eloise butler 80thbday

Working from the Margins: Eloise Butler and Her Wildflower Garden

Published April 2, 2014 by Sara Strozok

Guest blogger today is Sara Strzok, a medical writer and editor based in Minneapolis.

Like so many women of her era, Eloise Butler (1851-1933) worked on the margins – in her case, both socially and geographically – to get what she wanted.  In 1907, she joined the ranks of Minneapolis Park Board visionaries like Theodore Wirth and Charles Loring when she saw the fruition of her plan to create and preserve the first wildflower garden in the nation. What’s now called the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Native Bird Sanctuary  is a microcosm of Minnesota meadow, hills and bog flora at what was then the edge of town. Her teaching career and her campaign for this invaluable wild space at the margins of the city foreshadow the concerns of educators and environmentalists today.

Though a keen and observant scientist who made significant contributions to the field of natural history (three species of algae she discovered are named in her honor), barriers common to women in academia at the time kept her from advanced training and a career as a research scientist.  Instead, she supported herself through teaching.  As Butler pointed out in a brief autobiographical sketch, “at that time and place no other career than teaching was thought of for a studious girl.” A native of Maine, Butler was educated at teacher colleges in the east and moved west with her family to teach in Indiana.  She moved on her own to Minneapolis when the well-paid teaching positions in modern, comfortable  buildings advertised by the growing city appealed to her more than the onerous life of a one-room schoolhouse teacher. She taught at several schools, including Central and South high schools.

During her 38-year career, she coped with the same issues that face Minneapolis educators today. Overcrowding forced schools to use stairwells as makeshift classrooms; school days were conducted in shifts while the school board debated building new facilities.  Many of her students were immigrants who did not yet speak English.  In her writings, Butler described her summer research trips to Jamaica, Woods Hole, and a short-lived University of Minnesota marine research center on Vancouver Island as bright spots in the round of drudgery that was teaching. She put the “sounds of the schoolroom” at the top of a list titled “My Hates” and noted that “In my next incarnation I shall not be a teacher.”

Despite this problematic relationship with her career, Butler was a popular, effective and influential science teacher. She was passionate about connecting children to nature in a way that foreshadows the current farm to fork trend in education of groups like Youth Farm, which cultivates summer gardening programs for children. Butler judged the summer garden she ran at Rosedale Elementary School (43rd Street and Wentworth Avenue) a success when children told her that their harvest “tasted much nicer than any that could be bought of the grocer.” Butler advocated for greenhouses connected to schools (a dream realized at Central High School’s new building after her retirement) and for her wild garden, saying, “knowledge of the soil and its products … would do much toward shielding young people from the temptations of artificial and unhealthful amusements of city life and lead them back to nature where the mind and body could develop in a healthful and sane way.”

Though Butler used typically feminine modesty and language in her campaign for the wildflower garden (all work done at the garden by female botany teachers was conducted, of course, “under the direction” of park work men), she was opinionated and uncompromising in her advocacy for saving wild spaces from thoughtless development, using language that sounds familiar to us today.  In fact, she objected to the term “wildflower garden,” preferring instead “native plant reserve.” Her screed against suburban gardeners could come from today’s headlines about battles between environmentalists and lawn-proud lake dwellers:

Cottagers on the suburban lakes have fettered ideas of planting that are more appropriate for city grounds, and condemn their neighbors, for a lack of neatness in not using a lawn mower … apparently dissatisfied until the wilderness is reduced to a dead level of monotonous, songless tameness.

When she retired from teaching, the Minneapolis Park Board hired as the first curator of the native plant reserve she founded at a salary of $50 per month, less than most groundskeepers made. She held this position until her death in 1933. She described these retirement years as the most professionally fulfilling of her life – but again, most of her work was done on the margins of the professional research world. She paid out of her own pocket to fence the grounds to protect specimens from collectors and vandals.  She was unable to get University of Minnesota sponsorship and funding for the truly groundbreaking collection of native plants she curated because she lacked professional credentials.  Instead, she relied on her own efforts and those of her friends and fellow amateur botanists. While it has less biodiversity than in Butler’s time, the garden still hosts more than 500 plant species and 130 bird species in woodland, wetland and prairie areas

At my last visit to the wildflower garden, I found myself ruefully wondering how different the landscape of Minneapolis might look if Eloise Butler had a professional scientific career, instead of exercising her passion on the margins.  Would this garden exist?

