smaller version, HHM Gateway182-Political signs posted along fronts of building, can see ...Club, but can't make out what club

Election Hangover

Published November 5, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Long after the final votes are counted, the political signs remain. The Gateway District in the heart of the historic city was a favorite place for campaign posters before it was finally demolished in 1963. This photo shows the remainders of the 1961 city election, which saw Arthur Naftalin, longtime aide to legendary politician Hubert Humphrey, unseat Kenneth “P.K.” Peterson from the mayor’s office. Naftalin was the first (and only) Jewish mayor in the history of the city. He would guide the community through the tumultuous years of the 1960s, when racial tensions were high.

This image is part of a treasure trove of color slides from the city’s forgotten Skid Row that team Historyapolis recently discovered at the Hennepin History Museum. Thanks to museum staff for giving us generous access to these unique sources. The  concerted efforts of citizen researcher Rita Yeada and Historyapolis intern Heidi Heller–who worked together to digitize and organize the images– makes it possible for us to enjoy these images online.


ed ryan for sherriff campaign card

“Keep the Rackets on the Run”: Election Day Promises of Yore

Published December 17, 2014 by Anna Romskog

Anna Romskog is a senior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

It’s Election Day! Today, voters in Minneapolis will be going to the polls to decide on several statewide offices and a highly contentious race for the school board. Sixty years ago, it was the police department­–rather than the school board–that was at the center of public policy debates in the city.

When legendary politician Hubert Humphrey decided in 1943 that he wanted to be mayor of Minneapolis, the city was, in his words, “a wide open town.” In a 1978 interview, campaign aide Bill Simms remembered that Minneapolis had “a dismal national name. . .Prostitution was flourishing.  Gambling was obvious in all sections of the downtown area.”

Police raids like this one—shown in a newspaper photo from 1940—were common.

gambling bust, 1940, picture 8, side 1


But they took place only when city officials failed to receive the payoffs they demanded from the operators of downtown gambling parlors.

Humphrey made vice and crime central to his campaign. And when he was elected mayor in 1945, he knew that he would need a strong police chief if he was going to carry out his promise to clean up the city.

Ed Ryan had caught the eye of the ambitious Humphrey well before he became mayor. Ryan wasn’t very popular in many quarters; he was head of the Internal Security Division of the Minneapolis Police Department and he’d been trained at the FBI to help keep tabs on communist movements and possible spies. Humphrey nominated him for the chief job, despite the strong opposition of organized labor.

Humphrey went to Ryan and told him “I want this town cleaned up and I mean I want it cleaned up now, not a year from now or a month from now, right now.” Humphrey promised: “You take care of the law enforcement. I’ll take care of the politics.”

Ultimately Ryan and Humphrey would be credited with cracking down on the corruption and vice that had made Minneapolis notorious. Humphrey used this success to launch his national political career, running a successful campaign for the United States Senate in 1948. Ryan also used this crusade as a stepping stone. In 1946, he ran for Hennepin County Sherriff. This broadside is from that campaign, which he ran under the slogan: “Keep the Rackets on the Run.”

Ryan was elected in a landslide and remained in that office for the next 20 years.

The Ryan campaign flyer is from the Hennepin History Museum. The photo of the gambling raid is from the newspaper morgue file at the Special Collections at the Hennepin County Library and was digitized by citizen-researcher Rita Yeada. Information for this post is from Humphrey H. Humphrey’s autobiography, The Education of a Public Man: My Life and Politics. Other sources include interviews conducted with Ed Ryan and Bill Simms as part of the 1978 Hubert Humphrey Oral History Project, which is part of the larger collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

smaller version sara burger stearns

The Minneapolis School Board Election, c.1875

Published October 28, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

One week from today voters will go to the polls. This year, one of the most contentious electoral contests is for school board in Minneapolis, where debates about education have moved to the center of the public policy arena. Today’s blog post–written by Tamatha Perlman–shows how the city’s school board has frequently been on the cutting edge of innovation. She details the results of a significant experiment in 1875, when women were granted the right to vote in school-related elections. When not writing for Historyapolis, Tamatha is a writer and museum consultant, who is working on a book about murder, madness and unrequited love in 19th century Minneapolis.

