Chapter VIII: Boughs and Branches

STUDENT organizations have always played a large role at St. Olaf. An old secretary book has an entry by the “St. Olaf Debar Sekretär” as early as March 3, 1875, less than two months after the opening of school. There is a protocol for St. Olaf’s Norsk-English Debar Forening dated January, 1876. According to article seven of its constitution, no one had the right to speak aloud or leave his seat during meetings without permission of the president. Everyone was required to “behave himself seemly,” and no “profane, indecent, or careless talk” was allowed. When in 1878 this society changed its name to Norden, it was decided that English be used at two meetings and Norwegian at the third. The language of the minutes corresponds.

There is definite knowledge of the formation of St. Olaf’s Sangkor in December, 1875. It was made up of twenty-eight boys and nine girls. The constitution was written in Norwegian. According to article three, “the choir’s object is training in Norwegian national and folk music, with the addition of a little religious music.” Article six reads: “The members’ duties toward the instructor are, first: To pay him ten cents monthly, at the end of the month; second, to yield obedience to his reprimands.” Article eight: “Those of the society members who violate any of the pledges made to the society or to the instructor shall pay a fine of twenty-five cents, which money shall be used in paying the necessary expenses of the society.” This was in all probability the “choir of the school’s students” that sang “Himmel og Jord skal forgaa, men dit Ord, O Gud, ei rokkes” at the laying of the corner stone of the main building on July 4, 1877.

On April 20, 1876, the names of the president and secretary of this singing group appear in the same offices of an athletic organization under the title Olaf Trygvason’s Gymnastik Forening. In this organization the rule was to exercise every evening after school for one hour. On May 23, 1876, it was decided that “exercises cease until further notice.”

The need for exercise was soon supplied by the formation of a military company, known as the St. Olaf Guards. That was in November, 1878. These Guards wore blue caps in the fashion of the Civil War Army and carried wooden guns. The drilling was more calisthenical than military, but discipline was strict. The by-laws read: “We the undersigned hereby bind ourselves to obey the captain and other officers in everything that is not against decency.” A story has been handed down about a fellow with a crooked nose who had difficulty walking in a straight line. The exasperated drillmaster called out: “Mr. R., can’t you walk straight? Just follow your nose.” Mr. R. did as told, and — was soon walking in a circle!

The St. Olaf Literary Society was formed in December, 1878. The first paragraph of its constitution reads: “The name of this society shall be ‘St. Olaf’s Literary Society,’ and its organ shall be the St .Olaf ‘ s Essayist , four copies of which shall be issued every Saturday, one for the professors, one for the female students, and one for each debating society now existing at St. Olaf’s School.” Article thirteen: “The fee of admission shall be five cents, which money shall be used solely in the interest of the society.” Article fourteen: “The copies of the Essayist given to the debating societies and to the female students must be returned to the president within two days after receipt of same.”

To this latter provision we are indebted for the preservation of several of these hand-written foolscap sheets that are now being kept in a college vault. Since these early specimens of journalism are not easily accessible, it may be of interest to quote from some pages. January 2, 1879, St Olaf Essayist : “With the current of time we are hurled into a New Year, leaving another year to the ever increasing past. This will set a studious man thinking over his past life and of events in the years rolled by. Many fond recollections of plays and games of childhood and early schooldays when the scope of imagination hardly spared anything but what was merry and pleasant; but such a time was brief and with the advancing days he rose from the boys to the ranks of men, with such progress came also gradually the care, toil and temptations of the world. All rational persons will, yes, must, confess, that they have been enticed to estrangement more or less from the path of good deeds and have tramped on the highway of evil, to think of this will produce serious thoughts in the mind of the studious man, that he has spent parts of his precious time (which will never, no, never, never be given him back for correction) in carelessness which he now sorely regrets, and consequently makes this resolution: I must try, by the aid of Him who also has the control of time to use the year now begun better than I did the one just gone by. The past year brought us scholars together here at St. Olaf School, where we receive instructions essential to guide us through the world’s tempestuous life. This year we shall, as the flood of time, float apart, many of us never to meet, nay, never to hear of another again; but we shall cherish the hope that the time we here were together as schoolmates was not spent in vain. Here we have made ties of friendship separation cannot break.” Anonymous.

St Olaf Essayist , May 3, 1879: “The St. Olaf Literary Society held a meeting . . . for the purpose of electing officers to take charge of The Essayist next term, and make such determinations as might be beneficial to the Society. . . . The treasurer’s report was read and accepted. The essential points were as follows: The treasurer, O. N. Grue, had collected twenty-seven cents and received from the previous treasurer sixteen cents, which money, together with nineteen cents out of his own pocket, had been used with the utmost economy to cover the necessary expenses of the society . . . It was further determined that only two copies of The Essayist should be issued every week, one for the professors and one for the students.”

The Essayist , May 3, 1879: “Explanation of the Aurora Borealis and why winters are getting warmer. It is curious that learned men have not been able to find any cause for these phenomena which are so easily explained. The earth leans twenty-three and one-half degrees, and as long as there was oil enough to grease the poles that turned in the axis, it went smoothly and nice. But when man commenced to take oil out of the earth, the poles did not get enough oil. This produced heat in the axle and at last sparks of fire (aurora), and as the earth leans, the poles file one side of the axle, the earth comes little by little out of its former position, and thus are coming nearer the equator and, of course, into a warmer climate.”

