Emma Norbryhn (1877-1977)

Emma NorbryhnEmma Norbryhn was a linguistically gifted woman who instructed a variety of language courses at Concordia.  During her lengthy teaching career she introduced new language courses and taught Norse, French, Latin, German, and Greek before retiring in 1948. At her retirement she held the title of longest term of service at the college. Today she is among a handful of Concordia faculty to reach the forty year mark.

Norbryhn was born in Tjøtta, Norway in 1877. She lived in Norway for the first five years of her life before immigrating with her parents, Lodver and Martha Norbryhn, to the United States. As a child Norbryhn attended schools in Moorhead, Minnesota as well as in Willow City, North Dakota.  She began her education at Concordia in 1901. Two years later she graduated from Concordia’s Normal Course as valedictorian.  She then stayed at Concordia teaching grammar and arithmetic while completing Concordia’s Classical Course. In 1905 Norbryhn also became the first editor of the new student-penned section of the Record (a college promotional publication).  Once she completed the Classical Course in 1905, Norbryhn attended college at St. Olaf where she received a bachelor’s degree in their classical program in 1908. [1]

Degree in hand, Norbryhn returned to Concordia College in 1908 as an instructor of language.  It was common in this era for women graduates of midwestern Lutheran colleges to return and teach at the institution from which they graduated; four of the first six women to graduate from St. Olaf College later taught at their alma mater.  Two years after Norbryhn began her career at Concordia she made her first important contribution to the college. Sensing a need, in 1910 she developed an English course to help the growing population of Norwegian-American students learn the language of their new homeland. Norbryhn also showed that same insight a few years later when she saw a large demand for a French class among male students. She organized a French department with a class of twenty students and watched the enrollment triple by 1918 in response to World War I. Many Cobber men of draft age enrolled in the course to prepare themselves for deployment. Norbryhn also remained active in the College’s literary pursuits, researching and editing the alumni section of the Crescent, Concordia’s first independent student publication, in 1915 and 1916. She also continued her education by taking courses at the University of Minnesota during the summers of 1914, 1917, and 1920.  Additionally, Norbryhn was a charter member of the Concordia Women's League, a group of Concordia female faculty and wives who raised money to be used for scholarships and loans for students until the 1980s. [2]

During her time spent teaching at the college, Miss Norbryhn lived in her childhood home, commonly referred to as “the old Norbryhn place.” Although she never married, she did not live alone; she shared her home with her good friends, the couple Andrew and Anna Axness who moved to the United States from Norway. In addition to her teaching responsibilities Miss Norbryhn kept busy with hobbies. During her life she was known to care for and look after a variety of animals including dogs, cats, and even cows. Norbryhn also had a passion for collecting dishware. [3]

Norbryhn was a member of Concordia’s faculty from 1908-1948, the longest term of service at the college at that time. Along with Norbryhn's contributions to Norse and French instruction, she also taught Latin, German, and Greek.  Her position as a female college language instructor is notable.  A scholar of Lutheran higher education notes that only “a few pioneer women graduates” taught in language fields in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the time of her retirement she held the position of assistant professor of French and German. After her retirement Norbryhn remained living in Moorhead. Eventually she moved into Eventide Lutheran Home where she lived to be 100 years old. She passed away August 3, 1977. [4]

Authors: Abigale Ullyott & Layne Cole

[1] Emma Norbryn, 6 July 1877, Norway Baptisms, 1634-1927, FHL microfilm 125, 100, FamilySearch.org (June 24, 2016); “Our Faculty One By One --Miss Emma Norbryhn,” Concordian, Mar. 27, 1929, 2; The Normal Course was designed to prepare students for teaching in common schools with a focus on the philosophy of education and practice of teaching. Concordia College, Concordia College Record (Moorhead, MN: Concordia College, 1909), 28; “Emma Norbryhn to Observe 100th Birthday with Friends,” Alumni News, Sept. 1977,10.  The Classical Course was designed to prepare students for professional school and the bachelor of arts degree in law, medicine, theology, etc., Concordia College Record, 26; Erling Rolfsrud, Cobber Chronicle (Brainerd, MN: Lakeland Color Press, 1966), 157;  Den Forenede Norsk-Lutherske Kirke i Amerika, Beretning (Minneapolis: den forenede norsk-lutherske Kirkes Trykkeri, 1908), 173.
[2] Richard W. Solberg, Lutheran Higher Education in North America (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1985), 277; “Miss Norbryn Ends 40 Years as Concordia Teacher,” Fargo Forum, 1948, Norbryhn, Emma, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives; Rolfsrud, Cobber Chronicle, 54.; on literary pursuits, see Crescent 6, no. 7 (Apr. 1915), 143 through 7, no. 6 (Mar. 1916), 168.  Concordia’s school publication the Crescent was first printed November, 1909, and ran through November 1920 when it was replaced by the current campus newspaper, the Concordian; “Emma Norbryhn to observe,” 10.
[3] “Emma Norbryhn to observe,” 10; Emma Norbryhn, United States Census, 1940, Ward 2, Moorhead, Moorhead City, Clay County, Minnesota, T627, roll 1914, sheet 16A, ED 14-30, FamilySearch.org, (June 24, 2016).
[4] “Miss Norbryhn Ends 40 Years,” Fargo Forum; Solberg, Lutheran Higher Education, 277; “Emma Norbryhn [obituary], Norbryhn, Emma, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives.