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American Indian Collections Outreach

Posted byLori Williamson on 27 Mar 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Our very own Ben Gessner, Associate for American Indian and Fine Arts Collections, is the featured member on Connecting to Collections. He shares details about his work with American Indian material culture and the importance of working with the community. The full interview is great and can be read on the Connecting to Collections web site.

Top left: Dave Louis and Myrna Weston-Louis explain Dakota quillwork techniques and oral traditions at the 2012 “Legacy of Survival Event” in Flandreau, South Dakota.

Top right: A traditional camp was also erected in the community of Flandreau for the 2012 event. In addition to these grounds being used for lacrosse camps, outdoor feasts were held here.

Middle left: Melvin Houston conducts research at the grand opening of the Santee Nation Research Center.

Middle right: MNHS partnered with the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska in 2013 to bring historic material culture to the community for Dakota Recognition Days.

Bottom left: Wacantkiya Win visits the MNHS digital scanning project in Flandreau in 2012. MNHS Collections staff Lizzie Ehrenhalt and Sondra Reierson are scanning Dakota community members’ family photographs and documents.

Bottom right: Corbin Shoots The Enemy explains some of the local history and archaeological sites along the Missouri River in Crow Creek, South Dakota.

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Remembering Matthew Little

Posted byLori Williamson on 30 Jan 2014 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

The Collections Department is proud to highlight two notable manuscripts collections that document the work of civil rights activist and long-time Minneapolis NAACP president, Matthew “Matt” Little (1921-2014).

Matthew Little, circa 1981.
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Matthew Little was born in North Carolina in 1921 and found himself living in the Twin Cities by the end of the ‘40s. He would spend the next 70 years in Minnesota, building on a reputation as a leader in the civil rights and social justice movements.  Little’s chairmanship of the Minnesota March on Washington Committee in the early 60’s and his long tenure as president of the Minneapolis NAACP are documented in two separate manuscripts collections in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Library.

The Society’s collection of papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom includes materials compiled and created by Matthew Little while Chair of the Minnesota March on Washington Committee. These manuscripts document the efforts of the Committee to organize, enlist support for, and fund a Minnesota delegation to the March on Washington held August 28, 1963. In addition to agendas and minutes, organizing manuals, press releases, publicity fliers, event programs and itineraries, and petitions (July-August 1963), there are circular letters, such as this request for contributions to the Committee.

Circular letter, undated
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Little’s March on Washington papers also include a variety of outgoing and incoming correspondence, such as this congratulatory letter from then Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

Correspondence from Humphrey, September 11, 1963, featuring this quote: “Leadership in Washington depends on leadership by people in Minnesota like you.”
From Little’s papers related to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Little’s long tenure as President of the Minnesota NAACP and continuing Civil rights advocacy work is reflected in the Society’s collection of files relating to the Minneapolis NAACP. Little continued work with the NAACP on behalf of Black Minnesotans long after his presidency ended in 1993. These files include correspondence, reports, and legal briefs pertaining to Minneapolis school desegregation lawsuits (1970-2007); the Hollman public housing planning process case, which involved the Sumner Field Homes in north Minneapolis (1993-2000); the purchase of WCCO-TV and WCCO and WLTE radio by CBS Inc. and a minority internship program at the stations (1991-1993); and papers relating to the Roy Wilkins Memorial in St. Paul (1991-1997). These issue files contain a variety of materials including speeches, court documents and legal briefs, as well as statements made by Little.

Statement of Matthew Little, President of the NAACP, October 12, 1992
From Little’s files relating to the Minneapolis NAACP.

While Little’s work related to both the Minnesota March on Washington Committee and the Minneapolis NAACP are represented in the Society’s collections, he holds a much larger place in Minnesota’s social justice and civil rights historical narrative. I will end this brief introduction to Matthew Little’s papers here at the Society with the following quote by Little, made after the March on Washington in 1963. He writes:

“I think, then, that the true meaning of the march on Washington was to say this: America, we have waited 100 years with patience. We can wait no longer—we must have total freedom now in all phases of our American Society.”

