History of St. Olaf College
By Professor O.G. Felland
The earliest immigration and settlement by Norwegians in Goodhue
County of which I have any record, was made in 1854. Henrik and
Töge Nilsen Talla, Thorsten Anderson Aaby, and William W. Rönningen
arrived on the 11th of June that year, and they were the first white
settlers in the vicinity of Holden church. Soon a tide of immigration
set in towards Goodhue and Rice Counties, large portions of which
were occupied by Norwegians. The first divine services in Norwegian
were held by Rev. N. Brandt in June, 1855, and a congregation was
organized there on the 12th of September, 1856 through the agency
of Rev. H. A. Stub, Messrs. Knut Finseth, Kjöstol G. Näseth,
Halvor O. Huset, and Christopher Lockrem being elected trustees.
Owing to the scarcity of ministers, regular services were held only
at long intervals, till Rev. B. J. Muus arrived from Norway and,
in November, 1859, took charge of the Holden congregation. He soon
had his hands more than full, for, besides serving the large home
congregation, he organized new ones in the adjoining settlements,
and he traveled through Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, visiting
the new Norwegian settlements and bringing them the message of the
Gospel and the sacraments. He had at one time no less than twenty-eight
regular stations which he visited twice a year.
In September, 1866, Rev. N. A. Quammen came to Christiania. Dakota
County, and relieved Muus of a part of his work.
Rev. Muus was a member of the Norwegian Synod, which has the honor
of being the pioneer in the cause of higher Lutheran education among
the Norwegians in America. The first step was taken by the Synod
assembled on Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, by the appointment of Rev.
Laur. Larsen as professor, on the 14th of October, 1859. In this
work for higher education Muus took an active interest, and when
Luther College was established in Decorah. he and his congregations
bore a large share of the burden. Many of the students, too, were
furnished by these same congregations, which soon became noted as
the most prosperous and well-to-do Norwegian churches in Minnesota.
Already in the sixties, after the close of the Civil War, the farmers
of Goodhue County began to rival one another in the erection of
spacious dwellings and farm buildings.
Their pastor endeavored to make their spiritual welfare keep pace
with their material prosperity. He was always very painstaking in
the instruction of his catechumens preparing for confirmation. But
he also wished to provide for the higher education of the young
people in secular knowledge, as the common school seemed inadequate
to him. This desire led him to open a school in his parsonage about
the middle of September, 1869. Having engaged Mr. Thorsten Jesme
as teacher, an academic course was planned, and Latin was taught.
But only three pupils were enrolled in the fall term which lasted
three months. In the winter term five enrolled, but two of them
failed to attend on account of sickness, and so, after a couple
weeks, he gave it up. But he did not give up working for the cause,
and during the next four years the ground was prepared and the seed
The educational ideal which Muus constantly kept before his people
is crystallized in the Theses which he prepared for the annual meeting
of the Norwegian Synod which was held in his home church from the
13th to the 21st of June, 1874. These Theses, which formed the basis
of a thorough discussion at that meeting, are as follows:
1. "It is the purpose of the school to assist the parents
in the education of their children.
2. As it is the purpose of education to care for the children's
temporal and eternal welfare, so it is also the purpose of the school
to assist the parents in caring for the temporal and eternal welfare
of their children.
3. Since the most important duty of the parents is to care for the
eternal welfare of their children, that school which takes an essential
part in the education of their children must also look upon the
eternal welfare of the children as its highest and most important
4. Since nothing else than the revealed word of God can bring us
salvation, it must be one of the chief objects of that school which
takes an essential part in the education of our children, to instruct
concerning this word, and to help the children to live in accordance
5. Since the present common school makes it an object to take an
essential part in the education of children, but will not teach
them concerning the revealed word of God, it cannot properly perform
its office, as it (a) neglects to employ the only means by which
its most important aim can be reached; (b) substitutes other inadequate
means, and thereby
draws the children away from the only way of salvation.
6. Since great necessity may justify one in exposing himself and
others to great temptations, it cannot be asserted that it is under
all circumstances a sin to make use of the common school; but it
is the duty of Christians in proportion to their ability to work
for the erection of Christian schools for their children."
It is not, after all, a matter of great surprise that people upon
whom these views had been impressed for years, should be willing
to sacrifice something for the cause of Christian education.
But this meeting did not consider only the theoretical, but also
the practical side of the question. An offer was made by members
of the congregation at Red Wing to donate a piece of land and buildings
valued at $10,000, if the Synod would locate and operate a normal
school there. A resolution to accept this offer was carried, but
was not carried into effect, and a year later it was annulled.
For some reason this offer did not meet with the approval of Muus,
and one evening during the session be invited Rev. N. A. Quammen,
of Christiania, and Harold Thorson, of Northfield, to his study,
where, having outlined to them his plans, he said to them, "Why
don't you put in a bid to have a school located at Northfield?"
Mr. Thorson disclaims having come to the meeting with any intention
of making such an offer, but he at once answered that if this was
all that was necessary, that could be done, and both he and Quammen
expressed the conviction that Northfield would respond heartily
to such a proposition.
The result of their deliberations that evening was that an offer
was presented to the Synod the next day, of which the minutes of
the meeting give the following report:
"In connection with this matter [the Red Wing proposition]
an offer was introduced from H. Thorson of Northfield, of a fifteen
acre lot with houses on, worth about $2,000, which he proposed to
donate to the Synod, if an academy were erected and the Synod would
undertake the control of it. He believed that considerably more
would be given by the city, and the only question was, if grounds
and buildings were furnished, and the teachers' salaries were provided
for in the vicinity, if then the Synod would appoint teachers for
the school and exercise supervision. On motion of Rev. J. A. Ottesen
the Synod passed the following resolution in this matter: The Synod
expresses its thanks to Mr. H. Thorson, of Northfield, for the munificent
contribution which he has offered for an academy in Northfield,
and with joy and thanks to God the Synod expresses the wish that
such an academy be erected."
