Like most young Danes, Kathrine Christensen was just about fourteen years old when she was confirmed as a member of the Lutheran church.1 This ceremony, which took place on 22 April 1900, would also have signified the conclusion of her formal schooling, making it, in a sense, a graduation ceremony as well.2 Kathrine, the youngest daughter of Laust Christensen and Ane Nielsen of the rural community of Taabel, was confirmed at the imposing Vestervig Abbey, said to be the largest village church in all of Scandinavia.
For Kathrine, this occasion may have warranted posing for a formal portrait in her elegant confirmation dress, as this photograph is believed to have been taken in honor of her confirmation. The photographer, A.B. Hansen, was based in Hurup, a railroad town about seven kilometers east of Vestervig. Perhaps Kathrine ventured there for her portrait, or else an enterprising photographer may have seen reason to take advantage of the confirmation crowd by setting up a temporary studio in Vestervig.
This cabinet card portrait features Kathrine standing before a painted backdrop and behind a high back chair, upon which she rests her arms in a way that hides her fingertips but displays a wide ring on her left hand. Perhaps this was a confirmation gift, as despite what its placement suggests today, it is certainly not a wedding ring. Kathrine’s brown hair is pulled into a braid or bun, with a few soft curls loosely framing her face. Her dress is of a popular pigeon-breasted style and appears to be white. It has sweet eyelet lace trim at the high neck and long sleeves, which are slightly puffed on the upper arms. Kathrine’s expression is serious, even cautious; although her attire is sophisticated, she still looks very much like the thirteen-year-old she is.
In addition to acknowledging the completion of schooling, at one time, confirmation records in Denmark also typically included a notation of whether the individual had received a smallpox vaccination. This practice, started around 1814, must have been the most feasible method of ensuring that all were vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease.3 Today, certainly, medical records are maintained apart from the church, and of course, Danish youth attend school beyond eighth grade. While confirmation ceremonies remain significant in Danish culture, as a whole these affairs are commonly celebrated in a traditional sense and are more secular than in the past – if not entirely secular, as “nonfirmations” have also become part of the norm. Danes honor their coming-of-age with family, friends, a formal dinner, and lavish gifts.4
At the time of Kathrine’s confirmation, several of her siblings had already immigrated to America. This photograph was found among the possessions of one of their descendants, which suggests that it was originally sent to those who might have liked to have seen how their youngest sister was growing up. In fact, another photograph in this collection shows Kathrine as she neared her twentieth birthday, shortly before she, too, said farewell to Denmark.5