Shelby Edwards, Manuscripts Collections Assistant

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Newspaper carriers’ greetings

Posted byLori Williamson on 23 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Take a look at these short pieces about the newspaper carriers’ holiday greetings in the MHS Library Collection! They are beautiful mementos of earlier holidays. Enjoy!

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Barbie and Ken, 1962

Posted byLori Williamson on 13 Nov 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

When Mattel toy co-founder Ruth Handler suggested an adult-bodied female doll to company executives in the early 1950’s, they were less than enthusiastic.  After all, infant dolls had dominated the market for decades, and fit the bill in preparing young girls for their future role as mothers.  But when Handler noticed her daughter Barbara (Barbie’s namesake) giving adult roles to the paper dolls she played with, she knew there was a niche to be filled.  Handler was in Europe in 1956 when she spotted a blonde-haired, long-legged doll named Bild Lilli, named after a German cartoon strip character.  Lilli was a sassy, independent working girl and her womanly figure was just what Handler envisioned for her doll.  Mattel took cues from the Lilli doll and adapted their own design which debuted as Barbie in 1959.

Marketed as a “Teen-age fashion model,” Barbie was the first mass-produced toy in America with adult features and was an instant success with 350,000 dolls sold in the first year of production.  Mattel was a pioneer in television advertising, being the first toy maker to broadcast commercials directly to kids in 1955 as a sponsor for the Mickey Mouse Club program.  Soon after her debut, Barbie commercials began to saturate children’s primetime TV programming and sales skyrocketed.   By 1961, consumer demand had reached such a fever pitch that Mattel released a new doll.  Barbie’s boyfriend Ken (named after Handler’s son) debuted in March of that year, clad in red swim trunks and sporting “molded” plastic hair.  Barbie’s coterie continued to grow with the introduction of best friend Midge in 1963 and little sister Skipper in 1964.

More than 800 million Barbies have been sold worldwide, but being the most popular doll in history hasn’t always been easy.  With a seemingly endless stash of clothing, cars, and “Dream Houses” Barbie has been branded as a poster child for materialism, and some have claimed that her supermodel-on-steroids good looks has created unrealistic expectations for young girls.  Others defend Barbie as a positive influence who provided an alternative to the traditional gender roles of the 1950’s, a point echoed by her creator.   “My whole philosophy of Barbie” said Ruth Handler “was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”  Whatever her fate, there’s no denying that Barbie has played a significant role as both a mirror and model of American culture.

Adam Scher, Senior Curator

  • For more fun like this, watch for the new Toys exhibit, opening at MHS Memorial Day Weekend 2014!
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Meet Writer-in-Residence Chris Martin

Posted byLori Williamson on 16 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

We are very excited to announce the writer-in-residence in the Minnesota Historical Society Library! In collaboration with Coffee House Press’s exciting project Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, we will be hosting poet Chris Martin through the month of October. The goal of the project is to have new works created in response to working with our unique historical and cultural Collections, either particular pieces or through researching broader themes. One of the goals is to show libraries as creative spaces in addition to reference places. Chris is particularly interested in stories of American Indians, explorers, forgotten literature, and the idea of naming.

Learn more about the project and follow Chris’s progress at the Coffee House Press: In the Stacks blog.

And join us for a public presentation and conversation about his work and experience while here on Tuesday, November 12th at 7pm in the Library! It’s free and open to the public.

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Football and puns and Floyd

Posted byLori Williamson on 26 Sep 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Football and puns, what could be better? You get both in this 1966 University of Minnesota Homecoming Pin. College homecoming football games have been going on since 1909. Usually the homecoming team schedules an easy opponent to ensure a victory. Commemorative pins for the big game are given out before the game.

This Saturday, September 28, will be the 107th matchup between The University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa. The Gophers have been playing the Hawkeyes since 1935 for the Floyd of Rosedale. Along with winning 61 of the contests the Gophers also won the year this homecoming pin was given out, beating Iowa 17-0.

