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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Lutherans in Wisconsin

Definition: Though Lutherans became the largest Protestant group in Wisconsin, they were slow in finding solidarity due to the complex national and local web of synods. The first Lutherans in Wisconsin came directly from Europe and were dominated by the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods, the most conservative of the groups, and the old Norwegian Synod. Between 1870 and 1890, Wisconsin's Lutherans increased by 422 percent, reflecting the huge numbers of Scandinavian and German immigrants in the 1880s. Wisconsin's German Lutherans were primarily affiliated with one of five of the German-led synods: by the 1880s, 80 to 90 percent were members of either the Wisconsin or Missouri Synods.
Missouri Synod: The first German Lutherans arrived in Milwaukee in 1839 and organized the state's first Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, in Freistadt (now a part of Mequon). Those without the resources to move north, stayed in Milwaukee and founded a second church. Originally part of the Buffalo Synod, these first Lutherans reaffiliated with the newly created Missouri Synod in the late 1840s. The Missouri Synod in Wisconsin established a private teachers' seminary in Milwaukee in 1855 called Milwaukee Teachers' College. The Missouri Synod was also strong in Watertown in the 1850s. The southeastern tier of counties emerged as the key early outreach center in Wisconsin but the flood of German immigrants overtaxed the existing synodical staff and led many areas of the state to be relinquished to other synods, such as the Iowa Synod. The establishment of a domestic missions program in 1873 helped the Missouri Synod coordinate its efforts to reach outlying communities of Germans. The Missouri Synod also began cooperating with the Wisconsin Synod to capture most of the state's German Lutherans by the late 19th century. Lutheran synods began a major realignment in the early 20th century as both the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods became more introverted and declined any mergers with fellow Lutherans. Missionary work also became more institutional and focused on founding regular congregations. Missionary work among English-speaking Lutherans remained limited until the late 19th century: the first English Lutheran Church in Wisconsin was founded in Milwaukee in 1890.
Wisconsin Synod: The Wisconsin Synod was created in 1850 and was the first Lutheran organization to maintain the center of its work in the state. It drew most of its membership from the children of the settlers who had arrived in Wisconsin in the 1830s and 1840s; unlike the Missouri and Buffalo Synods, whose original membership derived from the planned migration of members to Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Synod depended at first on clerics from missionary societies in Germany but built a seminary, Northwestern College, in Watertown in 1863 to train its own pastors. The Wisconsin Synod's initial efforts were centered in the southeastern counties. They began organizing northern rural communities in the 1870s. Until the 20th century, the Wisconsin Synod confined its work to German-speaking communities and did not extend much beyond Wisconsin's boundaries. By the 1980s, the Wisconsin Synod had members in 47 states.


Norwegian Lutherans: Without the unifying force of the Lutheran State Church of Norway in the U.S., Norwegian immigrants gave full expression to their divergent tendencies. By 1890, six synods were competing for the loyalties of the immigrant population: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America of 1846, the Norwegian Synod of 1853; the Norwegian Augustana Synod of 1860, the Norwegian-Danish Conference of 1860; the Hague Synod of 1876, and the Anti-Missourian Brotherhood of 1887. The Norwegian, Conference and Haugean were the most dominant synods in 1880. Most Norwegian Lutheran groups concentrated on ministering to other Norwegians and on building up congregations in the areas they deemed most promising. In 1887, the Anti-Missourians, the Norwegian-Danish Augustanans, and the Conference merged into the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, outdistancing the Norwegian Synod to become the leading body of Norwegian Lutheranism. The Lutheran Free Church, a predominately Norwegian body, was formed in 1897 and counted over 6,000 members in 1926. A small group of Lutherans of Norwegian descent organized the Church of Lutheran Brethren in Milwaukee in 1900. By 1900, Norwegian immigrants had founded no less than 14 synods in the U.S. On June 9, 1917, the three major synods merged to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, a union that comprised 90 percent of the Norwegian Lutherans in the country. Three of the nation's oldest Lutheran institutions originated in Wisconsin: Luther College was founded in Halfway Creek in 1861 before moving to Decorah, Iowa in the following year; the Norwegian section of Augsburg Seminary moved to Marshall in 1869 before moving to Beloit, Iowa in 1881 (it is today's Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD); and the theological seminary of the Norwegian Synod opened in Madison in 1876 before reopening in Minnesota in 1859 (it is today's Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary of the ALC). The Norwegian Synod also opened an Indian school at Wittenberg, the Bethany Indian Mission and Industral School, in 1884.

