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Howard Olson Family Papers

Call Number: RG 238

Scope and Contents

This collection provides valuable documentation of the life and work of Howard and Louise Olson as Lutheran missionaries in Tanzania, including their educational work, research related to African music and languages, and the experience of raising children in a missionary setting. The family correspondence from the 1940s and 1950s provides more detailed information about their work in Tanzania. There is no correspondence from the 1960s and the correspondence beginning with the 1970s is primarily with the Olson's children, focusing more on their lives, but with some mention of the Olsons' activities in Tanzania.

The Writings of Series II primarily relate to Howard Olson's work in the areas of linguistics and African music. Additional documentation regarding African music and hymns is found in Series III. The documentation of Conferences and Lay Courses in Series IV includes the Olsons' teaching curricula related to Africa and African music as well as records from reunions of Lutheran missionaries to East Africa. Series V, Collected Material, includes photocopies of historical documents related to the Lutheran mission in Tanzania and two audiotapes related to African languages. The collection concludes with Series VII, Biographical Documentation.


  • 1943-2010


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Olson family, 2011


  1. I. Correspondence, 1945-1988, n.d.
  2. II. Writings, 1955-2004
  3. III. African Music Documentation
  4. IV. Conferences and Lay Courses, 1994-2004, n.d.
  5. V. Collected Material, 1943-1991, n.d.
  6. VI. Biographical Documentation, 2010, n.d.


1.5 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, writings, and collected material document the life and work of Howard and Louise Olson and their family. The Olsons were Lutheran missionaries and educators in Tanzania from 1946 to 1988. Howard Olson was instrumental in translating the New Testament into the Rimi language and had a particular interest in African music and hymns.

Biographical / Historical

Howard S. Olson was born July 18, 1922 and died July 1, 2010. He received a B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College, an M.Div. from Augustana Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Hartford Seminary (1965). In 1946 Howard married Louise Anderson, daughter of George and Annette Anderson, who were missionaries serving under the Augustana Lutheran Mission in Tanzania (Tanganyika Territory) 1924-1954. Howard and Louise had four children: Howard, Sharon, Timothy, and Linda.

Howard and his wife Louise served as Lutheran missionaries in Tanzania from 1946 to 1988, collaborating in parish work, educational work, and in the study of African music. During the first half of their career Howard worked mainly as a parish pastor, builder, Bible translator, language teacher and administrator. He analyzed and reduced to writing a dialect of the Rimi language and assisted in completing the first draft translation of the New Testament in Rimi.

Howard and Louise both taught at Makumira Seminary, the largest Lutheran seminary in Africa, for twenty-four years. Howard was Director of Music Research and served from time to time as President, Academic Dean, chair of the Biblical Department, chaplain, and editor of The Africa Theological Journal. Louise taught a variety of subjects to the theological students and their wives, was active in the seminary choir, and worked in conjunction with her husband in notating ethnic music.

Howard also taught at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and Wartburg Theological Seminary. He published works in the fields of theology, ethnomusicology and linguistics in English, Kiswahili and Kirimi. Major publications include The Phonology and Morphology of the Rimi Language, Jifunze Kiyunani (textbook for teaching Koine Greek in Swahili), Tumshangilie Mungu (six editions of 150 ethnic hymns in Swahili with translation of some of them in English, German, and French), Lead Us, Lord and Set Free (compilations of African ethnic hymns published by Augsburg Fortress). Hymns by Olson can be found in many Evangelical Lutheran Church in America hymnals. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Olsons gave presentations and taught at various conferences and lay courses related to Africa and African music.

Guide to the Howard Olson Family Papers
Martha Lund Smalley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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