On November 2, 1875, women in Minnesota gained the right to vote, though the privilege was limited. Male voters had approved (by a count of 24,340 to 19,468) an amendment to the state Constitution that allowed women 21 years of age and over to vote in elections pertaining to schools.

Minnesota was not the first state to propose such a law, and it seems to have passed without too much objection. The women who submitted the amendment to the legislature did little to “agitate” the question, worrying that rather than promoting the bill, their efforts would rouse the opposition. Their effort to keep opposition down worked almost too well. When Sarah Burger Stearns, future president of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association, wrote to the editor of the Pioneer Press urging him to support the amendment, he thanked her for reminding him that the amendment was to be voted on at all. Picking up on this lack of interest or knowledge of the bill, Stearns applied for the ballots to read “For the amendment to Article 7 of the constitution. Yes.” The push for the verbiage insured “the most ignorant men were led to vote as they should, with the intelligent, in favor of giving women a voice in the education of the children of the State, while all who were really opposed could scratch the “yes,” and substitute a “no.”

Most voting men seemed to agree with the editorialists of the Minneapolis Tribune that “there are certainly more women than men in the community who have the leisure and the inclination to devote themselves to looking after the interest of the public schools.” But even the most enthusiastic advocates of this reform viewed women’s new role as limited. In their minds, women would contribute compassion and benevolent advice rather than financial or administrative oversight. “We would not favor the election of a majority of women to the board,” the Minneapolis Tribune declared in 1876. “Its important business transactions can, as a rule, be better done by men having business experience, but there are other matters which come before it for determination, in regard to which the wise counsel of an intelligent woman would prove invaluable for the guidance of the men. Women have been found far superior to men in the school room, where but a few years since they were regarded as incompetent to preside.”

Not only could women vote but they could also hold office under this new law. The first woman tapped to be a school supervisor in Minneapolis was Charlotte Van Cleve, activist, founder of the Sisterhood of Bethany for fallen women and one of the city’s first residents. Van Cleve was nominated to represent the East Division (St. Anthony to those who were around before the city’s 1872 merger with Minneapolis). Charlotte was well qualified for the job. An advocate for education not only of children but for women as well, Charlotte and her husband, General Horatio Phillips Van Cleve had run a prep school in Michigan for young adults and began a school in Daveiss Prairie, Missouri during their short time there as well. “This is a case in which the colonization of votes would almost be justified if her election could be assured thereby,” crowed the newspaper.

Braving a wet spring snow, Charlotte arrived alone as the polls opened on April 5, 1876. One can only assume she placed her votes for herself and co-runner Charlotte Winchell. Throughout the course of the day, women arrived “in groups, from four to six in number, the men stepping aside until their ballots were placed in the special deposit provided for them.” Over 5,000 people lived on the east side of the river in the 1870s, and 270 of its eligible women exercised their new rights. Perhaps more women would have shown up, the reporter mused, if the weather had been a bit more cooperative. Over 1,000 women voted throughout Minneapolis on educational matters in all.

The women who voted that day left “their brothers somewhat astounded that ‘woman’s suffrage’ could be so courteously and effectively demonstrated.”


Sources used for this post include: Stearns, Sara Burger, “Women’s Interest in Education,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 21, 1875, p. 2; Harper, Ida Husted, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. III 1876-1885 (Rochester, Charles Mann Printing: 1886) p. 653; “Women In Our School Board,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 27, 1876, p.2; “The Grand Rounds,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 29, 1876, p.4; “The Election: A Decidedly Demonstrative, but Orderly Proceeding,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 5, 1876, p. 4.

police baseball team, c. 1900, photo 1, side 1

Baseball and Municipal Graft

Published June 18, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Take me out to the ballpark. This photo–taken in 1900– shows the Minneapolis Police Department baseball team. It’s charming until you know a little more about when and why it was taken.

This portrait was created right before “Doc” Ames won his fourth term as mayor of Minneapolis in 1900. His re-election had enormous implications for the police force, which became central to his plans to remake the city’s municipal administration into a machine for graft. Ames appointed his brother, Fred W. Ames, as chief of police. And Fred invited Norman W. King, a professional gambler, to help him administer law enforcement in Minneapolis. The men immediately fired 107 of the 225 members of the force. The remainder were vetted for their dependability. Under Ames direction they would no longer be combating criminals. Their job would be to supervise the criminal enterprise of the city and ensure that everyone in the Ames administration receive a portion of the profits from gambling, saloons, blind pigs, swindling and prostitution.