View pictures of Lutheran churches at Wisconsin Historical Images.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]

87 records found

Adams, William 1813 - 1897
Allouez, Claude Jean 1622 - 1689
Baptists in Wisconsin
Baraga, Frederic 1797 - 1868
Bonduel [origin of place name]
Breck, James Lloyd 1818 - 1876
Briggs, Jason W. 1821 - 1899
Broek, Theodore [Theodorus] van den, 1783-1851
Buck, Philo Melvin Jr. 1877 - 1950
Burleson, Solomon Stevens 1833 - 1897
Cadle, Richard Fish 1796 - 1857
Carheil, Fr, Étienne de, 1633-1726
Carter, Homer Wright 1847 - 1933
Catholics in Wisconsin
Chapin, Aaron Lucius 1817 - 1892
Charlevoix, Fr., Pierre François Xavier de, 1682-1
Chattanooga, Battle of
Civil War: 15th Infantry
Civil War: 21st Infantry
Clark, John 1797 - 1854
Clary, Dexter 1798 - 1874
Colman, Henry Root 1800 - 1895
Dablon (D'Ablon), Fr. Claude, 1619-1697.
Davidson, John Nelson 1848 - 1945
De Pere [brief history]
Derenthal, Oderic Ignaz 1856 - 1934
Dicke, Peter Henry 1822 - 1911
Disciples of Christ in Wisconsin
Eaton, Edward Dwight 1851 - 1942
Eaton, Samuel Witt 1820 - 1905
Ellis, Albert Gallatin 1800 - 1885
Episcopals in Wisconsin
Father Caspar Rehrl (Historic Marker Erected 1991)
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli (Historic Marker Erected
Fraser, Thomas 1820 - 1893
Garth, Schuyler Edward 1898 - 1947
Gordon, Philip 1886 - 1948
Hall, Sherman 1800 - 1879
Hauser, Jacob 1845 - 1931
Indian schools in Wisconsin
Iverson, Andreas Michael 1823 - 1907
Jogues, Fr. Isaac, 1607-1646
Kelly, Patrick 1792 - 1858
Kemper, Jackson 1789 - 1870
Kewaunee [brief history]
Lalemant, Fr. Jérôme (Hierosme), 1593-1673
Le Jeune, Fr. Paul, 1591-1664
Le Mercier, Fr., 1604-1690
Lochner, John Frederick Carl 1822 - 1902
Lummpkin, Hope Henry 1882 - 1932
Lutherans in Wisconsin
Madeline Island (Historic Marker Erected 1961)
Marcellon [origin of place name]
Marquette (Historic Marker Erected 1957)
Marquette, Jacques 1637 - 1675
Marsh, Cutting 1800 - 1873
Mazzuchelli, Samuel Charles 1806 - 1864
McArthur, Gen. Arthur (1845-1912)
Menard, Fr. Rene, 1605-1661
Metoxen, John 1770 - 1858
Miller, Marjorie "Midge" 1922
Miller, Wesson Gage 1822 - 1893
missionary
Missionary Ridge, Battle of
Moravians in Wisconsin
Mueller, John Gottlieb 1813 - 1893
Northwest Portal of Wisconsin (Historic Marker Ere
Ordway, Moses 1788 - 1870
Pere Marque'ite and Sieur Jolliet (Historic Marker
Ragueneau, Fr. Paul, 1608-1680
Rankin, Walter Laurie 1841 - 1910
Schinner, Augustine Francis 1863 - 1937
St. Cosme, Fr. Jean François Buisson de, dates unv
Stevens Point [origin of place name]
Stucki, Jacob 1857 - 1930
Tank, Nils Otto 1800 - 1864
Tanktown [origin of place name]
The Bad River (Historic Marker Erected 1957)
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1622-1699
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1784-1835
Verwyst, Chrysostom Adrian 1841 - 1925
Vimont, Fr. Barthélemy, 1594-1667
Walworth, John 1804 - 1895
Wheeler, Leonard Hemenway 1811 - 1872
Williams, Eleazer 1788 - 1858
Winnebago Indian School, Neillsville, Wis.
Wisconsin River Headwaters (Historic Marker Erecte

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