Material from this post is taken from the Friends of Eloise Butler website; M. E. Hellander, The Wild Gardener: the life and selected writings of Eloise Butler; and E Butler, “Back to Nature: A little patch of God’s creations in connection with school studies,” The Labor Digest (1908).

The photo shows Eloise on her 80th birthday with a group of friends. It is from the Hennepin County Libraries Special Collections.



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).

social composition of near northside neighborhoods, map from a study of social conditions, 1925

“The mixture of races in this district is detrimental”

Published March 24, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

It’s map Monday. This “Social Composition of North Side Neighborhoods” was drawn by a researcher associated with the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which assembled an encyclopedic analysis of moral conditions in the city in 1925. The Cooperative Alliance was a consortium of women’s groups organized in April, 1917 to identify and eradicate conditions contributing to juvenile delinquency.  The Alliance had broad community support and attracted active representatives from nineteen local women’s organizations, including the Council of Jewish Women, the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and the League of Catholic Women.

None of this would be obvious from this map, which seems merely to codify popular ethnic and class prejudices. The key on the right side shows how the research cartographer divided this district into sections defined by race, ethnicity, class and moral rectitude. It delineates blocks of “American Born, socially inadequate” from “American Born, socially adequate.” It distinguishes areas inhabited by “Colored” from those dominated by “Foreign Born Slavics” from those defined as “Jewish” and “Jewish, prosperous families.” These categories were separate from the sections annotated as “Miscellaneous Nationalities unskilled wage earning families” and “Scandinavian- thrifty comfortable homes.”

These crude characterizations obscure the complex and contradictory mission of the Women’s Cooperative Alliance, which employed twenty-four staff members, who had assembled this data in this report to demonstrate the need for a more wholesome urban environment for children. They lobbied for improved lighting in the city parks and better enforcement of juvenile curfew laws. They monitored the treatment of women and children in the judicial system—an issue that I will discuss more in a later post. They fought to mute the siren song of commercial amusements. The women associated with the Alliance would have been delighted to see the city shutter all of its dance halls, pool halls, movie theaters, candy stores and carnivals, just as Prohibition had closed its saloons.

The work of the organization had yet another element. More than 3,000 women volunteered with the Alliance to serve as block, precinct and ward workers, who were charged with visiting every home in their district to ascertain conditions and educate mothers. They hoped to reach out to immigrant mothers in particular, who they feared had neither the resources nor the knowledge necessary to keep their children out of pool halls, movie theaters, saloons and dance halls.

This map—which was part of the group’s five-part Study of Social Conditions–sought to guide this work by illuminating where education was most necessary. The accompanying text explained that the moral crisis was acute on the city’s North Side where the greatest “evils” were “prostitution and the liquor traffic. Not only are many of the furnished rooms over stores on Sixth Avenue vice resorts, but in many of the homes through the district women are prostituting themselves before their little children.” There was plenty of blame to go around, the writer asserted. “This vice is not confined to one race but occurs between colored and white, both Gentile and Jew. It does not include many Jewish women. The making of liquor, however, is reported by social workers to be common among the Jewish women and under cover of junk peddling it is easily distributed.” The problems of the North Side, according to the researcher, were rooted in its polyglot character. “The mixture of races in this district is detrimental,” she concluded. “The situation grows more serious because of the continual influx of migrant people of both races.”

The map is from a Study of Social Conditions, held at the Minneapolis Collection at the Hennepin County Central Library. Information about the Cooperative Women’s Alliance is from the vertical files at the Minneapolis Collection  and Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

Fanny_Brin_and_Jane_Addams_at_National_Council_of_Jewish_Womens_convention_Chicago_Illinois, from mdl, upper midwest jewish historical society

“We must not seek to modify war, but to outlaw it”

Published March 21, 2014 by Ann Lonstein

Guest blogger today is Ann Lonstein, a writer and researcher who was president of the Minneapolis Section of the National Council of Jewish Women between 1987 and 1990.

