US Diplomat Rasmus Björn Anderson

US Diplomat Rasmus Björn Anderson

 

RASMUS BJØRN ANDERSON, b. January 12, 1846, at Albion, Dane county, Wis. (wf) Bertha Karine Olson, b. February 11, 1848, at Bjørnsrud, Norway. Married July 21, 1868, at New Lisbon, Wisconsin, United States.

US Diplomat Rasmus Björn Anderson


Rasmus was reared on the family farm near the little town of Albion, sharing the pioneer life of the times and receiving his first formal education at the log schoolhouse which his father had built near the home. At the age of fourteen he left home to clerk at his brother Andrew's store in Milwaukee. For his services he received his board, and to obtain spending money he peddled apples. After a year in Milwaukee and in La Crescent, Minn., where he also clerked in a store, his mother made arrangements for him to further his education at the Half Way Creek Lutheran Academy, near La Crosse. This opportunity he eagerly grasped. However, a year of schooling at the academy was disappointing, so the following fall he became a student at Luther College. In 1866, when Rasmus had almost completed the six years' course in three and one-half years, he disappointed his elders by leading a student mutiny against severe regulations and poor living conditions, which resulted in his expulsion from the college?though he later received a post-dated degree. Instead of being crushed by this blow, he began organizing an opposition to the High Church element with a declared purpose of founding a college of his own. It is significant that this twenty-year-old youth was able to get under way a "Norwegian-American Educational Society" with more than a hundred members and a firm resolve to organize a Norwegian college of a more liberal cast than Luther.

Instead of pursuing this plan, however, Rasmus got himself appointed as instructor of Greek and modern languages at Albion Academy, a Seventh Day Baptist school only three miles from his Koshkonong farm home. Mainly through his efforts in attracting students of Norwegian descent, the enrollment during his three years at Albion, from 1866 to 1869, increased from 50 to 300 students. It was there that President P. A. Chadbourne, while on a visit to the academy in the winter of 1867-68, "discovered" Prof. Rasmus B. Anderson for the University of Wisconsin and made an effort to hire him. However, it was not until a year later that Rasmus accepted the position offered him and left Albion to become the first Wisconsinborn professor at the university. In the meantime, Professor Anderson had become deeply interested in Norwegian history and literature and was determined to bring these subjects into the university curriculum. In the spring of 1870 he succeeded in organizing the first class in Norwegian taught in this or any other American university. With this as a starting point he began agitating for more courses in that field, which at first fell on deaf ears, but finally brought about a realization of his ambition. His friend Ole Bull, the world famous volinist, who lived in Madison at that time, helped to further the project by giving a concert in behalf of the Scandinavian library at the university. The $1,000 netted at this time enabled Professor Anderson to obtain more books while on a trip to Europe with Bull the following summer. As a result of the growth of the library, the increased interest of university students in Scandinavian languages, and the popularity of his own translations and writings, the regents created a chair of Scandinavian languages and literature and Rasmus at 28 became the head of the department. He held the position from 1875 to 1883. Later the University of Wisconsin honored him with an L.L.D. degree. After his resignation from the university, Rasmus continued writing and engaged in the insurance business, in which he was highly successful, until his appointment as U. S. minister to Denmark, in which office he served from 1885 to 1889. Regarding his stay in Copenhagen he commented: "It was a wonderful opportunity. My position opened archives to which otherwise I might not have had access. I studied, and in four years published nine volumes, many of them brought out simultaneously in London, Denmark, Norway, and the United States."

As an author, the first publication of his to attract attention was America Not Discovered by Columbus, in which he supported the claim made for Lief Erikson and his Norsemen as discoverers of the North American continent in 1,000 A.D. Meticulous and exhaustive research prefaced all of Professor Anderson's publications. Most impressive of all his works is the Norroena Library, a subscription edition of fifteen volumes, containing translations of the most notable productions of Scandinavian literature from earlier times. Of this edition Professor Anderson was editor-in-chief. While this is the greatest in size of his literary productions, possibly the greatest in importance, and certainly in popularity, is his Norse Mythology, published in America in 1875. It is an exposition of the early mythological system of the North and has been translated into German, French, Italian, and the Scandinavian languages. Other books which established Rasmus as a writer and Scandinavian authority included Viking Tales of the North, The Younger Edda, and the story of his own life. In all he published sixty books. Upon his return from Europe, Rasmus B. Anderson published the Norwegian weekly newspaper, Amerika, which he founded in 1898 and continued until 1922. He also was president of the Wisconsin Life Insurance company from its beginning in 1895 until 1923 and president of the Wisconsin Rubber company. Rasmus' main ambitions in life were (1) to better educational advantages for Scandinavian-Americans which he succeeded in doing mainly in his earlier years at Albion Academy and at the University of Wisconsin and (2) to distribute throughout the world the folklore, the literature, and the history of the Scandinavians which he worked at successfully throughout his life.

