Ingrid – October 9, 2017
October is National Women’s Small Business Month. How fitting, when you consider that 125 years ago, my great-great-great-grandmother, Olivia Rose (I call her “GiGi” because of all those “greats” connecting her to me), and 11 of her fellow Danish-American women founded The Danish Home. In their time, widespread recognition of women’s achievements would have been unheard of, and I doubt seriously they were looking for a pat on the back anyway. Yet, I can’t help but feel immensely proud of GiGi and the other pioneering founders for their great achievement.
Today, there are over 11 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. In the past 10 years, female majority-owned businesses have grown from 29% to 38%. I am reminded of Sonja Winther (pictured above), the owner of Chantelle, one of the world’s most successful lingerie companies, who spoke at The Danish Home’s 125th anniversary kick-off luncheon in April.
In GiGi’s day, women couldn’t even vote, and if they were married, they were almost always identified by their husband’s name…Mrs. Hans Hansen, for example, with no mention of their first or maiden names.
Hans Hansen brings me to an extraordinary experience that I’m very excited to tell you about. I had the privilege and pleasure of attending a portion of the Danish American Heritage Society’s annual conference this past weekend, held at the Hyatt in Schaumburg. Entitled “A Blending of Cultures: Danish-American Fusion,” the well-attended, three-day conference delved into various and fascinating aspects of Danish-American society.
Where does Hans Hansen come in, you ask? One of the sessions I attended was about immigration from Ærø Island in Denmark to Shelby and Audubon Counties in Iowa. It was cleverly titled “How Many Hans Hansens Were There?” (There were a lot!) I loved this presentation, because not only was it personal to the presenter’s own family and heritage, it also taught me about Danish surname etymology.
I knew that “sen” meant “son of,” but I did not know that a boy’s surname was different from his father’s. As a discussion of Danish naming traditions explains: “Let us start with a man named Jens Pedersen. The sons of Jens Pedersen would have the ‘last’ name (or sometimes ‘middle’ name) of Jensen, not Pedersen. Now, say one of Jens’ sons was named Hans. The sons of Hans Jensen would have the ‘last’ name of Hansen, not Jensen.”
I’m sure many of you readers already know about Danish names, but this was news to me! I am already, yet only, 29 years old and clearly have much to learn about my heritage. Wait till I tell Lindsay’s grandfather (“Farfar”) at The Danish Home about my ignorance on this topic. He’ll probably scold me with those sparkling blue eyes of his!
Another session at the conference featured The Danish Home’s own president and CEO, Scott Swanson, on culturally centered senior communities. I took some video of his presentation, which clearly shows Scott’s love for and pride in The Danish Home and its rich legacy of genuine care and commitment to residents. I can’t wait to edit and include it in a future Hope Chest post – stay tuned!
Some academic types at the conference – professors and Ph.D. candidates – reminded me of my college days, as their presentations focused on the high-level, existential musings of the great Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. I consider myself pretty deep, but some quotations from Kierkegaard’s book, The Sickness unto Death, made me scratch my head.
Another session focused on the venerable author Karen Blixen (pen-named Isak Dinesen) and her mutually inspired connection with the German-born American author and political theorist Hannah Arendt. The focus on their strong voices reminds me again of what our country is celebrating this month: women leaders.
The final session I attended was a joy for everyone in the audience, as evidenced by the enthusiastic applause and many questions at its end. It featured the world premiere of one of the segments of The Pursuit of Happiness, a series of new television films about Danish immigration to the U.S., based on Ole Sønnichsen’s two-volume work, Rejsen til Amerika (The Voyage to America).
Sønnichsen was there to talk and answer questions, as were film collaborators Lars Feldballe Petersen, Nils Jensen and John Mark Nielsen. A principal subject of the film, the Danish-American great-grandson of a man who moved himself and his family from Denmark to the barren plains of Nebraska, was also in attendance. This was the first time he’d seen the film and was clearly moved by the tale of his ancestors’ courageous, yet necessary, move to a new world. These films are scheduled to be aired on Danish television, but the filmmakers are also hoping to find an American station to air them here in the U.S.
This wonderful conference experience opened my eyes to so much about my Danish-American heritage. I just want to dig deeper and deeper into it, and I can’t wait to tell Farfar all I’ve learned! But, most of all, I have a whole new respect for what it must have taken for the founders of The Danish Home, women living in a time that relegated them to circumstances well out of sight, to accomplish what they did.
This month, as we celebrate women small business owners, let’s also honor the stalwart female founders of The Danish Home, who got it off the ground and into living history.