The Essayist had two editors and one critic. Here are two samples of critic’s reports: “In spelling,The Essayist conforms nearly as much with the mode of spelling of Josh Billings and Petroleum V. Nasby as with that of Webster and Worcester.” “The author of the contribution in No. 2 has tried to make poetry, but as certainly failed. It contains neither rhyme nor reason. There are no poetic images and no pleasing combinations of words, two important defects.”

From 1881 there are preserved copies of a similarly written periodical called The St Olaf ‘ s Echo ,and from 1884 a Student ‘ s Reporter .

Evidently it was a difficult task to edit those papers, for, on February 2, 1884, over the editor’s signature are these despairing words: “Fellow students and reporters! You will not get another edition next Saturday unless you send me something to put in it.”

There must have been many unrecorded organizations of short duration those first years. The Essayist for February 22, 1879, makes mention of two societies, the Norden and Onward, meeting on the same evening.

In a newspaper article, credited to Professor O. E. Rol vaag, further light is thrown on early societies at St. Olaf’s School. In 1881 there was a literary society named Julian. The minutes for a regular meeting on November 12, 1881, have this to say: “After the reading of the constitution, Mr. ___________ addressed the audience in a few words of eloquence. The question for debate was: Which is preferable, education or wealth? There were two speakers and no judges.” This society was reorganized in 1882 and received a new name, The St. Olaf’s Literary and Debating Society. A year later it was reorganized again, this time under the name Nora. Women were allowed to attend the meetings but not admitted to membership. One might wonder why the name! Apparently, there was some interest in womankind, for on January 6, 1884, this society discussed the question: “Ought Women to Vote?” There were six speakers and five judges. But, alas, decision three to two in favor of the negative. This question was debated almost annually thereafter.

The Nora was reorganized a third time, in 1886. It then became known as The St. Olaf Literary and Musical Society. Each meeting lasted from seven to nine-thirty o’clock on Saturday evenings, with a recess of fifteen minutes for devotion.

At the first meeting under the new designation, literature and music were evidently on a par, as the name indicated, for the secretary reported: “Thereafter the president called upon those appointed to declaim this time. Harvey Mathieson performed his part — by singing a comical Chinese — American song with ridiculous imitations of the Chinese language.” Other numbers of that program were: A song, “In the starlight,” by the Misses Quammen; a song, “We’d better bide a wee,” by Belle Quammen; Instrumental duet, “Wiener Blut Waltz,” by Miss Finseth and Miss Julia Quammen.

Some of the questions discussed during those years were:

Is the pen mightier than the sword?
Do men make circumstances or circumstances men?
Is there more pleasure in the pursuit than in the possession of a desired object?
Money has more influence than love.
Who is happier, the civilized or the barbarian?
Washington deserves more praise for defending this country than Columbus for discovering it.
Which is more dangerous, an open field or a false friend?
Which element, fire or water, has the greatest power of destruction?
Resolved that the Indians have endured more injustice than the Negroes. (“The subject was discussed and the decision satisfactory to both parties because they had no judge.”)
Is there more happiness than misery in human life?
Resolved that education has more influence than wealth.
The discovery of powder has made a greater change in the world than the invention of the press.
Resolved that the steam engine has been more beneficial to humanity than the press.
Resolved that intoxicating liquor has done more injury to humanity than war.
Which does the more damage to humanity, tobacco or liquor?

All of this, we must bear in mind, was while the school was only an academy.

The Utile Dulci (the useful with the sweet), or “Ulke Dulke” as the girls were wont to call it, was the first girls’ society. It came into being as the result of a rather sudden decision — really the outcome of an indignation meeting. The boys had been insisting on choosing girls for judges in their debates. The girls were getting tired of this subsidiary occupation, and one Saturday evening in 1889, when the program had been particularly uninteresting, they came to their senses, called a meeting right then, and formed their own society. Imitating the boys, they started out with a debate, on the subject: “Which is more enjoyable, summer or winter?” Although weightier subjects were later discussed, such as “college training for women,” “Novel reading a drawback to mental development,” debates gradually lost favor, whereas, sketches, book reviews, essays, declamations, plays, and tableaux, together with much music, became the order of the day. In writing essays on such scholarly subjects as “The Wonders of Astronomy” and “The Beauties of Geology,” their research occasionally took the girls across the river to the library of the sister college. Original poems were exalted by Latin titles, like “Dux Femina Facti,” piano solos had romantic titles like “Whispering Wings” and “The Maiden’s Prayer,” and songs had as titles “In the Gloaming,” “In Old Madrid,” and “Love’s Old Sweet Song.”

During the very first year of its existence the Utile Dulci put on a farce entitled “The Precious Pickle,” to an invited audience in Ladies’ Hall. “The comedy almost ended in tragedy as one of the giggling girls swallowed the pickle the wrong way — to the great delight of the audience.”

