“Sisters Sail the Salish Sea”

Daughters of Norway Convention is a learning experience for cultural enrichment

Daughters of Norway Convention craft fair

Photo: Courtney Olsen
The Daughters of Norway Convention craft fair was filled with beautiful pieces of art, trinkets, apparel, and gifts. Diane Olsen was delighted by her purchases at the fair.

Assistant Editor
The Norwegian American

In a beautifully windowed convention center on the water in Bremerton, Wash., this July, the 56th Convention of the Grand Lodge, Daughters of Norway, under the theme “Sisters Sail the Salish Sea,” was called to order. With the Puget Sound glistening in the background, over 200 women from across the country met together for the first time in three years to celebrate their shared Norwegian heritage. 

The current Daughters of Norway organization has its roots in smaller cultural organizations for Norwegian immigrant women in the late 19th century. Through war, economic upheaval, and attempts to consolidate the women’s groups with the larger Sons of Norway lodges, the earlier organizations prevailed. In the 1950s, the groups across the United States came together to incorporate under Daughters of Norway of the Pacific Coast (renamed simply “Daughters of Norway” in 1956). The convention has been a staple element of Daughters of Norway governance from these early days and continues today as a biennial gathering of Daughters of Norway members across the country.

The conventions provide a place for women from Daughters of Norway lodges across the country to come together for business meetings and elections, cultural classes, and community building. And this year, the opportunity to gather in person was certainly a highlight. This convention was planned for last summer, but it had to be rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was clear that the ability to be together in person felt even more like a gift than ever before. I overheard one member say how grateful she was that the convention went ahead this year, as it was the first time that things felt normal to her in a long time.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend the convention to cover it for The Norwegian American. It was such a joy to see so many women gathered together in community around their shared heritage. There were so many hugs, laughs, and smiles over the course of the four-day convention, and it was clear the event is a special and beloved time for these women to get together and have fun while doing business. Plus, it was great to see so many bunads in one place—it was always easy to find who was there for the convention!

Courtney and Diane Olsen at the Daughters of Norway Convention

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Courtney Olsen and her mom, Diane Olsen, had a wonderful time attending the convention together.

Embracing and learning about heritage

Part of the fun for attendees comes from learning more about their heritage. On the first full day of the convention, attendees had the opportunity to attend a variety of cultural classes. Offerings ranged from crafting classes like Hardanger embroidery, needle-felting, rosemaling, and jewelry-making to musical classes like Scandinavian Walz and Sangdans (Song Dance), and from genealogy to language to history. 

“My favorite part of this convention were the classes that unlocked feminism in 19th century Norway through Wendy Swallow’s book talk on Searching for Nora: After The Doll House, making Sámi tin jewelry, and doing round dances that have been danced since the 12th century,” said Lory Albright, a member of the Frida Hansen Lodge in Portland, Ore. She showed me a photo of the bracelet she had made in the jewelry course, a beautifully woven metal piece. She also spoke of how much she appreciated and valued having Sámi history and culture be a part of the convention.

Another highlight of the convention is undoubtedly the Traditional Norwegian Dress Fashion Show. On one of the afternoons, the ballroom of the convention center was turned into a runway as 40 or so women strutted their stuff in their bunads, festdrakts, Viking dresses, and other Norwegian dresses. Separated into thematic groups, the rest of the attendees could watch in awe and appreciation as we took a tour through Norwegian history and geography. From the linen Viking-inspired dress complete with a spear and turnshoes to bunads from across the whole country, it was truly a treat to see.

Bunad Fashion show at the Daughters of Norway convention

Photo: Diane Olsen
The Bunad Fashion Show was one of the highlights of the Convention.

After the convention was over, I followed up with Albright to hear more about why she joined the Daughters of Norway and the value she gets from being a member of the organization.

“Daughters of Norway is important to me as a white European woman in that being raised far away from our Norwegian relatives in Illinois and Norway, I felt cultureless until joining and learning a variety of traditions, stories, and recipes,” she told me. “The fellowship with women from all walks of life is also wonderful and learning from each other, as well as with each other, is precious to me.”

She also spoke of the how valuable the convention is for bringing the Daughters of Norway community together, creating space for members to make connections, build friendships, and learn all kinds of things about Norway and Norwegian America, from crafts, dances, and songs to histories and personal stories of Norwegian communities in America.

The next convention is set for 2023 in Reno, Nev. If the group of women attending the next convention is half as fun as this group, you won’t want to miss out!

Learn more about the Daughters of Norway at www.daughtersofnorway.org.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Courtney Olsen

Courtney Olsen is a writer based in Tacoma, Wash. She is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and the University of Oxford in England and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2020. A historical fiction enthusiast, she spends her free time working through her ever-growing reading list with a cup of tea in hand.