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Muus vs. Muus

Muus vs. Muus

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The Scandal That Shook Norwegian America

By Bodil Stenseth, edited and translated by Kari Lie Dorer, translated by Torild Homstad 

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 2024)

In1880s Minnesota a remarkable lawsuit posed questions about cultural practicesin an immigrant community and the rights of its members as Americans—inspiring a wide-reaching debate about faith and family.

Copublished with the Norwegian-American Historical Association on the occasion of St. Olaf College’s sesquicentennial, Muus v. Muus is the American edition of a volume originally published in Norway. Newly translated, this gripping narrative details a prominent nineteenth-century Lutheran couple’s separation, which signaled a cultural shift. Oline Muus was many things: a Norwegian immigrant, a pastor’s wife, a mother, and a valued member of her rural Minnesota congregation. But when she sued her husband to recoup her inheritance, she gained notoriety throughout Norwegian America and beyond. 

In the eyes of the Norwegian Synod she had erred by not bringing her complaint to the congregation first, and by refusing to defer completely to her husband. In her new home of America, the law regarding inheritance was on her side and the campaign of rights for women was gaining ground. Yet in her own congregation Oline Muus was literally not allowed to speak. 

The other half of the story, Pastor Bernt Muus, was acclaimed for his fiery sermons and his tireless recruitment efforts among the faithful, yet also known for his abrasiveness and overweening confidence. This riveting story looks beyond the case of Muus v. Muus to contextualize the arrival of Norwegians in Minnesota, conflicts among various Lutheran conferences, and questions of Americanization—introducing readers to compelling characters and the challenges that come from intertwined lives and conflicting worldviews. 

Author Information

Norwegian historian and writer Bodil Stenseth has a prolific authorship focusing on Norwegian and Western cultural history. For many years she was a regular columnist for the newspaper Klassekampen. Her most recent book, Antikvitetshandler Watchman: familien som ble borte (The Antique Dealer Watchman: The Family That Disappeared), is about the Jewish antiques dealer P. S. Watchman from Oslo and his family, who were killed in the Holocaust. She lives in Oslo.

Kari Lie Dorer holds the King Olav V Endowed Chair of Scandinavian-American Studies at St. Olaf College and is president of Norwegian Researchers and Teachers Association of North America (NORTANA). She is the coauthor of Sett i gang: An Introductory Norwegian Curriculum, the foundational Norwegian language text used by the majority of North American students of Norwegian. She is also the project leader for Godt i gang, a collaborative online intermediate and advanced curriculum. At St. Olaf College she teaches a wide variety of courses in Norwegian language, history, culture, and film. She lives in Minneapolis.

Torild Homstad is a translator and retired Norwegian teacher and administrator for the International Summer School at the University of Oslo. She holds a bachelor's degree from St. Olaf College and a master's degree and doctorate from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota.

  • Paperback
  • 368 pages
  • b&w photos
  • 9 in H | 6 in W
  • ISBN: 9781681342986

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