Aqua follies of 1946 cover, HHM

Aqua follies, 1946

Published July 10, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

By the late 1930s, Minneapolis was on the skids. The city’s industries were in decline and the community had developed a national reputation for ethnic and labor conflict. The Teamsters’ Strike of 1934 was a pivotal moment for city leaders, who resolved to work together to re-brand the Mill City as the City of Lakes. The Aquatennial Festival was launched in 1939 as part of this broader public relations effort. The lavish Aqua Follies–held each year at Thedore Wirth Pool in Wirth Park–was the centerpiece of this glitzy civic extravaganza. Here we have the cover from the Aqua Follies program from 1946. Image is from the collection of the Hennepin History Museum, which has the most extensive collection of Aquatennial material in the city.

smaller version, aerial map, u of m, 1938, franklin avenue and 35W

Minneapolis from the air, 1938

Published June 2, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. Each week we try to find a map to share with you, my dear readers. This week I’m cheating, a little. This image is from the Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota but it’s not a map. Instead, what we have here is  a 1938 aerial photo of the area around Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis. This image is one of hundreds you can peruse through Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs online, a site created by the University of Minnesota libraries that allows viewers to sort photos according to date and location.

These aerial views are invaluable historical sources that function like a cross between Google Streetview and historic plat maps. They allow viewers to see Minneapolis from the air at different points in the twentieth century. This 1938 photo shows the Whittier neighborhood in Minneapolis before it was bisected by the interstate freeways of the post-World War II period. On the bottom left side of the photo is Fair Oaks Park, once the grounds of the palatial Washburn mansion, demolished by the Minneapolis Park Board in 1924. Today, Fair Oaks Park stands across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is not visible on this photo.  Several blocks north is Stevens Square. Our view on the left side is bounded by Nicollet Avenue.

Minneapolis began making aerial images in 1922, when the city first hired pilots to fly small airplanes–with cameras mounted on the bottom–in a grid pattern over the streetscape. The images were updated every decade. The resulting collection –held in the Borchert Library and the Tower Archives at Minneapolis City Hall–allows viewers to trace the way the city changed over time.

The city of Minneapolis recently transferred its aerial photographs to the Borchert, which will soon digitize these images and add them to the online collection. Click on this link to get the aerial photos site, where you can click on individual images to zoom in and out.


photo for solie abortion post, 6th avenue north and 7th avenue north, 1936, from the streetcar museum

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie

Published April 24, 2014 by Derek Waller

Today’s guest blogger is Derek Waller, a senior from St. Olaf College who interned with the Historyapolis Project for his January term. A history major with a minor in gender studies, Waller explores the history of abortion in Minneapolis in this two-part post.

When Theresa Solie arrived in Minneapolis in 1938, she hoped to find more opportunities than she had in her hometown of Cornell, Wisconsin. A high school graduate with a degree from a business college in Wausaw, Theresa had strong credentials for a young woman seeking employment.

But given the economic climate of the time, it’s not surprising that Theresa was unable to put her training to use. In 1938, the city was still mired in the Great Depression. The previous winter had been miserable; only a huge infusion of federal aid had kept the community afloat. Labor conflicts, escalating racial tensions and intensifying Anti-Semitism had fed the dark mood of the city.

During her first few weeks in the city, Theresa stayed with a distant relative, Clara Leines. She then found domestic work with various families around the near North side, which meant that she had food and a place to stay. Eventually, she got a job as a waitress and began renting her own room. At least this is the story she told Clara.

A year later, Theresa died a few days after undergoing an illegal abortion. On her deathbed, she identified the doctor who had performed the procedure. She also reported that her landlord, Mr. Martin Schmidt, gave her $25 to pay for the procedure. When a policewoman questioned her further, she said that Schmidt was also responsible for her pregnancy.

Abortion had been outlawed in the United States since the middle of the nineteenth century. The procedure was legalized in 1973, when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision. Solie died from a botched termination in the middle of this long century. The safety of illegal abortions varied according to the race and class of the patient. And from all indications Solie had no economic resources and little in the way of family support.

The criminalization of abortions never stopped women from seeing this procedure. Particularly during the Depression, women were desperate to control their fertility. Birth control became widely accepted. And a growing number of women sought abortions. The economic environment forced committed couples to delay marriage and put off child-bearing. Some families placed their children in orphanages, since they had money for neither food nor clothing. An unplanned pregnancy could bring economic catastrophe to a single woman.

Every city had doctors—like Dr. R.J.C. Brown—who were known to perform this procedure. In Minneapolis, Brown was probably well-known as an abortion provider, maintaining an office on 6th Avenue North, a main thoroughfare shown in this photo from 1936. This section of the near North side was known for its tippling houses and shabby brothels, a magnet for those seeking cheap liquor and illicit sex.

Despite the shifting landscape of reproductive rights, abortion was still considered a serious crime with severe legal consequences for doctors. And when Solie died, the state pressed charges against the doctor and Schmidt. When the defendants appealed for a retrial, the case went before the Minnesota Supreme Court nearly a year after Theresa’s death. The testimony before the court and the aftermath of court’s decision complicated Theresa’s story, shedding light onto a darker history that Minneapolitans of the time preferred to overlook.

This 1936 photo is of the intersection of 6th Avenue North and 7th Avenue in Minneapolis. It comes from the Streetcar Museum via the Digital Public Library of America. Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


ligget murder, december 9, 1935, newspaper morgue files, hclib, rita y

The Murder of Walter Liggett

Published December 4, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

One of the crimes that prompted the “Murder in Minneapolis” map that I posted on Monday was the slaying of Walter W. Liggett, the radical publisher of the small Mid-West American. A couple of months before he was gunned down in the south Minneapolis alley behind his apartment, Liggett had predicted his own death in a letter to Chicago Tribune publisher Colonel McCormick. Liggett believed he had be…en targeted by the same gangsters who had gunned down another crusading editor–Howard Guilford–on Pillsbury Avenue in September, 1934. McCormick (a wealthy industrialist and publisher) and Liggett (a radical editor of a marginal publication that railed against vice and big banks) were strange bedfellows. But they were united in their animus towards Floyd B. Olson, the charismatic and popular governor of Minnesota who both men believed had deep ties to the underworld.
This photo from December 9, 1935 shows the Liggett murder scene at 1825 Second Avenue South, before police had removed the editor’s body. As was customary at the time, the newspaper published the grisly photo. Liggett was machine-gunned down on a wintry evening as he returned from grocery shopping with his wife and daughter, who were seated in the back seat of the Ford automobile in the background. Liggett’s wife was adamant that she recognized one of the gunmen as notorious gangster Kidd Cann. Cann was indicted for the murder but escaped conviction on the strength of testimony from a group of barbers from the Artistic Barbershop downtown, who claimed that the well-known mobster was getting a haircut at the time of the murder. Liggett’s daughter, Marda Woodbury, would later publish Stopping the Presses, a book that recounted her memories of the murder and the threats preceding this terrible moment in the cold alley.
Photo is from the newspaper “morgue” files at the Minneapolis collection, Hennepin County Central Library. My thanks to intrepid Historyapolis volunteer Rita Yeada for digitizing images from this uncatalogued collection.