A GREAT DANISH AMERICAN BIRTHDAY: RASMUS MØLLER SØRENSEN
From: Wisconsin Magazine of History by William J. Orr
In the annals of American immigration history, Rasmus Sørensen is generally acknowledged to be the first and perhaps most influential promoter of Danish settlement in the United States. A religious revivalist, educational reformer, and democratic agitator whose career in Denmark repeatedly foundered in the face of public apathy, entrenched tradition, and, most of all, his own personal shortcomings, he came to view Wisconsin especially as the very embodiment of that broadly diffused prosperity, social equality, religious freedom, and democratic liberty that his own country so sorely lacked. First as a publicist, then as a settler, and finally as an emigration agent, he contributed, as few individuals have done, to the Danish influx to this state. His own life well reflects the economic distress, social tensions, and political frustrations that compelled so many other Danes to depart for foreign lands. And his endeavors demonstrate that, however important were the impersonal forces that impelled mass migrations, persuasive and forceful personalities could also play a decisive part.
Rasmus Møller Sørensen was born on March 8, 1799, of a well-to-do peasant family in Jelling, near Vejie in southeastern Jutland. Despite his humble origins he was blessed with alertness, intelligence, and the opportunity to become a schoolteacher, one of the few routes of social advancement open to the lower classes in Denmark during this era. Between 1816 and 1818 he attended the Vesterborg Seminary, which had been founded by enlightened aristocrats who aspired to transform rude peasant youths into loyal, dedicated teachers who would in turn elevate their less fortunate compatriots. Already, in the confines of this somewhat paternalistic institution, the young man showed something of that defiance which would be the hallmark of his entire subsequent career as his teachers chided him for "lack of modesty." After graduation, he accepted his first appointment in Aarhus, in his native Jutland, where he soon collided with the local clergy over the use of textbooks, a potentially damaging dispute from which he extricated himself in 1821 by taking a position at Brandstrup School in Lolland. In 1827, at the invitation of Count F.A. Holstein, one of Denmark's most renowned aristocratic reformers and Christian philanthropists, he accepted an appointment at Venslev School in Zealand, the principal Danish Isle. Here he was to remain until 1844 and gain general recognition as a tireless and dedicated, if not wholly innovative teacher.
Read more about Sørensen's emigration and life in Wisconsin in this article from the Wisconsin Magazine of History by William J. Orr -
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