegian types, such as the characters of Ole and Lena, who speak in broken English. New tales are constantly being created. A typical one might go as follows: "Ole and Lena invited a well-to-do Uncle for dinner. Little Ole looked him over and finally approached the old Uncle with a request. 'Uncle Knute ... vill you make a noise like a frog for me?' said Little Ole. 'Vy in the vorld do you vant me to make a noise like a frog?' exclaimed the Uncle. 'Because,' said Little Ole, 'Papa says ve are going to get a lot of money ven you croak! "' (Red Stangeland, Ole & Lena Jokes, Book 4 [Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Norse Press, 1989], p. 14).
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
In 1879 a Norwegian Unitarian minister and author was amazed after a visit to Wisconsin at "how Norwegians have managed to isolate themselves together in colonies and maintain their Norwegian memories and customs." He had to ask himself if he was really in America. Adjustments were, however, made to American ways in clothing and food, although especially typical Norwegian dishes were retained. These became associated with Christmas celebrations, which in pioneer days were observed for the entire Twelfth-night period, as in Norway. Aaste Wilson of Wisconsin tells how transplanted Norwegians retained such old customs: "They invited one another for Christmas celebration and then they had home-brewed ale, made from malt or molasses or sugar cane.... Nearly everybody slaughtered for Christmas so that they could have meat and sausages. Then they had potatoes and flatbrød (flatbread) and smultringer (doughnuts) and sauce made from dried apples. And most of them had rømmegrøt (cream porridge). We youngsters liked to stay and listen to the old folks and thought it good fun when they told about old things in Norway." (Wilson, Aaste, "Live blant nybyggjarane." Telesoga, September 1917.)
A gradual transition to American life weakened immigrant folkways. Some traditions and customs survived and were cultivated, others were reintroduced and given a heightened importance as a part of an ethnic heritage. Toward the end of the century lutefisk, dried Norwegian cod soaked in a lye solution, assumed a role as a characteristic Norwegian American dish. It was served at lodge meetings, festive banquets, and church suppers, most regularly during the Christmas season. The dish is served with lefse, a thin buttered pancake made from rolled dough. Madison, Minnesota, has erected a statue of a cod in its city park and advertises itself as the "Lutefisk Capital of America" because it reportedly consumes more lutefisk per capita than any other American city.
Old-country traditions in food, festive dress, folk arts, and entertainment were given a powerful boost with the establishment of bygdelag, or old-home societies, around the turn of the century. These groups were rooted in Norwegian locality and loyalties to the old-country home community. The annual reunions of the 50 or so such societies, each bearing the name of a specific Norwegian home district, became grand celebrations of a regional and rural Norwegian cultural heritage.
Women especially revived the use of the festive rural dress, the bunad, wearing specific costumes of their old-country districts. A love for jewelry was demonstrated in the use of heavy silver brooches (sølje ). The peasant costume of Hardanger on Norway's west coast, a favored region for national romantics, inspired the official dress of the Daughters of Norway organization. These colorful outfits are worn at Norwegian American public events.
There was also renewed interest in the traditional Norwegian Harding fiddle, and old rural dances. Even today, groups meet to practice the old figures and demonstrate their mastery of the country dances. The current popularity of the peasant arts of wood carving and rosemaling (rose painting) also grew out of the bygdelag tradition. Vesterheim, the Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, has promoted the folk arts through instruction and exhibitions.
Norwegians tend to integrate sayings and proverbs into daily conversations. Some common expressions are: All is not gold that glitters; A burnt child avoids the fire; A dear child has many names; All cats are gray in the dark; As we make our bed, so must we also lie; "Cleanliness is a virtue," said the old woman, she turned her slip inside out every Christmas Eve; Crumbs are also bread; Empty barrels make the most noise; If it rains on the pastor it drips on the sexton; Many small brooks make a big river.
Norwegian cuisine is mainly limited to special occasions—family events like weddings and anniversaries, and such holidays as Christmas, when other customs are revived as well. The kransekake a cone-shaped cake of almond macaroon rings, is traditionally served at weddings and anniversaries. It is generally decorated with costumed figures and with flags, snappers, flowers, or medallions. The observance of the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve, when a big meal is served, followed by the reading of the Christmas gospel and the opening of gifts. Hymns and carols are sung later, accompanied in some families by tradition of holding hands and circling the Christmas tree.
