Luther College Moment in History #85

Peter Lauritz (Laur.) Larsen, the first president of Luther College, was born August 10, 1833 in Kristiansand, Norway. In 1850 he began attending the university at the age of seventeen. After earning his bachelor's degree, he was a theological student from early 1852 to June 1855. Larsen worked as a part-time tutor throughout most of his university years, and he continued to teach after he completed his courses.

There was a surplus of pastors in Norway during that time period, and Larsen was in the midst of trying to find a job when he learned of six pastoral calls in America. He decided to leave Norway and emigrate to America, where he knew that he would be able to address the needs of other Norwegian Lutherans. After he was ordained in Our Savior's Church in Kristiania on September 23, 1857, he and his family left for Fillmore County, Minnesota, where Larsen had accepted a call.

On October 10, 1857, the Norwegian Synod decided to establish an institution of higher learning with a Norwegian background in America. They first used Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (which was, in turn, a part of the Missouri Synod) in order to have a professorship there until there was enough money to start a college. The church council that made this decision met at Washington Prairie church. Laur. Larsen started his position as professor at Concordia Seminary on October 14, 1859. This day is now recognized as Founder's Day for Luther College.

On September 1, 1861, classes for Luther College officially began in a temporary location in Wisconsin with an enrollment of 16. The college was initially focused on training young Norwegian-American men to become members of the clergy. Larsen was placed at the head of Luther College. While he worked as one of the two professors, Larsen taught seventeen of the forty-four class hours. He was also in charge of all general affairs of the institution, including the purchase of supplies and when necessary, he also acted as nurse for his students.

The first separate dormitory building was built a few years after Larsen retired from the presidency. Laur. Larsen Hall, as it was named, opened in 1907. The King of Norway bestowed on Larsen the Order of St. Olaf in 1908.