The Island and Thorstein Veblen


From 1896 to 1926 the world famous Economist Thorstein Veblen spent his summers on Washington Island. In 1916 he built a study cabin and a home for his wife and two step daughters. The study cabin has been moved and is being restored on the shore of Little Lake. The Washington Island Heritage Conservancy is responsible for this and other Heritage promotions on the Island. Learn more at


Washington Island resident Esther Gunnerson became interested in Veblen as a young woman. Working in her family’s Island hardware store one day, the family that had purchased Veblen’s cabin came in to buy a set of lawn furniture. They mentioned that they weren’t sure how to dispose of Veblen’s books and personal effects. In a moment of inspiration, Esther offered to trade a set of lawn furniture for the historically-important materials. The deal was done and the books were eventually donated to the Washington Island Archives, from where they made their way to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, mere miles from Veblen’s childhood home.


Ruth Gunnerson, Esther’s daughter, says that her mother not only was intellectually interested in Veblen, but that she felt a “kinship” with him: “Veblen originally came to the Island to learn Icelandic, and mom came to Gibraltar School in Fish Creek knowing only Danish and had to learn English on the spot. She was always very interested in education and later decided to write her Master’s thesis on Thorstein Veblen at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. She got an “A” on her thesis paper, and received her Master’s in Education in 1968. It was a great personal accomplishment.”

A Remembrance of Esther Gunnerson by her daughter Ruth

Click here to read Esther Gunnerson’s Master’s Thesis about Thorstein Veblen in its entirety.