Although Mrs. Elise Ytterboe was diminutive in stature, standing 5 feet tall, she was, in the eyes of many, one of the most memorable of women in St. Olaf College history.
Reminiscences was written by Mrs. Ytterboe (1863-1944), presumably in the winter of 1938, at the urging of Prof. Theodore Jorgenson. Few individuals have had an opportunity to read this charming account of the college’s early days. She was a former student and niece of Pres. Thorbjørn Mohn and Anna Ringstad Mohn. She was also the wife of one of the giants of St. Olaf, Prof. Halvor T. Ytterboe.
Jorgenson recalled how Mrs. Ytterboe enjoyed reviewing her archived letters, photographs, and clippings, “She loved to do it; it was like going back over the familiar paths now glowing in the lambent sheen of memory.” Her enjoyment is evident, for example, in her account of living in Old Main with a classroom above her quarters:
I remember one class especially, the girls' training class in physical education, where they used dumb-bells; very often a club would fall from inexperienced hands and the kerosene lamp, hanging from the ceiling, would almost jump out of its socket. That room being large and the best for the purpose, we had to make the best of it even though it woke up the baby and rocked the lamp.
Her remarkable memoir spans the early days of the college, when she was a student in 1876, to the post-World War I years. Those interested in Northfield history will undoubtedly enjoy her recollections of the attempted bank raid by the James-Younger Gang in 1876. Readers will surely be moved by her poignant recollections of the passing of her husband in 1904.
Ever present, Mrs. Ytterboe witnessed the cornerstone-laying of every building from 1877 until her death. She presided as matron of Old Main for a time in the 1890s and served in the cafeteria for many years. The Afterword provides a detailed summary of Mrs. Ytterboe’s life.
Through her writings, several larger themes are revealed including the cultural ambitions of early Norwegian-American immigrants as they established a school in Northfield. Her attention to detail illuminates the daily life found in this small ethnic community. Her voice provides insight into the social and intellectual life, particularly from a woman’s point of view.
Readers undoubtedly will find her someone whose courage, determination, suffering, and perseverance mirrors in many ways that of the fledgling school that was St. Olaf.
Jeff M. Sauve
"To purchase a hard copy, see St. Olaf Bookstore http://www.collegebookstore.org"