When Pauline Gerhardine Fjelde immigrated to the United States in 1887, it is unlikely she had any idea the influence she and her siblings would have on the arts and culture in the American Midwest. A well trained and accomplished embroidress, Pauline and her sister younger Thomane established a needlework business in Minneapolis in 1890. The sisters filled embroidery orders for many of the Twin Cities’ most famous families, including the Pillsburys, Walkers and Lowrys, and later Pauline created banners for several local groups and regimental flags for the State of Minnesota.
Pauline and Thomane Fjelde are probably most famous for embroidering the prototype of the original Minnesota state flag. The flag, which was designed 35 years after statehood, was commissioned in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It won a gold medal for embroidery at the Fair and was used as the state flag until 1957.
In addition to her embroidery work, Pauline Fjelde was also a weaver. She learned Gobelin weaving, and in 1912 began a tapestry based on Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha.” Pauline worked on the tapestry for ten years before her health began to fail to the point where she realized she would be unable to complete the work, at which time she taught her sister how to finish the final border. Pauline died on December 23, 1923, at the age of 62.
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For those readers who are inclined to quick math, you may have calculated that the year of Pauline’s birth was 1861, which makes 2011 the 150th anniversary of her birth. As a member of local women’s group called the Daughters of Norway, I can tell you that the discovery of this historical year has been an exciting one.
The Daughters of Norway of the Midwest began in Minneapolis in 1897 and the Daughters of Norway of the Pacific Coast (DNPC) began in 1905, the same year Norway ended its union with Sweden. The Daughters of Norway in the Midwest merged with the Sons of Norway in 1950, but the DNPC remained active, changing its name to Daughters of Norway in 1956.
After 60 years of absence from Minnesota, however, interest in the Daughters of Norway reappeared in late 2009. Through the hard work of dedicated individuals in the Grand Lodge of the Daughters of Norway and enthusiastic Norwegian women in the Twin Cities, a new Daughters Lodge was born in September 2010.
As part of the mission of uniting women who wish to preserve Scandinavian heritage and history, each lodge of the Daughters of Norway is named after a famous Norwegian woman. As our lodge was going through the formation process, we became aware of Pauline Fjelde and were impressed with her contributions to the history of our state and her accomplishments in textiles, and thus choose her as our namesake.
Since learning of her birthday anniversary, we have been planning ways to celebrate throughout 2011. Our lodge will have a birthday party for Pauline at our monthly meeting in May, display a booth at Norway Day in July and hold a larger event in the fall which will be open to the entire community. We have also been lucky to meet several people who have admired Pauline for many years, including members of the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and Minneapolis City Council. At their meeting on May 13, the City Council adopted a resolution honoring Pauline. The text can be found on the Daughters of Norway, Twin Cities Facebook page. We say “Mange Takk!” to the City of Minneapolis for their support and recognition of this important woman!
For those interested in attending our community event in the fall, we encourage you to watch for details on the Events tab on our Facebook page. For women interested in membership in the Daughters of Norway, qualifications can be found online. You can contact Pauline Fjelde Lodge #51 directly at email@example.com.
Emily Barker is the Vice President of the Daughters of Norway, Pauline Fjelde Lodge #51.