“I have faith that women will some day make a great contribution to civilization,” Fannie Fligelman Brin wrote to a friend in 1941. “The need for women’s participation grows daily.”

By the time Brin penned these words, she had already been contributing to civilization for two decades as a student, a mother and ultimately an activist on the local, national and international stage. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota, Fanny Fligelman married Arthur Brin in 1913. The couple had three children.

Her responsibility to a growing family intensified her commitment to international peace and justice, issues she saw through the eyes of a Jewish mother. “We whose function in life centers about creation and education, must with endless toil and perseverance, take up the task of molding public opinion against war as a means of settling international disputes,” she asserted in the Jewish publication the Saturday Post. “We must not seek to modify war, but to outlaw it; to make it an international crime,” she argued in 1923. “It is natural that Jewish women should give their fullest support. Is it not the Jew who suffers most during war and after?”

By 1924, Brin had become part of the local leadership of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), a group that brought together her interest in world peace, Jewish heritage, democracy and women’s rights. By 1932, she had moved into the group’s national leadership and was elected national NCJW president. Amidst intensifying anti-Semitism, she served in this position for six years as the world hurtled toward another global war.

At the height of the international women’s peace movement of the 1920s and 1930s, Brin worked with some of the leading crusaders of her time. In 1926 she joined Carrie Chapman Catt to become one of the founders of the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War (NCCCW), one of the largest and most influential women’s peace organizations of the time. She is pictured here (on the far left) with the legendary Jane Addams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Having immigrated from Rumania as a small child, Brin was deeply concerned about the fate of eastern European Jews. She worked with her husband to aid Jews suffering Hitlers’s persecution, spending considerable time and effort to resettle refugees in Minnesota.

She continued her quest for international peace at the end of World War II, in the hopes that humankind could find avenues other than military conflict to resolve conflicts. She helped to found the World Affairs Council and Center at the University of Minnesota. In 1945, she was part of the United States delegation to the first United Nations Peace Conference held in San Francisco.

The photo published here comes from the collection of the Upper Midwest Jewish Historical Society at the University of Minnesota.

Lost to History: the South Minneapolis Pornography District of the 1980s

Published March 17, 2014 by Kevin Ehrman-Solberg


It’s Map Monday. Today we have a custom map created by Historyapolis student researcher Kevin Ehrman-Solberg. It shows the geography of pornography in the 1970s and 1980s, when Minneapolis saw an explosion of the commercial sex industry. On this map, the red pins are are for theaters, the green denotes bookstores and the blue pins mark the location for other businesses related to the commercial sex industry. Pornography and prostitution had always existed in the city. But for the period between World War I to the late 1960s it had been driven underground by obscenity laws and zoning regulations.

Many of the theaters and bookstores shown on this map were owned by Ferris Alexander, who was known in Minneapolis as the “Patriarch of Porn.” Followed by the FBI and hated by city administrators, Alexander defied constant efforts to drive him out of business and perhaps out of town. The city passed a zoning law in 1977 to force his establishments off of Lake Street. Alexander challenged the law in court and won, much to the consternation of city leaders and the residents of the Powderhorn and Phillips neighborhoods, which adjoined the Lake Street corridor dominated by Alexander’s businesses. By 1986, the city attorney had charged the businessman with everything from housing code violations to obscenity charges. Nothing stuck.

Alexander was not the only person in Minneapolis in the pornography business. But he was the most visible. His businesses–shown on this map–attracted men wanting to explore gay sex in an anonymous environment. And they drew feminist activists, who began targeting his businesses in the early 1980s.

In 1983, feminist protesters attacked Alexander’s notorious bookstore at Chicago Avenue and Lake Street. The women knocked down shelves, tore up magazines and spray-painted anti-pornography slogans on the walls. The police finally intervened when the destruction turned violent. This crusade ultimately culminated in the short-lived city ordinance banning pornography, which was vetoed by Mayor Donald Fraser before it could go into effect.