A typical old-country Christmas meal consists of lutefisk, rømmegrøt, pork or mutton spare ribs with pork sausages, as well as fattigmann, a deep-fried diamond-shaped cookie; sandkake, a cookie made of butter, flour, and almonds, baked in small metal molds; krumkake, a wafer baked in a special iron and rolled into a cylindrical shape while still warm; julekake, a sweet bread containing raisins, citron, and cardamon, and the essential lefse, which appears in many regional variations.
The Norwegian koldt bord, or cold table, is basically the same as the better known Swedish sm'arg'asbord ; with selected hot dishes. Some of the traditional dishes of the Norwegian "cold table" include herring in many forms; sardines; smoked salmon and other fish; sliced cold ham, lamb, and beef; cheeses like Swiss, geitost (goat cheese), and gammelost (highly pungent sour milk cheese); sylte (pickled pork, pressed into loaf shape and sliced); pickles, cranberries, apple sauce, and spiced apples; and various types of bread, including flatbread. The meal is served with akevitt (strong distilled alcoholic drink) and beer.
In his investigation of Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Ørnulv Ødegaard discovered a much higher incidence of emotional and mental problems than among Norwegians in Norway (Ornulv Ódegaard, Emigration and Insanity: A Study of Mental Disease among the Norwegian-born Population in Minnesota [Copenhagen], 1932). The frequency was also much higher than among other ethnic groups in America. At present, no empirical evidence has identified any emotional or cultural causes unique to the Norwegian population.
The Norwegian language, along with Danish and Swedish, belongs to the mutually comprehensible northern branch of the Germanic family of languages. During the centuries-long union with Denmark, Norwegians accepted Danish as their written language. Following independence in 1814 efforts to provide a national written standard created conflict between those who worked for a gradual Norwegianization of Danish orthographic forms and those who wished to create a totally new written language. The Norwegian government officially recognizes the existence of the predominant bokm'al (Dano-Norwegian), which continues the Danish written tradition greatly modified through a series of reforms under the influence of Norwegian speech habits, and nynorsk (New Norse), constructed on the basis of modern dialects which most faithfully preserved the forms of Old Norse. Because of the isolated nature of Norwegian rural communities, the local vernacular was distinct with marked dialectal differences from one district to the next.
The cultural baggage of Norwegian immigrants included their specific local dialect and a Danish literary language. The latter played a significant role in the immigrant community, attaining a nearly sacred quality. It was the language of their institutions, secular and religious, and of sacred and profane literature. The immigrants had little appreciation for the linguistic reforms in the homeland; often such changers were viewed as a betrayal to a common cultural heritage. Changes in the official written language in Norway made the older form even more difficult to retain in America. A newspaper such as Decorah-Posten in Decorah, Iowa, persisted in using a Dano-Norwegian orthographic tradition from the 1870s well into the 1950s. The situation created confusion among teachers of Norwegian at American high schools, colleges and universities, who felt obligations to the language of the immigrant community. Only just before World War II did they in principle agree to teach the written standard—generally the Dano-Norwegian bokm'al — which at any one time was recognized as the official one in Norway.
English was another threat to the maintenance of the Norwegian language in America. Rural settlement patterns protected spoken Norwegian so it still can be heard in some Norwegian communities. According to researcher Joshua A. Fishman, about half of second generation Norwegians in the period 1940 to 1960 learned the language; and in 1960 there were as many as 40,000 of the third generation who had learned Norwegian. As of 1990, about 80,000 speakers of Norwegian remained in the United States. In Minnesota, Norwegian, with 16,000 speakers, is the second most common European language after German. Across the country there are still two bilingual newspapers, Western Viking in Seattle and Nordic Times in Brooklyn. The bygdelag promoted the use of rural vernaculars and, indeed, their annual reunions provided an environment where rural speech was honored and encouraged. It was, however, a mixed language with English words and phrases integrated.
