Josephine Thrane Early Norway Labor Organizer

Labor Day is approaching. While it is mostly seen as the last day of summer (not officially by the calendar but in the minds of most people) as well as the last day of the Minnesota State Fair, it was originally intended to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is observed on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.

In October of 2018 I wrote on this blog about my great-great grandfather Marcus Møller Thrane, a Norwegian author, journalist, and the leader of the first labor movement in Norway (it was later known as the Thrane movement “Thranebevegelsen”). You can read about him and his work on that blog

Josephine Thrane


This blog post is going to feature my great-great grandmother Maria Josephine (aka Josefine) Buch Thrane who I initially only really knew as Marcus’ wife and the mother of their five children but I have come to find out she was a remarkable woman. In fact Josephine Thrane was Norway’s first female editor and one of the first female editors in history.

Maria Josephine Thrane was born on April 5, 1820 in Bragernes by Drammen. Her parents were engraver Johann Herman Krefting Buch and Johanne Fridericha Falster. She was married on August 11, 1841 to teacher Marcus Møller Thrane, who had taught her French. When they got married they founded a private school.

It was a school with classes for both boys and girls and it taught languages, mathematics and music. The girls also received instruction in housekeeping by Josephine. After the school closed in 1846, they moved and made another attempt at starting a school without success.

Josephine and Marcus Thrane

As their family grew, however, the family became more and more Josephine’s workplace. Eventually they moved to Drammen where Marcus became editor of Drammen’s Address, and in December 1848 founded the first labor union in Norway. While he devoted himself to the labor movement or the Thranite movement as it was soon called, Josephine helped raise money for union organizing trips and family income by providing music lessons.

Labor Unions, led by Marcus, believed the traditional newspapers did not include reader submissions and contributions from the so-called “working class.” This is why the labor associations started their own newspaper, Labor Unions Journal (Arbeider-Foreningernes Blad), in 1849. Josephine, also played a role in the labor unions but her efforts were not mentioned or highlighted (oh color me surprised!). Among other things she worked for a time as treasurer and she operated the newspaper, as editor, during periods when Marcus was on a lecture to the local associations – again without receiving recognition.

Tittelvignett til Arbeider-Foreningernes  Blad, 1851

The number of union members increased rapidly as well as the number of subscribers to the Labor Unions Journal. The circulation was up to 21,000 copies at its height. The family now moved to Christiania (later named Oslo) where they found a home with a view of the fjord. However, the Norwegian authorities looked anxiously at the extent of the union association and early in the morning of July 7, 1851, Marcus Thrane and several of the leaders were arrested through a large-scale police action. Earlier in the same year, he succeeded in getting the Labor Unions Journal moved into his private hands.

Botsfengslet Prison

Although Josephine was pregnant and expecting their fifth child, she still assumed the editorial responsibility and kept the magazine running until the end of 1856. She also published a cookbook in 1851 to earn money for her family.

Josephine took responsibility for both the family and the journal, while her husband was imprisoned as a revolutionary agitator. The Thranite leaders were moved to the newly built Botsfengslet Prison in Greenland. To keep contact with him, Josephine and the children moved into a small house in Greenland Camp 28. From there, she loyally continued Marcus’ commitment to the working class, by smuggling letters and articles in and out of the prison. Earnings came very unevenly, but she did make a profit on the business.

Greenland Camp 28 is on the left

The cholera epidemic reached the Scandinavian countries in 1853 and Josephine was infected. In addition, the magazine stopped for some time in 1854, and the possibility of extra income stopped. In order to survive, she had to sell most of the possessions that could be traded.

During his imprisonment Josephine worked hard to pardon her husband, and even on the occasion of Crown Prince Carl’s visit to the city in 1857, in an act of defiance, made him aware of the situation by letting her daughters pray for their father while saying a prayer for the crown prince.

Old Town Church

Josephine was attacked by tuberculosis in the spring of 1857, and was very ill when Marcus was allowed to leave prison in 1858. She died on September 30, 1862 at just 42 years of age and was buried in the graveside at Old Town Church. The grave has disappeared, but the small house in Greenland camp 28 is still there. In 1949 when Norway recognized the important role Marcus played in its history they had his body exhumed from his grave in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and returned it to Oslo to be buried in the honor grove of Our Savior’s graveyard. I cannot determine if Josephine’s body was also exhumed but I assume so because her name is also on the monument.

I am proud to be a direct descendent of both these remarkable people. I didn’t learn about them until about 15 years ago and my hope is someday to go to Oslo and visit their grave and the places that honor them.

So this Labor Day enjoy your picnics and the last whiffs of summer and remember not just the Thranes but all the people who did so much to give us the working conditions we enjoy today.

Written by Mary Hirsch, daughter of Jim Hirsch, son of Darwin Hirsch, son of Camilla Thrane Hirsch, daughter of Marcus and Josephine Thrane.