As the American part of this program he wished to infuse into the constantly expanding conglomerate of American culture the culture of the Viking race from which he was descended. "The Scandinavian voung people here are too quickly assimilated," he said. "They eagerly seize what America has to give them. They do not hold back long enough to discover what they might contribute from their own heritage in return for the bountiful gifts that are bestowed upon them here. American culture is the greatest in the world and is steadily growing greater. It is a fusion of the best of the cultures of all peoples. The English have contributed to it, the Germans, the French, the Italians. But, until recent years, the Scandinavians had given little. From their great history and literature they have much to give, and they owe it to their country to add it to the idealistic culture that is developing here." Professor Anderson was in great demand as a lecturer throughout his life and across the nation, particularly before Scandinavian groups and literary societies. At 16 he gave a Fourth of July speech at his home town celebration during the Civil War. In 1875 he was the principal speaker at the Norse Centennial celebration in Chicago. His lecture on "Our Norse Heritage," which he gave many times, was a poem in prose. As he spoke his fiery enthusiasm swept his audience with him. He pointed out those fine things in Norse culture which could and should be translated to American life to produce the finest blend of metal in this western melting pot. This, his mission in life, he pursued successfully. Rasmus spoke many languages and various dialects. His Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish flowed as easily as English, and he had no difficulty in conversing in Icelandic, German, and Bohemian. Though he could read and understand French quite well, he spoke it with less fluency. While in Mexico in connection with his rubber plantation, he made a speech in Spanish, although he did not, at that time, know the language. He wrote the speech, had it translated into Spanish, memorized it, and delivered it. His ability to memorize was profound. He could recite over a hundred poems in various languages, some of them of great length. At Luther College he memorized seven hundred and fifty lines of Greek just to show his classmates that he could do it and he had his classmates follow him in the text to see if he made an error. The poems he knew were from all ages and included modern poems such as Robert Service's "The Shooring of Dan McGrew"! Professor Anderson was called "the father of the Lief Erikson movement in America" as a result of his struggle, with the help of Ole Bull and others, to obtain just recognition for this adventurous Norseman. As a result of the efforts put forth, there are now Lief Erikson monuments, parks, and boulevards throughout the country. Lief Erikson now is given due recognition in our history books and October 9 has been established as Lief Erikson Day both in our own country and in Norway.

In 1889, shortly after his return from Copenhagen, R. B. Anderson suggested to the government and helped to co-ordinate the successful establishment of a herd of Lapland reindeer in Alaska with Lap herders. This followed the failure of a previous governmental attempt to establish a herd of less domesticated reindeer from Siberia. Rasmus B. Anderson made thousands of friends, many of whom have their names written indelibly on the pages of world history. He was a close friend of one of the world's greatest violinists, Ole Bull, and knew intimately such men as Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Henrik Ibsen, John Greenleaf Whittier, Edward Everett Hale, and many others noted in the world of letters. He played whist with Cyrus W. Field; knew John Ericsson, the inventor of the Monitor, was acquainted with Walt Whitman and Thomas A. Edison; listened to Stephen A. Douglas make a campaign speech; dined and visited with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at his home in Cambridge; read part of his own book before a select gathering at Longfellow's home when Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell were members of the group who listened; knew John Clark Ridpath, the historian; asked Longfellow to write a poem on Madison's four lakes and had his request fulfilled; listened to Gladstone make a speech; shook hands with Charles Sumner, noting the scar on his head where Brooks struck him with his cane; was a teacher of Senator and Mrs. Robert M. La- Follette; met Alexander HI of Russia; forced a passport for some Americans from Prince Bismarck of Germany; sipped two hundred-yearold Rosenberg wine at the royal table of Denmark; beat King Edward VII of England in a game of whist and won one hundred pounds from him. He knew Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, and Paul du Chaillu, the explorer; the presidents from Grant to Coolidge; John Fiske, one of many noted people whom he entertained and who stayed at his home; Kaiser Wilhelm, Prince Regent Oscar of Norway, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia, who used to try his tricks of magic on him; the Czarina; and many others. About Grieg, he told the following incident: "I visited Edvard Grieg in his cottage in Bergen, in Norway. In the course of my chat with him I told him that I had often watched Ole Bull improvise melodies on the violin and I told him that I wondered how he, Grieg, managed to get those melodies and harmonies on paper. T will show you,' he said. He placed music paper, pen and ink on a small table in front of the piano. He seated himself at the instrument. He whistled a few bars, rhen, played them on the piano, then set them down with pen on the music paper. He filled two pages. 'I will dedicate them to you,' he said. 'No,' I said. 'Here I am in Norway having a good time, while Mrs. Anderson is in America. Dedicate them to her, if you will.' That he did."