Ryan Barland, Oral History

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At the State Fair

Posted byLori Williamson on 22 Aug 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things



This is a cross-over Favorite Things / What’s New post. We are always lucky when something new to the Collection becomes an instant favorite! Maybe it’s the time of year talking, but when “At the State Fair” came through the Acquisitions Committee last week I knew we had to share it.

This intaglio print by James Boyd Brent exhibits all the excitement and energy of the State Fair. Recognizable Fair motifs (the Haunted House, rides, food) provide the setting, but even more recognizable is the joy, busy-ness, and even confusion among the people in the scenes. The Fair is many things to many people, and he conveys much in this small triptych.

This print is part of a recent acquisition of five pieces — all of which explore familiar scenes of Minnesota. James is a contemporary printmaker specializing in intaglio processes. He is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Minnesota. We are thrilled to add his work to our art collection!

Click on image above to enlarge it.

Lori Williamson, Acquisitions & Outreach Coordinator

Learn More about the Minnesota State Fair:

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Ded Unk’Unpi: We Are Here Exhibit Acquisitions

Posted byLori Williamson on 13 Jun 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

The Minnesota Historical Society strives to make history relevant to the lives of contemporary Minnesotans. One of the ways in which the Society carries out this mission is by collecting and caring for materials that document the stories of Minnesota’s peoples.  In 2012, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Native American Community Development Institute with All My Relations Art sponsored the Ded Unk’unpi : We Are Here art exhibit. As 2012 marked the 150th year since the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, twenty participating American Indian artists shared their reflections on the war and related events, as well as on this “commemorative” year.

As the Ded Unk’unpi : We Are Here exhibit came to a close, the Society’s Collections department was privileged to acquire for its permanent collections eight of these works. Many of the artworks themselves document the historic events of the War and its immediate and extended aftermath, including the subsequent mass execution in Mankato and Dakota removal to Crow Creek. But the artworks also serve somewhat as documents in-and-of-themselves; to be “read” by future Minnesotans in order to better understand this point in time -2012 – and the powerful and complicated emotions, artistic visions, and scholarship of today. Consisting of both traditional and contemporary media, prevailing themes found throughout the pieces include the regaining of cultural strength, the healing of wounds, and the honoring of relatives.

In the ledger art piece, For Every Great Man, There is a Great Woman, 2012, artist Avis Charley depicts three generations of Dakota women moving westward across the plains. A noticeable absence of men may allude not only to the strength of these women, but to the fact that many Dakota men (even those who did not participate in the War), were held as prisoners for years following 1862. In her artist statement, she writes, “The women represent different generations and the virtues of our Dakota values. These values are courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity and the message will be about healing, moving forward, and empowering ourselves as Dakota women despite the trauma in our history.”

For Every Great Man, There is a Great Woman, 2012
Avis Charley
color pencil and acrylic on paper
AV2012.7

On December 26th 1862, following six weeks of war, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota – a hanging that remains the largest one-day execution in American history.  Among these men was Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi, or Good Little Stars. Within the Dakota culture, each child born has a public name which denotes their birth order, and first born males are called Caske (Cha-SKAY).  Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi, among many others, often answered to his public name of Caske.

Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi and his family protected Sarah Wakefield, the wife of a doctor from the Upper Sioux Agency, and her children during the war. In spite of protests and professions of his innocence by Mrs. Wakefield, he was sentenced to death, and she ostracized for her efforts to protect him.  There are conflicting accounts of whether or not this man was hanged by mistake or whether his execution was deliberate.  One version of the story purports that because there were multiple Caskes imprisoned, Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi simply answered the executioner’s call by mistake. A closer inspection of the historical record proves this version to be oversimplified and perhaps superficial.

Today, to many Dakota people, Wicaŋḣpi Wastedaŋpi represents a martyr or a lost hero. It can be seen that for his efforts in protecting other human lives, his only reward was a vindictive frontier justice. Through her piece Caske’s Pardon, Gwen Westerman offers a prayer for his federal pardon.

