St. Olaf College

Initially opened in 1875 as St. Olaf’s School, St. Olaf College is now a co-ed private liberal arts college located (like Carlton College) in Northfield, Minnesota. It was founded by Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, named after the King (and patron saint) of Norway, Olaf II, and is affiliated with the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.


The college’s picturesque campus, known as “The Hill”, is home to 17 academic and administrative buildings, 10 athletic facilities, 11 student residence halls and 18 academic (and special interest group) houses. Adjacent to the school are 325 acres of restored wet-lands, woodlands, and native tall grass prairie, owned and maintained by the college, helping to make it one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S. (as listed in 2011 by Travel+Leisure magazine).

St. Olaf’s world-renowned music program was founded in 1903. Its band, choir and orchestra each tour the U.S. annually, and generally tour internationally every 3 years. In 1906, when it traveled to Norway, the St. Olaf Band was the 1st musical organization from an American college to conduct an international concert tour. In recent years, the St. Olaf Orchestra has performed Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrouchka, tone poems by Richard Strauss, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and Ravel’s La valse.

The St. Olaf Choir has toured Europe, China, Korea, and Australia, performing before heads of state and producing over a dozen recordings. In 2005, the choir was invited to perform at the White House to commemorate the National Day of Prayer. It also performs annually in the nationally broadcast St. Olaf Christmas Festival. The school also has numerous other vocal and musical ensembles, including the St. Olaf Jazz ensemble, which toured Cuba in 2016.


Each year, the Hong Kierkegaard Library hosts a summer fellowship program which includes Danish courses and a biennial symposium. The school’s Kierkegaard House also offers year-long Fellowships to scholars. There is also an undergraduate journal of existential philosophy, known as The Reed.

In popular culture, St. Olaf is mentioned by Minnesota author F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, whose main character, Jay Gatsby, attended the college briefly and worked as a janitor. The college was also frequently mentioned in Garrison Keillor’s radio program A Prairie Home Companion. The fictional Minnesota city of St. Olaf was also the hometown of Rose Nylund in TV’s The Golden Girls, and its fictional sister city, St. Gustav, was a nod to Gustavus Adolphus College, in nearby St. Peter.


  • Visited: c. 2000
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1976 (Old Main) and 1982 (Steensland Library)

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