Across the United States, the Daughters of Norway sisterhood has connected members with their Norwegian heritage for over 100 years. Whatcom County’s own Nellie Gerdrum Lodge provides local opportunities to celebrate Scandinavian and Nordic culture in the Pacific Northwest.
Nellie Gerdrum Lodge started in 1999. “A couple people had moved up from the Seattle area where they had belonged to existing Daughters of Norway organizations, and they were interested in starting a lodge up here, so that’s how it came to be,” says charter member and past president Birgit Grimsmo. The lodge is named for a Norwegian immigrant who moved to New Whatcom in 1891.
The group’s mission is to share and preserve the culture, language, and history of Norway and other Scandinavian and Nordic countries.
“It’s not just Norse or Norwegian: it’s Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic…all comers of Scandinavian or Nordic ancestry, and Saami,” says current president Barbara Larson.
The Daughters of Norway welcomes all women with Scandinavian or Nordic heritage by genealogy, marriage, or other kinship.
“We’ve had members who have joined just because they’ve taken an ancestry test and were 2% Swedish, and they’re in,” says past president Kate Mills. “It really is a great group because while we want people to have had some connection, it’s for people who are interested in preserving the traditions and learning the history and the culture.”
The Nellie Gerdrum Lodge’s biggest event is its public Scandinavian Fair on the first Saturday of every November. The fair features traditional Nordic music, dancing, arts and crafts, and delicacies.
“The whole idea is to bring the vision, the fragrances, the smells, the tastes of Scandinavia — everything,” says Cultural Director and Events Coordinator Karin Dewell. “When they walk through the door, hopefully we’re going to smell wonderful waffles cooking or krumkake being made or the meatballs in the backroom.”
The fair welcomes more than 1,000 visitors yearly and continues to grow into larger venues.
“We start planning for our Scandinavian Fair in January, almost immediately following the last fair,” says Mills. “We do a lot of reflection on what worked, what didn’t work, what improvements could we make, [and] feedback from members as well as visitors at our fair.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lodge held a remote Scandinavian Fair on Facebook Live — promoting fair vendors, the Norwegian American magazine, and global interest.
“We had some Zoom coffee chats going and we had some visitors from the east coast all the way up to Alaska who were joining us,” Larson says. “It was really great to hear their stories and their connections to their heritage.”
The Lodge encourages all members to participate in the Scandinavian Fair and support local vendors that bring Scandinavian heritage to the Northwest.
The Daughters of Norway meet monthly, except for June and July. Their annual events include an anniversary luncheon in April, a Hovander Park picnic in late summer, and baking of bread and lefse in fall.
“We have a business meeting that’s part of the program most of time, and then we usually have a cultural event to have a speaker or learn something about Scandinavian heritage, expand our knowledge, share things with each other,” says Larson.
The Daughters of Norway have frequently appeared in the Ski to Sea Blossomtime Parade and Whatcom Memorial Day Parade.
“We like to join in our community and share that we’re here,” Mills says. “We usually have at least a couple vehicles, some flags, some people wearing traditional Norwegian attire and waving.”
Lodge members have formed interest groups such as a book club, walking group, stitchery group, and the Bellingham Damekor — a Nordic women’s choir.
“Whenever the Damekor has sung at any place, we’ve had great reception,” says Larson. “People have been happy to hear us and see us.”
Uniting in Sisterhood
Indeed, the Nellie Gerdrum Lodge continues to culturally enrich Whatcom County.
“I think we’re very well received throughout the community,” Dewell says. Grimsmo adds: “Every year, when we have the Scandinavian Fair, people come and buy the Norwegian cookies or Scandinavian cookies and it’s always like, ‘Oh, I remember this is what my grandma used to make!’ And they’re so excited to find that.”
Lodge members have not only rediscovered cultural heritage but also forged lasting bonds with one another.
“I know we’re a sisterhood, but I’ve really gained a hundred plus moms and grandmothers and aunties who have taught me recipes, who have taught me language, who have taught me traditions and things that are important to people in Norway, and who have just been a fill-in for my Norwegian mom that I’ve lived without since I turned nine,” says Mills. “It’s not just a group that meets once a month — it really has been life-changing and has connected me to my roots.”
Visitors to the lodge’s website will find more information on the Scandinavian Fair, applications for membership, and new opportunities in cultural sustainability all around us.