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Mette Kirstine Christensdatter Hvid (1811-1872): Biography

The harsh treatment by Mette Kirstine Christensen Hvid (1811-1872), hereafter Mette, our great-great grandmother, relative to her daughter Else Kathrine Andersen (1847-1923), hereafter Else K, after Else K joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark, in 1865, seems hard to comprehend. Certainly it was heart-wrenching and difficult for Else K.

This biography seeks to better understand Mette and explore reasons why she acted as she did, along with concurrent events pertaining to her family. Information has been drawn from a book by Mette’s great-granddaughter, Virginia Christensen Keeler (1901-1970), hereafter VCK, entitled Some Christensen’s Who Came from Thy (J. Grant Stevenson, Provo, Utah, 1969) 1, as well as from in-depth family research work done by her great-great grandson, George S. Tate (1942- ), hereafter GST, which is now part of World Connect on this website 2. The above information was then organized for this biography by another great-great grandson, W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, during December 2009.

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To begin with, I think it useful to recall where VCK was coming from when she wrote her book forty years ago. As she reminisced about our early forefathers in Denmark, she had valuable information at hand, information that has not been located anywhere else to date:

The scene in Kjallerup fades and I am back at my writing here in Provo, Utah this February of 1969, thankful for the warmth of my gas heated home with its electric lights and hot and cold running water, as well as all the other comforts afforded me in this day and age. Rather regretfully my mind comes back to now for there is work to do here. Before me on the table are many written details pertaining to the lives of our Danish progenitors—notes, journals, old letters, maps—jottings from the memories of their children and grandchildren assembled and sorted long after the events they describe are one with the years. I pick up some of these and read them over—yes, these I must include in this history, but where and how? 3

Then, GST using the information collected by VCK carried out further research.

Accordingly, with these preliminaries in mind as we seek to better understand the mindset of Mette which prompted her actions towards Else K, let’s consider three possible causes: social and monetary aspirations; religious climate in Denmark; an out-of-wedlock son.

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Regarding social and monetary aspirations, Mette was quite socially conscious and considered herself a bit above the average. She could trace her heritage back to nobility and seemed to be overly proud of the fact. As VCK recorded:

Mette herself had been born 3 April 1811 in the village of Svindborg, Orum Parish, Denmark, the daughter of ‘girdmand Christen Hviid og fru of Swindborg’ (farmer Christen Hvidd and wife of Swindborg). 4 Little was known, apparently, of her mother, Else Andersdatter, except that she had given her husband seven children, three sons and four daughters, Mette herself being the youngest of these. On the other hand much more was known of her father, Christen Hviid (Hviid meaning White in English), he having descended way back from a Danish nobleman family—of which he never forgot to be proud. Some people are like that and carry the importance of their forbearers to the point that they set themselves above speaking to common folk and hold themselves aloof, though they themselves are practically nothing. Not that Mette and her parents and kinfolk weren’t fine people—on the contrary; yet Mette, like her father, was perhaps overly proud of her heritage and was often ‘lifted high’ by the nobility in her blood. At times she seemed to feel it more than others, thought Anders [her husband], and then she’d put on airs—but after all! Anders had learned to live with this although he himself took little stock in such things…. 5

There is no question from the record that Mette desired the best for her children. Thus, she was a good cook and homemaker 6 and continuously sought the best education and learning opportunities for her offspring. 7 Similarly, like most people, she “wanted to show her best side… and to put her best foot forward.” But, perhaps because of excessive concern over the titled lineage on her father’s side, she was over-anxious in attracting social notice and approval. This longing manifest itself in several ways:

Like many people, she desired a more conspicuous residence in a more cultured environment wherein she could raise her children. So in 1852, Anders purchased a bigger farm with a bigger home in Norhaa, a larger town nearby, and the family moved there.

