the friends: seminary partners throughout history
Since the early days of Luther Seminary’s predecessors, philanthropic and hospitality organizations have fostered community and provided for the needs of future pastors. Today, the FRIENDS of Luther Seminary manage these responsibilities. The history of their contributions stretches back over a century, finding root in the sometimes unsung labors of wives of pastors and faculty.
This work began in the mid-1800s with women like Valborg Weenaas. She tirelessly ran a household for students of a Marshall, Wisc. seminary that would later move to the Twin Cities and become Augsburg Seminary. Weenaas, the wife of the school’s first president, took on duties like cooking and cleaning herself. Years later, at the seminary’s 50th anniversary celebration, Pastor Johan A. Bergh credited her with the survival of the school.
As the 20th century approached, women like Weenaas would later mobilize to contribute to seminaries in groups. The Hauge Synod’s Mission Dove Society was one of the first such organizations on a national scale. The Mission Dove was led by Hannah Rorem Ronning, a missionary’s wife. As part of the ELC, the group built financial support for both missions and apartments for missionaries on furlough. Building these apartments for missionaries allowed them to increase ties with seminaries, which proved vital for future partnerships between the two.
These types of women’s groups continued into the 1950s, as the faculty and student body grew following the end of World War II. The growth meant that these women’s groups needed a more formal structure for meeting.
In the early 1960s, the Student Wives organization of Luther Seminary gathered in the new Ladies Lounge in Bøckman Hall. During their first meeting, minutes show that they had devotions and a short program and chose a chair and co-chair. They would go on to meet six times a year and organize three events: a fall kickoff, a Christmas party and a spring event. Offerings from the group’s events would fund enhancements to the seminary’s facilities and provide for amenities.
As more women started entering the workforce in the late 1960s and early 1970s, regular meetings became a challenge. In the 1970s, women associated with the seminary experienced more changes when the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America approved ordination for both genders. Because of time constraints women faced with their growing professional responsibilities, a new model was required for women’s organizations.
During the 1970s, the women’s group at Luther Seminary experimented with different structures. They broadened membership to include all wives of faculty, administration and students and involved volunteers with organization activity. Despite these changes, attendance at meetings remained low.
Along with the 1976 merger of Luther Theological Seminary and Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary, faculty wives from both schools similarly joined together to create one group, which lasted through the 1980s. It was during this time that Singing the Faith and the Spring Luncheon became key projects for the women’s group. Those events continue today.
In 1989, the group changed its name to Luther Northwestern Friends and included both men and women as members. Now called the Luther Seminary FRIENDS, the organization raises money for scholarships, does volunteer work and leads special events. Members of the Friends continue the tradition of helping build community and providing much-needed financial support at Luther Seminary.
Source: “The Role of Women in Seminary Life” by Gracia Grindal, published in Thanksgiving and Hope, 1998.