Social Welfare Map from the SWHA, Linnea Anderson

Mapping Charity in the 1920s

Published September 8, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

After a summer hiatus, Historyapolis is returning to regular programming. Since it’s map Monday, today we’re featuring a map of “Charities and Social Welfare” in Minneapolis from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.

This diagram maps the provision of private aid to Minneapolitans in the second half of the 1920s, showing the location of 62 private aid organizations.  The exact date of this map is unknown, but we know it was created after 1924, when the Phyllis Wheatley House was established and before 1929, when the YWCA moved to a new building on Nicollet Mall. In addition to the Wheatley House and the YWCA, the map includes the Maternity Hospital established by Martha Ripley and the Bethany Home for “fallen women” conceived by Charlotte Van Cleve, Harriet Walker, Euphoria Outlook and Abby Mendenhall.  It shows the city’s settlement houses and its public homes for the impoverished elderly. It indicates the locations of orphanages; non-profit employment agencies; homeless shelters and missions; and even the Legal Aid Society, which gave free legal advice to workers embroiled in wage disputes.

In the decade before the Great Depression, the city had little in the way of “public” or government-funded charity or welfare programs. Instead, city residents were served by the network of private charitable associations shown here. Between the 1880s and the 1920s–as the population of the city expanded exponentially–concerned Minneapolitans created these myriad organizations to address the hardships created by urbanization, immigration and industrialization. The needs were overwhelming. The city lacked decent affordable housing and had little in the way of sanitation services; children wandered the streets; working people struggled to maintain their health and their employment. These groups–which varied in focus, purpose and philosophy–struggled to make the urban environment more liveable and humane, paying particular attention to the welfare of vulnerable women and children.

The organizations shown here were likely linked by a common association with the Community Fund of the Council of Social Agencies, which ran a fund-raising campaign for associated social welfare groups in the city. This map was likely created by this group as a resource for both donors and social workers.

Created at the behest of the business community, the Council was animated by the principle of “scientific charity.” Business leaders were instrumental in championing this philosophy, which called on social welfare agencies to work together to prevent duplication of efforts and connect deserving individuals to the services they needed most. This coordination had a darker side as well. Proponents of scientific charity were focused on ensuring that recipients did not lose their will to work and did not game the system, drawing aid from multiple sources.

The landscape of private charity was transformed by the onset of the Great Depression, which threw one-third of the city out of work. This crisis overwhelmed private charity, which could not meet the overwhelming needs of the city during that decade. This economic collapse prompted the creation of a series of government welfare programs, which now work hand-in-hand with many of these same groups to address–but never satisfy–the social needs of the community.

Image credit: Linnea Anderson, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.

J7 11 r6

“An army of women determined to have the ballot”

Published May 2, 2014 by Anna Romskog

Today’s blogger is Anna Romskog, a junior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

Exactly 100 years ago today, “Minneapolis learned by practical demonstration that those who ask the ballot for women are distinctly not a bevy of hopeless spinsters, unhappily married women and persons who have nothing else to do,” according to the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. Members of the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association–shown here– joined 2,000 other suffrage advocates in a procession through downtown, where they braved a gauntlet of jeering men.

The demonstration in the heart of the city’s fashionable shopping district–which was organized by a coalition of organizations demanding political equality for women –took its inspiration from the militancy of British suffragists, who had embraced confrontational direct action tactics in an effort to force the question of female enfranchisement. Marchers’ public show of force reflected a fresh spirit of impatience among women activists in Minnesota, who had been demanding the vote since the since the founding of the city in the 1870s. “By the time they had passed,” the Tribune reported, “the onlookers were impressed with the fact that there is in Minneapolis a considerable army of women sufficiently determined to have the ballot to march through the streets to get it.”

Flag-wielding demonstrators went down Second Avenue to Fourth Street and back down Nicollet. The silent marchers were “not what the multitude of watchers had expected,” according to newspaper coverage.  “They saw women of every walk of life, young women, old women, middle-aged women, working women, rich women, women beautiful, women otherwise.” Immigrant groups–like the one pictured here–were prominent in the demonstration.

