The Ottesen Museum, located between the campuses of Bethany Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota, houses a unique collection of artifacts and photos concerning the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and its predecessor synod, the Norwegian Synod. The museum is operated under the auspices of the Synod's Committee on Archives and History, with assistance from the ELS Historical Society. The main level includes chronological displays concerning Norwegian immigration to America, the founding of Norwegian Lutheran congregations in the Midwest, and the subsequent history of the ELS and its institutions. A frontier cabin and sanctuary are replicated in the basement. The ELS Historical Society provides assistance to the Synod's Committee on Archives and History to sponsor educational events at the museum.
Admission is free, and the museum is generally open on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30 p.m to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment Those traveling from a long distance may wish to schedule a visit with Director of Programming Becky DeGarmeaux. Call 507-344-7421 or submit your request via this contact form.
The “Ottesen” Museum is named after the Rev. J. A. Ottesen and his daughter Hannah. Pastor Ottesen was one of the founding fathers of the Norwegian Synod, which is today known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Hannah Ottesen willed several family heirlooms to the ELS. This Ottesen collection, together with other artifacts, comprises the holdings of the Ottesen Museum.
The women of the synod provided the impetus for establishing the Ottesen Museum. As the synod was preparing, at its 1941 annual meeting, to celebrate its 90th anniversary (1943), which also would mark the 25th year of the re-organized synod (1918–1943), a group of women began to discuss the possibility of establishing the Ottesen Museum. Sixteeen women met at Bethany Lutheran College on June 16, 1941, and determined to organize the museum. They elected the following officers: President, Mrs. G. Guldberg; Vice President, Mrs. H. Theiste; Treasurer, Mrs. E. Hanson; Secretary, Mrs. P.G. Kloster. The women’s museum organization then appointed a working committee to prepare artifacts and arrange for display space on the college campus. The committee also solicited money from synodical Ladies Aid societies.
When the synod’s Jubilee Convention opened at Bethany Lutheran College on May 29, 1943, the Ottesen Museum was—according to the minutes—already “waiting for visitors.” This testifies to the hard work that the women’s committee had completed during the previous two years.
The Ottesen Museum did not, however, find a permanent home until sixty years later. Throughout the late twentieth century, it was moved from the attic at Bethany to various classrooms. Finally, it found a place that it could call its own. On Synod Sunday, June 15, 2003, a renovated house located at 4 Browns Ct. was dedicated as the permanent site for the Ottesen Museum.
Many visitors came to the museum’s first opening in 1943, and many still come today. What was recorded in the 1943 minutes may serve as an enduring invitation: “All visitors are welcome at the Ottesen Museum. There is much there to arouse interest in the history of our Synod and its people.”
- Cora Kloster, “Origins of the Ottesen Museum; From a Collection in the Archives Entitled: The Ottesen Museum: A Jubilee Project Carried On by the Women’s Organization of the Synod Lutheran Church 1941-1943,” Oak Leaves 7, no. 1 (2003): 4-6.
- Craig A. Ferkenstad, “‘Pioneer Chapel’ in the Ottesen Museum,” Oak Leaves 9, no. 3 (2005): 11.