Muus now began a vigorous campaign, assisted mainly by H. Thorson
and Rev. N. A. Quammen. In order to ascertain the attitude of the
neighboring clergy and other influential Lutherans, he called a
meeting of such to be held in Northfield in the fall of 1874. Although
a number met, including some of the leaders of the Norwegian-Danish
Conference, yet no material aid could be secured, and the promoters
of the school saw that they must look elsewhere.
In the meanwhile Quammen and Thorson had sounded many of the prominent
citizens of Northfield in regard to this matter, and here they found
willing ears and ready hands. The following clippings from the Rice
County Journal of October 7th and 21st speak for themselves
"Pursuant to a very inadequate notice a respectable number
of people gathered at Lockwood's Hall last Thursday, the 1st inst.,
to confer in relation to the establishment of an educational institution
under the auspices of our Scandinavian brethren, and its location
in Northfield. The meeting was organized by the choice of A. O.
Whipple, Esq., for chairman, and Harold Thorson for secretary. On
taking the chair Mr. Whipple invited the Norwegian gentlemen present
to make some statements on the subject, when Rev. Muus proceeded
to state their plans and wishes in the premises. Rev. Mr. Quammen
also spoke in response to the invitation. Of our own citizens, Messrs.
Whipple, O. A. Mead, E. Hobbs, H. Thorson, A. H. Bjoraker, and C.
A. Wheaton made remarks pertinent to the occasion, all expressing
much interest in having the institution located here. A committee
consisting of H. Thorson, G. M. Phillips, and A. O. Whipple, was
appointed to see what material aid the people of Northfield will
afford, and the meeting stands adjourned to the meeting of the 15th
of October inst., at Lockwood's Hall. This is an important enterprise
to our town, and should, and we trust, will, receive liberal encouragement.
H. Thorson will set a noble example, as he proposes to give to this
object in the outset two thousand dollars."
The report of the meeting the 15th of October, is found in the
Rice County journal for October 21st. It reads as follows:
"The adjourned meeting of the friends of the new project for
establishing a Norwegian College was held at Wheaton's Hall on Thursday
evening at 7:30 o'clock, A. O. Whipple in the chair and H. Thorson
secretary. G. M. Phillips, Esq., of the committee appointed at the
former meeting to raise funds, reported that $5,400 had been raised
and it was thought that by a little further effort the amount could
be raised to $6,000, and Mr. Whipple thought that even more could
be raised. There was a good representation of our Norwegian friends
present, including most of the Board of Trustees, and Messrs. Muus
and Quammen expressed their views which we construed to be favorable
to locating their college here, and our people responded with enthusiasm
to their sentiment. G. M. Phillips, J. T. Ames, E. Hobbs, H. Scriver,
W. H. Mitchel, A. O. Whipple, Charles Taylor, F. A. Noble, C. A.
Wheaton, and others spoke encouraging of the prospect, presenting
the advantages of this locality for such an enterprise and J. T.
Ames offered the following resolution: `That we extend to our Norwegian
brethren a cordial invitation to locate their college at Northfield,
and that we pledge them our hearty sympathy and support,' which
was unanimously and heartily adopted. Mr. Scriver's remarks. in
which he set forth the local advantages of this place and the support
it would receive at this point, of which he judged in connection
with his experience in connection with Carleton College from its
inception, were received and endorsed with applause. It was an excellent
meeting in every respect, all present seeming moved by a common
impulse for the attainment of a philanthropic and in every way laudable
object. As matters could not be brought to a decisive point at this
meeting, Colonel Streeter moved that when the meeting adjourned,
it be at a four days' call of the chairman, A. O. Whipple, who will
follow the instruction. That our Norwegian brethren are in earnest,
they have submitted a distinct proposition and offer in writing
to the Board of Education for the purchase of our school property
situate on block No. 24, being the four lots near the Ladies' Hall,
now occupied by our schools, but which are to be vacated when the
winter term commences. They want this property for present use till
they get more elaborate structures prepared on larger grounds. The
Board not wishing to act in a matter of so much importance without
consulting their constituents, have called a special school meeting
at the old school house on Saturday evening at 7 o'clock the 24th
day of October, inst., when the people assembled shall instruct
the Board as to their wishes in the premises. Let there be a good
Having received the assurances and pledges above referred to, Muus
decided to perfect an organization. After carefully investigating
the legal aspects of the matter he decided to form a close corporation,
and for this purpose he invited a few trusty farmers of his congregations
to meet at Northfield on the 6th of November, 1874. Mr. O. F. Perkins,
a lawyer of Northfield, was employed to draw up the articles of
incorporation in accordance with the instructions of Muus. These
articles, including later amendments, read as follows:
This certifies that we, the undersigned. have associated ourselves
together for the purpose of establishing an institution of learning,
in the village of Northfield, Rice County, Minnesota, under the
name and style of "St. Olaf College" in its corporate
The general purpose of the corporation is for the advancement in
education of pupils from fifteen years of age and upwards, as a
college, preserve the pupils in the true Christian faith, as taught
by the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and nothing taught in contravention
with the Symbolum Apostolicum, Nicenum, and Atbanasianum ; the Unaltered
Confession, delivered to the Emperor, Charles the Fifth, at Augsburg
in Germany, in the year of our Lord 1530; and the Small Catechism
There are no terms of admission to membership, or contribution
required of its members, except such as may be hereafter adopted
by the Board of Trustees.