The reporter dedicated the most copy to the physical attractiveness of marchers, who defied contemporary stereotypes about women activists. “The chap who had formed the idea that hopeless spinsters were in the majority in suffrage ranks, that girls with plenty of suitors were absent from their roster was terribly jolted,” the anonymous writer declared.

One of the younger marchers–Helen Jones, who was a senior at Minneapolis Central High school and president of the Junior Mobile Suffrage Squad later remembered:

We were told to keep our heads up, eyes in front of us, and to walk in dignity and silence…I never felt so serious in my life and didn’t look at the crowd at all…Some horrid men threw money on our flag and did and said other rather insulting things. It really seemed absurd that the red-faced, [coarse][sic], sneering men whom we passed could vote, and the noble, fine women in the parade could not.

American women gained full voting privileges six years after this parade, with the ratification of the Nineteenth  amendment.

Material for this post was taken from “Paraders Place Equal Suffrage on a New Plane,” from the Minneapolis Tribune, May 3, 1914 and Barbara Stuhler, Gentle Warriors. The image of the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

helpwanted add from st. paul globe

“A troublesome element of humanity”

Published April 18, 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. Here she introduces readers to a young Irish girl named Kate Noonan, who became a servant for a prominent Minneapolis family while barely in her teens.

In 1878, the Daily Globe of St. Paul was filled with want ads like the one above. Thousands of young girls flooded into the growing city in search of economic opportunity. While they might have envisioned finding employment in the city’s expanding mills or factories, many ended up answering queries like these. For young, under-educated girls in the big city–especially immigrant girls like Kate Noonan–work in domestic service was the easiest to find. And least desirable.

Although they had food to eat and a place to sleep, these young girls were expected to rise by 4 or 5 am to make breakfast before starting on laundry and sewing. They worked with few breaks until 9 or 10 pm at night.

Kate first took this kind of position when she was a small girl. Her parents had immigrated from Ireland to Canada before the Civil War, moving to work on a farm in Minnesota after having children. Eventually the Noonan family found themselves settled in the East River Flats, which was nestled on the east side of the Mississippi River just south of the main milling district. It was here that the family encountered a priest who made them choose between faith and education. He demanded the children leave public schools, refusing communion to mother Margaret unless she enrolled them in Catholic school. Unable to send them across town, Margaret ended Kate and Abby’s formal schooling. The girls found themselves at a woolen mill when they were just eight and ten years old.

When Kate discovered that she could not withstand the physical demands of mill work she turned to domestic work instead. This type of work had its own challenges. Mistresses were imperious, shuffling servants in and out of their homes. Newspapers ran regular features condemning live-in help as a “troublesome element of humanity.”

But Kate met these demands, developing a sterling reputation among the city’s finest families by the time she was fifteen years old. One employer claimed, “all the girls are not of a gentle and good disposition; some are easily angered; Kate was not one of these.”

On rare nights out, Kate never missed an opportunity to have fun. Dressed in a black and white silk dress trimmed in velvet ribbon, Kate often attended dances hosted by the various societies around town. Most often she had a double date with Billy Dershon and her friend Kate Corchoran who, even Kate Noonan admitted “swore some and was saucy to men on the street.”

In most households on nights like these, the mistress would wait up for the help to arrive home. And woe to those who might have enjoyed themselves a little too much. Kate seemed to have avoided this type of scolding. But in the winter of 1877, she found herself in far more serious trouble.

On the evening of February 16th, Kate Noonan shot and killed her ex-lover Will Sidle on the corner of Nicollet and Washington Avenues. The trial of the young Irish domestic servant would ultimately divide the city, revealing an ugly underworld of urban danger and sexual exploitation.

Material from this post was taken from the Minneapolis Tribune, articles published in 1877 and 1879.

grand jury abortion indictment, theresa solie

“An Illegal Operation”: The Case of Theresa Solie, part 2

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.

