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The Immigrant and the University

Peder Sather and Gold Rush California

Karin Sveen (Author), Barbara J. Haveland (Translator), Kevin Starr (Foreword)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 312 pages
ISBN: 9780520276482
February 2014
$34.95, £24.95
Other Formats Available:
Peder Sather was a scribe before he emigrated from Norway to New York in 1832. There, he worked as a servant and a clerk at a lottery office before opening an exchange brokerage. During the gold rush, he moved to San Francisco to help establish the banking house of Drexel, Sather & Church on Montgomery Street. Sather was a founder and a liberal benefactor of the University of California at Berkeley where he is memorialized by the Sather Gate and Sather Tower (the Campanile), three endowed professorships, and more recently the Peder Sather Center for Advanced Study.

Karin Sveen, one of Norway’s most accomplished writers, pieces together a story yet untold—a beautifully crafted biography based on her dedicated search for scraps of information. The result gives readers a look at the life of a successful entrepreneur and a leading California patron who engaged in public education on all levels; supported Abraham Lincoln; and worked to give emancipated slaves housing, schooling, and employment after the Civil War. His legacy and vivid persona and the frontier city of his time are brought to life with interesting anecdotes of many famous people— General William T. Sherman, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, and above all, his close friend Anthony J. Drexel, legendary Philadelphia financier and one of the founders of Wall Street.


Karin Sveen is a Norwegian poet, novelist, and essayist. She was awarded the Norsk språkpris (Norwegian Language Prize) in 2007.

Barbara J. Haveland has translated for many notable Scandinavian authors, including Peter Høeg, Linn Ullmann, and Jan Kjærstad.
"Sveen’s elegiac biography is an intimate and rambling look at Sather . . . it’s a well-researched addition to the literature on early San Francisco, as well as the experience of Norwegian immigrants in the U.S."—Laura Tarwater Scharp City Book Review
"Written in an engaging and personal style, Karin Sveen’s biography of Peder Sather reveals the life of one of the University of California’s little known founders. Now those who pass through Sather Gate and gaze up at Sather Tower can associate a face and a life with the monuments that memorialize his name." —Albert L. Hurtado, author of Herbert Eugene Bolton: Historian of the American Borderlands

"This elegant and meticulously researched biography of the San Francisco banker and philanthropist Peder Sather is impossible to put down. It has taken a Norwegian poet to give us, for the first time, the astonishing story of one of California’s—and America’s—most consequential philanthropists and the founder of our nation’s greatest public university. The story of a poor farm boy from a remote corner of Norway, who traversed continents, made a large fortune, and used it to bring learning to generations of average citizens is a monumental tribute to all that is good and great about both Norway and America. The Immigrant and the University is a remarkable accomplishment." —Carla Hesse, Peder Sather Professor and Dean of Social Sciences, University of California, Berkeley

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