There is no capital stock appertaining to said corporation.
The officers of the corporation during the first year of its existence
areas follows: B. J. Muus, of Wanamingo, Goodhue county, President;
Harold Thoreson, of Northfield, Rice county. Secretary; O. K. Finseth,
of Holden, Goodhue county; K. P. Hougen, of Holden, Goodhue county,
and Osmund Osmundson, of Wheeling, Rice county, Trustees.
And there shall be an annual election of the officers of the corporation,
held at their institution in the village of Northfield. on the third
Thursday in June of each year, who shall have power to sue and be
sued under their corporate name, to have a common seal, and establish
by-laws, rules, and regulations, deemed expedient, in accordance
with law, and not incompatible with an honest purpose.
All deeds, or conveyances, of real estate, or interest therein,
for the benefit of said institution, and conveyed by them, shall
be executed by the President of the Board of Trustees and the Secretary.
Witness our hands and seals this sixth day of November A. D., 1874.
B. J. MUUS, [Seal.]
HAROLD THORESON, [Seal.]
K. P. HOUGEN, [Seal.]
O. OSMUNDSON, [Seal.]
O. K. FINSETH, [Seal.]
By the adoption of this charter St. Olaf entered upon its corporate
existence as an institution recognized by the state, and the sixth
of November has therefore been styled Foundation Day and is annually
celebrated by the college. The day was so mild and pleasant that
Mrs. H. Thorson, the hostess, served refreshments to the party in
the open air.
The institution was originally styled "St. Olaf's School,"
and continued to be called so until 1889, when the articles of incorporation
were amended by changing the corporate name to St. Olaf College.
That it was the original purpose to make it a college the charter
shows, but Muus knew that they were not yet prepared to do the work
of a college, and therefore he insisted, contrary to the wish of
some of the other members, on the form then adopted.
St. Olaf was now ready for business, and the first business done
was the appointment of a principal. On the same day a call was sent
to Rev. Thorbjörn N. Mohn, of St. Paul. Muus had previously
conferred with Mohn in regard to this matter and secured his consent
to accept the position. Mohn was then thirty years old and a bachelor.
He had been serving as a minister, first in Chicago, afterwards
in St. Paul, for about one and one-half years. He accepted the call
and arrived for duty within a month. His salary was originally $650
OPENING OF THE SCHOOL
Preparations were now made for the opening of the school at an early
date. The first necessity was to find accommodations. It was referred
to above that overtures had been made to the school board of Northfield
for the purchase of the old school buildings, soon to be vacated.
On December 17th, 1874 the Trustees secured this property, consisting
of four lots, (where the Congregational church now stands) and two
school houses for the sum of $2,500. The larger building consisted
of two stories and contained besides two smaller rooms, four large
classrooms; the other building contained one class-room, which was
converted into a dining hall for the resident students. When the
school was removed, these buildings were taken down and the materials
were used in the erection of the present Ladies' Hall, in which,
however. the interior arrangements and the roof, originally a gable
roof, were altered. The Ladies' Hall is, therefore, essentially
the same building in which St. Olaf first began its work.
It had been announced that the school would open on Friday, the
8th of January, 1815, and applications began to come in. On the
opening day there were 36 students present, and soon the enrollment
The 8th of January, 1875, came with a blustering snow-storm which
prevented many of the friends from coming in from the country. At
10 o'clock the students and others present assembled in the school
building on the first floor. The opening ceremonies began with the
singing of a hymn, followed by the speech of dedication, delivered
by Rev. B. J. Muus, in which he shows the necessity of providing
for the higher education and the importance of Christian education
for our youth.
In the afternoon they met again, and on this occasion Prof. Th.
N. Mohn was the principal speaker. He spoke in English, emphasizing
the importance of preparing to become good American citizens.
Again in the evening a meeting for Divine service was held, at which
Rev. H. G. Stub, of Minneapolis, preached on I. Cor. 3: 11. "For
other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is
These speeches and the sermon were published in a pamphlet shortly
afterwards. Other speakers had been called upon, among whom I find
the name of Prof. A. A. Veblen, of Iowa State University, then a
student of Carleton College, as one of those who expressed their
good wishes for the school.
Harold Thorson was born in Norway (Nordre Aurdal parish, Valders)
on Dovre farm, the 76th of November, 1841. In 1857 he came to America,
settling at Manitowac, Wisconsin. After attending school three years
he started a little country store, but soon sold out to Mr. O. Torrison,
of Manitowoc, and was employed by him till 1865, when he came to
Northfield and started in business with his brother Knute. About
a year later the partnership was dissolved, and H. Thorson continued
in business alone. He was very successful in mercantile business,
but desiring to go into banking business he closed out and moved
to Elbow Lake, where he still lives, being president of the Bank
of Elbow Lake. He has the distinction of having contributed more
money to the building of St. Olaf than any other man.
Mohn was the only teacher present at the opening exercises. But
as it was apparent that more teachers would be needed, the trustees
had secured the services of L. S. Reque, a graduate of Luther College
who had finished a course in law and been admitted to the bar. He
arrived a few days later and took up the work.
The students were arranged in three classes, and an academic course
was adopted, nearly all studies being optional. Mathematics, English,
Geography, Writing and Music were taught through the medium of English;
in Norwegian, Universal History, and Religion instruction was given
in the Norwegian language. These are all the branches taught during
the first year, according to the official report of the principal.