Caske’s Pardon, 2012
Gwen Westerman
Quilt: 100% commercial and hand- dyed cotton; glass, beads, hemp, and paper embellishments
AV2012.11

James Star Comes Out created his piece, 1862 Sung Ite Ha, and other similar pieces, with the goal of revitalizing the art of horse regalia in his home community of Pine Ridge. He writes that “in doing so, I believe that it will be beneficial to all, as it will exemplify the beauty of Lakota culture and in return it will encourage, motivate and revive a centuries-old art form.” This piece was created as a tribute, to honor the 38 men that were hanged in Mankato in 1862.


1862 Sung Ite Ha, 2012
James Star Comes Out
cotton fabric, brass spots, brass bells, beads, tin cones, goose feathers, red fluffs, turkey feathers, and mirrors
AV2012.8.A,B

These pieces, along with others by well-known artists Jim Denomie, Julie Buffalohead, Maggie Thompson, Jodi Webster and Dwayne Wilcox were formally added to the Society’s permanent collections in 2012. To view these and other artworks, visit our collections online database here.

Ben Gessner
Collections Associate, American Indian & Fine Art Collections

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Treasure in the Minnesota State Archives

Posted byLori Williamson on 16 Apr 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

In April 2011 a Library patron found an 1862 dollar bill in a Winona County District Court civil case file.  The case file itself is routine, so the real treasure is the dollar bill.  The well worn dollar bill was probably sent to the court to pay for a court fee, but for some unknown reason remained in the file.  The case files for this time period are tri-folded, and most likely the file has not been opened and used since 1868 when the case occurred.

This is an intriguing story and the researcher was very conscientious about informing the Library staff of her find.  The dollar bill was one of the first paper dollars bills issued by the federal government on August 1, 1862; both the Union and Confederate governments issued paper currency to finance the American Civil War.  The dollar bill is intact, in fair condition, but dirty and worn at the corners.  It actually feels like a paper towel or a piece of soft cloth.

Here is a photograph of a mint condition 1862 dollar bill.

Note the red engravings, and the reverse of the dollar bill is green, and that is where we get the term “greenback” for dollar bills.   The paper currency issued by the Union government was referred to as greenbacks, because the reverse or “back” of the dollar bills were printed in green ink.  And who is the distinguished gentleman pictured on the dollar bill?  That is Salmon P. Chase, the Treasury Secretary for President Abraham Lincoln.  He is well known to numismatists for his causing the motto “In God We Trust” to be adopted for our national coinage. The values of the greenbacks fluctuated during the war, and at times were only worth 40 cents in gold.

The case file in which the dollar bill was discovered is entitled Byron B. Northrup & Abram Hoagland v. H. T. Jewett.   According to the documents in the file, Mr. Jewett owed Northrup and Hoagland $562.50.  The documents, dated 1868-1869, include a summons and complaint, affidavits, and a statement of the Winona County Sheriff that Mr. Jewett could not be found in the county or in the state.  That’s not too surprising, since another document states Mr. Jewett was a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, but owned property in Minnesota.  Other Winona County court records preserved in the State Archives were examined, but apparently this case was never resolved, and Mr. Jewett never paid off his debt to Northrup and Hoagland.

But, this 1862 dollar bill which remained undisturbed in a routine court file, helps tell an intriguing story about an important period in our country’s history, and illustrates the treasures (monetary and non-monetary) that may be found in the Minnesota State Archives.

Charles Rodgers
Government Records Specialist

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1970s – the Do Something Decade?

Posted byLori Williamson on 31 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: Our Favorite Things

Oh, the 1970s…they were quite a time. There has been renewed interest in this period lately, both scholarly and in popular culture. From the movie Argo to the book being published this fall by MHS Press, people have started taking a closer look at this often neglected time that shaped many of us. Today, however, we are taking the popular culture angle. These two pieces were added to the collection here just last week, and I thought you should see them.

Windom is a town of about 4,500 people in the southwestern part of the state. This program is from the beauty pageant held there, leading up to the Miss America pageant.

Were the 70s really the “Do Something” decade?

To balance out the beauty, I submit this:

This is a copy of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in German, published in 1971. The popularity of Peanuts knows no bounds, nor national borders apparently.

Both of these items will be cataloged and available in the Library for a closer look.

Lori Williamson
Acquisitions & Outreach Coordinator

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