Moreover, at the time of Else K’s confirmation, concerning her daughter’s attire, Mette seemed to make the most of this opportunity, as well:

Else Cathrine Andersen’s [Else K’s] confirmation took place the following April (1861) two months after her fourteenth festival. It was a fine affair, almost as wonderful as a wedding perhaps; and she could say with all her heart that her parents had spared nothing, for Mette certainly knew the importance of the occasion and had seen to it that her second daughter was fitted out for the splendid affair in the very best manner they could afford…. Of all [their] daughters Else was the most liked, and even the priest had said so. He thought she had a future in the schoolroom, should she so desire, and mentioned that he would be pleased to recommend her…. 8

Then too, Mette was very desirous that her children marry well. As noted above, Else K had always been the “apple of her parents’ eye." So, once in Norhaa, VCK reported the following about Mette:

…in truth [Mette] was rather excited about a family of old acquaintances of hers who had recently moved to Norhaa. A good family, of the better class, trades-people and of the nobility too, way back—besides, they had a marriageable son! He was a little older and well-traveled, and had not long since returned from Kopenhaven [Copenhagen]. (Mor [Mette] had it from the neighbors that he was ‘looking’ and would fain have himself a wife from Norhaa. She was anxious that he should meet her daughters and had invited the family to tea at mid-Yule.) 9

Subsequently, events began to work out just as Mette had hoped and planned for:

It is probable that the family came, but that their son came and came again and again was surely so; for Rudolph, the tradesman’s son, had set his heart and mind on Else Andersen [Else K] when first he saw her. (We shall call him Rudolph, for lack of a better name having been told us.) 10

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The religious climate in Denmark at the time certainly influenced Mette, as well. In the 1520’s the Lutheran Reformation movement was spreading throughout Germany, thence to Scandinavia. By 1536, the power of the Catholic Church in Denmark had been eradicated, with Church property eventually being taken over by the Crown—thereby tripling its possessions. By 1665, Lutheranism was the only permitted religion in the country, and the king made all decisions concerning the church.

However, an Enlightenment period in the country came during the second half of the 18th century and led to a sharp criticism of the church and dogma. This was later followed by an evangelical movement, abolition of absolutism in 1848, the Constitution in 1849, abandonment of compulsory baptism in 1857, permission for elective congregations in 1868, and finally in 1872 permission was given to those refusing to attend services conducted by their parish priest to bring in a pastor from outside. 11 In 1864, the Danish-Austro-Prussian War had also erupted, which led to more civil instability. 12

All of these changes helped pave the way for the introduction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the country, about 1860. But old habits and traditions died slowly—especially when inflamed by the current clergy, fearful of losing power.

The Pastor or the Priest of the parish church there at Bested [where Else K attended high school and graduated in 1864] was often there to preach. One time he chided the younger students for not attending the services in the church and urged them to attend, lest their souls should be lost. Else was guilty as were most of the others; the services were so dull it was scarce worth their time to go….

One morning, a few Sabbaths after the Priest’s scolding, Else and some of her room-mates attended the meeting at his church. There were a number of other young students there also, for the Priest’s talk had roused them. Now this ‘holy man’ took good advantage of his young, captive audience that morning to unleash a torrential, verbal blast against the intrusion of some of the ‘devil’s advocates’ into their peaceful Parish. He urged his listeners to ‘go forward, armed with righteousness and break up the gatherings of these vile blasphemers who dared to call themselves Saints. Drive them from our midst and let these godless Mormons know that there is no place for them here among Christians!’ Then the Priest read from a recent Kobenhaven [Copenhagen] newspaper what the press there had to say of them and it was bad indeed. Else thought she had never heard such ranting and goings-on from any pulpit before, even against the ‘evil one’ himself. 13

Indeed, Else K's parents were very much set against the Mormons right from the start, too 14, for the traditions of the fathers held sway. 15 Thus, as has been detailed elsewhere, it was in this religious environment that Else K was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormon], in 1865. 16

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Finally, a third possible factor presents itself as a reason for Mette’s harsh treatment of her daughter Else K: the matter of Mette’s out-of-wedlock son. 17

When the aged man [Christen Christensen (1761-1838), the father of Anders] passed on when nearing 78 years, 13 February 1838, he [Anders] had continued to live there on the farm and care for it and his mother. The two of them had lived there alone until she kept at him to find himself a wife, which was no easy matter for a hard to please ‘ungkarl’ (bachelor) like himself. But then he found the comely Mette, whose parents lived in the small farming village of Svindborg, Orum Parish, southwest a few miles from Kjallerup.

