smaller version, M0807, milwaukee avenue photo, from hclib

Another battle in Seward, this time with no shooting

Published September 12, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

You can live in south Minneapolis your entire life and never stumble across the nineteenth century enclave that is Milwaukee Avenue, a two block development wedged between 22nd and 23rd avenues off Franklin Avenue in the Seward neighborhood. This pedestrian street–lined on either side by brick cottages fronted with gingerbread porches– transports visitors to another place and time.

These blocks were developed in the 1880s by local real estate agent William Ragan, who hoped to profit from the city’s exponential growth. He constructed the small houses to provide cheap, temporary homes for new immigrants from Scandinavia, who mostly worked in the nearby Milwaukee Railroad shops and yards. He squeezed as many structures as possible on to the narrow street, which had been originally platted as an alley. An ethnic community took shape around Ragan’s development but in these early decades no one stayed too long.

The homes were not built for the ages and they were neglected through the Depression and World War II. By 1959 the city declared its intention to see these dilapidated structures razed, pointing to the fact that at least some of them lacked indoor plumbing. But as the city sought to obtain the funds for this ambitious redevelopment plan, the neighborhood changed. And by the 1970s, Seward was home to many seasoned activists, who decided to band together to stop the destruction of this historic streetscape.

In 1974, neighborhood activists worked with the Minnesota Historical Society to get the district of workers’ homes placed on the National Register, forestalling demolition. Over the decade that followed, residents sought to preserve the street but upgrade the homes for modern families. William Rogan would likely not recognize the idyllic street today, a leafy enclave surrounded by busy thoroughfares on all sides.

In a new book–Milwaukee Avenue: Community Renewal in Minneapolis–Bob Roscoe tells the story of this campaign from his perspective as a local activist. To hear more, visit the Hennepin History Museum this Sunday at 2pm. The Museum is hosting a fireside chat and book signing with Roscoe.




“A Practical Guide for the Unpracticed Homosexual”

Published June 23, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg

It’s Map Monday. Today we have a series of maps created by Historyapolis student researcher Kevin Ehrman-Solberg.

On August 21, 1970, Hundred Flowers, a radical newspaper from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, devoted an entire issue to the burgeoning gay rights movement. “1969 was the year of the New Homosexual,” the paper proclaimed. “New groups, projecting a militant, determined and activist viewpoint arose. The gay person became visible and vocal on a wide scale for the first time. We need your support. Join us in the Freaking Fag Revolution!”

What follows is a mapping of the sites where gays could,according the the paper, “reasonably expect to meet others of the same orientation.” All text, locations, and names are taken directly from Hundred Flowers.

Click on the image below to bring up the map series. You can navigate between the different maps by clicking on the bullet points.



The hidden geography of feminism

Published March 31, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg

It’s Map Monday. Today we have a custom map created by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, a senior history major at Augsburg and one of the student interns at the Historyapolis Project for 2014.

Since the eighteenth century, feminism has inspired women to re-imagine personal relationships, institutional structures and public spaces. This map shows how this movement transformed the urban landscape of Minneapolis in the 1960s and 1970s, when thousands of local women took inspiration from second wave feminism to remake the city.

The map pinpoints some of the feminist experiments and initiatives of this period, using green pins to locate businesses, blue pins to commemorate protests, red pins to remember activist hotspots and yellow pins to show other sites of significance for this feminist era in the city.

The map includes the Amazon bookstore and A Woman’s Coffee House, nationally-known institutions that served as women-only sites for socializing and consciousness-raising. It points out the resource centers created by women to address issues like pornography and domestic violence. And it illuminates how women appropriated places that had been traditionally dominated by men. Click on the map points to learn more.

Feminist collaboration was never simple. But the “sex wars” of the early 1980s ushered in a new age of conflict for feminists, especially in Minneapolis, where battles over pornography, sexual exploitation and sexual violence consumed the entire community. These emotional skirmishes ended this earlier period of giddy experimentation.

Most social movements have been commemorated in some way on the urban landscape of the city. But feminism has no monument, unless you count the statue of television character Mary Tyler Moore on Nicollet Mall. This map helps to see the now invisible legacy of powerful revolution, which reshaped every aspect of life in the city.

LFOC newsletter, 1987, Tretter collection from SVC

“We are working for the destruction of patriarchy”

Published March 19, 2014 by Stewart Van Cleve

Guest blogger today is Stewart Van Cleve, a graduate student in the program for Library and Information Science at St. Catherine University and the author of Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota. In this post, Stewart writes about Minnesota’s first statewide lesbian organization: the Lesbian Feminist Organizing Committee.

Since her 1980 election to the Minnesota Legislature, Representative Karen Clark has become a powerful voice in state politics. She and State Senator Scott Dibble helped lead the battle against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and, more recently, she became the House sponsor of Minnesota’s same-sex marriage bill, which Governor Mark Dayton signed into law last May. She looked on with her partner, Jacquelyn Zita, as Governor Dayton signed the bill, ending a fight for marriage equality that originated alongside Clark’s political career in the 1970s.

Clark’s foray into politics began four decades ago, when she participated in the landmark Sagaris Institute, a 1975 feminist conference held in Vermont. Though the Institute collapsed due to participant infighting and fears of FBI infiltration, Clark returned to Minnesota with inspiration, and she began organizing women from her home in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood. After a series of discussions with a diverse group of Minnesota women from around the state, she helped create Minnesota’s first statewide lesbian organization: the Lesbian Feminist Organizing Committee (LFOC). Though it only lasted for six years, the LFOC forged a local lesbian community that built the political infrastructure necessary for the immense cultural changes that transpired four decades later.

From the beginning, the LFOC called for radical change. “Lesbians are an oppressed minority,” the organization stated in its “Principles of Unity,” “…[and] we are working for the destruction of patriarchy, and for the development of a system in which there is an equitable distribution of power.”  To help achieve the LFOC’s broader goals, Clark devised an innovative organizing strategy inspired by Marxist thought; she helped women create largely-autonomous “cells” that determined its own needs and objectives while simultaneously assisting the activities of the “mother organization,” which published newsletters and led organizing workshops for cell leaders.  The structure proved extremely effective in responding to the myriad and often immediate needs of Minnesota lesbians. In an interview for Land of 10,000 Loves, one of the LFOC’s principal organizers, Janet Dahlem, remembered: “when people came to us with needs, we were able to respond and create a committee or a subgroup…we had a Lesbian Mother’s Legal Defense Fund because a women had lost her  children to her heterosexual husband simply because she was a lesbian.” In addition to the Mother’s Defense Fund, the LFOC also led an organizing effort to curtail anti-lesbian hate crimes, which were ignored by both gay and mainstream news sources.

Simply by creating a political structure that gave women leadership roles, the LFOC helped destabilize male dominance in local politics, especially in south Minneapolis, where most members lived.  The LFOC also helped Clark establish a mobilized base of dedicated volunteers who helped her first successful bid for elected office in 1980. Without the LFOC, Clark’s career, and thus the marriage equality legislation that defines it, would likely have not been possible.

The image above is from the December 1978 newsletter of the Lesbian Feminist Organizing Committee. It comes to Historyapolis courtesy of the Lesbian Feminist Organizing Committee (LFOC) records, part of the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota.