Emma Thorsen – “The Mother of The Home”

 

Emma Bloch was born in 1832 in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 1856 she met and married brewery owner Jens Thorsen (later to become known as James). On July 20th, 1869, with 5 children in tow, The Thorsen family moved to Chicago, in search of their American Dream. Twenty-two years later, at the age of 59, Emma and 11 fellow women met to organize Foreningen for Opforelse at et Dasnke Alderdomshjem i Chicago (‘The Society for the building of a Danish Old Peoples’ Home in Chicago), which would become The Society for The Danish Old People’s Home.  125 years later it is known as The Danish Home of Chicago.

Steadfast and determined to work for the cause, yet devoted and sympathetic to others, Emma was inspired to one day be a “voice for senior care”. Motivated by her Danish culture, she believed that the elderly deserved a place to call ‘home’, even during a time when this idea was disregarded.  She was faithful to preserving Danish customs and traditions, and often urged her great-granddaughter (who she sometimes viewed too carefree) to follow in her footsteps.

Mrs. Margrethe Olsen – “The Fundraiser”

She was born in 1839 in Denmark and moved to the US as a young teenager. She came from an affluent Danish family and married a prosperous Chicago businessman. She was a very successful philanthropist and worked very hard to raise money for causes she deemed significant, including The Home. Unlike the traditional Danish stereotype, she was very chatty, loved reading women’s journals (her favorite being the popular Woman), keeping in-the-know about neighborhood gossip, and often had the newest fashions. She wasn’t very domestic but was very interested in social trends (to the dismay of Emma!). However, she never forgot the goal at heart.

Miss Mary Thorsen – “The Compassionate Rebel”

Born in Chicago in 1873, Emma and James’ granddaughter (named after her Aunt Mary) was the first generation of her family to be born in America. She was fiercely independent, headstrong and somewhat rebellious for the time, much to her Mormor Emma’s chagrin (but quite similar to her in personality!). She loved to travel and often did, visiting the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 and women’s suffrage demonstrations in New York – a movement she fought for. She also traveled abroad, including visiting Denmark to learn more about her own heritage. She pushed against traditional women’s roles for the time but also had a very strong bond with her Mormor Emma, admiring her greatly for her own vision for starting what would be The Danish Home of Chicago.

Mrs. Anna Mikkelsen – “The Domestic Maven”

Anna was born in Chicago in 1846 to Danish immigrants. Her parents taught her Danish traditions and instilled a great appreciation and admiration for her heritage. She was a very talented cook, baker, and creator, specializing in age-old Danish family recipes handed down generations and taught to her by her own mother. She often shared recipes and cooked/baked for friends and neighbors, making every occasion a fabulous success! She also kept a beautiful home and the women often met there to discuss their budding foundation and plans. She was the most light-hearted and whimsical of the group, always seeming to find humor in any situation, and would share a recipe or two to lighten the mood.

Mr. James Thorsen – “The Quiet Supporter”

 

Born in Schlesin, Holstein Denmark (now a part of Germany) as Jens Thorsen in 1825, he was known for being of strong moral character and respected by all who knew him. He was adventurous in his youth, traveling to California at 19 and eventually owning a gold mine. In 1854 he returned to Copenhagen, and that is where he met and married his love, Emma Bloch. They moved with their family to Chicago in 1856. He had immense adoration for Emma and respected her ambition to start a home for elderly Danes. Depending on the day he could be the devil’s advocate, the mediator, or the voice of reason. However, the 12 founding women of Foreningen for et Danske Alderdomshjem i Chicago (The Society for a Danish Old People’s Home in Chicago) could not have had a better advocate. Apropos of nothing, he was a man ahead of his time.