His affection for Mrs. Anderson was great. Throughout her life he showered her with personal gifts, beautiful tableware, oil paintings, and other works of art. Bertha Karina Olson Anderson was the sixth child of Hans and Karen Olson Oraker,1 who migrated to this country in 1852. They left Christiania in May and reached Cambridge, Wis., August 12, where they resided until their death with the exception of about six months they passed in the village of Clinton, now known as Rockdale. Karina, as she was then known, attended the common school at Cambridge and also a select school conducted by Mr. Twining. When fifteen she became a teacher at the "Rockney school." Also, she took a, course in religious instruction from the family pastor, Rev. I. H. Otteson, who lived six miles from Cambridge. Later she taught in the Lenaas school near Whitewater, the McCombs school in the adjoining district, and a select school in Cambridge during the vacation period to keep thirty boys and girls off the village streets. Here Karina introduced a little domestic science into the school by helping the little girls to sew, crochet, and do tatting for a brief period while the boys were allowed an extra recess. The school, which proved to be a source of enjoyment to teacher and pupil alike, was conducted in a vacant store owned by her father. One winter Karina worked for her board in Fort Atkinson and took vocal and instrumenral music lessons from Miss Mary Hall of Whitewater. After her marriage, Karina and Rasmus lived in Albion. The following year he became an instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Her home from then on was in Madison with the exception of four summers and one winter which were passed in Copenhagen, Denmark, during the period of 1885 to 1889, while Professor Anderson was U. S. minister. It was at this time that their daughter Carletta, who was then eighteen years of age, was presented at court at the celebration of

1 There is a published genealogy of the Hans and Karen Olson family, by H. T. Henryson.

US Diplomat Rasmus Björn Anderson

the twenty-fifth anniversary of the reign of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. This was in November, 1888, there being present at the reception the children and grandchildren of those two kindly majesties, the imperial family of Russia, the king and queen of England and the Grecian royal family, ro all of whom Mrs. Anderson had to present her daughter. Everyone was kind and gracious and there were many pleasant memories of the occasion. Carletta was beautiful in a green tulle gown with layers that shaded in color from a deeper green toward the inside layers to a very pale green on the outer layers. Some of Mrs. Anderson's greatest joy came to her from the books and magazines which her husband's life and work brought her way. "It is through them," she said, "that I have been able to, to some extent, fill my place at his side and be a true wife and mother. To be this, I believe one has also to be something of a cook and a housekeeper." She enjoyed the reputation of being the best cook and housekeeper in Madison. She was a member of the Madison Woman's Club and the Woman's Building Association. She was instrumental in organizing the Gudrid Reading Circle, whose first meetings were held in her home. At one time she was secretary of this organization and later was secretary of the Viking Daughters of Madison. Mrs. Bertha Karina Olson Anderson died March 4, 1922, at Madison at the age of seventy-four. As a faithful wife and mother she had been an inspiration to her husband, her family and her friends. Rasmus Bjørn Anderson died March 2, 1936, also at Madison, at the age of ninety. His long life had been filled with activity and achievement in which he had combined the careers of historian, educator, editor, and diplomat. Their home was called "Aasgaard," the dwelling place of the Norse gods, and was said to be a haunt of the northern muses. Aasgaard was long famed for its hospitality and the beautiful home light that illumined it.

The following is a list of some of the books authored, translated, or edited by Rasmus B. Anderson: Author: The Scandinavian Languages, 1873; America Not Discovered by Columbus, 1874; Norse Mythology, 1875; Viking Tales of the North, 1877; The Younger Edda, 1880; First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration, 1821-40, 1895; Life Story of Rasmus B. Anderson, 1915. Translator: (from the Norse) Julegave, 1872; Den Norske Maalsag, 1874; Synnpve Solbakken, 1882; Magnhild, 1883; The Fisher Maiden, 1883; Captain Mansana and Other Stories, 1883; The Bridal March and Other Stories, 1883; Arne, 1883; A Happy Boy, 1884; (from Danish) History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North. From the Most Ancient Times to the Present, 1884; also Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Cen-tury, 1886; Nordisk Mythologi, 1887; Teutonic Mythology (from Swedish), 1899; Among Cannibals, 1889. Editor: The Norway Music Album (with Auber Forestier), 1881; Heimskringla (4 vols.),1889; Norroena Library (16 vols.), 1905-06; also story of his life told by himself, 1915. Contributor:- American supplement Encyclopedia Britannica, McClintock's and Strong's, Johnson's, Kiddle and Schem's, and Chamber's cyclopedias, United Editors Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana.

On editorial staff, Standard Dictionary and periodicals.
A more detailed account of the lives of Rasmus and Karina Anderson can be found in Rasmus's autobiography. Children born to them are,- Hannah (7a), Carletta (7b), George (7c), Hjalmar (7d), and Rolf (7e).

Kilde/Sourse: The Anderson-Krogh Genealogy

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