Emma Norbryhn did not hold the rank of professor, but that did not stop her from being one of the most influential women on Concordia College’s campus for 40 years.
She began her tenure at the college in 1908 and is credited with the creation of the French department and the immense growth of all language departments at the time. She was not only active in the classroom but also in extracurricular activities both on and off campus.
Norbryhn was born in Norway on June 30, 1877, and immigrated to the United States in 1882 when she was still a child. By 1901, she was attending the Concordia Academy as a student. She graduated from the academy two years later as valedictorian, having completed the Normal Course. She continued her studies at the Concordia Academy, where she taught grammar and arithmetic while also completing the Classical Course. She then attended St. Olaf College and returned to Concordia in 1908 to teach full time at her alma mater.
At the time that Norbryhn returned to Concordia, there was one other teacher of languages. Her first years at Concordia were spent teaching Latin and Greek, but in 1910 she developed an English course for Norwegian immigrants to help them learn English. This class was so successful that by 1912 the college also assigned instruction of Norwegian to her. Her natural fluency in the language aided in this decision. She was in charge of teaching Latin, Greek, and Norwegian until 1916 when she organized the first French department. She had gathered the interest of 20 students and convinced the college to allow her to include French in the language program. French was not the only language that Norbryhn was assigned to teach that year. In 1916, she was assigned to also teach German.
While not every language was taught every year and she did have the aid of other professors, Latin, Greek, German, Norwegian and French were primarily her responsibilities. During the 1917-18 academic year, German and French were of greatest concern. She reported that class sizes for French and German tripled at the beginning of that year as the United States entered World War I. The classes grew to include overwhelming numbers of male students as they attempted to learn some of the languages they would need to know when they enlisted and deployed. Norbryhn continued to teach all five languages until she retired in 1948 after 40 years of service to the college. At the time of her retirement, she had been the longest serving instructor at the college and one of the most beloved. To her students, Norbryhn was a strong and encouraging figure. Some of her most given advice was to “encourage the decision, of a singleness of purpose in life and the concentration of energies toward that goal, not letting outside influences be of hindrance to that attainment.” (Concordian, 1929-03-27).
Teaching in a classroom was not the only way that Norbryhn spent her time. She was a woman of many hobbies and activities. She recommended the motto “so run that ye might obtain” to the commencement class of 1917. She was a charter member of the Concordia Women’s League, even its president for a time, and aided in their efforts to assist the students of Concordia during the Great Depression. She was a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church. When she was not teaching or spending time at her church, it was common to see her with one or two of her good friends, her dog, and a fishing pole on her way to find good fishing and do some bird watching. Fishing and horticulture were well known to be two of her favorite pastimes.
Norbryhn lived to the age 100, passing away on Aug. 4, 1977.
Contributed by Allison Cassell, archives associate, Concordia College Archives