The Messenger deigned the following comment on “the ladies’ society”: “Their programs have at various times given excellent entertainment” . . . “All parts were well executed and the musical numbers vigorously applauded.” These remarks pertained to the so-called “open meetings.”

More of the same in the Northfield News , for March 4, 1899: “The Longfellow entertainment given by the Utile Dulci Society Monday evening was largely attended and highly satisfactory in the way it was carried out. The program was opened with a piano solo by Mrs. A. Bjorneby, whose playing has lost none of its charm since she was a teacher here. A very excellent essay on the life of Longfellow was read by Miss Sophia Boe. The declamations by Misses Olson and Wilson, of selections from “Outre Met” and “Hiawatha” respectively, were well rendered. Select readings of parts from Longfellow’s best known works by Misses Anna Sanderson and Christopherson, together with an essay on “The Works of Longfellow” by Miss Kittelsby, completed the literary part of the program. The musical numbers were especially attractive, as were also the tableaux representing the different female characters in Longfellow’s works.”

After attaining to such heights in public entertainment, the girls could easily look back with a smile to their early appearance on the elevated stage in No. 7, where a presiding officer in announcing a piano solo astonished the St. Olaf audience by saying that “the next number will be a gypsy dance by Miss F.” Not to forget a monologue number one girl had difficulty living down. Her assignment was to “take off” a young lady preparing to play at a concert. She was to come on stage in street clothes, arms full of bundles, muttering, “Well, this is the new dress I am going to wear, my slippers, my evening wrap.” Then, to take off hat, play a short, lively encore — unconcerned about the main number — practice bowing to applause, gracefully receive the proffered flowers, and slowly back off the stage. Well — in the actual performance she suddenly got stage fright; rushed, in ungainly fashion, to the piano, wringing her moist hands. She played abominably. The audience laughed and clapped. She was too unnerved to give an encore. Dazed, she stepped awkwardly to the edge of the platform; with one shaking hand she jerked the bouquet of artificial flowers from the hands of the usher; and, without bowing at all, rushed unceremoniously off the stage.

New societies sprang up rapidly as the college enrollment increased. By 1890 there were six well established societies: The Alpha Beta Chi, a men’s debating society in the college division, Manitou Debating Society for men in the preparatory department, Utile Dulci for all lady students, a Temperance Club, a Sunday Bible Class, and the Norsk Studenters Samfund, which soon changed its cumbersome name to Normanna. The latter was originally for college men only. But the ‘ 04 Viking has this statement: “Until 1890 girls were not admitted, but by their constant attendance and interest shown they made their influence felt and consequently were given admittance.” The girls’ contributions were mainly in the line of declamations and music selections. Debates and impromptu talks in Norwegian they were glad to have considered the prerogative of the masculine sex.

In the nineties there was also a very flourishing Republican Club, whose members proudly wore printed satin ribbon badges. Their programs resembled those of the literary societies, with talks, debates, declamations, and musical selections. Affluent they must have been, for they handed out printed programs at the door. Interest in politics was very keen, to judge by an item in the College News space in a town weekly for June 9, 1888: “The Democrats have now organized what they suppose to be a strong team for the fall campaign. Cleveland and Thurman form the battery. If Mr. Gresham does not catch Mr. Cleveland out on a foul, Mr. Cleveland is apt to be thrown out on third by him. The people will umpire the game.”

The short-lived Linum per Acum (thread through the needle) deserves only passing mention. Before the advent of home economics courses it furnished an outlet for the girls’ domestic propensities, as they gathered in the Ladies’ Hall parlor in the free hours of Monday afternoon to ply their needles in fancy work and drink a social cup of coffee. Embroidered soft-pillows, crocheted antimacassars, tatted handkerchief edgings, Battenberg doilies, spatter ink splashers, and macramé handbags were certainly a digression from Greek and Latin textbooks. Maybe some fortunate swain still cherishes a product of those Monday afternoon gatherings in the form of a monogrammed pennant, which fluttered at the end of his cane during athletic contests. The girls themselves are more likely to remember, with watering mouths, the delectable three layer cakes with fig filling — from Shorrock’s immaculate bakery — which provided the gastronomic treat of the afternoon.

This desire for the “feminine arts” was not altogether ignored by the college authorities. In the early 80’s Mrs. E. A. Ringstad conducted classes in embroidery and other “fancy work.” Marie Krohn did the same in 1895-97. No mention of this in the catalogue, however, and no credit given.

Annual entertainments early became the vogue in all literary societies, with doors wide open. A collection of the printed programs of those events are treasured relics in many a “memory book.” Essays in English or Norwegian, declamations in English, Norwegian, or German, orations, debates, impromptu talks, vocal and instrumental music made up programs well worth one’s time and attention. At the “first annual entertainment” of the ABX, May 29, 1893, the question for debate was: “Has the female mind exerted a greater influence on civilization and happiness than the male mind?”

