Cathinka Guldberg (1840-1919)

Norwegian & American Women of Distinction

Cathinka Guldberg

Photo: Thea Nielsen / Nasjonalbiblioteket
A postcard using a portrait of Cathinka Guldberg circa 1915, wearing her Order of St. Olav medal. Guldberg was the first woman to receive the honor.

Karen Jones
Daughters of Norway

The development of nursing education in Norway is credited to nurse Cathinka Augusta Guldberg of Oslo. The eldest daughter of a parish priest and a mother who was affiliated with the first labor union in Norway, she was born on Jan. 3, 1840. When her mother died in 1854, Guldberg took on the responsibility of caring for her younger brothers and sister. This proved to instill her interest in helping people, especially the sick and poor who lived in her area of Oslo. She often went with her father to visit parishioners who were ill or in need of spiritual counseling.

Beginning about 1850, Norway was experiencing a spiritual awakening that sparked a desire in the people to reach out and help care for the sick and poor. Prior to this new social awakening, women would care for their own family members, but it wasn’t acceptable to care for or help others in their community. Norway did not have formal nursing education at that time, and soon religious leaders and groups saw the need to encourage this new social caring by making nursing education readily available for anyone who wanted to continue caring for their fellow neighbors.

One night as Guldberg was doing home visits with her father, she learned of a homeless woman who had been going door to door asking for shelter, but not finding any, had frozen to death in the snow. Guldberg was moved by this event to do something to further care for the ill and poor. After praying to be shown how she could be of service, she came across a leaflet for the Kaiserswerth, Germany, training school for nurses and deaconesses, and she left almost immediately to take her formal nurse’s training. Florence Nightingale had been a former student at this school.

After two years of training, she returned to Norway at age 28. There she established the Christiania Deaconess House (Diakonissehuset Christiania) and started Norway’s first professional nursing program. The school was first located at Grønland, but later (1887) moved to Lovisenberg in Oslo. The facility, now known as Lovisenberg Deaconess College (Lovisenberg diakonale høgskole), is still situated there. Between 1886 and 1904, Henrik Thrap-Meyer was hired as the architect in the development of the deaconess college in the district of St. Hanshaugen in Oslo.

Cathinka Guldberg was honored with the Order of St. Olav in 1915 at the age of 75. She died on Oct. 22, 1919, and was buried at Nordre gravlund in Oslo.

This article originally appeared in the November 30, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.