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Waerenskjold, Elise Amalie Tvede (1815–1895)

Crystal Sasse Ragsdale Biography Entry

Elise Amalie Tvede Wærenskjold, teacher and writer, was born on February 19, 1815, in Dypvåg parsonage, Kristiansand diocese, Norway, the daughter of Lutheran minister Nicolai (Niels) Seiersløv and Johanne Elisabeth (Meldahl) Tvede, both of whose families were Danish-born patriots of the newly formed independent country of Norway. She was educated at home by private tutors, and at nineteen she became a teacher, a rare step for a woman at that time. In Norway she is still remembered as a woman leader (foregangskvinne). After teaching in Tønsberg she went to Lillesand and opened a handicraft school for girls which, though denied public funds, remained open until after 1845. In 1839 she married a young sea captain, Svend Foyn, who would later become the founder of Norway's whaling industry; he was a powerful and wealthy figure in modern Norwegian history. The marriage, which began without the customary reading of banns, ended in an amicable separation in 1842; the couple maintained a friendship throughout their long lives. Elise assumed her maiden name, signing E. Tvede to the articles on temperance she had begun to write. No doubt influenced by her father's stand for temperance, she became involved in the movement and in 1843 published a pamphlet on the evil effects of the use of brandy.

When Christian and Johan Reinert Reiersen immigrated to Texas, she assumed the editorship of their magazine Norge og Amerika, a position which she held from 1846 until she herself immigrated to Texas in 1847. She joined Reiersen's colony of Normandy in October 1847 and on September 10, 1848, married Danish-Norwegian Wilhelm Wærenskjold, even though her formal divorce was not granted until January 10, 1849. The Wærenskjolds acquired rights to a square mile of land at Four Mile Prairie, Van Zandt County, where a number of Norwegians had settled, and expected to raise cattle. However, the Civil War ended their plans, and Wilhelm went into milling, farming, and contracting. During the 1850s their three sons were born. The couple took an active part in the life of the Norwegian community, in the affairs of the Lutheran church, and in the temperance movement among the settlers (see PROHIBITION). In January 1866 their youngest son died, and in November of the same year Wilhelm was murdered.

Through the hard years of drought, plagues of insects, and poverty on her farm, Elise Wærenskjold sold magazine subscriptions, books, and garden seeds, and she taught school. Then, at long last, she asked for and received financial aid from her former husband, Foyn. Her numerous letters from the late 1840s through the mid-1890s remain an invaluable source of information on Norwegian immigrant life in Texas. She maintained a lively interest in current European literature, subscribed to Norwegian, German, and English newspapers, and in her letters home constantly requested books. She wrote for Norwegian publications, defended the Norwegian settlements against detractors, and later wrote of the settlers themselves and their descendants. She steadfastly held to her early belief in freedom for women; however, except for her opposition to slavery before the Civil War, she had little interest in American politics. She died on January 22, 1895, at the home of her eldest son, Otto Wærenskjold, in Hamilton, Texas, after having lived at Four Mile Prairie for forty-six years.

Theodore C. Blegen, Land of Their Choice: The Immigrants Write Home (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955). C. A. Clausen, ed., The Lady with the Pen: Elise Wærenskjold in Texas (Northfield, Minnesota: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1961; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1979). Philip D. Jordan, "J. Tolmer-Spurious Traveler," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 65 (April 1962). Estelle G. Nelson, A First Lady of Texas (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Our Lutheran Heritage, 1943). Carlton C. Qualey, Norwegian Settlement in the United States (Northfield, Minnesota: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1938). Charles H. Russell, Light on the Prairie (Houston: Shining Brightly Books, 2010). Charles H. Russell, Undaunted: A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006). University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, The Norwegian Texans (San Antonio: Encino, 1970).


  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Peoples
  • Norwegians
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Authors and Writers
  • Education
  • Women
  • Literature
  • Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Pioneers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, “Waerenskjold, Elise Amalie Tvede,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 06, 2021,

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