Mildred Dybedal (Hemmingson) (1897-1987): Sole College Graduate Among Fourteen Siblings

Mildred was never bored. Her father, Ole Hemmingsen (1851-1903), emigrated from Norway in 1882 bringing a degree in Civil Engineering to a new beginning; a homestead and roads to build in northwest Wisconsin. Life soon conspired against certain dreams.

A couple of his fourteen children became educated to fourth grade, several to eighth, and three completed high school. Only Mildred went on to achieve a college degree, albeit, later in life.


We first met Mildred at eleven, on the porch of the home that Ole built and her accomplishments already promised that she would prove tenacious. Here she is at thirteen.

LISTEN UP BOYS – I AM WOMAN! Circumstances led Mildred to mature young as her mother became widowed and she, sole sister at home to many brothers. She cooked and sewed and wiped their noses, then pressed their clothes – all the while multitasking at the ironing board which held an open book among the wrinkled duds.

Here she is at 19 in 1916, already teaching at Dybedal School in Lincoln, Bayfield County, WI.1 Miss Hemmingson was soon to become Mrs. Dybedal and would continue working at Dybedal School. It was war time; perhaps lacking some credentials, she knew everything important anyway.

Her granddaughter would say: “Ma Dyb as everyone called her was an extraordinary woman. I would say she was my closest mentor. She taught school as long as I can remember. She was my 3rd and 4th grade teacher. She was very musical, very creative and taught until she was 70.  … She was also a kind and wonderful grandma to her great grandkids. She also taught them.”2

Mildred Hemmingson and Edward Dybedal

That Ed Dybedal was a farmer meant Mildred could maintain her cherished homestead life. Time would find him travelling though, such that her responsibilities went far beyond mothering and teaching. Yet, those kids tell they never wanted for fresh baked pie. For anyone silly enough ask it, the question became “would seven children of her own, a farm to run and a career to manage ever present a challenge to Mildred”? Never. Exactly!

Seven children and then grandchildren. Ma Dyb was fifty when she moved into this lovely home. Oh, there would be room for the sewing machine, patterns and fabric. Boys’ gear all over the place. Quiet space to study too. Kids tearing about making memories, trying to imagine a pedestal worthy of their dearest grandmother. She taught them to be-on-the-go until they were gone, just as she would be.

We cannot help but notice that Mildred holds the exact same determined stance at 61 as she had at 13. Remarkable! As for getting a college degree at 61, well, she intended to continue to make her mark until she was 90. And, Mildred attained her goals.


Mildred was fifth child and first daughter of Ole’s second wife, Aletta Ingebrigtson. She was Ole’s eleventh youngest of fourteen, and third daughter. Ole had adopted Aletta’s first son, cousin to Ole’s first wife. Mildred was first generation American along with seven full-siblings and one half-brother. All else immigrated from Norway.

Mildred was born in 1897 in Mason, Bayfield, WI. The area was still recouping from the historic forest fire of 1894 which had razed Ole’s homestead and upset family finances. With the new build completing, Ole’s older children were presently out working. Still a full household, Mildred made five under five for Aletta to care for. Plus, her third son was special needs, in that he was hunchback. At the same time, Ole’s second daughter, Marie. was ailing and would succumb to tuberculosis the year following. Still, there was wonderful farm life, gorgeous country and dedicated parents to compensate for hardship.

Our link above, goes to a previous post showing Mildred in 1908 on the porch of Ole’s second build. She was just eleven. With hands in pocket, true grit showed on the face of the youngster who had seen three more children arrive after Marie died. Meanwhile, half-brother, George, died of appendicitis in 1901. Then Ole passed in 1903 when Mildred was six. Mildred was the only daughter at home, old enough for Aletta to lean on. Another tribulation would come before that picture was taken; an accident in 1905 caused by a family member, took her darling little sister, Grace.

No wonder the stance of the 61-year-old College Graduate was already established in the young lady pictured above, taking leadership at thirteen. We proud descendants salute Mildred Dybedal, born Hemmingson. Ole would have never guessed that his match would be found in a daughter.

Notes and Sources

Birth, Marriage, Death and Immigration data and family stories have been previously documented on this site in the “Before Memories” section. Click the box right, for a guide to reading the series.

Specific new sources are the two items below and the five photos above which are gratefully attributed to the Kofal-Dybedal-Hemmingson Collection.

1 Email thread of April 16, 2019 with Mildred’s granddaughter, Valois.

2 The Washburn Times April 27th, 1916 Washburn, Wisconsin.

11 thoughts on “Mildred Dybedal (Hemmingson) (1897-1987): Sole College Graduate Among Fourteen Siblings

  1. That was quite an accomplishment for Mildred. I was surprised that two of my great aunts went to Baylor College for Ladies in Texas. I was the first in my Irish McHugh family to go to college but my cousins all followed me.


      1. When I met my American family, I discovered that there were other graduates but less than I would have expected. The academic genes seem to be on the paternal side.


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