On these general lines the school was carried on during the four
years it was located in town; new branches were added the second
year, such as Latin, German, United States History, and Algebra.
At the opening of the second school year, Mr. A. K. Teisberg took
the place of L. S. Reque as assistant teacher. Mr. Teisberg is also
a graduate of Luther College and is well known all over Minnesota,
having been Secretary of the Railroad Commission for many years.
For the second year tuition was fixed at $40.00, and that may have
had something to do with the falling off in attendance. The total
enrollment was only forty-four, but the third year it rose to sixty-two,
and the fourth year to ninety-nine, tuition having again been reduced
to $30.00 per year.
While the school was thus gradually gaining prestige and confidence,
its promoters were busily at work trying to place it on a permanent
footing. In 1875 Muus bad received an efficient collaborator in
Rev. M. O. Bockman who became his assistant for a few years, until
the parish was divided and Bockman was placed in charge of Go] and
The quarters obtained in town were always looked upon as temporary,
and the Trustees were looking about for a permanent site. The one
which Mr. Thorson had offered to the Synod in 1874, situated north
of St. Olaf Ave., and adjoining the railroad tracks on the west,
was not found desirable, but there was plenty of land open on the
west side at that time. Manitou Heights was then a wild forest tract,
but its commanding aspect began to attract attention. One day in
the winter of 1875 Prof. Reque and Mr. Thorson, returning from a
visit to Rev. Quammen's, turned away from the road to look at this
hill. It was covered with deep snow and thick brush, so that they
could not drive up, but they tied the horse and climbed the hill
afoot. Having reached the top and surveyed the grounds and taken
a view of the surrounding country, they were filled with enthusiasm
and decided that no better place could be found for St. Olaf, and
from that time onward they worked to secure it for the school. Mr.
Thorson began negotiating with Mr. Cutler, the owner, for the purchase
of twenty acres, and when satisfactory terms had been agreed upon
the Board bought these twenty acres and ten acres lying west of
them for the sum of $1250. This was the nucleus around which St.
Olaf gradually acquired clear title to seventy-seven acres, as shown
on the diagram on the next page. The wisdom of the choice is acknowledged
by everybody, the view from the hill is very extensive and exhibits
one of the most pleasing panoramas to be found in Minnesota.
THE MAIN BUILDING
The most arduous task that Muus had set himself in this matter was
to raise the necessary funds. Having first tried to interest the
Norwegian ministers in his scheme and to secure their co-operation
in raising funds and failed completely, with the sole exception
of Rev. Quammen, he determined to go on and see what could be done
by his own and Quammen's congregations. He estimated that he would
need $30,000, to carry through his plans. The pledges of Northfield
amounted to between six and seven thousand dollars. Could he raise
the balance among his own people? He estimated how much each farmer
must give in order to reach the amount, assessing them according
to their means, from $500, down to $100, or less. With this estimate
be set out, making a personal canvass. The farmers usually stood
aghast when he told them what he expected of them. Many of them
tried to beat him down, offering onehalf or two-thirds of what he
asked for, but he stoutly refused to barter, showing them that if
be commenced in that way, he could not succeed in raising the necessary
funds. And he generally succeeded in gaining his point, though often
not without engendering harsh feelings. Some flatly refused to give
anything to Muus, but later on when Bockman came around, his bland
and affable ways often secured a rich aftermath. On the 18th of
June, 1875, Muus reports subscriptions amounting to $9,000, not
counting the Northfield subscription. In the course of another year
he and Quammen had raised the subscription to $13,000 in their own
parishes, and a little later in the year 1876 Prof. Teisberg reported
that the total subscription had reached $22,000.
On the 14th of December, 1876, Messrs., Long and Haglin, of Minneapolis,
received the commission to make plans and specifications for the
proposed building. Their plans were accepted and the contract for
its erection was awarded to Mr. Charles P. Anderson, of Northfield,
a Swede. By the terms of the contract he was to furnish the materials,
put up the walls, and enclose the building by the 1st of November,
1877, for $13.500. He also agreed to finish the interior of the
building, with the exception of the top of the tower, for $5,000,
and have the building ready for occupancy at the opening of the
On the 4th of June, 1877, a building committee was appointed, consisting
of Rev. B. J. Muus, Prof. A. K. Teisberg, H. Thorson, A. T. Brandvold
and O. K. Finseth, and immediately thereupon work was begun, and
by the 4th of July, the date fixed for the laying of the corner-stone,
the basement was finished.
For this occasion a speaker's stand and seats for the audience had
been placed under the canopy of the adjoining woods west of the
building. A large number of people from the neighboring congregations
and many guests from distant parts assembled, and about noon the
ceremony opened, the audience singing the first stanza of Luther's
hymn, "A mighty fortress is our God," after which Rev.
Mr. Muus made an address of welcome, followed by another hymn. Rev.
H. A. Preus, the President of the Norwegian Synod, delivered the
oration of the day, taking for his text the words of the 111th Psalm,
10th verse: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
At the conclusion Muus read and translated the following document,
which thereupon, together with a few coins fresh from the mint,
a copy of one of the minutes of the Synod, and the latest issues
of three Norwegian weeklies, were placed in a tin box in the corner-stone.
IN NOMINE JESU
Deposuit hunc lapidem fundamentalem scholæ Sancti Olavi, A.
D., MDCCCLXXVII., IV. die mensis Julii Herman Amberg Preus, Synodi
Norvegica Lutheranæ in America Ecclesiæ Præses.
