July 25, 2014
Four years after Emma Thorsen and her family departed Copenhagen for Chicago – eventually becoming one of the founders of The Danish Home of Chicago in 1891- another young woman living in Orup, Denmark (50 miles SW of Copenhagen) was preparing her family for a similar move, and a comparable influence on Danish culture in the US.
In 1873, Christine Hemmingsen, along with her husband and 3 surviving children, made the 4,000 mile trip from Orup to Negaunee, Michigan. Perhaps the Hemmingsens were enticed by the chance at prosperity from the Michigan Copper Boom that had begun in the early 1840s, producing more mineral wealth than the California Gold Rush. Possibly they were attracted by the advertisements of free land for farming and jobs for mining from the US government and recruiters overseas. Maybe they were just simply looking for new opportunities. What is known with certainty is that, like Emma Thorsen, Christine Hemmingsen would go on to make a great impact on Danish-American culture, an impact that is still felt with great significance today.
Just ten years after her move to the US, impacted by a friend’s passing and the subsequent burden of cost for the family, and inspired by The Danish Brotherhood of America (formed in Omaha, NE in 1881), Christine and ten fellow women formally organized a funeral benefit society they named DANSK SØSTER SAMFUND (Danish Sister Society, later known as The Danish Sisterhood of America, or DSS). The purpose of this group was forged on compassion and kindness to help others when it was needed – whether in the US or their home country.
Sadly, not even a year after the Danish Sister Society was founded Christine passed away during child birth. Her family was the first to receive benefits from the organization. She was buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Negaunee, Michigan where on August 24th 1917 a monument was erected in her honor by the sisterhood that she had started.
Thankfully, through the effort of many dedicated people the organization flourished. In 1887 they held their first Convention, and by 1910 it had grown to 119 lodges, totaling 6,000 members. In 1976 Queen Margrethe was awarded an Honorary Membership in the Supreme Lodge of the Danish Sisterhood. The eighteenth national convention in 1983 marked the 100th Anniversary of the DSS, and members celebrated this crowning achievement across the United States and Canada.
With over 2,000 members it is the largest organization of Danish women in North America. Today, their mission is to “strengthen, maintain and preserve the Danish heritage and traditions for future generations,” and they do so in many different ways. There are some 52 lodges still active in 17 states and Canada. As described on their website, “a lodge provides socialization with other men and women interested in Denmark and the chance to learn more about Danish customs and traditions.” For those who cannot attend or do not have a local lodge, they also offer Tivoli Lodge #300, a virtual lodge experience. The DSS also distributes a monthly newsletter called The Danish Sisterhood News, and an online blog to “learn and share Danish traditions and cultural values.”
The similarities between Emma Thorsen’s life and Christine Hemmingsen’s are quite remarkable. Both of these compassionate Danish visionaries had the foresight to unify not just women, but eventually people from all backgrounds. They both left a lasting legacy that continues to touch people and live on today through their wonderful organizations.
You can read more about how meaningful the DSS is to one particular family, who are also close friends of The Danish Home of Chicago, here.