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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Karl F. Rolvaag
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Karl Fritjof Rolvaag was born in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1913. His father, Ole Rolvaag, was a Norwegian immigrant who taught at St. Olaf College and wrote several critically-acclaimed novels. Karl graduated from Northfield High School and started at St. Olaf College in 1931; however, he soon dropped out and headed west. For the next six years he rode the rails, working as an itinerant laborer in logging camps, mining camps, on the railroads, and in the harvest fields. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and his political views became quite radical. After several attempts, he finally completed his education at St. Olaf and married Florence Boedeker in 1941. The same year he was drafted, though, and he spent the next six years in the army. During World War II he served in the European theatre and received several medals. Returning to Minnesota, Rolvaag simultaneously entered graduate school at the University of Minnesota and began his political career with an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1946. Following a year of study in Norway, he ran again for Congress in 1948 and 1952. In 1950 he was chosen chairman of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, and held this office until 1954, when he was elected lieutenant governor of the state. He ran for governor in 1963 and served a four-year term in this office. Rolvaag was deposed in a bitter contest for the Democratic Party's nomination in 1966, and challenged the party-endorsed candidate in the primary election. He won this battle, but lost the governorship to Republican Harold LeVander in the general election. In 1967, Rolvaag was appointed ambassador to Iceland, a position he held until 1969. Four years later he became a public service commissioner, and eventually chair of the Public Service Commission. His term lasted until 1979. At the time of the interview, Rolvaag was living in retirement in Northfield. He died the following year. He had two children, a son and a daughter. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Ole Rolvaag's background and immigrant experience; his political views. Ku Klux Klan encampment in Northfield, 1910s. Rolvaag's life as a hobo; his membership in the IWW; the 1936 strike in the logging industry; the lasting effects of these experiences on his political outlook. Descriptions of the itinerant workers' life, 1930s. Opinions about the military and military spending in 1988. Memories of the Spanish Civil War, and student peace movement of the late 1930s; lingering regrets about U.S. involvement in World War II. Rolvaag's abortive attempt to run for Congress in 1946, and his difficulty in being discharged from the army. Studies in Norway, 1947. Opinions of Ole Rolvaag's book "Boat of Longing" and its translations. Meetings between Hubert Humphrey and heads of state of various countries, especially Scandinavian, 1950s and 1960s. Rolvaag's memories of his governorship: racial tensions in Minneapolis in the 1960s; student unrest on the campuses; unemployment among African American youth. Reflections on the 1988 international scene. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: There are a number of other interviews with Mr. Rolvaag in the MHS collection. None of them duplicate this material, which is more personal, reflective, and forthcoming than the others. There is a fair amount of background noise on the tapes.
2 hours sound cassette
21 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
01:27:57 running time
Interviewee: Rolvaag, Karl F.
Interviewer: Ross, Carl
Made in: Northfield, Rice County, Minnesota, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30.59 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.35 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Collection Finding Aid
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'