Iustituta est schola Sancti Olavi VI. die Nov. A. D. MDCCCLXXIV.,
ut juventuti Evang. Luth. confessionis utriusque sexus altiorem
quam in scholis domesticis obtinere possit eruditionis gradum petenti,
progressum quam maximum in cognitione rerum divinarum et humanarum
faciendi occasio præbeatur.
Ceterum precamur fundatores hujus schola Deum, ut sit semper hac
in schola Scriptura Sacra Veteris et Novi Testamenti norma et regula
fidei ac morum, qua et docentes et discentes in very fidei confessione
et vita sanctitate confirmentur et qua tanquam stella clarissima
per hujus vita miserias ad beatitudinem aeternam Domini ac Redemptoris
nostri perducantur, et quia firmiter credimus confessionem Ecclesiæ
Lutheranæ Libris nostris Symbolicis comprehensam doctrinam
certam veram firmam Domini nostri Jesu Christi continere, ideo porro
obsecramus posteros, ut thesaurum illum pretiosissimum, pro quo
certarunt patres nostri fideles, religiose conservent.
Præses schola: Bernt Julius Muus, pastor congregationis Holden
Præses vicarius: Nils A. Quammen, pastor congregationis Christiania
Professores ordinarii: Thorbjorn Nilsen Mohn, Cand. e Sem. Concordiæ,
St. Ludov, civ. Mo.
Aslak Knutsen Teisberg, Bace. e Coll. Decorah, civ. Iowa.
Curatores: Thorbjorn Nilsen Mohn, pastor congregationis St. John's,
Northfield, civ. Minn.; Ole Knutsen Finseth, Anders Knutsen Finseth,
Kenyon; Knut Pedersen Hougen, Hans Christophersen Westermoe, Holden;
Erik Eriksen Sævareide, Wanamingo; Osmund Osmundsen, Syver
Aslaksen Vesledal, Wheeling; Ole K. Simmons, Red Wing; Harold Thoresen,
Northfield; Anders T. Brandvold, Faribault.
Deus autem Trinunus, in cajus nomine depositus est hie lapis, sit
hujus scholæ fundamenturn solidissimum per omnia sæcula
After the reading of this document the audience proceeded to the
building to lay the corner stone upon which had been carved a cross
and the year 1877. It was laid in place by the Trustees, whereupon
Rev. H. A. Preus in the name of the triune God, struck it thrice
with a hammer, invoking God's blessing on the building and on the
work for which it was being erected. The ceremony closed with an
anthem sung by the students.
After dinner, which was served under the trees, Prof. Mohn delivered
an oration in English, after which words of congratulation and encouragement
were spoken by President Strong, of Carleton College, President
Larsen, of Luther College, Mr. P. Langemo, of Norway, and Rev. V.
Koren, of Washington Prairie, Ia.
On the 7th of November, 1877, when the Board of Trustees met, the
building was enclosed according to contract and Mr. Anderson was
directed to proceed and finish the building. When he had nearly
finished the building he failed. The total amount paid him for the
building was $18,908.12. This did not include the top story of the
tower which was not provided for in the original plan and was built
by Mr. O'Niel under a separate contract, and was capped with a temporary
wooden roof surrounded by battlements. The roof on the tower and
the front entrance were not finished until 1884.
The structure thus completed is shown in an engraving on one of
the preceding pages. The length of the building is 101 ft.; width,
56 ft. The basement is built of limestone, the first and second
stories of brick, with brick walls also bordering the halls. The
attic is of frame having a mansard roof of slate. The red brick
walls were painted in cream color and finished in sand. The building
forms a striking feature in the landscape from whichever side it
On the fourth anniversary of the foundation, the 6th of November,
1878, this building was dedicated with impressive ceremonies. Rev.
H. A. Preus, the venerable president of the Norwegian Synod, who
had laid the corner stone the year before, was present and opened
the program by reading the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy and offering
prayer. The dedicatory address was delivered by Rev. B. J. Muus,
who was then president of the Minnesota District of the Norwegian
Synod. After dinner, Prof. L. S. Reque, of Luther College, delivered
an oration in English. These addresses are given in full in Kirketidende
for the 22d of November, 1878.
ST. OLAF AS AN ACADEMY
On the 10th of September, 1878, St. Olaf took possession of its
new quarters. The girls occupied rooms on the first floor, while
the boys had to climb two stories higher to find their rooms in
the attic. The Principal and his family occupied rooms in the southeast
corner, on the first floor and in the basement. The recitation rooms
were on the second floor.
The school year was divided into the Fall, Winter, and Spring terms
of seven, nineteen, and eleven weeks respectively. The reason for
the long winter term was that many students could not attend school
except in the winter, and this gave them an opportunity to continue
their studies without interruption for more than half of the entire
school year. This arrangement continued till the fall of 1892 in
the academy, though it never was adopted in the college course.
In the latter year uniformity was established by extending the fall
term till Christmas.
The course of study embraced three years. It became apparent, however,
that more time was needed, as more studies had to be taken into
the course and the standard of requirements for graduation had to
be raised in order to keep up with the standard of other schools.
In 1884 the III. class had two sections in arithmetic only; in 1886
two sections in English and in geography were formed, known as III.
A and III. B classes, and the following year the division was extended
to all the branches. In 1890 the B. class was separated from the
III. and called sub-preparatory class, and after a couple of years
the `'sub" was dropped, followed by the dropping of "prep."
in 1893, for which IV. class was substituted.
There were two courses, the English and the Classical, differing
mainly in the omission of Latin, and the substitution of other studies
in the English course. This course was arranged with the view of
preparing young men and women for practical life, while the Classical
course aimed at preparing students for entering college.
