Clara Duea (1901-1965)

Clara DueaClara Duea taught music classes and directed musical groups at Concordia for nearly two decades.  In 1927, she established Concordia’s Music Club, which performed and sponsored the first Christmas Concert, a tradition that continues at the college.

On December 12, 1901, Clara Bensina Duea was born in Ihlen, Minnesota.   Her parents, Inger Christina and Joseph, were of the first generation born in the United States to Norwegian immigrants. When Clara was a child, the Duea family moved from Minnesota to South Dakota before eventually settling down in Steele, North Dakota. Clara lived with her family until moving away to attend college at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota. [1]

Encouraged by her parents, Duea was a successful student. In 1921, Duea along with Klara Overby were the first females to join the St. Olaf Band.  Duea graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from St. Olaf College in 1923. She also continued her education, attending, the Gunn School of Music (Chicago) in 1926 and studying with Howard Wells in 1927 and 1929. [2]

Duea taught in the music department of Concordia College from 1926 through 1945. It was not unusual for women to be teaching in the field of music at this time; in fact, this was a growing trend at the turn of the twentieth century.  Still, women faculty faced many challenges compared to their male colleagues. One common disadvantage to women was the perceived gender roles within music departments. Men were often assigned to work with the band or direct choruses whereas women faculty generally oversaw the teaching and grading of students.   Duea fits the mold of these gender stereotyped positions in that she mainly taught piano and music theory.  Women were thought to be particularly suited to teaching music, as they were supposed to to have patience, sympathy, and social grace.  Still, Duea was in charge of directing the second choir at Concordia and her presence was impactful for students, especially outside the classroom. [3]

Duea was an active faculty member on campus. She was a member of the Women’s League, a social and philanthropic group of female faculty and faculty wives at the college that raised funds for student scholarships and campus furnishings.  She also conducted many ensembles on campus, including a Concordia chorus, a male quartet and female sextets. The Concordia chorus performed in school musicals directed by Duea, such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. Musicals were popular at the college and helped attract music students to Concordia. [4] 

In her second year of teaching, Duea founded the Concordia Music Club. The group had a twofold strategy for promoting appreciation of quality music in the community. This was accomplished first by the study of music for students in topics such as celebrated composers.  This was coupled with music appreciation for the community by an annual event. The Music Club performed and sponsored the first Concordia Christmas concert, which is an important tradition of the college to this day. The first concert was held in the Old Main Chapel. In 1928, the Christmas concert venue moved to local churches  to accommodate the growing number of attendees, and then to the Moorhead Armory in 1943. It returned to campus in 1952 when Memorial Auditorium was completed.  By 2015 Concordia held six performances, including two at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. [5]

In 1935 the honor society Mu Phi Epsilon was formed with Duea as the faculty advisor. Mu Phi Epsilon provided scholarships to students with outstanding musicianship. The group financially supported music events on campus and often played for the Veteran’s Hospital nearby. [6] 

On August 2, 1945 Duea married Louis A. Benson and left Concordia.  She died in Los Angeles, California in the spring of 1965. [7]

Authors: Hanna Wallmow and Hans Frank

[1] Ancestry, “Duea Family Tree,” accessed Jan. 30, 2016,
[2] “About the St. Olaf Band,” accessed Feb. 6, 2016,; “North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools,” Clara Duea, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives.
[3] Rachel Lumsden, "Women's Leadership in Western Music since 1800," in Gender and Women's Leadership: A Reference Handbook, ed. Karen O’Connor 917-925. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2010) 917-925, doi: 10.4135/9781412979344.n95; Christine Ammer, Unsung: A HIstory of Women in American Music (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1980), 225.
[4] Cobber, (Moorhead: Concordia College, 1932,) 115; “Concordia Women Build Scholarship Loan Fund,” January 28, 1940, Fargo Forum,  Women’s League, Topical Files Collection, Concordia College Archives;  “North Hall,”Concordia Memory Project, accessed Feb. 3, 2016,
[5] “History of Concordia’s Christmas Concerts,” last modified in 2009, accessed Feb. 10, 2016,; Cobber, (Moorhead: Concordia College, 1932,) 182.
[6] Erling Nicolai Rolfsrud, Cobber Chronicle (Moorhead, MN: Concordia College, 1974), 168-169.
[7] MooseRoots, “Clara Duea Marriage and Divorce Records,” accessed Jan. 27, 2016,; Ancestry, “Duea Family Tree,” accessed Jan. 30, 2016,