Autumn of 1879 marked the beginning of the end for the marriage between Bernt Julius Muus and Oline Muus. Oline accused her husband at the court for neglect of her and the children over several years, as well as embezzlement of money. The trial led to the largest social scandal ever in Norwegian-American society. The press conveyed updates in both the US and Norway.
The Norwegian author Bodil Stenseth has now picked up the story and written the book “Fru Muus’ klage” (Mrs Muus’ complaint). The book is expected to be released on April 1 this year.
From a respected priest to a wife-beater
Bernt Julius Muus was born at Snåsa in Norway, March 15, 1832. He was the son of the general store owner Ingebrigt Muus (1805-1882) and Birgitte Magdalena Rynning (1814-1833). Bernt Julius himself was not a store owner, but a theologian and found his work among Norwegian emigrants in the United States.
He became a highly respected pastor and one of the most prominent citizens in the deeply religious Norwegian-American society.
Not such a great success at home
It would eventually turn out that Bern Julius Muus had a darker side that revealed itself at home.
It turned out he had ruled the home with an iron fist and the trial drew a picture of a pastor that had cruelly neglected his family. Medical assistance was not regarded as necessary when a family member was sick. When Oline broke her leg in 1877, Bernt refused to contact her doctor. His wife did not even get permission from her husband to use crutches .
Two years later, Oline had had enough. She took her husband to court and won. Sensationally for the time, she got a divorce from her husband.
Became a theater play in Chicago
Marcus Thrane, another well-known Norwegian in the United States, had for a long time ran a small theater in Chicago. The theater used to perform small satirical plays. After 20 years of little activity in the theater, it came alive again thanks to all the press coverage of the marriage scandal between Bernt and Oline.
Through the Socialist newspaper “The New Time”, which was published in Chicago, Marcus Thrane found enough material to set up a series of pieces that received the common name “Wisconsin Bible”. The congregation in Wisconsin and the visiting Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson were parodied in biblical style. The play was mainly directed against the church leaders in the Synod.