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE ANTI-MISSOURIANS
From the beginning it was the intention of Muus and the corporation
to transfer St. Olaf to the Synod, but the Synod repeatedly refused
to accept any obligation in respect to this school, and thus action
was deferred. When the predestination controversy had been going
on for some time, the plan of transfer was dropped, since the great
majority of those who had helped build the school were on the side
of the opponents of the so-called Missourian faction which gradually
gained ascendancy in the Synod. These opponents, who were known
as Anti-Missourians, finally found themselves forced to withdraw
from the Synod and thus give up their interest in its educational
institutions, which they had largely helped to build and support.
Neither would they any longer send their children to these institutions.
But they must have schools in order to carry on the work. Their
attention, therefore, turned to St. Olaf and negotiation with the
Board of Trustees led to an agreement by which the Anti-Missourians
pledged themselves to pay annually a sum of money to the school,
in consideration of which the Board on its part, agreed to establish
a college department, Thus the long cherished hope of Muus and of
the teachers of St. Olaf became a reality, and in September, 1886,
a beginning was made with a Freshman class the members of which
had the rare fortune of being in the highest class of the college
for four years, only changing name at the commencement of each succeeding
year till those who were left of the class received their diplomas
and took their place at the head of the list of alumni in 1890.
But a divinity school was even a greater necessity than a college,
and one of the first things the Anti-Missourians did was to establish
one. Dr. F. A. Schmidt, of Luther Seminary, Madison, Wisconsin.
and Rev. M. O. Böckman, of Kenyon, were appointed theological
professors, and as there was no other suitable place available,
St. Olaf offered accommodations in its already crowded building.
Here the Lutheran Divinity School opened with impressive ceremonies
on the 15th of September, 1886. A great number of friends from Minnesota
and adjoining states were present on this occasion. The Divinity
School occupied the chapel for a lecture room during four years,
till June, 1890, when the Divinity School became consolidated with
The Anti-Missourians did a great deal for St. Olaf. They made it
possible to change the academy into a college, and they supported
it liberally with both money and students.
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE UNITED N. L. CHURCH
The Anti-Missourians did not wish to organize a new church-body,
but turned their efforts towards diminishing the number already
existing. Negotiations had for some time been carried on between
the Norwegian-Danish Conference, the Augustana Synod, the Hauge
Synod, and the Anti-Missourians, looking towards a union of these
bodies. The Hauge Synod finally withdrew, but the remaining bodies
formulated through committees, articles of confederation which were
adopted by the representatives of the different bodies, assembled
simultaneously in Minneapolis, and on the 13th of June, 1890, the
United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America was organized. The articles
of confederation did not provide for St. Olaf College, for the reason
that it was an independent corporation, but it was understood that
the Anti-Missourians desired its transfer to the United Church,
and accordingly it was offered by the Board of Trustees and accepted
by the United Church under the following contract:
a. St. Olaf College, at Northfield, Minn., shall be the College
of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church.
b. The United Norwegian Lutheran Church at the present meeting
shall nominate twenty-five candidates of the former Anti-Missourians,
twenty-five of the former Norwegian-Danish Conference, and ten of
the former Augustana Synod, and the Board of Trustees of St. Olaf
College shall elect of the Anti-Missourian candidates fifteen, of
those of the Conference fifteen, and of those of the Augustana Synod
five, as members of a new Board of Trustees of St. Olaf College.
c. Seven members of the Board of Trustees shall retire each year,
and a new election shall take place. The United Church shall nominate
each year fourteen candidates, and the Board of Trustees shall supplement
itself by electing new members from these candidates.
d. The United Norwegian Lutheran Church pledges itself to support
St. Olaf College in such a manner that it may continue to be a college,
which will meet the requirements that the times demand of an institution
of this kind.
President Mohn, who had been instrumental in bringing about this
result, brought the news Wednesday morning, the 18th of June, just
as the commencement exercises of the first graduating class of the
college were progressing, and the enthusiasm and joy with which
his announcement was greeted, seemed to shake the building for a
long time. Everybody saw visions on that day. Visions! Nothing more
came of them.
It is true, the United Church paid a sum for carrying on the work
of the college department, and the attendance rose quite rapidly.
But St. Olaf soon became a thorn in the flesh of the friends of
Augsburg Seminary, and they raised a hue and cry against St. Olaf
so that the very air seemed laden with "humanism." St.
Olaf, to be sure, had many friends, but the opposition would not
cease, and so, after a three years' struggle, in the hope of restoring
harmony in the church, St. Olaf was abandoned by the United Church,
and the above resolutions were rescinded at the annual meeting held
in Dawson in 1893.
SINK OR SWIM
This was a hard blow to St. Olaf. It now stood without "visible
means of support." Would it be able to stand thus, was the
question which confronted the Board of Trustees. Some thought it
would be useless to continue the hopeless struggle. But Mohn knew
that St. Olaf had friends enough to keep it a-going, and he would
not give up without giving them a chance to show their friendship.
In casting about for the best way to reach the friends, they decided
to send out a financial agent to solicit aid for carrying on the
college work. The choice fell upon Professor H. T. Ytterboe, who
had been engaged as a teacher here since 1882, and the success which
he had in his work fully justified the wisdom of the choice. He
not only succeeded in raising enough to carry on the work, but even
succeeded in diminishing the debt which had accumulated during the
previous years. For six long years he continued this arduous task,
devoting all his time to it. He had at different times some assistance
from others, among whom may be mentioned Rev. J. M. Dahl, Rev. S.
Strand, Mr. M. J. Stolee, Mr. A. R. Lavik, Mr. C. K. Solberg, Mr.
