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June 18, 2012

Yahoo Minnesota

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Lori Williamson @ 4:58 pm

“All the wicked people

In the Vale of Siddem

Thought of things they shouldn’t do

And then they went and did ‘em”

Since the response to the last best book was so underwhelming I thought I would try something completely different. Instead of a look at Minnesota’s aboriginal culture let’s look at Minnesota’s abhorrent culture.

For this best book we will travel down Highway 61 to Wabasha and peek inside one of the dark and deep coulees (as known as ravines) to find out what nefarious things were taking place in the first decades of the twentieth century. I’ll warn you it ain’t pretty.

Arthur C. Rogers and Maud A. Merrill Dwellers in the Vale of Siddem: A True Story of the Social Aspect of Feeble-Mindedness. Boston: R. G. Badger, c.1919. 80p.

Further warning! This is a slice of Minnesota history you don’t see very often and the language by today’s standards is highly politically incorrect. It is a sociological study, begun in 1911, of the family histories of inmates at the Minnesota School for the Feeble-Minded and Colony for Epileptics who were all from a small geographic area in Wabasha County, a coulee near Lake City. They were selected because there was such an “appalling amount of mental deficiency” which they define as not being able to compete on equal terms with normal people and not being able to “managing himself and his affairs with ordinary prudence.” The study also documents those classified as “moral defectives.” The authors despair of being able to help due to “the apparently inexhaustible supply of mental defectives…” saying “It is like trying to stamp out malaria or yellow fever in the neighborhood of a mosquito breeding swamp.”   By their census the ravine contained [I am using their terminology] 156 normal, 199 feeble-minded, 15 epileptic, 34 insane, 125 sexually immoral, 15 criminalistic, 134 alcoholic, and 47 tuberculous inhabitants.

Rogers died during the long study which was taken over by Merrill. Whoever wrote the text it is fabulous reading. They describe each family pseudonymously and they don’t mince words. Of the head of the Yak family; “His laziness was proverbial.” Of the Chad family: “The prevalence of sexual laxity among them is a forgone conclusion.” The family genealogical charts are the best part of the book. Squares are males, circles female and solid lines equal marriage. A line underneath the symbol means they have been institutionalized. They also show illicit sexual relations with broken lines, an “N” for normal, “F” for feeble- minded, “I” for insane, “Sx” for sexually immoral, “A” for alcoholic, “C” for criminal, etc. etc. Take a close look at the descendants of Jo Yak and Lou Chad…

One last tantalizing note: this blogger has seen a copy of this book that had been owned by a doctor or social worker in southern Minnesota that had a chart in the front showing the family names used in the book and the names of the real families.

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