The Legacy They Gave Us:
Early Norwegian Quakers
Edited by Matilda Hansen
Reviewed by Vickie Aldrich
I really enjoyed this short book by Matilda Hansen, who grew up in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in the mid-1900s. Luckily for us, Hansen decided to research and document her Norwegian Quaker ancestors. The resulting book has a lot in it – a love story, a story of conscientious objection, immigration, travel, a Quaker split, and the Underground Railroad. If you are interested in the history of western Quakers in twentieth-century America, you will also likely be interested to read about some of the roots of that history in nineteenth-century Iowa.
The story begins in 1848 with Soren Olesson in Norway and his decision at age twenty-one to refuse to comply with Norway’s military draft. That move eventually led him, along with other Norwegian Quakers, to emigrate to the U. S. Before leaving for America, Soren met Anna Ravnas. A couple years later, she also traveled with a group of Norwegians to the U.S. The book describes the journeys of these two young people and the places they lived along the way, until they met again and married in Iowa.
The book includes side stories that describe Quaker abolitionist work, splits among Quakers in response to that work, and the development of new Yearly Meetings. I was surprised and interested to learn of the role that British Friends played in the U.S. when they intervened in the antislavery dispute in Indiana Yearly Meeting. As more Norwegian Friends arrived in Iowa, they formed Stavanger Meeting, which held its worship in Norwegian. The author also shares the stories of these families as Iowa Friends experience the evangelists, the Gurneyites, and the Wilburites.
Matilda Hansen has given us a readable and enjoyable book that weaves together individual histories and corporate meeting histories from the late 1800s. These histories resulted in the founding of Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting and later prompted Hannah and Joel Bean to move to California. This book is the second volume of Hansen’s four-part Legacy series, and its story ends in the 1880s. Volume One in the series covers the origins of Quakers in Norway, and Hansen is working on two more volumes to continue the story of Norwegian Quakers in Iowa.
These books are available directly from Matilda Hansen for $15 each plus $5 postage and handling for up to three books per order. You can place your order by email to: [email protected]. ~~~
Vickie Aldrich is a member of Las Cruces Friends Meeting (IMYM).