Anders thought of their marriage, 5 December 1843, which took place at Hvidbjerg, Vestess Aa Kirke (Hvidbjerg Parish Church of the West) Thisted Amt, Denmark, not far from their home in Kjallerup. The Priest who performed the ceremony also recorded it in the Parish Church records, putting Anders down as ‘Brudgommen—Ungkarl og girdmand, 36 ar gammel’ (Bridegroom—bachelor, farmer, 36 years of age) and putting Metta down as ‘Bruden Pige, 32 ar gammel’ (Bride—an unwed maid, 32 years of age). 18 Anders also remembered that when Mette had come to live with him and his seventy year old mother Karen she had brought her young son Christen with her. The child was then nearly four years old, having been born to Mette out of wedlock, 14 March 1839, at Lyngholm Mark, Hvidbjerg Parish. 19

Mette and Anders had six other children between them, another son and five daughters. Nonetheless, Anders adopted and raised young Christen as his own during his lifetime. 20

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Consequently, putting the above information together, one might ask several questions in seeking to explain Mette’s mindset: Had precocious Else K simply become an available tool in Mette’s eyes through which she might realize affirmation of her aspirations for social justification and recognition (i.e., through Else K’s educational attainments and forthcoming favored marriage)? Had Mette’s perceived tower of hope in this regard come tumbling down when Else K seemingly flaunted good judgment and tradition and associated herself with the despised and unpopular Mormon religion?

Did Mette harbor a feeling of quiet remorse for her own unwise actions as a young woman when she gave birth to a son out of wedlock? Was there concern that Else K might also prove overly headstrong and impetuous? Did she feel letdown and thwarted in her parental efforts by her daughter’s decisions? Were the traditions of the fathers and the currently inflamed social prejudices in a religious sense just too strong to allow her to ever investigate her special daughter’s newfound religion at the time? Or was injured pride simply at the root of all her actions?

Of course, we don’t have complete answers to these and other questions. A full understanding will only come in the next life. What we do know from VCK, however, is how Mette and Else K parted and what later transpired:

But of a sudden Mette stood in the doorway of her bedchamber, disheveled, with eyes red from weeping…‘Tell us,’ she half commanded, ‘we are all here but Christen; tell us—can you deny these things that have brought us all down to disgrace in our homeland?’

There was no other way out then for Else, so she turned and faced her family squarely, almost as if at bay, expecting the worst, and told them in as gentle a manner as she could: ‘Ja, Christen did not lie [it was he, her older step-brother, who had identified her in a Mormon meeting shortly after her baptism in 1865, and then informed the family]; all he said is true—and more. I am a Mormon now. I was baptized the very day of the night he saw me. I have been dismissed from my position at the school too, because of it, so have come home to you. Is there else you would have me go in this weather? Is there anything wicked in believing a better way or living a better life?’ Her voice quivered to a halt then; she had been surprised at her own courage but more still that they all stayed to listen, even Mette; although she started speaking again the minute Else had ceased. ‘What of Rudolph then—have you no feelings for his pride?’ Else sensed a faint flicker of hope in her mother’s voice at that last question, but answered: ‘Nej—I could not put him to such great test of his love. Though I still regard him fondly, as ever, I could never marry a non-Mormon now; so I shall pray him to free me from the bargain.’ Then she took the gold band Rudolph had given her from her finger and laid it gently on the table by her, asking Mads [her other brother] if he would take it to him and beg him to come there to the cottage that she might ask his forgiveness.