GREETINGS AND OTHER POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
Some common Norwegian expressions are: God dag ("gooDAAG")—Good Afternoon, How do you do?; Adjø ("adyur")—Goodbye; Hvordan sta'r det til? ("VOORdahn stawr deh til")—How are you?; Bare bra, takk ("BAArer braa tahk")—Just fine, thanks; Takk ("tahk")—Thank you; Mange takk ("MAHNger tahk")—Thank you very much; Ska'l ("skawl")—Cheers; God jul ! ("goo yewl")—Merry Christmas; Godt nytta'r ("got newt awr")—Happy New Year; Gratulerer ! ("grahtewLAYrerr")—Congratulations.
Family and Community Dynamics
Early Norwegian immigration exhibited a pronounced family character. In a typical settlement like Spring Grove Township in Minnesota, for instance, there was in 1870 a near gender balance— 107 men for each 100 women—as compared to 128 males to 100 females for all Minnesotans. An extended communal and familial network was encouraged by this circumstance. The regional composition of most rural settlements, so that immigrants from a specific Norwegian home community were preponderant, worked to the same end, recreating a familiar and comforting cultural and social environment.
But opportunities in America, where land was cheap and labor expensive, altered immigrant practices. The family farm, lacking the retinue of servants and landless agricultural workers common in Norway, encouraged greater marital fertility to produce needed labor. The immigrant families were large. The sexual division of labor changed as women moved further into domestic roles. Men took over such farm chores as milking, which had been women's work in Norway.
Norwegian courting patterns were modified in part due to pietistic attitudes rooted in religious awakenings in Norway, but also because they were ridiculed by American neighbors. Greater wealth allowed the immigrants to imitate urban middle-class practices in housing, dress, household amenities (such as pianos), and leisure activities. But the bourgeois lifestyle was colored both by the local Norwegian cultural background and by the dominant position of the immigrant Lutheran church.
The male-dominated youth migration toward the end of the century was also entrenched in kinhip and community. Later immigrants traveled increasingly to urban centers to reunite with relatives in America. Carl G. O. Hansen, visiting an aunt in Minneapolis in the 1880s, described the Norwegian environment: "My aunt sent one of her children out to make some purchases. Some things were to be bought at Haugen's, some at Tharaldsen's and some at Olsen & Bakke's. That surely sounded as if it were a Norwegian town." (Carl G. O. Hansen, My Minneapolis [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Privately published, 1956], p.52.)
The many single men living as boarders in crowded quarters would foster marriage outside the Norwegian group. Yet, there was a strikingly high percentage of in-marriage only in both the immigrant generation and the American-born second generation. In Chicago in 1910, 77 percent of married first-generation Norwegians had wed another Norwegian, and 46 percent of the married second generation had chosen a mate within their ethnic group. When most Norwegian Americans married outside their nationality, their spouse was Scandinavian, or, if German, at least shared a Lutheran culture.
For most Norwegian families the "American Dream" was the security of a middle-class existence. Only a few Norwegians asserted themselves as financiers and captains of industry. Norwegians typically endorsed the American principle of equality and rejected American materialism. This attitude was reinforced by the Lutheran ethic of renouncing worldly pleasure. According to the census of 1990, 4.3 percent of Norwegian American households received public assistance and 5.1 percent lived under the poverty line.
Current specific data on in-marriage and divorce are not available. With regard to the latter, Norwegian Americans do not seem to deviate much from the average for the American population as a whole. Anecdotal evidence also suggests a continued high degree of in-marriage, attributable to community and church relations, and even to loyalty to an ethnic heritage. A persistent sense of family cohesion and values is evident in the common practice of arranging family reunions and the compilation of family histories. Such activities fortify ties to the past.
Higher education in America is greatly indebted to religion. In the Norwegian immigrant community the Lutheran church recognized the salutary benefits of education in a Christian spirit. It emulated American denominations in establishing Lutheran church academies and colleges.
