Keeping the Scandinavians Straight II
Bill Long 2/10/11
One of the big tensions in higher education in the 19th century was whether to place colleges in the "rough and tumble" of life, so that the young people would have opportunities to learn and serve in a more urban context or to "retreat" to the countryside so that the incivilities and tensions of the "big city" wouldn't taint the young people. An 1863 decision moved the school to the rural town of Paxton IL, about 100 miles SW of Chicago. One of the professors at this school was the Rev. August Wenaas (1835-1924), a Norwegian pastor, who began teaching there in 1868.
Split # 2--1869-70
The next year a decision was made to open what was called the Norwegian Augustana Seminary, later called Augsburg Seminary (then Augsburg College) in Marshall WI, with Wenaas as the president. He would remain at that position until 1876, with the school moving to Minneapolis in 1872. But this was only preparatory to the split between the Norwegians and the Swedes. After all, they had been together for a decade; logic or knowledge of human nature would seem to suggest that they have to split. Though the Wikipedia article says that the split was a "friendly" separation, I have yet to see a church split that was "friendly." Indeed, the theology of Jesus and the New Testament is that Christians are supposed to demonstrate Christian unity, not disunity, so that the world might know that God has sent Jesus. Ok, well, the Norwegians and Swedes split in Andover IL in June 1870. And, of course, if you split, you have to have a name that is at least as long, or that pulls theological rank, as the group from which you are splitting.
For example, when the Presbyterians split in the 1930s, it was the "Orthodox" Presbyterian Church" that was formed as a rump group of the "Presbyterian Church." Then, not to be outdone, a group split from the Orthodox and upped the ante by calling themselves the "Bible Presbyterian Church." These folks were so holy that they even threw out their founder 19 years later....
Back to the Lutherans. So, the decision for the second split came in June 1870, and resulted, a few months later, in the "Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America." It has 9 words, one of which is hyphenated, compared to the 7 words of the predecessor denomination. This "Conference," as we will denominate it, only existed for 20 years, until 1890, when it would merge into a "United" Norwegian church, but that goes far beyond my story.
Split # 3--1870
At the time of the second split, a third split occurred. One might think that it was the Danes going their separate way (hey, where are the Icelandic folk?), but in fact it took on another name that only a mother could love: the "Norwegian-Danish Augustana Synod in America." It is hilarious, or at least ironic, that the reason for this split was in interpreting the role of the Book of Concord in the denomination's life. One group wanted to include the whole book as its confessional standard; of course the other one wanted only part of the book. This is reminiscent to me of the (true) story of a split in a congregation that resulted after fisticuffs among parishoners in the "Friendship Room."
Well, these two Norwegian groups would reunite in 1890, along with a third group, called the "Anti-Missourian Brotherhood." Maybe this last group had run out of names or creativity and had just to state its stand clearly--it was "against" its brethren. If I had a quarter for every Christian Protestant denomination represented in this country since our founding, I would be a rich man indeed.
Back to the Colleges
We now have some stories of the denominations; we still need to explain the presence of more than one Augustana College. The story of the Rock Island IL Augustana is easy to tell. The school, we recall, had moved from Chicago to Paxton IL in 1863. It just continued moving and found its resting place in Rock Island, IL in 1875. The Swedes had landed.
But it was a longer and more interesting history for the Norwegian folk. They founded, as indicated, what would become Augsburg College in 1869. But the geographical center of the Norwegian immigrants seemingly kept moving westward, and so leaders of one of the denominations (I am not sure which one--this web site only says the "Norwegian Augustana Synod") decided in 1881 to set up a "Seminary and Academy" in the rural climes of Beloit Iowa.
It is quite difficult to find information about Beloit Iowa today principally because the town doesn't really exist. In fact, the place where Beloit once was is tucked into the extreme NW part of Iowa, across the Big Sioux River from Canton SD. At one point there was a flourishing community there, of course, and today there remains a Lutheran Church and, about ten miles north, the Grandview Covenant Church--a Swedish Church. It is fascinating to think that Beloit, seemingly so remote today, would have at any time been considered a logical place for the Seminary and Academy. I suppose if you carry the rural ideal to the max...this is what you have.