At this Mette flung herself back into her bedchamber and onto her pillow, with noisy weeping and wailing…. 21

On the surface the following few days and nights passed somewhat as usual in the cottage, with things never getting completely out of hand as they had that first night of Else’s homecoming….Else was treated with courtesy, for the most part, and her needs were well taken care of. But there was an underlying strain between Else and her parents…. Mette had ceased her weeping, in the main, but ignored or avoided her daughter; engaging herself instead with sundry things in her bedchamber when she was not cooking some of the things Else relished most, in the kitchen, as if to remind her what she would be missing once she left there again. If the two did meet, at meals and the like, the older woman was silent with high head and evasive eyes; though truly there was a certain dignity in the way she put it over. Only once in those days did she forget herself and speak impulsively before she could check it. ‘Any natural mother would try to keep her child from walking into a fire,’ she said, as if in self defense. And Else thought, ‘So, it is burning she fears for me now!’ But once started her mother had gone on passionately: ‘Do you realize what you have done to yourself? Anyone who leaves the State Church is not able to marry legally or have their children christened or their dead buried. Have you thought of that? Do you realize what you have done to us besides?’ As she stopped for breath, Else put in sincerely, ‘Forgive me Mor [Mother]; I love you dearly, in spite of our differences and would give anything to be able to heal your sorrow.’ Instead of offering the embrace Else ached for then, her mother had flung herself into her bedchamber again and thrown back over her shoulder the words, ‘You should have thought of that when you gave your family up to run with the Mormons!’ Nothing short of leaving would satisfy Mor now, Else thought; then an idea had filtered through her unhappy mind: It was not her mother’s heart, but her pride that was shattered; not only her plans, but her love, too, that had been forced aside. How her mother seemed to have changed towards her. Change had come over her father too. 22

By prearrangement, the coach came by for Else next day at noon. She went at once to the door of her mother’s bedchamber to say farewell, but it was shut fast. There was no answer when she called ‘Goodbye Mor’ through the wood, though she stood there hoping for a moment. The rest all came outside to see her leave, even her father…. She kissed each one goodbye, one by one, and embraced them fondly, even her father, though she had only slight response from him in return. But then he said quietly, as if to her ears alone, ‘If you ever reconsider and change your mind daughter, you will be welcomed back.’ Those were his last words to her, for then he went inside fast and closed the door, as if afraid of himself; but Else’s heart was cheered some. As she boarded the coach then and sat down, turning to wave farewell to the others, she saw her mother’s face at the front window, looking. That was the last she ever saw of her. 23

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Mettte Kirstine Christensdatter Hvid died 11 July 1872 in Norhaa, Thisted Denmark, at the age of 61 years, 3 months, and 8 days, six years after Else left for America, in 1866. 24 Her husband, Anders also died in Norhaa, 10 May 1878. They lie buried together in the cemetery at Norhaa. 25

On 7 May 1889, Else K was baptized and endowed for her mother in the Manti Temple. 26 The proxy marriage sealing for Mette and Anders was performed six days later, on 13 March 1891, in the same temple. 27

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Sources of Information:

1. Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s Who Came from Thy…, published by J. Grant Stevenson, Provo, Utah, 1969, based on documents in her possession at the time of writing the book; copy of book in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, or found at BYU-HBLL, Call # BX 8670.1 .C4623k.

2. See Mette Kirstine Christensdatter (1811-1872) in the World Connect section, on this website.

3. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 65-66.

4. See 1811 (birth) Record of Mette's birth and christening dates…, found in the Document section of this file.

5. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 64.

6. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 78.

7. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 79.

8. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 85.

9. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 96.

10. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 104.

11. Steffen Kjeldgaard-Petersen, Denmark—Official Denmark—Church and Religion: http://www.um.dk/publikationer/UM/English/Denmark/kap1/1-14-1.asp.

12. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 98-104.

13. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 90-91.

14. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 84, 93.

15. Doctrine & Covenants 93: 39.

16. See Else Cathrine/Kathrine Andersen/Christensen (1847-1923): Biography… on this website.

17. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 63-64.

18. See 1843 (age 32) Mette's marriage to Anders Christian Christensen…, found in the Document section of this file.

19. See Christen Christensen (1839-1866) in the World Connect section, on this website.

20. See Anders Christian Christensen (1808-1878) in the World Connect section, on this website.

21. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 119-120.

22. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… pp. 123-124.

23. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 127.

24. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 247.

25. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 275.

26. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s… p. 314.

27. See 13 March 1891 Manti Temple Sealing of spouses..., found in the Document section of this file.

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