NYTimes Observes “Our Scandinavian Population” in 1866

Imagine Decorah being at the front of the American frontier when you read this bit from the New York Times, originally published April 20, 1866:

Our Scandinavian Population.

A correspondent of the American Messenger estimates the number of Norwegians settled in the Northwest at two hundred thousand, one-third of them in Wisconsin. They are a rural people, having farms of moderate size, and living quiet and industrious lives. Few of them can read English, and their supply of native literature is very meager. They have two Norwegian newspapers, each with a circulation of three or four thousand. Each house has its Bible, and generally two or three old books brought from Norway, and nothing more. Their religion is Lutheran, the State religion of their native country. They have a few ministers, and are establishing a college at Decorah, Wis. [sic], for which $50,000 have been raised, mostly among themselves. There are about fifty thousand Swedes also, and more coming rapidly. Emissaries go from this country to persuade their countrymen to come to a better land to stay. This efflux of population is doubtless one strong motive with the Swedish Government for the recent change of constitution in favor of popular liberty. The settlers here more generally join the “Evangelical” branch of the Lutheran denomination. The Danes are quite numerous in this country, but they do not settle in communities by themselves, but scatter chiefly in towns.

The correspondent is a bit confused or out-of-date regarding the Norwegian college: On October 14, 1865, the Main Building at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was dedicated and there were 81 enrolled students. The location was chosen in June, 1861, at a meeting of the Missouri Synod in Luther Valley, Rock County, Wisconsin. The college began offering classes that fall in the parsonage at Halfway Creek, La Crosse, Wisconsin, as a temporary home; the Concordia seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where was deemed too risky as Missouri was on the front lines of the civil war that had just broken out. The next year, the college moved to the St. Cloud Hotel in Decorah, where it remained until the opening of the Main Building. Luther College Through Sixty Years 1861-1921 offers more on the early history of Luther.

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