Oscar Olson

Third President of Luther College

Early Years

Oscar Ludvig (Oscar L.) Olson, the third president of Luther College, was born on February 3, 1872 in Chicago, Illinois to Andrew B. Olson and Guroe Larsen Krogstad. After moving to Sycamore, Illinois, in 1874 and Dixon, Illinois, in 1875, the family moved to Marcus, Iowa, in 1879, where they settled in for many years. His mother died of typhoid fever in 1885. Olson's father, who was a blacksmith by trade, asked the boy if he would like to attend Luther College. Olson was fourteen years old when he entered Luther College on September 2, 1886.

Years at Luther

Valedictorian at Luther in 1893, Olson went on to complete an M.A. at the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in English at the University of Chicago in 1914. Olson returned to Luther in 1901 to teach English. The first layman to become president of a major Lutheran college, Oscar L. Olson was chosen to fill the position left by the death of C. K. Preus in 1921. During his presidency (1921-1932), expansion of the grounds continued the process begun by his predecessor. 1926 saw the addition of the C.K. Preus Gymnasium to the campus and acquisition of the Frank Jewell farm on the edge of the college. Nustad Field was dedicated in 1931. Hardships also came with the presidency as Olson had to cope with the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Enrollment began to fall because of the Depression and the college fell into serious debt as the endowment failed to keep pace with expenses. Olson advocated a change away from the classics curriculum to one of liberal arts and the admission of women to attract more students and funds to Luther. The curriculum change was approved, but not the admission of women. In 1932, with a college debt of $218,000, Olson was asked to resign. He continued to teach English at the college until retiring in 1952. His fifty-one year teaching career at Luther is both a record and a testament of his loyalty to the college.

After Luther

In 1955, the new men’s dormitory was named in his honor. Olson passed away on November 19, 1956.

Other Information

Olson married Clara Gullixson of Bode, Iowa. They had two sons.

During Homecoming on October 12, 1951, he was given an honorary Doctor of Letters.

Resources in the Luther College Archives

  • Luther College 1861-1961 by David T. Nelson

Works Referenced

  • Nelson, David T., Luther College 1861-1961, Luther College Press, Decorah: 1961.
  • Who's Who in the Luther College Archives

External Resources