H. B. Kildahl, Professors Mohn, Possum, Björneby, Lee, and
But it was necessary to economize, nevertheless, wherever practicable.
In the first place, no teacher was appointed to fill Prof. Ytterboe's
place, his branches being distributed among the rest of the faculty,
and the second year another teacher was sacrificed and the burden
of the others proportionately increased for the remaining five years.
Then the salaries of the teachers were cut down, and finally the
woods on the college grounds were cut down to furnish fuel for the
school for three years. Nearly all the fine old trees were thus
sacrificed, leaving the younger trees room to develop and thus eventually
replace the loss. All but the most necessary improvements on the
buildings were suspended, and everything that could be spared was
thrown over board to keep the vessel afloat. She did not sink!
In the meanwhile the Augsburg element had not been pacified by sacrificing
St. Olaf, and so Augsburg Seminary in turn was dropped "to
preserve harmony," and St. Olaf once more began to hope that
it might be re-admitted. Prof. Mohn again bent all energies to bring
about this consummation, and the question was discussed at the annual
meetings of the United Church for the last three or four years.
In 1898 the citizens of Northfield invited the delegates of the
United Church to come down and see the College, hiring an excursion
train which brought down 600 members who climbed the hill and looked
over the grounds and the buildings, and after listening to a few
speeches and lunching returned to St. Paul. But the time had not
yet come. The "school question" was again left undecided.
A committee, however, was appointed to prepare the matter and report
to the annual meeting to be held in June, 1899. This committee consisted
of the following members: Rev. G. Hoyme, Rev. J. Olsen, Prof. M.
O. Böckman, Prof. Th. N. Mohn, Rev. J. N. Kildahl, Mr. W. F.
Christianson, and Mr. Carl Raugland. After having met several times
they published their report, which was first warmly discussed in
the press, and then for a whole week discussed in the annual meeting
held in St. Paul from the 21st to the 29th of June, 1899. The result
was that the United Church again adopted St. Olaf as its college
on the plan drawn up by Messrs. Pattee and Bacon, by an overwhelming
majority, and on motion of one of the minority the resolution was
The amended Articles of Incorporation which were adopted read as
1. This certifies that we, the undersigned, have associated ourselves
together for the purpose of establishing an institution of learning,
in the village of Northfield, Rice county, Minnesota, under the
name and style of ST. OLAF COLLEGE in its corporate capacity.
2. The general purpose of the corporation is for the advancement
in education of pupils from fifteen years of age and upwards as
a college, preserve the pupils in the true Christian faith, as taught
by the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and nothing taught in contravention
with the Symbolum Apostolicum, Nicenum, and Athanasianum; the Unaltered
Confession, delivered to the Emperor, Charles the Fifth, at Augsburg,
in Germany, in the year of our Lord 1530; and the Small Catechism
3. The members of this corporation shall be annual members and
the qualification of persons to be members, are the following
4. Persons to be members of this corporation must either be a minister,
or other person delegated by a congregation which is a member of
the United Norwegian Lutheran Church, to the annual meeting of said
Lutheran Church, or some other person entitled to cast a vote at
such meeting; and no person shall be a member of this corporation
who is not entitled to such a vote at such meeting of the United
Norwegian Lutheran Church.
5. Any and all such persons, upon signifying their consent thereto,
shall become such members of this corporation upon the convening
of the annual meeting of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church to
which they are sent as delegates, aforesaid, and such consent may
be signified by taking part in the meeting of members of this corporation,
or by filing written consent with the secretary of the corporation,
or in any other way that may be designated by the by-laws of this
6. Such members of this corporation shall remain members thereof
until the convening of the next annual meeting of said The United
Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, when they shall give place
to the ministers, delegates, and other persons so entitled to vote,
as aforesaid, at such annual meeting of said The United Norwegian
Lutheran Church of America. and who shall so signify their consent
to be members.
7. No contributions shall be required of members as a condition
of membership, and there shall be no capital stock of this corporation.
8. The officers of this corporation shall be a Board of Trustees,
consisting of five persons who shall be elected by the members of
this corporation at their annual meeting, which is hereinafter provided
for: a President, who shall be a member of the Board of Trustees;
a Secretary, and a Treasurer, which two last named officers may,
in the discretion of the Trustees, be members of this corporation,
or not; and the said last two offices to-wit: those of Secretary
and Treasurer, may, in the discretion of the Trustees, be filled
by one person: The Trustees shall hold office for three years and
until their successors are elected and qualified.
9. The officers of the corporation during the first year of its
existence are as follows: B. J. Muus, of Wanamingo, Goodhue county,
President; Harold Thoreson, of Northfield, Rice county, Secretary;
O. K. Finseth, of Holden, Goodhue county; K. P. Hougen, of Holden,
Goodhue county; and Osmund Osmundson, of Wheeling, Rice county,
10. The annual meeting of the members of this corporation shall
be held at the same place as the annual meeting of The United Norwegian
Lutheran Church of America and on the Tuesday next following the
time of convening of said annual meeting of said church.
11. The Trustees shall meet annually forthwith after the annual
meeting of members, to elect the President, the Secretary and the
Treasurer for the ensuing year. The President, the Secretary and
the Treasurer shall hold their office for one year, and until their
successors are elected and qualified.
12. The present Trustees shall continue in office until the election
of the new Trustees by the members, as herein provided. At the first
election, five Trustees shall be elected of whom two shall hold
office for one year, two shall hold office for two years, and one
shall hold office for three years; and thereafter all Trustees elected
shall be chosen for the full term of three years, except in cases
of election to fill an unexpired term which has become vacant.