In any case, it didn't take long for even the Norwegians to realize that the Second Coming wasn't going to happen in Beloit IA, and they bailed. But to be more precise, almost immediately after they church folk showed up in Beloit, overtures were made from the SD side of the Big Sioux River to move the college there. Norwegians were migrating to Canton SD and the vicinity in relatively large numbers. The population of Lincoln County, Dakota Territory, in 1870 was only 712 (Canton was the biggest town), but by 1890 it grew to 9,143. Most of the new immigrants were Norwegian. Some of the leaders of the Canton community bought a hotel and offered it as the location for the College (Academy). They weren't so interested in having the Seminary in Canton. Well, in 1884, the college moved from Beloit to Canton.
This Augustana Academy/College had an illustrious, if penurious, history for several years. Brothers John and Ernest Lawrence, the latter of whom gave his name to the Lawrence Livermore Lab at U C Berkeley, went to school there. Indeed, a biography of Ernest Lawrence mentions that he was the grandson of Norwegian immigrants and grew up in Canton SD. He attended the academy before heading off to St. Olaf for undergraduate studies (oh, St. Olaf had been founded by the "Anti-Missourian" folks...). Lawrence won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939 for the invention of the cyclotron.
The Seminary stayed in Beloit until the 1890 merger of all the Norwegians under one flag. Then, because each of the predecessor denominations had its own seminary, and since only one was needed to meet the needs of the united denominations, the Beloit seminary was closed. Oh my. Just think if you were the unlucky guy to have put all your money down in Beloit real estate in 1881 when one of the arms of the Norwegian Lutherans decided to set up in Beloit. You might think that the future was as bright as the promises of God. But then, within a decade, they all moved out! Well, not to be deterred, the Lutherans decided to move a children's home into the old seminary buildings in Beloit, and from 1890-1945, more than 900 children were given housing and care at this site. It was called the "United Church Children's Home," and it was intended to serve the needs of orphaned children. Finally, in 1945 it was relocated to Ames IA. A few streets and a few dozen people, it seems, are all that is left in Beloit IA.
Conclusion--Augustana Sioux Falls
The (Norwegian Lutheran) Augustana College then stayed in Canton SD for several years. As a history of Canton SD says,
"Augustana was a tremendous asset to the community. The school was widely known for its excellence in academics. Many scholars came for speaking engagements. Many synodical gatherings both large and small were held throughout the year."
It is true that a small college, religiously based, especially if it the headquarters for denomination, can add a considerable amount to a rural community. But then, in 1917, bad news came.
"That year, the Norwegian Lutheran Synods merged to become the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The new synod considered it inadvisable to maintain Augustana College and Lutheran Normal School in Sioux Falls, barely 25 miles apart."
Now you are beginning to see the "rest" of the story. Even though there was a vigorous campaign to keep Augustana College in Canton SD, the larger community prevailed, and the college moved to Sioux Falls in 1918. But, in an interesting twist of things, actually the two schools changed places...or partially so, since a Normal School remained behind in Canton under the name of Augustana Academy. This school finally closed in the early 1970s. The college then, with its Norwegian origin and middle history in Beloit and Sioux Falls, finally ended up where we see it on the map today, between West 28th and West 37th Streets and South Grange/Lake and South Summer. The Eidsvaag Bell, given to the college at its inception, was now hoisted to the bell tower of the Sioux Falls campus.
Well, both Augustana Colleges seem to be doing well these days. The SD one, perhaps because the tradition of Swedish and Norwegian and possibly German influence as well the three or four moves have probably attenuated the directness of the inheritance from the original vision of the college, does not seem to offer Swedish or Norwegian instruction. The only modern languages offered there are French, Spanish and German. But Augustana in Rock Island not only has an extensive Swedish geneaology, with records of many Swedish Churches on microfilm, but has a Swedish language program. We are told, on the college website, that the student-faculty ratio at the Rock Island campus is small, especially in the Swedish classes. No wonder. No one studies it anymore...
Or, to put it differently, Swedish is not in the top 15 most popular foreign languages studied in American universities. The 15th most popular, Korean, has an enrollment of about 7,500 students annually in the US. Thus, Swedish is less than that--probably by at least an order of magnitude.