Norwegians placed themselves in a singular position among Scandinavian groups in America to question the religionless "common" school. The orthodox Lutheran clergy even dreamed of replacing the public schools with Lutheran parochial schools, but lacked the means to do so. The ability to read and write was common among Norwegian immigrants, and it improved greatly after 1860 when Norway enacted new laws to improve public education. The Norwegian Lutheran church in America did manage to operate congregational schools, some continuing into the 1930s. During the summer months these schools offered lessons on Lutheran faith and rudimentary instruction in the Norwegian language.
The academy movement flourished for a while, with approximately 70 such schools being established. They lasted until about World War I and assisted the immigrants in adjusting to American society. Inevitably they also strengthened a national Norwegian identity. Some academies were transformed into four-year liberal arts colleges. The college movement among Norwegians began in 1861 with the founding of Luther College, now located in Decorah, Iowa. The school was a facet of the church's effort to train Lutheran ministers. As such it was a men's school, with nearly half of the graduates entering the ministry. In the 1930s it began to admit women.
Five other Norwegian colleges have since been established. All were founded before 1900 mainly as academies. Three are in Minnesota: St. Olaf College in Northfield, which admitted female students from its inception; Augsburg College in Minneapolis; and Concordia College in Moorhead. Augustana College is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Pacific Lutheran University is in Tacoma, Washington.
Norwegian women in America obtained higher education at a time when such studies were closed to women in the homeland. Some of these women were trained as physicians at the Women's Medical School which opened in Chicago in 1870. As feminists and as professionals, they became leaders in the Norwegian community.
According to the 1990 census, of those who declared Norwegian as their primary ancestry, 21 percent of the women and 32 percent of the men 25 years or older had earned bachelor's, master's or doctor's degrees. Most attended public institutions rather than one of the "Norwegian" colleges.
The Norwegian Lutheran church was a focal point and conservative force in rural settlements in the upper Midwest. The congregation became an allencompassing institution for its members, creating a tight social network that touched all aspects of immigrant life. The force of tradition in religious practice made the church a central institution in the urban environment as well. The severe reality of urban life increased the social role of the church.
In the unbridled freedom of America, Norwegian Lutherans exhibited an extreme denominationalism and established a tradition of disharmony. The Church of Norway largely abandoned the immigrants and provided no guidance. As a consequence, no fewer than 14 Lutheran synods were founded by Norwegian immigrants between 1846 and 1900. In 1917 most of the warring Lutheran factions reconciled doctrinal differences and organized the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. It was one of the church bodies that in 1960 formed the American Lutheran Church, which in 1988 became a constituent part of the newly created Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Even though the terms Norwegian and Lutheran might seem synonymous to many, there were in fact substantial numbers of Methodists among Norwegian immigrants. They were concentrated especially in Chicago; a Norwegian Methodist theological seminary was established in Evanston. Some Norwegians converted to the Baptist faith. There were also groups of Quakers, relating back to "the Sloopers," and Mormons who joined the trek to the "New Jerusalem" in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Employment and Economic Traditions
Norwegians succeeded in commercial agriculture in pioneer times—following frontier practice—as wheat farmers but soon diversified into other products as dictated by topography, soil, climate, and market. In Wisconsin such considerations drew some Norwegians to tobacco farming. In Iowa they grew corn or raised cattle and hogs; in parts of Minnesota dairy farming was prominent. In the northwestern part of the state Norwegian farmers engaged heavily in spring wheat cultivation. The hard spring wheat region extended into South and North Dakota where Norwegians adapted to the demands of grassland wheat production on the semiarid northern plains.
In the urban economy, Norwegian men, along with other Scandinavians, found a special niche in construction and the building trades. It was a natural transfer of skills from home, as was their work as lumberjacks in the forests of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Norwegian men in Minneapolis earned a livelihood in the large flour mills. In the Pacific Northwest logging and employment in sawmills engaged many. Another significant transplanted skill was shipping. On the Great Lakes, Norwegian sailors and boat owners dominated as long as sailing vessels remained an important means of transportation. In 1870 approximately 65 percent of all sailors on Lake Michigan were Norwegian. Shipping was big on the eastern seaboard and the west coast as well. The coastal areas provided rich opportunity for fishing too. Norwegians on the west coast and Alaska began to develop the halibut industry at the turn of the twentieth century. By 1920 about 95 percent of all halibut fishermen and an even higher percentage of the owners of halibut schooners were of Norwegian birth or descent.
