Jens Dixon’s School
Danish settlements were founded across North Dakota, but the largest and best-known were in the northwest portion of the state. By 1910, this region held one-quarter of all Danes in North Dakota. Their presence remains highly visible even today. Names like Denmark Township leave little doubt as to its original occupants, and the Danish windmill in Kenmare continues to draw tourists. However, a small stone monument north of Kenmare may be less familiar. This monument was erected in 1952 to honor Brorson, a Danish folk school, and its principal, Jens Dixon.
Born in Denmark in 1858, Jens Dixon immigrated to Wisconsin and eventually North Dakota, establishing a homestead north of Kenmare in 1901. With an interest in evangelism and missions, Dixon became active in the Trinity Danish Evangelical Lutheran congregation. Through this local church, he found an opportunity to excite others about Christian missions when the local pastor organized a school for young Danish men who needed something useful to occupy the winter months. Holding classes first in the parsonage and later in the church, the pastor and two female instructors offered a variety of religious and secular subjects in both English and Danish. A separate boarding house offered accommodations. The school proved so successful that it continued the following winter and was officially named Brorson High School, in honor of the Danish hymn writer.
By 1905, at the prompting of Jens Dixon, a school building was erected next to the church. At a cost of $7,000, the three story building included classrooms and accommodations for up to forty students as well as an apartment for the new principal, Jens Dixon. Enrollment quickly increased, ranging from thirty to forty students each winter, paying $55 for tuition, room and board. The school also increased operation from four months to six.
The private school continued to flourish; enrollment reached as high as 56 in 1913! But after the United States became involved in World War One, enrollment declined and the school closed its doors in 1920. The building fell out of use and Jens Dixon pursued other missions-minded endeavors.
Although short-lived, the Danish folk school left an indelible mark on the national and international religious landscape. Twenty-five former students became pastors, including Dixon’s adopted son. Dixon inspired several students and teachers from Brorson to go into the foreign mission field, and today, the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria still recognizes Dixon’s influence as a crucial part of their early foundation.
Jens Dixon passed away on this date in 1931. Twenty-one years later, residents of the Kenmare region honored his service by erecting a stone monument marking the former site of Brorson High School.
Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall
Jens Dixon: Danes of the High Plains exhibit notes (Elk Horn, IA: Danish Immigrant Museum’s Heritage Park; 2002)
Kjølhede, Peder; Peter Sorensen Vig and Ivar Marius Hansen. Danes in America: Danish-American Lutheranism from 1860-1908 (Dana College, Blair, Nebraska: Lur Publications; 2001)
Madsen, Kirsten and Knud Madsen. Han Sled Bibler Som Sko (He Wore out Bibles Like Shoes) (Forlaget Savanne; 1995)
Nissen, Margaret. An African Church is Born (Denmark: Purups Grafiske Hus.; 1968)
Sherman, William C. and Playford V. Thorson, ed. Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History (Fargo: ND Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU; 1988)