Alexander’s bookstores were also a magnet for men seeking anonymous male sex. Ferris helped to facilitate these encounters. According to local gay activist Tim Campbell, “Ferris or his employees would put holes in [the plywood walls that separated the individual viewing cubicles] about the size of an orange…and they became known as glory holes and they allowed you to have sex with somebody in the other booth.”

Stymied by their inability to regulate or ban Alexander’s businesses, city officials appealed to the police department to help. Starting in 1980, the city’s vice squad targeted the bookstores, arresting thousands of customers each year. Undercover officers would hit on men, who might respond with a sexual overture. An arrest for indecent conduct would follow. These vice squad arrests prompted gay activist Tim Campbell to file a joint suit with Alexander to block the city’s bookstore entrapment campaign.

By the late 1980s, the Alexander pornography empire was on the wane, under siege from both feminists and technological changes that put VCRs in every home. His businesses on the decline, Alexander was unable to beat back criminal obscenity charges. He went to prison in 1992.

Today there is little sign that there was ever a contentious pornography district in South Minneapolis. Like the early twentieth century brothel district described by Penny Petersen last Monday, this once-sexualized urban space has disappeared from the modern streetscape.

Information for the text and map are drawn from: “The 7th Annual Urban Journalism Workshop Reports On Adult Bookstores in Minneapolis” August 4th, 1977. And “Empire/Alexander Called a Modern Robber Baron,” St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, January 26, 1986 and oral history with Tim Campbell, in the possession of Kevin Ehrman-Solberg.

LL004b. amazon bookstore, from svc

Amazon Feminist Bookstore

Published March 14, 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 Amazon Bookstore, the first feminist bookstore in North America.

In the fall of 1970, Julie Morse and Rosina Richter carried several boxes full of books on feminism and women’s liberation to the front porch of a Minneapolis commune. Located a few block south of Franklin Avenue in the Seward neighborhood, and known as the “Brown House,” the commune was a locus of antiwar activism and draft resistance in the Vietnam War era, and thus fostered a revolutionary spirit that complimented Morse and Richter’s dreams for the small collection.  When they named the boxes and their contents “the Amazon Feminist Bookstore,” they founded the first independent feminist bookstore in the United States.

In 1972, after a year of sporadic management and scattered sales, Amazon made the first of many moves to the basement of the Lesbian Resource Center, a collective space that had recently opened next to Hum’s Liquor on 22nd Street in south Minneapolis. The bookstore continued to reside in a series of boxes, but its immediate proximity to interested readers helped volunteers acquire enough capital to move the collection to its first storefront, a short-lived space on West Lake Street. According to Finn Enke, who included a detailed analysis of Amazon in Finding the Movement Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism, that section of Lake was “shady” to employees and customers. By 1975, they decided to relocate a third time to a storefront next to the corner of 25th Street and Hennepin Avenue in the Uptown area.

From 1975 to 1985—a decade that might be called Amazon’s “Hennepin era”—the store’s exterior featured a large hand-painted sign that included its most recognized symbol: the labrys, a double-headed axe that symbolized the ancient origins of women’s strength.  While the storefront’s sign, large windows, and central location allowed Amazon to attract new customers who sought information and a sense of community, it also attracted the attention of the FBI. Tasked with infiltrating and disrupting supposed threats to national security, the Bureau made occasional visits to thwart the “danger” of women’s liberationists and lesbian feminists, but its agents—suited men who asked clumsy questions in the middle of a feminist bookstore—had little success.

By 1985, Amazon had outgrown its Hennepin location. It moved to a larger space that faced Loring Park on Harmon Place, the store’s most permanent and, for many, memorable address. It featured event space, larger windows, and a reading loft that became fixed as “Madwimmin Books” in the imaginary world of Dykes to Watch Out For, a landmark comic strip created by Alison Bechdel. Amazon also led an historic battle against the online retail giant Amazon.com, which used the shared name without the older store’s permission and was ultimately forced to reach a settlement.  Though the Harmon years were arguably the store’s most successful, they were also its most expensive; by 2001, it moved once again to the newly-built Chrysalis Women’s Center on Chicago Avenue.  In 2006, after a final move to 48th and Chicago, Amazon changed its name to “True Colors” and closed for good in 2012.