Time came when, in 1902, the college girls awoke to the realization that they were a large enough group to have their own society, apart from the academy girls. To give a proper division in numbers, the Minerva accepted girls of the senior academy class along with the college girls, thus leaving the Utile Dulci to the three lowest classes. Three years later there were enough college girls to have the society to themselves. Minerva society, being named for the goddess of wisdom, had, appropriately, as its emblem the owl. The society’s color was lemon, and its Latin motto, ” Ne tentes aut perfice .”

The Minerva Chorus became very popular and was in demand by both men’s and women’s societies. It had as its first director the band leader and violinist, Mr. Onstad. His “studio” was the south-east corner room on third floor of Main. One evening when the Chorus was scheduled for anABX program in the Chapel, where there was at the time no piano, they were at a loss as to how to get their pitch. One resourceful member came to the rescue with the bright idea that the Chorus quietly slip out into the hall where they could, at a given signal, hear Mr. Onstad loudly pound a key on his piano on the floor above. Holding the pitch, the Chorus proudly marched up on the stage to sing to the admiring audience. Forerunners of the St. Olaf Choir!

With the women offering such worthy contributions to programs, the idea of joint programs came into being. But, come time, come change. In the October, 1908, Messenger we read: “With the advent of the lecture course, oratorical contests and debates, both inter-collegiate and inter-society, the annual programs have lost their prominence.” As growing enrollment brought forth new societies — by 1911, seven societies in the college department and five in the academy — the plan of sister and brother societies took hold. That meant joint banquets, which were very elaborate affairs, with unique themes carried out in decorations, menus, and programs, and the women’s evening dresses adding a dainty, lovely note.

By this time the Minerva had changed its name to Phi Kappa Phi (1906) to put it on a par with the men’s Greek letter societies. In 1909 it became advisable to divide the Phi Kappa Phi membership to form the Delta Chi. In 1911 the Nu Sigma Rho came into existence, and later the Alpha Delta. When a girl named Alpha married a man named Roe, their friends called the newly formed family the “Alpha Roe Society!”

Many members of this “society” have been coming to college in recent years.

One year the Phi Kappa Phi ventured upon such a practical project as the compiling and publishing of a cookbook. First paragraph of the preface: “The idea generally prevalent is that the college girl knows or cares but little for the art of cooking. This, however, is not the case among the girls of our own institution, and we hope a few years of college life will never counteract the good influences or training along these lines which they have received in their good Norwegian homes.”

On the preface page is printed the familiar rhyme from Meredith’s Lucile .

“We may live without poetry, music, and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart,
We may live without friends, we may live without books,
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
We may live without books; what is knowledge but giving?
We may live without hope; what is hope but deceiving?
We may live without love; what is passion but pining?
But where is the man who can live without dining?”

The cook book was a splendid one and is still referred to, especially for recipes of choice Norwegian dishes. But in the 1908 Viking some one had fun printing spurious recipes from the PKP Cook Book. Two specimens are here offered.

Manitou Salad: “Take seven quarts of languages, and after peeling and taking out the core, cut them in small squares. Add to the languages two pounds each of biology, chemistry, history, and mathematics. Also add one pound of astronomy, physics, geology, pedagogy, and logic. Put in a quart bottle of Prexy’s advice — or enough to suit the taste. Keep in a warm place and stir each day for four years, always keeping it well covered. After letting it settle, strain through a sieve and bottle. Excellent for all who desire a complete course.”

St. Olaf Short Cake: “Procure a liberal supply of dates — use none but the best (we recommend the Ladies’ Hall brand). Try to get a peach. If peaches are out of season, get a pair. Squeeze to a pulp, sweeten according to taste and use the dates sparingly. Stir with a big spoon and shorten with cream. If directions are accurately followed, this will make a perfectly lovely short-cake. In case it should prove too short this may be remedied by making dates longer. Serve with great precaution.”


The year after the college department was begun, appeared the first number of the Manitou Messenger , which has continued down through the years as a college publication under the same title but in various formats. In 1887 it was a fourteen page pamphlet, published once a month, at fifty cents a year, “payable in advance.” It was in reality a magazine, with essays and articles of a solid nature. Many of these were in Norwegian, as late as 1909. The news columns give us interesting side lights on the life of the time. The very first issue told of the placement of two large coal-burner stoves in the halls on first and second floors of the Main. Two less stoves to carry wood for! Some more samples from the first two years: “Repairs seem to be necessary in the sidewalk leading to Ladies’ Hall. A few loose planks present unusual temptations for the practical joker.” — “The roof has lately been painted red. Consequently the boys get cosmetics together with the washing water, free of charge.’ — “The fifteen boys and girls who were over to Carleton Saturday evening all report having a splendid time.” — “Misses Mathilde and Gurine Finseth, accompanied by Anna Lysne, of this city, with whom they visited, recently made a short promenade around the school buildings.’ — “Miss Mary Railson, Willmar, and Miss Martha Hove, Northwood, Iowa, enjoyed the view from Manitou Heights last Sunday.” — ” Mr. Ole Hagen has fallen into the ranks of the married, and is a prosperous farmer near Waseca, Minnesota. ” — “A new fashioned toboggan has been invented of late. Its only fault is that it can accommodate only one and sometimes not even that .” — ” The building has been furnished with fire escapes, and all the boys want now is a fire, to be able to string out in spectral garments down the long ladder, with the thermometer below zero.”

An interesting adjunct to the Messenger was the joke-box, which hung conspicuously in the first floor hall. Here are some specimens of the kind of items which found their way into the long, narrow, tin box: “The young man who has to get up with the sun should not sit up too late with the daughter.” — “A man should believe only half of what he hears. It makes a great deal of difference which half, however.” — “Teacher: ‘What is space?’ Trembling junior: ‘I cannot tell at present, but I have it in my head’.” — “A little boy while studying the parable of the ten virgins of whom five were wise and five foolish, was asked by the pastor what he had learned from it. The reply was: ‘I have learned that at least one-half of the girls are foolish’.”

Evidently, subscriptions to the college paper did not come easily, to judge by the following items: “Subscribe yourself and ask your friends to subscribe; and if they say they haven’t any money, lend them some and make them subscribe.” — ” Longfellow’s poems will be given the student bringing the greatest number of cash subscribers next fall. Also a prize to each one getting four or more. Respectfully, Business Manager.”


Early in the nineteen hundreds oratory commanded much attention. The entire school took interest in the preliminary contests as well as in the finals.

In 1900 Mr. A. K. Ware of Northfield, builder of the auditorium imprinted with his name, arranged for annual oratorical contests between the seniors of Carleton and St. Olaf, offering cash prizes of forty and ten dollars. The first Ware oratorical was, however, held in the Congregational Church, on May 4, 1900. This was the program as printed:

Invocation Serenade — “Sweet Dreams . . . . . Miller, ST. OLAF BAND

Oration — “A Phase of the Southern Problem”

Oration — “Gladstone”

Oration — “The Anglo-Saxon and American Expansion”

Song — “Kentucky Babe”

Oration — “Alfred Dreyfus”

Oration — “The Ruling Idea for the Twentieth Century”

Oration — “Our Social Problem”


Music — “Blooming Youth . . . . . . . George Wiegand

Judge’s Decision

Carleton carried off the honors. The second contest was won by Mr. C. E. Sybilrud of St. Olaf. In 1902 St. Olaf students went to the auditorium in high hopes, carrying handsome old-gold banners made especially for the occasion. But — no chance to wave them! The only consolation they could take unto themselves was the fact that the first prize had been carried off by a Scandinavian — a Swede! However, in 1903 all pent-up desires for celebrating were let loose when Mr. A. A. Reece brought home the laurels. “A 2 Reece” also won the State Oratorical Contest that year. Adequate grounds, plus, for a celebration! Even before the prevalence of automobiles, the hero of that day had a ride in a “horseless carriage.” He was seated in a gaily decorated single-seated buggy and drawn by fellow students all about the campus, as a prelude to the all-college festivities.

When, in 1904, St. Olaf won both first and second places in the Ware Oratorical, joy was unbounded. The minute the decision was announced the Oles rushed to the stage and duly “bounced” the orators. The girls had ready a song:

“Oh, Hegland and Ulvestad
They both did look so neat.
When they appeared upon the stage,
We all were sure they’d beat.”

The following day was declared a holiday. No normal student could settle down to books after such a victory! The afternoon found the entire student body out for a sleigh ride in “every available conveyance hitched behind all conceivable manner of horses,” in a procession two blocks long. Passing through the center of town, this motley array drove to Mayor Ware’s residence to serenade the promoter of the contests. Thence the familiar route to Dundas, and back to the Hill for an oyster stew supper. The evening was given over to a social gathering, at which speeches and music, and the inevitable grand march brought to a close a festive day.

A delegation of one hundred fifty students lent lusty support to Martin Hegland at the state contest, where he was awarded first place.

Mr. Edward Nervig won for St. Olaf the third consecutive first place. In 1906 Mr. N. T. Tosseland, and in 1908 Mr. E. R. Anderson won first prize.

In 1909 Mr. S. T. Sorenson won the State Oratorical Contest with an oration on “St. Paul.” Of the ten Ware and eight state contests up to that time Carleton had taken eight firsts and St. Olaf nine. The only first not taken by the Northfield colleges was carried off by Hamline University.

At the time of the inter-collegiate contest at St. Peter, the college was quarantined for small-pox, so the plan for a large delegation to go by special train had to be given up. But, while Mr. Sorenson was waiting for the contest to begin he received the following telegram: “St. Peter, St. Olaf, St. Paul, S. T. Sorenson. This combination spells victory. Five hundred St. Olafites are behind you; also a million microbes. Root, hog, or die. — The Students.”

But when in May that year Mr. Sorenson carried off first place in the interstate, with seventy-four colleges competing, there were no microbes to hinder an all-out celebration. The message of the victory arrived at 1 a.m. Immediately the boys were up and out, on a triumphal march through the town. At Carleton, a president-elect, Dr. Cowling, had just arrived for the first meeting with his Board of Trustees. The excited Oles made their way to the house where he was guest, and yelled: “We want Cowling! We want Cowling!” The new president was obliging, and at 3 a.m. stepped out on the porch to give his first Northfield address — to St. Olaf students. His aptitude for the appropriate story did not fail him even at this inconsiderate intrusion upon his night’s rest. He told about a Negro in the South who was sentenced for some misdemeanor and ordered to ride the rails out of town. Before letting the culprit go, the judge asked him if he had anything he wished to say. “Well, yes, sir,” answered the negro, “If it were not for the honor, I would rather walk out of town.”

It goes without saying that “the day after” was a holiday. At 5 p.m. the victorious orator arrived from Appleton, Wisconsin. It looked as if the entire population were at the station to welcome the victor home with the laurels. The orator was lifted into a seat of honor and carried on the shoulders of ten stout and sturdy Oles. With the college band in the lead, the impressive procession marched through the town and up St. Olaf Avenue.

All the college girls were in full length white dresses, freshly starched, full, and fluffy — over several layers of ruffled petticoats. A beautiful array it was, until — merciless rain descended! Then wet and bedraggled, the white dresses kept getting dirtier and dirtier as the rain spattered up from the unpaved St. Olaf Avenue. Mrs. J., who had just laundered all this finery, had it all to do right over again. For days thereafter her clothes’ lines were filled with the many white dresses and numberless petticoats. A mute testimony to vanity and nature’s disregard for it.

But the rain didn’t ruin the dynamite! Nine shots announced the orator’s approach to the Hill. There was a bonfire, social gathering, and a display of fireworks.

As a souvenir of the outstanding honor Mr. Sorenson had brought to his college and to the town, he was presented with a silver loving cup by the citizens of Northfield, faculty, and students, and friends of the college.

A song in Norwegian was improvised for the event:

“Ja, vi elsker Sorenson.
Jamen, gjör vi saa.
Han er fra St. Olaf College,
Der kan du forstaa;
Ja, han vandt, han vandt, han vandt,
Og vi blev saa hjertens glade
Her paa Manitou;
Og vi blev saa hjertens glade,
Glade, her paa Manitou.”

When oratory was in its zenith of popularity there was also a Norwegian State Oratorical Contest, with six schools participating, namely, Concordia College, Park Region Luther College, Red Wing Seminary, Augsburg College, St. Olaf — and, the University of Minnesota — believe it or not! Also a Prohibition Oratorical Contest. Intercollegiate debates came on the scene. In fact, so many extra cur ricular activities filled the days that the faculty stepped in to regulate student participation.


Music was considered an essential subject from the very outset at St. Olaf’s School, and all kinds of musical organizations were encouraged. During early years the positions of music teacher and preceptress were vested in the same person. Thus, Ella Fiske, as the first woman member of the faculty, carried the dual role of piano instructor and preceptress from 1875 to 1879. Lena Koren did the same, 1879-’80. During the school year 1880-’81, when St. Olaf was temporarily without an instructor in music, Professor D. C. Rice, of Carleton, conducted a singing class every Saturday morning, and his assistant, Miss Ruddoc, had charge of piano instruction. Margaret O’Brien and Sarah Larsen were the last of the preceptresses to teach music. Magna Naess and John Dahle succeeded them in this capacity.

From 1887 to ’89 Oluf Glasoe, a divinity student at St. Olaf, was instructor in singing, which was taught free to all students twice a week. Several singing groups came into existence. The Kjerulf Male Quartet (later an octet) and the Bivrost, a choir of mixed voices, gave a joint concert in February, 1888. The Orpheus, at first a chorus of twenty male voices, later became a mixed chorus.

The Bivrost sang at the academy commencement, June 19, 1888. A cantata “The Rainbow” was given on the same occasion. Mr. Eugene Simpson in his book The St Olaf Choir calls attention to a coincidence, in as much as Bivrost is an old Norwegian term found in The Young Edda , meaning rainbow. We read in the Messenger for March, 1888: “Song choirs are springing into existence and are as long-lived as May flies, an ephemeral insect which our prospective zoologists will be able to fully describe.” The Kjerulf Quartet was perhaps the first St. Olaf organization to go on tour. Mr. Oluf Glasoe tells about it in a letter to Eugene Simpson: “While later musical organizations at St. Olaf have improved, toured the country in a special car and even across oceans delighted the ears of continents, let it be remembered that these famous adventures have had their very humble beginning. The Kjerulf Quartet, believing that it had established its reputation at the college, presumably determined to try the power of song on the natives of Goodhue and to penetrate for this purpose to a point in the jungle called Kenyon. The occasion was the 17th of May, 1889.

“For various reasons it was found desirable in this undertaking to have the assistance of a ladies’ quartet and the instructor in piano, Miss Sarah Larsen. Dr. C. J. Rollefson assisted as violinist. With two rigs and provisions for three days the expedition set out. Our advance agent had evidently not tipped the weather man, who mischievously prevented the expedition from becoming a success financially, as it no doubt was esthetically. But the St. Olaf friends in the vicinity of Kenyon by their cordial hospitality neutralized these sinister efforts of the weather man, and though we returned minus the days and most of the provisions and some of our money, our memory is even to this day rich in trophies and treasures from this first concert tour in the history of St. Olaf College.”

