Lilian Bye was born in Oslo and grew up as a foster child in a janitor’s family. A gifted child in school, it was still not common to see a girl from this type of background pass the artium examination [qualifying for university studies]. In 1928 she went to Seattle where her father lived. During the next few years she sporadically studied, but also travelled much, particularly in the USA. These were like apprentice years for her, where she gained good insight into the various shadowy and sunny sides of the strongly class-divided American society.
In 1936 she returned to Norway. Here she lived for four years in the Sami core areas in Finnmark County, in particular gaining good insight into the nomadic lifestyle of the reindeer herding Sami. She also saw that Norway had also had issues with the way it treated minorities, and that the Sami population was subjected to harsh cultural suppression. She published a book about this community (New edition 1976: Fjellfinner i Finnmark [Mountain Sami in Finnmark]).
In 1939 she again travelled to the USA, this time for more systematic studies. She graduated from university in such subject areas as sociology and anthropology. For many years she led a centre for unmarried mothers in Boston, and she also worked with minority issues in the slum on Long Island in New York.
In 1962 the first tertiary social work education was established in Norway. Sosialskolen [the College of Health and Social Affairs] in Trondheim was a pioneer project, which was to give academic weight and recognition to social work. Lilian Bye became the first head of this college, and for 11 years she was part of developing and putting her mark on a completely new subject area in Norway. Since 1994 the college has been under HiST [the Sør-Trøndelag University College]. The college was located at Lade Manor, and during this period the building was upgraded and saved from complete ruin. Lilian Bye was deeply involved in this process as well.
As a pensioner she settled in Røros, where the national social patterns had not yet found their roots. Here she found many similarities with life among the Sami in Finnmark. Lilian Bye was active all her life, and in 1976 published the novel Jentungen [The slip of a girl], with autobiographical elements. The year she died Av en pensjonists dagbok [A pensioner's diary] was published, with essays and lectures she had given in her short but busy life as a pensioner.
Recommended reading: Hans Göran Eriksson: Fra tårn til kuppel: Sosionomutdanningen i Trondheim 1962-2002 [From tower to cupola: Social worker education in Trondheim 1962-2002]. 2003.