Traditional early employment for Norwegian women involved domestic and personal service. Accessibility to higher education gradually opened up new possibilities—especially for the American-born generations—in commerce, education, and in specialized professions. Looking at the occupational picture in 1950, there is a striking social advance both for women and men. Still Norwegians of both the first and second generation revealed a preference for farming, and men born in Norway were overrepresented in construction work.
The evidence provided in the 1990 census indicates little occupational concentration among Norwegian Americans. Of employed persons 16 years old and over, only 4.5 percent were occupied in farming, forestry, and fishery, and six percent in construction, while 15 percent were employed in manufacturing, and nearly 31 percent in a variety of managerial and specialty occupations. That year 4.4 percent of the civilian labor force was unemployed.
Politics and Government
Norwegians in America have participated in the formation of several aspects of the political culture and are to be found in conservative and liberal camps of both prominent political parties.
Norwegians had a certain passion for the political arena. Familiarity with democratic reform and local self-government in Norway, a dislike of officialdom, and a heightened assertion encouraged them to participate in local government in America. From the community, they made their way to state and even national politics. During the early decades of this century Norwegians in Minnesota and North Dakota were, for instance overrepresented in the state administrations as well as in the legislatures and Congress.
Political affiliation, as expressed in a flourishing Norwegian immigrant press, was strongly influenced by the Free-Soil party. In the late 1850s, this same press abandoned the Democrats for Abraham Lincoln's Republican party, supporting its antislavery stance and for free distribution of frontier land to serious settlers. The Homestead Act of 1862 and the heroic participation of Norwegian Americans in the Civil War assured a strong loyalty to the Republican party and its ideals.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, other issues came to the fore and weakened Republican loyalties. In regions suffering from agricultural depression and exploitation by outside financial interests, independent political thought brought Norwegians into the agricultural protest embodied in the Populist movement. This was especially the case in the wheat-growing regions of North Dakota and western Minnesota.
From around the turn of the century the Progressive movement gained a broad Norwegian following and Norwegians exhibited great faith in the benefits of legislative reform. The Nonpartisan League, organized in North Dakota in 1915, was further evidence of agrarian unrest. Norwegian farmers played a prominent role in its activities and advocacy, which included such socialist goals as public control and operation of grain silos, and the sale of wheat. This radical policy was, however, less a consequence of ethnic predispositions toward social reform than of economic self-interest and the problematic local conditions faced by wheat farmers.
Norwegians were also attracted to the Socialist party, joining local socialist clubs, which again became members of the Scandinavian Socialist Union formed in Chicago in 1910. But they did not do so in great numbers. Due to the high concentration of Norwegians in skilled occupations, especially in the building trades, they did, however, join labor unions in large numbers. The efforts of a Norwegian immigrant, Andrew Furuseth, to improve the working conditions for sailors, resulting in the Seamen's Act of 1915, is one example of the significant contributions made by immigrants to the American union movement.
In the 1920s Norwegians joined a national trend toward the Democratic party. The loyalty to the Republican party was significantly frayed as working class and reform-minded Norwegians took part in third-party movements, increasingly for Democrats, who seemed more committed to labor concerns and social justice than the Republicans. Republicanism remained common among middle- and upper-class Norwegian Americans, however.
Norwegian members of both parties were concerned with prohibition. Under the banner of temperance and local prohibition of the sale of intoxicating beverages, Norwegian politicians gained the support of their compatriots and were elected to public office. North Dakota, influenced by the agitation of the Norwegian American press, adopted a prohibition clause in its state constitution in 1889. National prohibition legislation, passed in 1919 as the Volstead Act, was named for Norwegian American Andrew J. Volstead, Republican congressman from Minnesota. Opposition to prohibition and the corruption and crime it yielded, paradoxically, strengthened the move toward the Democratic party, most especially among urban Norwegians.