Among the first men instructors in music were John Dahle, 1891-’92 and Haldor Hanson, 1893-’94. The Messenger for February 27, 1891, reports: “Singing is compulsory for students who are able to sing.” In 1900 it was ruled that “students will not be excused from singing because they take instrumental music or take Latin in two classes.” During 1893-’95 Caroline Finseth, and 1895-’97 her sister Mathilda taught piano. From 1896 to 1900 the singing classes were taken care of by the students Ditman Larson, Vigleik Boe, and Otto Mostrom. Then Oluf Glasoe came back as professor, and it was under him that the first Choral Union was organized. In May, 1902, the cantata “The Holy City” was presented. In 1903 the cantata “The Ten Virgins” was given under the direction of Dr. C. A. Mellby.

An orchestra, as early as 1887, seems to have antedated the college band. A brass band was brought together in 1890, and reorganized by Professor Nils Flaten the following year. A picture indicates fourteen men plus the band master. At their first annual concert in the city park, June 17, 1893, the large audience thrilled to the strains of “Down on the Farm” and “The Old Church Organ.” This band played an important part in the life of the school, and was of great prominence. Therefore, the faculty was quite willing to grant it concessions, as for instance, in 1895, it decreed that “the regular members of the brass band who practice at noon recess may take bodily exercise between four and five p.m. on the days of practice.” (Study hours were not over till five o’clock.) In 1896 the faculty ruled that band members would be free from military drill. There was a limit to favoritism, however. When “permission was asked for a student to be allowed to play in the band even though his standing was below eighty, since his instrument did not require practice outside rehearsals,” the petition was not granted. The fellow played the bass drum!

In 1897-98 the Band made its first trip to Kenyon. This trip became an annual event for some years. “The trips though not financially successful, were very enjoyable in other respects.”

In the early 1900’s Mr. Andrew Onstad became the band leader. He was a person of natural musical ability, quick, and fiery!

After President Kildahl had appealed three years in succession to the Church to install a music director, his success in 1903 brought F. Melius Christiansen to the college. Professor Christiansen’s first program appearance at St. Olaf was as violinist in a benefit recital together with Miss Serene Eistenson, a new voice teacher. The printed programs titled this “the first faculty recital of the musical department of St. Olaf College.” It was given for the benefit of the band that needed an oboe.

One of Professor Christiansen’s major interests was the band. With his coming it was “put upon a firm foundation, both as regards finances and players.” The new features in 1903 were “a soxaphone section, new uniforms, and the creation of the office of drum major.”

Already in 1906 the reorganized St. Olaf Band made a vel lykket trip to Norway. It came about in this manner. When the University Male Chorus of Christiania visited the campus in 1905, the Band entertained them the while they sat on the lawn eating strawberries and cream. The visitors were so greatly impressed that they invited the Band to visit Norway. Such a trip was made possible by the offer of Mr. O. O. Searlie, the Minneapolis Manager of the Danish-American S. S. Line, to pay all expenses. It was the first time an organization from an American institution was visiting Norway, so it was a much heralded novelty! Paul Schmidt went along as drum major, wearing a tall, white, bear fur shako, and twirling a fancy, silver headed baton.

The beginning of the trip was really the concert in Minneapolis, at which time the Band serenaded Mr. Searlie at the Union State Bank, was treated to a seven course dinner at the Nicollet Hotel, and at the concert in the evening was presented with a beautiful, silk American flag by General S. E. Olson.

As the Band entered the Christiania Fjord on July second, playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Ja, Vi Elsker,” they saw flags on every building, heard cannon fired, and beheld twelve thousand people gathered to greet them. For seventeen days the fortunate Oles cruised along the west coast in a private ship. In the cities they were met by officials in Prince Alberts and silk top hats. At the entrance to the docks at Larvik, the parental home of Professor Christiansen, there was erected an arch bearing the inscription “Fram, Fram, Cristmenn, Crossmenn.” In the cathedral cemetery in Trondhjem the Band placed a wreath on the grave of B. J. Muus, the Founder of St. Olaf College. In Trondhjem harbor the German Kaiser’s yacht the Hamburg and the battleship Leipzig were lying at anchor. As the Andenaes sailed out at 2 a.m. in a northern summer daylight night, its captain was given orders to sail around the German ships. The St. Olaf Band struck up “Die Wacht am Rhein.” Immediately, all flags went up, the sailors came on deck and stood at attention. It was an impressive moment. The tour as a whole was a very happy experience.

As Professor Christiansen became more and more taken up with other phases of music at St. Olaf, the Band was turned over to Professor J. Arndt Bergh, who led the organization in a long and successful career, including many tours.

Professor Christiansen came primarily as an instrumentalist. He was honest, humble, and straight forward and had, perhaps, not thought much about psychology. When he undertook to direct a chorus, he told them he did not know anything about singing — which was not altogether the truth. Several credulous persons promptly fell out and nearly broke up the choir. But, the director learned, and the students learned, and there was never again a recurrence of such a situation.

