Swedes in the Twin Cities

reviewed by Bruce Carlson

Swedes in the Twin Cities by Philip J. Anderson &Dag Blanck, eds.
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001, 367 pages. $34.95

A few weeks ago on a pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon, I drove over to the American Swedish Institute (ASI), that handsome Indiana limestone chateau situated in a formerly rather fashionable Minneapolis neighborhood. The ASI is always fun to visit, with its beautiful kakelungar or tile stoves, pleasant coffee shop, exhibitions (currently, upstairs, a Jenny Lind show), beautiful woodwork, and intriguing programs. A multi-million dollar renovation of this grand museum is underway. So guests visiting this particular Saturday were temporarily entering a small side door and ducking down a few back hallways into the basement auditorium.

Here a dozen authors were seated at long banquet tables pleasantly engaged chatting and autographing a new book. These scholars had collectively produced Swedes in the Twin Cities, which was selling like hotcakes. The book is co-edited by Dag Blanck, the Director of the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, and Philip J. Anderson, Professor at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Just inside the door, a nice woman sat at a small table with a cash register and stacks of this handsome new book in its bright yellow dust jacket. The stacks were diminishing as eager (mostly Swedish) buyers happily shelled out thirty-five dollars a pop. Book in hand we next went down a line where each author would visit with us and sign his chapter—chapters such as "The role of Swedish Theatre in the Twin Cities" by Anne-Charlotte Harvey and "American Swedish Revisited" by Nils and Pat Hasselmo. The coffee pot was on and some delicious Swedish delicacies were ready at hand. What a pleasant way to while away half an afternoon.

Later, at home, I leafed through the book more carefully, reading the chapters that were most interesting to me. One of these told the story of David Swenson, the American/Swedish philosopher and Kierkegaard scholar who was raised in First Covenant Church Minneapolis and later became a celebrated professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Minnesota. Swenson was patient and conservative, but was unable to mesh with Gustaf F. Johnson, the high-power evangelist who was infested with a strident fundamentalism. Swenson reluctantly left the church in 1914. This chapter is a very well researched and written contribution from Philip J. Anderson. Another splendid entry is Dag Blanck’s barn burner essay on the dog fight political race in 1918 between two prominent Swedes, Charles Lindbergh’s father and Minnesota’s then incumbent governor J.A.A. Burnquist.

Between 1850 and 1930 more than 1,300,000 Swedes immigrated to the United States. More members of this group made their home in Minnesota than any other state. By 1910 Swedes were the largest ethnic group in Minneapolis. They made a strong mark in education, the arts, culture, politics, and the business life of the state. Their story is nicely told in this book, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It should be available at bookstores or through a good book web outfit such as amazon.com. It’s a fine addition to any library open to Swedish news and a possible gift item, too.

Congratulations all around.

Bruce Carlson (1940-2006) was the Executive Director of the Schubert Club and Pietisten Editor of Poetry and Navigation.

See all articles by Bruce Carlson