Undaunted: A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas

Undaunted: A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas

Undaunted: A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas

Undaunted: A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas


Elise Waerenskjold is known to fans of Texas women writers as "the lady with the pen," from the title of a book of her writings. writings.nbsp; A forward-looking journalist, she sent letters and articles back to Norway that encouraged others to follow her footsteps to Texas, where a small colony of Norwegian settlers were making a new life alongside-but distinct from-other European immigrants.

Undaunted is the first full biography of Waerenskjold during her Texas years, a life story that shows much about Texas, especially in the Norwegian colonies, from 1847 until near the end of the century. Moreover, it tells the story of a strong and independent thinker who championed women's rights, was pro-Union and against slavery (though her husband was in the Confederate army and was subsequently murdered in Reconstruction-era violence), and left an intriguing body of writing about life on the edges of Texas settlement.

Charles Russell's vivid account of Waerenskjold describes not only her influence among her countrymen but also her own life, which was a saga of considerable drama itself. It offers a clear and entertaining window onto immigrant life in Texas and the issues that shaped women's lives and elicited their talents in an earlier century.


What makes a modern saga? Consider the life of Elise Waerenskjold (Ayleesa Varenshul in her native Norwegian), who emigrated from Norway to Texas in 1847.

Sagas tell stories of real people turned into heroes, and Elise’s story fits with epic hero mythology: she answered a call to adventure, left her conventional world, went through ordeals, and in the end affirmed a truth as sweeping as it was beneficial. in Elise’s time women were tied to the home— children, kitchen, and church, an old saying goes—valued for their docility and domestic skills rather than for their intelligence. Her life foretold the future: women would leave the home, become wage earners, professionals, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and strong athletes—yet, firm in their new cosmos, would still create and sustain new life as they always had.

An early feminist, reform advocate, and writer, Elise left Norway a single woman, aged thirty-two, determined to explore the possibilities for independent being in a pioneer country. in Texas she settled into hardy livestock ranching, raising cattle, sheep, and hogs. Yet through the years she maintained an enthusiastic taste for literature and a regular production of letters (many placed in print by her friends) and articles written for newspapers.

She was born into the embets class, the privileged caste of governing administrators who ran Norway after the country was unified with Sweden in 1815 at the close of the Napoleonic wars. Her father, the Lutheran pastor Nicolai Tvede, held his post by royal appointment and performed civic functions in the Lillesand district of southern Norway. He maintained vital public records of baptisms, marriages, and funerals, supervised religious education—the central element of the school curriculum—and exercised influence in local initiatives, among them providing relief to the poor.

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