THE DANISH SISTERHOOD OF AMERICA
DSS Founder's History Revealed
Excerpts from our founder Christine Hemmingsen's
Translation by Lizette Burtis
During the National Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 2003 I was given, as a loan, the diary of Niels Hemmingsen who was married to our founder Christine Hemmingsen for almost 23 years. I would like to thank Loraine Letho from Lodge #1 in Negaunee Michigan for letting me borough this very import historical book. It will be copied in its entirety and kept as part of our historical records. This book which is written in Danish has been a fascinating read and I would like to share with you what I have leaned about our founder Christine Hemmingsen, her life in Denmark, the decision to immigrate to America and the establishment of our Sisterhood.
Niels & Christine came from very similar backgrounds, they grew up and lived in a small town called Vallebo, which is located south of Copenhagen near the cities of Præstø and Fakse. Both Niels & Christine's parents were farmers and in those days people did not own their land it was leased for a lifetime from landlords. Besides being a farmer Niels's father also worked as a veterinarian. He died at the age of 48 when Niels was only 9 years old. It was never quite clear what took his life, he woke up one morning, left the house dressed in only a nightshirt and walked in the direction of the center of town. Niels's two sisters' ran after their father and tried to convince him to come home but was unable to reason with their Dad. Almost half way through to town he suddenly turned around went back home got back into bed and died 2 days later.
As a young man Niels decided to become a blacksmith and began an apprenticeship in Vallebo but after a short period of time, due to his health, he was forced to give up this kind of work. A few months after he started his apprenticeship he developed a sickness in his chest (bryst syge) and the doctor told him to stop the work immediately. Between the end of his apprenticeship and until he married Christine he worked for several farmers, moved back home and worked on his mother's farm, tried to learn the craft of making cloggs (the famous Danish footwear) and even considered being a dance teacher. He loved to dance and was quite good at it. By the time he married Christine he was very ready for married life and the stability it provided. He was tired of moving from place to place and had a true need for settling down.
At the age of 25 Niels married Christine on November 5, 1861 and moved into her father's farm and took over the lease and the responsibilities of the farm. In return Niels & Christine made a promise to take care of Christine's father for the rest of his life, a common thing in those days. Niels also had to settle inheritance issues with Christine's siblings and on top of that the landlord increased the yearly taxes so it was not a cheap affair to get married but as Niels said: "It is all well worth it as long as I get Christine and a home of our own". The main house and out buildings on the land was in terrible shape so right after the wedding Niels started to collect materials for the renovation and did all the work himself. During the time of their marriage in Denmark they had 4 children. In February 1863 their first son Hans Christian was born and 2 years later in February of 1865 their first daughter Maria arrived. February 1868 second daughter Lisbeth was born but died a year later of whooping cough. Second son Jørgen was born in December, 1871.
In the diary there is a section Niels calls America Fever. Due to lack of work and changes in general in Denmark many people from Niels & Christine's area immigrated to America and in their writings back to Denmark they described America as a true paradise. Both Niels and Christine got caught in this excitement and decided to immigrate. They got themselves into a deal with a friend from their neighborhood who was willing to buy their house. Niels went to an official (probably a representative for the landlord) and asked him if it would be okay to sell the house to his friend. The representative said to Niels: "What are you guys doing running around selling and buying a house you don't even own." After Niels told him about the immigration to America the representative said: " Well, I assume that Johan Hyltenberg (an old neighbor of Niels & Christine) has written to you from America and told you that in America cooked birds will fly into your mouth if you open it wide enough." To this statement Niels had to agree.
The representative agreed to talk to the landlord about Niels' situation and told Niels to come back in a couple of days. Interestingly enough the landlord agreed to let Niels sell his house for 800 Daler (an old Danish Currency). Shortly after selling the house Niels & Christine had an auction (garage sale) and sold personal effects for 200 Daler so with 1000 Daler in their pocket they started their journey to a new life the America.
On August 1st 1873 they boarded a ship to America and at that time their 3 children were 10, 8 and almost 2 years old. They arrived in New York on the 19th on August 29th they arrived in Negaunee Michigan where they settled and on September 18th they started to build their own house.
After the arrival in the US their son Jens Peter was born in 1876. Two years later Christine gave birth to a stillborn girl and in 1881 their son Albert came along.
The Establishment of The Danish Sisterhood of America
In December of 1883 lodge #1 of the Danish Sisterhood was established in Negaunee, Michigan. In Niels's own words this is what he wrote in his diary: " I'm convinced that had it not been for Christine the establishment of the Danish Sisterhood of America would not have taken place at that time. It was me that did it in her name and I was very happy I could do something like this for her, which elevated her to the honor of carrying the title as the founder of The Danish Sisterhood of America. Strangely enough she was the first member who died and I became the first to receive benefits from the Sisterhood. August 24th 1884 Christine gave birth to a stillborn son that cost my wife her life. It was the hardest day in my life and a big loss for me. She was a loyal and loving wife occupying a place in my life no one else can fill, just as a caring and friendly mother is irreplaceable. We were married for almost 23 years and had 8 children together. She is buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Negaunee. I had her grave fenced in and painted white. During the first part of July 1885 I went to Green Bay, Wisconsin where I purchased a gravestone for my wife and had it placed on her grave in the beginning of August 1885. There is a mistake on the stone. It is stated that she died August 1885, it should have been 1884."
Upon Christine's death the oldest son Hans Christian was 21, daughter Maria was 19. The 3 younger sons were 13 (Jorgen) , 9 (Jens Peter) and 3 (Albert).
During Niels's trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1885 Niels met his second wife Ane Marie who was also a Danish immigrant and a widow with 2 daughters. The last entry of the diary is September 1913 Niels was then 77 years old.