The first Music Festival was held on the seventeenth and eighteenth of May, 1904, in connection with the celebration of Norway’s day of independence. The printed program is a strip fifteen inches long, enumerating events for the two days. The 10:30 A.M. program on May 17, which opened with “The Steel King” by the College Band, provided addresses in Norwegian and English and ended with a song by the Male Chorus with band accompaniment. In the P.M. baseball game with Luther College. In the evening a band concert in the Ware Auditorium. On the morning of the 18th a faculty recital, also in the Ware Auditorium. In the evening, again in “The Ware,” the cantata “The Creation” by the Choral Union, with the augmentation of three imported soloists and the Danz Symphony Orchestra of Minneapolis. All railroads in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois granted reduced rates of one and one-third fares for return tickets to this first annual music festival.

A little piece of tragedy occurred the evening of the cantata. The orchestra cellist left his instrument in a dark hallway during the intermission. Someone entering from the opposite direction, walked right into it and broke it all to pieces. So, no cello in the second half of the program. Instead, a sad musician back stage!

In 1906 the third music festival was held, in connection with commencement, June 9-12. On June 12 the Choral Union was augmented by several church choirs and four imported soloists for the rendition of Mendelssohn’s “Messiah.”

Then followed a period of no music festivals. While Professor Christiansen was in Europe during 1906-07, Mrs. Edward Schmidt conducted the Chorus. The cantata “Joseph,” by Jacob Astor Broad, was given in December that year, and “Elijah” in May.

For the annual meeting of the church body held at St. Olaf in 1907 the Choral Union was trained in the singing of chorales. Worked out for this use by Professor Christiansen was “En Sang-Gudstjeneste” of eleven Norse chorales — beginning with “Kirken den er et gammelt hus” and ending with “Den store hvide flok vi se” — connected with gems of religious thought by President Kildahl. The convention was mightily stirred. This encouragement gave impetus to choral singing at St. Olaf.

In the summer of 1908 Professor Christiansen took a mixed octet on tour, giving concerts of Lutheran chorales, interspersed with sermonettes. One objective of the tour was to help pay for the organ in Hoyme Chapel. All summer long these young people sang and traveled, without monetary recompense, and in the fall turned over to Presi dent Kildahl the entire proceeds of the tour — about five hundred dollars!

That summer’s concerts were made up mostly of Norwegian chorales. Only two English songs on the program. Short talks lent variety. At one time when “Christy” was giving the message, he was too overcome to finish, turned around and said, “Thompson, you go on.” Fortunately, Jörgen had been following so closely that he could pick up the thread and finish properly. The audience was greatly impressed.

It was on this tour that F. Melius Christiansen made the statement: “I should like to train a good choir to acquaint the American people with our Lutheran chorales.” Under an autographed photograph of this octet the director wrote: “The first St. Olaf Choir.”

In 1909-10 Professor Christiansen divided the Choral Union into men’s and women’s choruses, which gave separate concerts. But, on February 21, 1911, the two groups, united under the name of St. John’s Church Choir, gave a concert in the Congregational Church, with the assistance of Adolph Olsen, violinist, Eulalie Chenevert, organist, and Oscar Grönseth, vocalist. When the Choir made an Easter Tour in 1912 it was advertised as the St. Olaf Choir, and when in 1913 it made a very successful tour to Norway it became definitely known as the St. Olaf Choir.

On its 1912 tour, during Easter vacation, the St. Olaf Choir visited Eau Claire, Madison, and Chicago. President Kildahl accompanied the group and gave one talk in English and one in Norwegian at each concert.

When the Choir made a concert tour of Norway, they had the pleasure of living on the Lyra for two weeks, as they cruised along the coast from Trondhjem south. At “Christy’s” home town, Larvik, they were entertained in the lovely beech woods. At the Christiania concert they were honored by the presence of the King and Queen who, without the formality of previous arrangement, shook hands with Professor Christiansen and congratulated him. At Trondhjem they placed a wreath on the grave of B. J. Muus. And, appropriately enough, they returned home on the Hellig Olav .Subsequent tours all over the United States have brought forth most extravagant praise: “The Choir is a human symphony.” “The Choir approaches the celestial.” “They sang themselves into the hearts of the people.”

Nor has it been a case of being without honor among one’s own. One of Professor Christiansen’s colleagues, Professor I. F. Grose, has voiced the opinion and feelings of many at St. Olaf in an article published in the Northfield News , September 10, 1926: “The greatest thing connected with Dr. Christiansen’s work is not that he has produced such a wonderful choir, marvelous as that work may be. The greatest thing connected with his work is the fact that he has given St. Olaf College a glimpse of the great possibilities which can be developed out of this most promising material, out of these American Lutheran young men and women of Norse extraction — not only in music, but in all the branches of art and learning involving the cultivation of these great spiritual treasures which help to produce good Christians. And if they help to produce good Christians, they will necessarily produce good American citizens. Whether Dr. Christiansen knows it or not, he has re-emphasized and reinforced the idea which promoted the founding of the institution.”

As It Was In The Beginning


To Be Read First, Please
The Big Woods
On the Banks of the Cannon
Up to Manitou Heights
The Hall in the Woods
From Dawn to Dusk
A New Tree Grows on Manitou
In and Out Among the Trees
Boughs and Branches
The Woods Recede