This postcard shows Amazon’s second storefront on Hennepin Avenue. It is from the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative Records, which are housed at the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota.


“Where are the men who make these girls what they are?”

Published March 11, 2014 by Tamatha Perlman

Today’s guest blogger is Tamatha Perlman, a writer and museum professional, who is working on a book about murder, madness and unrequited love in 19th century Minneapolis. In this post she describes one of the city’s most colorful founding mothers, the indomitable Charlotte Van Cleve, who established the Sisterhood of Bethany in 1874 and helped to challenge social prejudices against women who had worked as prostitutes in the city’s burgeoning commercial sex industry. Tamantha writes:

The man behind the bar let out a string of profanities. Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve took the lily-shaped horn she used to amplify conversation out of her ear and rested it on the counter, hands folded over the curved neck.

Charlotte wasn’t easily ruffled.

She was the daughter of Charlotte and Lieutenant Nathan Clark, who had travelled from Connecticut to “a bend in the St. Peter River” in 1819 to found what became Fort Snelling. When Charlotte was born along the way at Prairie du Chien, her father’s compatriots insisted that the new baby–the first “American” born in an area still controlled by Native Americans–should be called “Ouisconsin,” to commemorate her Wisconsin territory birthplace.

Blessed with native intelligence, her childhood as a military daughter at a frontier outpost shaped her into a woman of both persistence and compassion. She brought these considerable gifts to bear on the early social structures of Minneapolis, nurturing institutions that would change life for women and children in the growing city.

When the saloonkeeper finished his barrage, Charlotte smiled serenely. “Yes, yes. I agree with everything you say,” she said. “And now I’ll take your donation, please.” 

The man reached into the till and handed Charlotte his donation for the Sisterhood of Bethany. 

The Sisterhood of Bethany was established in 1874 to create a refuge for “fallen women” by Charlotte and a trio of female compatriots. Harriet Walker (wife of lumber magnate T.B. Walker) represented the Methodists in this effort; Euphoria Outlook brought her Adventist beliefs to this moral reform work; and Abby Mendenhall put her Quaker principles into action through the Sisterhood, which sought to help women who had worked as prostitutes in the city’s burgeoning commercial sex industry.

Charlotte always asserted that if you’re “fallen” you can always get back up. The Sisterhood extended a helping hand for women seeking to climb back into respectable society. They defied those who believed that sex workers bore a moral stain that could never fade. And they asserted that prostitutes should not bear the sole blame for their situation. “Where are the men who make these girls what they are?” Charlotte demanded. “Go find them in our business marts, drawing rooms, and churches…Men are getting rich on the toil and tears of famishing women and children.” 

The Sisterhood made an arrangement with the city to rehabilitate women arrested for prostitution. In 1875, Charlotte rented a small house at 316 Sixth Street SE and accepted her first two “inmates.” A few days later, two more women arrived. They were met with a message of moral reform that was undoubtedly tiresome. Of the original four women, two took their complimentary bibles to the pawn shop and themselves out on the town. 

bethany home,  image 1, side 1

Charlotte was undeterred. Bethany Home grew and in expanded to accommodate the inevitable children who arrived as well. As president of Bethany Home, Charlotte replied to letters from desperate women, reunited repentant daughters with agonized fathers, nursed countless babies and spoke throughout the region on behalf of “her girls.” In addition, she was the first female elected to the Minneapolis Board of Education in 1876 after a law was passed to allow women to run for offices “relating to the education of children.” 

By the time Charlotte died in 1907, she had raised 22 children–her own biological children and those she adopted. By 1914, the Sisterhood claimed that it had helped 7,500 women and children leave the sex trade.

This photo shows Charlotte on her 80th birthday. It is from the Minneapolis Photo collection at the Hennepin County Central Library.