Darjeeling chapter celebrating May 17 in 1928.
In December 1906, a circular was distributed along with the Norwegian economic weekly Farmand, with an invitation to form a federation. It included an introduction by Nobel Prize laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The appeal quickly had an effect. Nordmanns-Forbundet was officially organized on June 21, 1907 at St. Hanshaugen restaurant in Oslo. The new organization, and its purpose of uniting friends of Norway throughout the world, had the immediate support of Norwegian women and men from all walks of life.
The organization was to encompass Norwegians wherever they might find themselves in the world. Those were dramatic times. Norway had just cut itself loose from the union with Sweden and elected its own king. Many Norwegians had emigrated, especially to America, and there was a strong desire by those who had stayed home to keep these emigrants in touch with their homeland. Nordmanns-Forbundet/Norwegians Worldwide has been serving as that link ever since.
A Greater Norway
In its initial issue in October 1907, Nordmanns-Forbundet identified the main purpose for the newly formed organization. “To feel part of a higher unity, to become part of each other’s circumstances, give impulses and exchange experiences.” The concept of a “greater Norway” appeared regularly in the publications. A Norwegian cultural agenda was set from the start.
Major personalities in Norwegian society have been connected to Norwegians Worldwide from the start. Carl Christian Berner (1841-1918) was president of the Storting and played a key role in the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. Berner was Norwegians Worldwide’s first president, until 1915.
The link between Norway and the USA was strong right from the beginning in this organization. A Norwegian America, a popular concept of the Norwegian immigrant culture, blossomed between 1895 and 1925. Norwegians Worldwide has always had close contact with “Norwegian America” as well as Norwegian “colonies” in other countries around the world.
From the beginning the organization was granted royal patronage, continuing up until today, and was renewed in 2016 for another five years. It began with King Haakon, continued with King Olav, and now King Harald.
First Rough Patch
In 1919 the organization experienced a decline in membership. Editor and Secretary General Hammer resigned, leaving the position open for nearly a year. In September 1923, the entire staff was dismissed.
Back in 1911 Ludvig Saxe had set out on a global excursion to visit Norwegians “under distant skies” (under fjerne himmelstrøk). His travels laid the foundation for his service as longtime editor, starting in January 1924. This marked better times for the organization.
The Nazis invaded Norway in 1940 and occupied the land for five long years. President C. J. Hambro was evacuated along with the royal family and the government. Local chapters in the United States and prominent Norwegian-Americans strongly encouraged Hambro, as reported in the December 1941 issue of the journal, to establish “Nordmanns-Forbundet’s office and publish the journal in a land where it was possible to work for Norwegian interests and where those who were responsible for Nordmanns-Forbundet could attend to the mission where there was law and order.”
Patriotic Cover: An extended publication was released May 17th 1944, with greetings from King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav and President Franklin Roosevelt, as well as five American governors of Norwegian descent.
The board operated from the United States and consisted of Nobel Prize laureate Sigrid Undset, C.J. Hambro, Lars Christensen, Einar Johansen, Leif T. Gulbrandsen, Edvard Hambro, Halvdan Koht and Jacob S. Worm-Muller.
The Language Issue
In the postwar years there was a rapid increase in local federation chapters outside Norway. Many of the new members outside Norway were of the post-emigration generation and hadn’t learned the Norwegian language. The language issue consequently became more urgent; to publish in English or Norwegian? The solution was the launch of The Norseman in 1964. The aim was to present Norway to the outside world. Its motto, Hambro declared in his initial editorial column, was “not to glorify but to inform.”
It was met with success. At the end of 1970, the editor stated: “This only English-language review of of Norwegian affairs has a truly worldwide distribution – there are subscribers on every continent.”
One Hundred Years
His Majesty King Harald V was the guest of honor at the 100th anniversary celebration held on June 21, 2007 in Oslo City Hall. More than 800 people attended the centennial festivity.