Most Norwegians have viewed military service as an affirmation of American patriotism. The first fallen hero was a private in the war with Mexico who had Americanized his name to George Pilson. He had immigrated to Chicago and fell in 1847 in the bloody battle of Buena Vista, with Chicago newspapers claiming that "more patriotic blood does not enrich the field at Buena Vista than that of the Chicago Norwegian volunteer." Norwegian acts of heroism, valor, and sacrifice constituted a watershed experience during the Civil War; Norwegian men have served in great numbers, suffered substantial casualties, and have established themselves in America. Norwegians supported the Spanish-American War and rallied around the American war objectives during World War I. In a patriotic spirit, Norwegian American societies and organizations published lists of "our boys" in the armed forces and memorialized the fallen of their nationality. Occupation of Norway by the Germans during World War II was a calamity that filled Norwegians in America with indignation and sorrow. During the summer of 1942 the U.S. Army established a Norwegian-speaking combat unit, the 99th Infantry Battalion, in case there should be an invasion of Norway. It consisted of immigrants and Norwegians born in America.
RELATIONS WITH NORWAY
Norwegian Americans cultivated bonds with Norway, sending gifts home often and offering aid during natural disasters and other hardships in Norway. Relief in the form of collected funds was forthcoming without delay. Only during conflicts within the Swedish-Norwegian union, however, did Norwegian Americans become involved directly in the political life of Norway. In the 1880s they formed societies to assist Norwegian liberals, collecting money to assist rifle clubs in Norway should the political conflict between liberals and conservatives call for arms. The ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway and Norway's humiliating retreat in 1895 fueled nationalism and created anguish. Norwegians in America raised money to strengthen Norway's military defenses. The unilateral declaration by Norway on June 7, 1905, to dissolve its union with Sweden yielded a new holiday of patriotic celebration.
Individual and Group Contributions
As in any large population, certain members of the Norwegian American community have excelled in many disciplines. A sampling of group and individual achievements follows.
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), a second-generation Norwegian, was a superb social critic. His best known work is The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), a savage attack on the wastefulness of American society. Einar Haugen (1906- ) is a prominent linguist and professor emeritus at Harvard University. Marcus Lee Hansen (1892-1938), of Danish and Norwegian descent, was a pioneer immigration historian. Theodore C. Blegen (1891-1969) was also a prominent historian of Norwegians in America, and his book Norwegian Migration: The American Transition was published in 1940. Agnes Mathilde Wergeland (1857-1914) was a professor of history at the state university in Laramie, Wyoming, and the first Norwegian woman to earn a doctoral degree.
Olive Fremstad (1868-1951) was an internationally renowned Wagnerian opera singer. Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a well-known concert violinist. F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1955) perfected a capella singing as director of the St. Olaf College choir. He has been called the "Music Master of the Middle West." Ole E. Rølvaag (1876-1931), the best-known Norwegian American author, wrote such books as Giants In the Earth (1927). Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen (1848-1895), a realistic novelist, literary critic, and social Darwinist, taught at Cornell and Columbia universities. Kathryn Forbes (1909-1966) authored the best-selling Mama's Bank Account (1943), a portrait of a Norwegian family in San Francisco. As I Remember Mama, Forbes's work became a hit Broadway play, a motion picture, and a television series. Celeste Holm (1919- ), versatile actress of stage and screen, appeared on Broadway and in numerous motion pictures. In 1950 she was an Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her role in All About Eve.
INDUSTRY AND BUSINESS
Nelson Olson Nelson (1844-1922) founded the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company, which became one of the world's largest building and plumbing supply companies. Ole Evinrude (1877-1934), a self-taught mechanical engineer, developed the idea of the outboard motor. He formed the Evinrude Company in 1909. Arthur Andersen (1885-1947) was the founder of the world-famous accounting firm that bears his name. Conrad Hilton (1887-1979), Norwegian on his father's side, established one of the world's largest hotel chains and at the time of his death, owned 260 first-class hotels worldwide.
Victor F. Lawson (1850-1925) was editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, a philanthropist and a community leader. William T. Evjue (1882-1970) gained great influence as the editor of the progressive and reform-minded Madison Capital Times. Eric Sevareid (1912-1992), had a distinguished career in journalism and as a radio and television reporter and commentator.
Ludvig Hektoen (1863-1951) made great progress in cancer research. The Hektoen Institute of Medical Research continues his work. Ingeborg Rasmussen (1854-1938) graduated from the Women's Medical College in Evanston in 1892 and became a prominent physician, feminist, and cultural leader among the Norwegians in Chicago. Helga Ruud (1860-1956) graduated from the Women's Medical College in 1889 and enjoyed a distinguished medical career at the Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago. Ulrikka Feldtman Bruun (1854-1940) was an influential temperance worker among Danes and Norwegians for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Knute Nelson (1843-1923) served as a Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota from 1895 to 1923. Andrew Furuseth (1954-1938) organized American commercial sailors. He was considered their liberator and was referred to as "the Abraham Lincoln of the Sea." Earl Warren (1891-1974) served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969. Henry Jackson (1912-1983), Democratic U.S. senator from Washington, served from 1953 to 1983. Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) served for two terms as U.S. vice president under President Lyndon Johnson and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968, losing to Richard Nixon in the national election. Walter Mondale (1928- ), served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota (1964-1977); U.S. vice president under President Jimmy Carter (1977-1881); and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. Since 1993, Mondale has been U.S. Ambassador to Japan under the Clinton administration. Warren Christopher (1925- ), whose great-grandparents emigrated from Norway in 1853, was named secretary of state in 1993.
Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958), a professor of physics at Yale University, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1939. Ivar Giaever (1929- ), Norwegian-trained engineer and physicist, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1973. Lars Onsager (1903-1976), received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1968. Norman E. Borlaug (1914- ), an agricultural scientist, received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the "Green Revolution," which helped to dispel the fear of famine in underdeveloped countries. Ole Singstad (1882-1969) was chief engineer for the construction of the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River.
Norwegian immigrants brought skiing to America in the mid-1800s by introducing cross-country racing and ski jumping, and organizing local clubs, including the National Ski Association. They dominated the sport into the 1930s. Beginning in 1856, John A. "Snowshoe" Thompson (1827-1876) delivered mail on skis across the Sierra Nevada mountains for nearly 20 years during the winter months, ensuring postal connection between Utah Territory and California. Sonja Henie (1912-1969) was an Olympic and World figure skating champion, movie star, and pioneer of ice shows. Torger Tokle (1920-1945), arrived in America in 1939 and was unrivaled by any U.S. ski jumper. Tokle won 42 of 48 competitions and, in so doing, set no fewer than 24 new hill records. He was killed in military action in the mountains of northern Italy while serving in the 86th Mountain Regiment—"The Ski Troops." Knute Rockne (1888-1931), head football coach at the University of Notre Dame from 1918 to 1931, revolutionized American collegiate football; his record consist of 105 wins, 12 losses, and five ties. Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (1913-1956), a daughter of Norwegian immigrants, was a champion in basketball, track, and golf. Tommy Moe (1970- ) won a gold medal for skiing in the 1994 Olympic Games.
News of Norway.
Contact: Marianne Kirkebo, Editor.
Address: Royal Norwegian Embassy, 2720 34th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008-2714.
Telephone: (202) 333-6000.
Fax: (202) 337-0870.
E-mail: [email protected]
Norway Times/Nordisk Tidende.
Contact: Tom Røren, Editor.
Address: 123 West 44th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11209.
Telephone: (718) 238-1100.
Contact: Alf Lunder Knudsen, Editor and Publisher.
Address: P.O. Box 70408, Seattle, Washington 98107.
Telephone: (206) 784-4617.
Fax: (206) 784-4856.
"The Scandinavian Hour" every Saturday morning.
Contact: Ron Olsen.
Address: 1114 Lakeside Avenue, Seattle, Washington. 98122.
Telephone: (206) 324-2000.
Fax: (206) 322-4670.
E-mail: [email protected]
"Scandinavian Echoes" every Saturday afternoon.
Contact: Jeanne Widman.
Address: 260 East 2nd Street, Mineola, New York 11501.
