Norwegian Royal Visit, 1939

Jeff M. Sauve

The first-ever Norwegian royal visit to St. Olaf College occurred on May 7 and 8, 1939, Crown Prince Olav and Princess Märtha and their entourage were billeted overnight in the newly constructed Agnes Mellby Hall.

The entire first floor and part of the second floor were devoted to them. Dean of Women Gertrude Hilleboe acted as hostess and gave up her own living quarters to Märtha. Olav was given his own room within the dormitory.

Monne Nesse Richards ’39 remembered, “It was all very exciting to observe the royal comings and goings. I recall how we watched in amazement as all of the royal luggage was unloaded and taken into the dorm. I think we counted ninety pieces of luggage. The Minnesota National Guards were outside patrolling the dorm, and Dean Thompson and Dean Hilleboe were patrolling them. Hanging out of the windows, we girls answered some of the wolf whistles—very unladylike.”

One month prior to the royal visit, Dr. Walter Judd, a longtime medical missionary in China, spoke at chapel. His address painted a vivid picture of Japanese military activities in beleaguered China. Within a week of his talk, 450 of the 505 women on campus voted to “do their part” and boycott Japanese products made of silk; instead, they wore cotton lisle stockings. Nylon was not yet invented.

Their boycott was featured in the local and Twin Cities daily newspapers. In preparation for the regal visit, the U.S. State Department instructed St. Olaf to supply silk bedding for Olav and Märtha. According to longtime Northfield News editor Maggie Lee, when the “silken sheets and pillowcases had been purchased for the royal couple, the girls decided to abandon their uncomfortable cotton stockings and return to silk!”

Brynnie Rowerg ’39 added, “The silk stocking boycott was vigorously opposed by Dean of Women Gertrude Hilleboe, who didn’t want all that exposed flesh around.”