The First Stirrings

Comitia Dumriana

Between 1873 and 1874, in a time when men ruled the Luther College campus, women took their first steps into the college life. They called themselves Comitia Dumriana, translated as "an assembly of the silly fair." The nine girls, mostly daughters of pastors and professors, studied German, French, English, Norwegian, and history under professors of Luther College. Three or four of the girls were from out of town and were given housing in the Campus House with the Brandt family. The members of this group were: Henriette Koren; Caroline Koren (Mrs. C. A. Naeseth); Thora Larsen (Mrs. J. W. Magelssen); Margrethe Brandt (Mrs. L. S. Reque); Rosin Preus (Mrs. J. Nordby); Louise Hjort (Mrs. C. K. Preus); Emma Larsen (Mrs. Nils N. Helle); Mathilda Stub (Mrs. H. B. Thorgrimsen); and Marie Reque (Mrs. H. B. Hustvedt).

1880s/90s Proposals

Many other colleges being founded in this period were starting coeducation, St. Olaf's School in 1874 being one example, spurring the idea at Luther College. Many of them were, in fact, being staffed by Luther College men. Two of these men were strong supporters for coeducation at Luther College: Gisle Bothne (class of 1878) and Ole M. Kalheim (class of 1884), then a teacher at St. Olaf's School. Much of the debate was seen in College Chips until finally the English edition editorially endorsed coeducation. However President Laur Larsen opposed any change in the demographics of Luther College. In 1890 the Norwegian Synod called for a committee to investigate the idea but, by the next year, the report was quietly buried by the administration of the college. After these proposals died there wasn't another strong argument made until the early 1930s.

The Next Step

On September 24, 1931 President Oscar L. Olson stated to the faculty that he was going to advocate for coeducation at Luther College. This support was closely followed by that of the faculty and the Board of Trustees. This came on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the college and was the main topic of conversation during the celebration. An alumni meeting, which took up the majority of the day, heavily discussed the idea but came to no definite decision and was finally tabled. The decision then passed to the ruling Norwegian Lutheran Church of America Board of Education who faced many financial issues. Many thought that allowing women into the college would hurt its perilous financial position since it would require the building of a female dormitory and possibly additions to the faculty. The matter was eventually forgotten in the face of President Olson's resignation.

Decorah Junior College for Girls

In June of 1931 members of the Decorah Chamber of Commerce met with the Luther College Board of Trustees who agreed to allow women to attend Luther College that fall, subject to the approval of the Board of Education, which did not give approval. This encouraged a grass roots effort to support education for women in Decorah. On August 1, 1932 a permanent organization was established and articles of incorporation were adopted naming the new institution "The Decorah Junior College for Girls," offering two year courses. Many professors and women of the city served as the advisory members. A residence on Broadway was decided as the main building with Ottar Tinglum, from Luther College, elected as the president. Luther College wanted to show their support to the small school and so offered professors' services, libraries, laboratories, and some student privileges to the girls. This school and Luther College entered into a general contract for 1933-35 in which the women paid dues, attended chapel, and were admitted to student organizations. At this point, Luther College was virtually coeducational but for the technical aspects.

1930s Proposals

Many thought that coeducation at Luther College had begun but the Board of Education had not yet given its final approval. In an attempt to alter their stance, the college trustees on July 26, 1933 again proposed that women be admitted yet also stated that the college would continue as an institution for men unless a resolution changed it. In February, the Board of Education approved this proposal but by June of 1934 had reversed this decision based on the contradictory nature of the proposal. A new resolution was drawn up by Carl F. Granrud.

Financial Issues

At the 1934 convention of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, the issue was not coeducation but rather the future of Luther College as an independent institution. A committee was put together to report on the educational system of the church which focused on a merger between Luther College and St. Olaf College to meet the financial crisis of the church. This report almost caused a civil war with the Norwegian Church and soon after the financial issues began to improve sparing the college.

Final Jump

Through an amendment to the articles of incorporation the "Decorah Junior College for Girls" became the Decorah College for Women on April 3, 1935. Soon after they received accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as a four year program. The first B. A. degrees were conferred on Doris A. Erickson and Esther M. Hanson at the Luther College commencement ceremony on June 4, 1935. In 1936 five graduated with a B. A. degree: Ruth A. Graeber, Helen M. Hoff, Dorcas V. Jacobson, Laura M. Monson, and Lily B. Nelson. Still coeducation at Luther had yet to be officially settled. However, a report to the Board of Education was adopted by the 1936 Norwegian Luther Church of America convention which stipulated that Luther would be coeducational. Later that year the Luther College Board of Trustees made the 1936 alumnae of the Decorah College for Women official alumnae of Luther College, making them the first women to graduate from Luther.


The Luther College Alumni Association elected a committee in 1935 to propose a revised set of articles for Luther College which included coeducation and took away much of the power of the Board of Education, instead investing in the power of the Luther College Board of Trustees. These articles were accepted by the college and the coeducation amendment adopted by a vote of 472 to 31. De facto coeducation had finally become de jure.


Luther College Archives


Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961