Telephone: (516) 742-1520.
Fax: (516) 742-2878.
Organizations and Associations
American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF).
Promotes international understanding by means of educational and cultural exchange with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. It has an extensive program of fellowships and grants, and publishes the Scandinavian Review.
Contact: Lena B'arck Kaplan, President of the Board of Trustees.
Address: 725 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10021.
Telephone: (212) 879-9779.
The Norsemen's Federation (Nordmanns-Forbundet).
An international organization founded in Norway in 1907 to strengthen the ties between men and women of Norwegian heritage in and outside Norway. It functions as a cultural and social organization and has chapters throughout the United States.
Contact: Johan Fr. Heyerdahl, Secretary General.
Address: R'adhusgt. 23 B, 0158 Oslo, Norway.
Norwegian American Historical Association (NAHA).
Founded in 1925, is the main research center for Norwegian American history. It possesses large documentary archives and extensive library holdings. The Association publishes one to two volumes annually; so far more than 80 volumes of high scholarly merit on the Norwegian American experience have been released under its imprint.
Contact: Lloyd Hustvedt, Executive Secretary.
Address: St. Olaf College, 1510 St. Olaf Avenue, Northfield, Minnesota 55057-1097.
Telephone: (507) 646-3221.
Fax: (507) 646-3734.
E-mail: [email protected]
Sons of Norway.
An international order founded as a fraternal society in Minneapolis in 1895 with lodges throughout the United States as well as in Canada and in Norway. It provides insurance benefits for its members and publishes a monthly magazine, The Viking.
Contact: Lee A. Rowe, CEO.
Address: 1455 West Lake Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408.
Telephone: (612) 827-3611; or (800) 945-8851.
Fax: (612) 827-0658.
E-mail: [email protected]
Museums and Research Centers
Provides guided tours through a Norwegian pioneer homestead settled in 1856, featuring the Norway building patterned after a twelfth century stave church. It was built in Trondheim, Norway, to be exhibited at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Contact: Scott Winner, Director.
Address: 3576 Highway JG North, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin 53517.
Telephone: (608) 437-8211.
Fax: (608) 437-7827.
E-mail: [email protected]
Nordic Heritage Museum.
Opened in 1980 in Seattle, Washington. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, and present the Scandinavian heritage in the Pacific Northwest. It has an extensive collection of objects from Scandinavia and the Pacific Northwest.
Contact: Marianne Forssblad, Director.
Address: 3014 Northwest 67th Street, Seattle, Washington 98117.
Telephone: (206) 789-5707.
Norskedalen Heritage and Nature Center.
Features objects specific to Norwegian immigrants who settled in Vernon and LaCrosse counties, Wisconsin, before 1900, and two separate pioneer homesteads. It arranges an annual Midsummer Festival in late June.
Contact: James Nestingen, Director.
Address: P.O. Box 225, Coon Valley, Wisconsin 54623.
Telephone: (608) 452-3424.
Vesterheim, the Norwegian American Museum.
A major ethnic museum, it maintains high professional standards and supports an outdoor museum as well as a large collection of objects dealing with the Norwegian homeland and life in America. It also features a museum store with Norwegian American crafts and books. It conducts workshops in Norwegian folk crafts.
Contact: Darrell D. Henning, Director.
Address: 523 West Water Street, P.O. Box 379, Decorah, Iowa 52101.
Telephone: (319) 382-9681.
Fax: (319) 382-8828.
E-mail: [email protected]
Sources for Additional Study
Anderson, Wilford Raymond. Norse America, Tenth Century Onward. Evanston, IL: Valhalla Press, 1996.
Gjerde, Jon. From Peasants to Farmers: The Migration from Balestrand, Norway, to the Upper Middle West. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Haugen, Einar. The Norwegian Language in America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior, two volumes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.
Lovoll, Odd S. A Century of Urban Life: The Norwegians in Chicago before 1930. Northfield, Minnesota: NAHA, 1988.
——. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
——. The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian American People. Revised edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Schultz, April R. Ethnicity on Parade : Inventing the Norwegian American Through Celebration. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.