13. All deeds or conveyances of real estate, or interest therein,
for the benefit of said institution, and conveyed by the Board of
Trustees, shall be executed by the President of the Board of Trustees
and the Secretary.
Rev. J. N. Kildahl, of Chicago, was elected President of St. Olaf
College on the 29th of June, 1899. Professor Mohn was elected Vice-President.
St. Olaf College had again won a great victory. President Mohn had
arisen from a bed of sickness to lead the cause for which he had
worked long and faithfully. Not long after, he was again confined
to his bed of sickness from which death released him on the 18th
of November, 1899. That was his final victory.
Prof. Mohn is the Protesilaos of St. Olaf College.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of St. Olaf was celebrated on the 6th
of November with fitting solemnity.
The founder of St. Olaf College put co-education into the cornerstone
on the 4th of July, 1877. The very first name on the roll-book is
that of a girl, and her name begins with Aa. That shows how anxious
they were to be admitted. And they were admitted. Whether they shall
be admitted henceforth will depend upon the wisdom of the United
Mohn, too, believed in co-education. And, as far as I know, all
the teachers at St. Olaf have favored it.
It was, however, felt that a separate building was needed for the
girls. In 1878-'79 they were admitted on the first floor of the
new building. But the next year the present Ladies' Hall was erected
for them through the liberality of Mr. H. Thorson, who at his own
expense had the old school-building in town taken down and rebuilt
on the present site. It was occupied in the fall of 1879 by Prof.
Teisberg and family, for whom the east half of the building was
fitted up, while the west side was occupied by the lady students.
In 1881 Miss O'Brien, the preceptress, took possession of the rooms
vacated by Prof. Teisberg, and two years later Prof. Felland took
and still holds possession of these rooms, the Preceptress occupying
rooms on the second floor. The building is delightfully situated
among the trees which at first stood so near that one could have
entered either the second story or climbed upon the roof by means
of them, though I am not aware that they were ever used for that
purpose. Ladies' Hall has usually been full, and often could not
receive half of the students who sought admission.
While very few have taken only music, a large majority have taken
music besides the studies of the English or the classical courses.
As regards the numerical strength and the percentage of this constituency,
the following table will give an accurate idea in detail. The total
enrollment of girls for the first quarter-century is 386, or 27.22
per cent., the total enrollment of boys being 1032. The average
percentage of girls enrolled each year is 23.62 per cent. The total
number of graduates in the Academic department is 205, of which
55, or 37.27 per cent. are girls. Of the alumni only two are women.
When the school opened, almost the only equipment it had was the
buildings and the necessary furniture. A few maps were soon procured,
and that was about all there was until the school moved up on the
There was no library. When the writer came, in 1881, there were
perhaps twenty or thirty books standing lonesome and neglected in
the corner of a large shelf. These had been presented by friends
"to fill a deep-felt want," which, however, they did not
fill. It was not until Prof. Kalheim came that the library was organized.
He was made librarian in 1885 and began to work vigorously. The
students formed a reading circle, membership fee was one dollar
a year, and with this and the proceeds of sociables he managed to
raise $96.08 the first year, investing the sum raised in books.
The second year he was not so successful. Having resigned his position
as teacher, Prof. I, F. Grose was chosen librarian in his place
in 1887. He worked vigorously and successfully during the next four
years and when he left, in 1891, there were about 700 volumes on
the shelves. Since then, Prof. Felland bas been librarian. One of
the first things needed was a system of cataloguing, the Dewey,
decimal system being adopted. The collection gradually increased,
and on the first of May, 1899, it numbered 2,640 volumes. When Rev.
Muus left for Europe last summer, he presented his library, containing
about 700 bound volumes and 500 pamphlets and unbound books and
including many rare and valuable works, to the college. They arrived
here the 21st of September, 1899.
The Reading Room has been fairly well supplied with periodicals
of various kinds.
The present librarian felt the need of funds, and on Thanksgiving
day, 1890, in the hope of interesting others, he donated $100 to
form the nucleus of a Permanent Library Fund. It has since increased
to $160, of which Dr. A. E. Egge contributed $8, Prof. Ytterboe,
$20, and the librarian the balance.
A small nucleus of a Museum has been formed. Educational apparatus
in the line of charts, maps, and globes, has gradually accumulated,
but there are still some urgent wants.
Prof. F. E. Millis organized the scientific department in 1888,
and purchased the most necessary apparatus for chemistry and physics,
$1000 having been voted by the Anti- Missourians for that purpose.
Since then, additions have been made from time to time, but here,
too, lack of funds has hampered the progress.
The first piano was purchased by Rev. V. Koren, from Captain Baker,
of Decorah, Iowa, for $150. After years of usefulness, it was replaced
by two Ivers and Pond pianos some years ago. Later another piano
In February, 1895, the college received a bequest of $4000, from
Mr. Even Brekken, late of Wangs, Goodhue county, Minn., a member
of the Board of Trustees. The Brekken Fund is to remain a permanent
fund, the interest of which is to be given to needy students of
St. Olaf College who intend to study theology.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
The men in whose hands lay the destiny of the School, deserve
a mention. At first the Board consisted of only five members, and
election took place at the regular annual meetings of the Board.
At the first election no change was made, but in 1876 the Board
was increased to thirteen, and in 1883 to fifteen members. In 1889
the number of Trustees was increased to thirty-five, and the next
year, when St. Olaf became the College of the United N. L. Church,
the number remained the same, but instead of being elected annually
as heretofore they were now elected for a period of five years,
seven members retiring each year.