King was instructed to “invite to Minneapolis thieves, confidence men, pickpockets and gamblers, and release some that were in the local jail,” according to muckracking journalist Lincoln Steffens, who later described this scheme for McClure’s Magazine as part of his Shame of the Cities series. These criminals “were to be organized into groups, according to their profession, and detectives were assigned to assist and direct them.”

“Some two hundred slot machines were installed in various parts of the town,” Steffens reported. “Auction frauds were instituted. Opium joints and unlicensed saloons, called ‘blind pigs,’ were protected.” And the new police bosses even used the police baseball team–pictured above–to make money. “Tickets were sold to people who had to buy them,” according to Steffens, along with “illustrated biographies of the city officials.”

Doc Ames was indicted by a grand jury and reformers swept into city hall. But both the city and the police department struggled to shed the stigma of the “Shame” article. For the next four decades, Minneapolis was known for its municipal corruption and tolerance for gangsterism.

Photo is from Special Collections, Hennepin County Central Library.

myrtle cain, voter card, side one, hclib vertical files

Myrtle A. Cain: “indorsed by the Working People’s Political League”

Published March 25, 2014 by Anna Romskog

Today’s blogger is Anna Romskog is a junior history major at Augsburg College. She will be a regular presence here during 2014, when she will be working as one of the student researchers for the Historyapolis Project.

This card–from 1922–urges voters in the 28th district of Minneapolis to vote for Myrtle A. Cain, a candidate for the Minnesota State Legislature who was “indorsed by the Working People’s Political League.” Cain was one of the pioneering political women who immediately sought public office after American women were granted the vote by the Nineteenth Amendment.

In 1922, Cain was one of four women to win seats in the Minnesota state legislature. When she went to St. Paul, she represented a constituency in Northeast Minneapolis that was dominated by immigrants and labor activists like herself.

Before running for office, Cain developed her leadership skills in the labor movement. Cain organized a strike of “Hello Girls” or telephone operators that started in November of 1918, just a few days after the Armistice ended World War I. Under Cain’s leadership, the strikers demanded significant wage increases and better working hours, mounting a bold though ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the local business elite.

At the same time Cain pledged her support to the National Woman’s Party, a radical feminist group organized in 1917 to win full equality for women.  The NWP staged dramatic, non-violent protests to demand the immediate enfranchisement of women; after the Nineteenth Amendment it launched a campaign for a measure it called the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment that would mandate equal treatment for both sexes under the law.

Cain’s activist history shaped her legislative priorities when was took her seat at the State Capitol. She was one of a handful of legislators to support the Granting Equal Rights, Privileges, and Immunities to both Sexes bill. The bill, supported by Cain and six male legislators was not a popular one and was opposed by the three other women who were legislators during the 1923-24 session, including well-known suffragist Clara Ueland. The other three women worried that Cain’s bill was too radical and would erode the political gains just won by women. The vote on the bill was postponed indefinitely. Cain detailed the rest of her agenda on the back of her campaign card: 

myrtle cain, voter card, side 2, hclib vertical files


Much to the relief of more conservative female legislators like Mabeth Hurd Paige, Cain did not win her bid for re-election in 1924. She lost by just 39 votes to John F. Bowers, also of the Farmer-Labor Party.

This set-back did little to dampen her conviction that women deserved equal protection under the law. In 1973–when Minnesota was considering whether to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment–Cain returned to the State Capitol to speak in favor of the measure.

Cain’s voter card is from the vertical files at the Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Central Library. Material for this post is taken from Elizabeth Faue, Community of Suffering and Struggle: Men, Women, and the Labor Movements in Minneapolis, 1915-1945, (University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Mary Pruitt, Myrtle Cain (1894-1980) in The Privilege for Which We Struggled: Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Minnesota, ed. Heidi Bauer, (St. Paul:Upper Midwest Women’s History Center, 1999); Darragh Aldrich, Lady in Law: A Biography of Mabeth Hurd Paige (Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1950).

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.