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Norwegian-American North Dakota Ladies Aid Societies


Beginning in the 1870s, many Norwegian immigrants established Lutheran congregations in North Dakota. Only the men voted and managed those congregations. The women were organized by the pastors into the women's society - in Norwegian called the KVINDEFORENING. [kvin-eh-for-eh-ning]. By the 1930s it was renamed the Ladies' Aid Society. In some places the women organized their societies before the men did. Then the women urged the men to start the congregations.

The purpose of the women's society was first foreign missions, then local missions, Bible study, prayer sessions and church education. For the Bisbee public school the local society raised almost three hundred dollars. In the early 1900s both the Grafton and the Northwood societies promoted and raised funds for their town Deaconness Hospitals. During World War I some societies worked closely with the Red Cross.

In the early years, the pastor's wife led the KVINDEFORENING. By 1915 lay women served as presidents. On one farm, a husband firmly admonished his wife not to get involved in the new women's society, but his wife drove off in the buggy. Hours later she returned as president, which she remained for many years.

By 1910 national Norwegian Lutheran church bodies organized national societies under the title, Women's Mission Federation, the WMF. In 1917, from Crosby, Frida Bue Homnes [Free-da Boo-eh Huhm-ness (Mrs. George P. Homnes) sat on a national board of a WMF. Later she served as North Dakota District president. After her death in 1951, Concordia College of Moorhead named a room after Frida Bue Homnes.

Often the parish women raised more money than church offerings. During the 1890s depression the KVINDEFORENING kept many congregations in the black. During the 1930s Great Depression, many societies paid the pastors' salaries. The women sponsored bake sales, bazaars, and ice cream socials. They also sold aprons, mittens, quilts and tablecloths. Besides church suppers, picnics, and church school festivals, these women offered dinners for public schools, public auctions, county fairs and Fourth of July celebrations.

These societies were also active in summer parochial schools and Sunday School. An anniversary publication of North Prairie Church in Velva shows a photograph of three women and captions them as president, vice president and secretary of the Ladies Aid Society. On another page the same photograph captions them as the Sunday School Board of Education: superintendent, teacher and teacher.

By 1940 many city congregations had given their women the vote. By 1955 the last rural congregation had given its women the vote. Today the Lutheran women's societies remain steadfast in foreign missions, Bible study, church education, quilt-making, and tasty food.

Dakota Datebook written by Doctor Erik Luther Williamson

Source: Williamson M.A. thesis, University of North Dakota, 1987.