David T. Nelson

Professor, Interim Acting President, and College Historian (1921-1963)

Early Years

David Theodore (David T.) Nelson was born in 1891. Nelson graduated from Luther College in 1912, and he was also a Rhodes Scholar. He went to Oxford in 1914 and went on to receive a B.A. degree there. From 1914-1915, he served in Herbert Hoover’s Commission for Relief in Belgium during World War I. Following this, Nelson served in the American Ambulance Service in France from 1915-1916.

Years at Luther

In 1921, Nelson came to teach English at Luther College. In 1924 he married Esther Torrison. Torrison was the granddaughter of Elisabeth Koren and U. V. Koren, and she and Nelson were later the parents of David Torrison Nelson, a Luther physics professor. According to Jordahl and Kaasa, this meant that "she had the longest direct relationship to the college of anyone in its history" (Jordahl and Kaasa 51).

Nelson served on the Luther faculty from 1921 to 1963. He taught English and Latin, and he also coached tennis from 1922 to 1933. While at Luther, he emphasized the importance of long-range planning for the college. In addition, he established the Luther College Forensic Association, and was very involved with debate for several years. Generally liberal in his views concerning rules for students, he helped introduce coeducation and advocated allowing dancing at Luther. Along with Oivind Hovde, Nelson helped establish the senior paper requirement for graduation. He served as Business Manager in 1948 and was elected acting president in 1962, between the terms of Ylvisaker and Farwell, for one year. While president, it was decided that the new field house would be built “down the bluff,” rather than on the upper campus. The decision was controversial, but Nelson was a strong advocate of the location. Nelson translated and edited the Diary of Elisabeth Koren, translated and adapted Peer Stromme’s Halvor along with Inga B. Norstog, wrote the third chapter of Luther College Through Sixty Years: 1861-1921, entitled “Government and Administration." Nelson is probably best remembered for his book of the history of Luther College, Luther College 1861-1961, published during Luther’s centennial year. Along with Chellis Evanson, Nelson raised money for a war memorial installed in the Main Building at Luther. Nelson retired in 1963, and he passed away in 1969.

Other Information

Resources in the Luther College Archives

  • David T. Nelson -- collected materials
  • Luther College 1861-1961 by David T. Nelson
  • Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century by Leigh D. Jordahl and Harris E. Kaasa

Works Referenced

  • Jordahl, Leigh D. and Harris E. Kaasa, Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1986.
  • Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961.
  • Papers of David T. Nelson
  • Who's Who in the Luther College Archives

External Resources