Norway's newspapers land in the 'new land'

For a few decades straddling 1900, a strong Norwegian subculture prospered throughout much of the northern United States, a subculture whose history was recorded and influenced by more than 280 Norwegian-language newspapers.

For a few decades straddling 1900, a strong Norwegian subculture prospered throughout much of the northern United States, a subculture whose history was recorded and influenced by more than 280 Norwegian-language newspapers.

A capital of that subculture was Grand Forks, and one of the most enduring of those newspapers was Normanden (The Norseman). Published in Grand Forks from 1887 to 1954, it competed with such other sheets as Grand Forks Tidende (Grand Forks Times), Nordlyset (Northern Lights) and Nordstjernen (The North Star).

Yellowing copies of those papers are preserved in UND's Chester Fritz Library, where a young graduate student -- himself an immigrant from Norway -- found them in the 1960s and mined them for his master's degree thesis.

Forty years later, Odd Lovoll has included Normanden in "Norwegian Newspapers in America: Connecting Norway and the New Land," published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

The book covers a century-plus of Norwegian-language journalism, from pioneer papers to "Norwegian" journals published in English to appeal to later generations.


In those papers are stories of pioneer triumph and tragedy, the political fights and religious disputes of the immigrants and their role in such national issues as temperance, populism and women's rights.

"The newspapers' yellowing pages printed in Gothic script and an archaic Dano-Norwegian linguistic form were intriguing ... sources to an understanding of the immigrant world of bygone days," Lovoll said.

"The Norwegian ethnic press, whether published in a country town or in a bustling urban center, provided a link with the old country," and it preserved Norwegian culture even as it schooled immigrants to become Americans.

Nourishing the imagination

The newspapers were sent home to kin in Norway, who shared them with neighbors. Lovoll quotes the 1948 recollections of Didrik Arup Seip, a president of the University of Oslo.

"When I was a boy, I learned to know the name America before I heard about any other foreign country," Seip said. "I heard about New York and Chicago before I heard about London and Berlin. Names like Dakota and Minnesota I heard more often than Spain or France."

Seip's mountain village had sent many young men and women to America. They had sent letters and newspapers home.

"We read about life on the prairie and in the forests. Every Christmas there came Americans who told us about (life) on the other side of the ocean. ... High up in our mountain community we had a lively cultural contact with America; news from there gave us a broader outlook, and nourished the imagination."


Crookston: 3 Norse newspapers

Major papers with large circulations included Skandinaven in Chicago and Decorah Posten in Iowa, but mostly there were modest-sized journals that flourished for a time in regions where many immigrants had settled, such as Superior Tidende in Wisconsin, which competed from the 1880s to the 1960s with the Duluth Skandinav.

Over the course of a century or so, Minneapolis was served by 41 Norwegian-language papers, but many small Minnesota towns also boasted one or two -- though most lasted only a year or two.

Ada had Folkets Blad (The People's Newspaper), Bagley had Fremskridt (Progress) and Fertile had a five-year run, 1900-1905, of Arbeidsmanden (The Laborer). Moorhead supported three Norwegian papers, but each for just a year or two in the 1890s.

Crookston claimed Folkets Tidende (The People's Times), a weekly published in 1891-92; Red River Dalen (The Red River Valley), 1890-96, and Red River Tidende, 1895-99.

Oslo, Minn., had Skoiergutten (The Joker) from 1912 to 1914. In Warren, Minn., the weekly Red River Dalens Sol (The Red River Valley's Sun) lasted from 1886 to 1891.

In North Dakota, Fargo saw 14 Norwegian language papers, most of them short-lived, while Grafton had five and Hillsboro six, including Afholds Basunen (The Temperance Trumpet). Hatton had Banneret, whose English name -- The Banner -- now graces the Hillsboro paper. Mayville had Landmanden (The Farmer) and Vesterheimen (The Western Home), while Portland was briefly home to Dakota-Bladet (The Dakota Newspaper).

Normanden takes on Fram and NPL


Grand Forks' Normanden "was a very important paper in North Dakota," Lovoll said, "consistently progressive Republican except for two years in the 1920s when conservative Republicans got hold of it."

Normanden often dueled with Fram (Forward), a Fargo paper friendly to the Nonpartisan League. Normanden "considered the NPL its enemy because it was socialism," Lovoll said, and its publishers dealt with the threat American-style -- by buying Fram and merging it into Normanden.

The NPL countered by establishing a new paper to appeal to Norwegians: Grand Forks Skandinav.

Both Fram and Normanden were strict temperance papers, Lovoll said in an interview this week, and "spoke for the farmers on both sides of the Red River." Some people involved with the papers were still alive when he was at UND, and he was able to visit and collect old letters.

"The majority of Norwegian newspapers in America tended to be left of center politically" but socially conservative on such things as alcohol, he said. "A few were very conservative. But if a paper spoke accurately for the Norwegian population, it tended to defend workers."

He said he was impressed by "the intellectual strength and power" of the papers' editors and publishers. "Some of the best minds in the Norwegian-American community were attracted to journalism."

Lovoll also was struck by the passionate struggles within Norwegian American Lutheranism, as reflected in the press.

"It surprised me how vitriolic these Lutheran pastors were, the language they used against each other," he said.

'Help Norway ... You know how!'

Some of the largest Norwegian language papers failed during the Depression, but the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II kindled a new burst of concern for the country.

(When the war ended, the Duluth Skandinav urged readers to help the homeland get back on its feet by increasing consumption of an important Norwegian export. "Eat Lutefisk and Help Norway," the paper pleaded in December 1945.)

But after the war, as the earlier immigrant generations faded and new immigration from Norway was slight, the decline of Norwegian language newspapers was inevitable.

"I never found expression by editors that they thought it would endure," Lovoll said. "From the start, they looked upon their mission as transitional."

-- Copyright (c) 2010, Grand Forks Herald, N.D./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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