Shortly after Theresa Solie died from a botched abortion, the Minneapolis Tribune reported “2 Face Arraignment In Illegal Operation.” An inconspicuous piece on page 20, the article gave the names and addresses of the doctor and Martin Schmidt, reporting that the men were put on trial for performing the operation. The doctor, R.J.C. Brown, was an African-American who had operated a small practice in the Near North side for over a decade.

The average cost of an abortion in the 1930s was $67; Solie paid less than half that amount for her abortion. This probably indicates that Brown was catering to a less affluent group of women. We have no way to know whether he specialized in abortions or merely began to offer this service as a way for making up for the income that many physicians lost in the economic collapse of the Great Depression.

At the trial, Dr. Brown was represented by Lena Olive Smith, a prominent civil rights pioneer and Minnesota’s first female African-American attorney. Smith called on only two witnesses at the trial, Dorothy Johnson and Marie Schmidt. Dorothy, a friend of Theresa’s, testified that she was working as a prostitute, and Mrs. Schmidt’s testimony supported this claim. She said that Theresa was rarely home in the evening, and was unemployed. Mrs. Schmidt testified further that Theresa had received a package with medication to induce an abortion. However, the court refused to admit the pillbox as evidence, which was found among Theresa’s belongings. At every turn during the trial, the court ruled against Brown and Schmidt, admitting all the testimony for the prosecution while blocking evidence and testimony from the defense.

The court charged Brown and Schmidt with first degree manslaughter, sentencing both to prison. Schmidt was released after a year, while Brown served nearly 10 years; racism was almost certainly a factor in this outcome. Whether either of these men were responsible for Theresa’s death, we will likely never know. What does seem likely is that Theresa was a sex worker. No records of employment or testimony from an employer surfaced during the trial. Under desperate circumstances, Theresa had few connections in Minneapolis, and did not really have other options. Given the economic climate of 1938, many women ended up working as sex workers. Without the money or support system to raise a child, Theresa had to terminate her pregnancy. An unregulated and non-standardized practice in 1938, abortion was more likely to lead to death than it is today.  The state found two men to blame for Theresa’s death, but did not recognize the material circumstances that caused it.

Thanks to William Mitchell law professor Ann Juergens, who shared this case and her other research on Lena Olive Smith with Historyapolis.


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.


minneapolis maternity hospital 2, no date, mhs

“The Duty of Not Keeping Silent”: Martha Ripley and Minneapolis Maternity Hospital

Published April 24, 2014 by Jacqueline deVries

Guest blogger today is Jacqueline deVries, Professor of History and Women’s Studies at Augsburg College. deVries is writing a book on women’s health care in Britain and its empire.

To modern eyes, there is nothing revolutionary about this sweet image of babies in nursery baskets. But these babies were wards of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital, a radical institution that defied many social conventions of its time when it was founded by activist physician Dr. Martha G. Ripley in 1887.

Long before the Boston Women’s Health Collective published its path-breaking Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1971, Ripley was practicing feminist medicine. She established the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital for “the confinement of married women who are without mean or suitable abode and care at the time of child-birth” and “girls who have previously borne a good character, but who, under promise of marriage, have been led astray.” In other words, Ripley cared for the women on the margins of Minneapolis society, working to ensure safe and healthy childbirths for women who were largely ignored by the mainstream medical community.

Martha Ripley (1843-1912) moved to Minneapolis in 1883 after her husband was injured and lost his managerial job in a Massachusetts’ textile mill and she became the sole breadwinner for their three daughters.

Feminist politics and women’s medicine were Ripley’s twin passions. Shortly after her arrival in Minneapolis, Ripley was elected president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, a new affiliate of the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) led by Ripley’s Massachusetts friends, Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone.  Drawing on her Boston connections, she brought the seventeenth annual convention of the AWSA to Minneapolis in 1885.

Ripley’s medical career had begun when she volunteered as a nurse in Lawrence, Massachusetts, providing palliative treatment to women textile workers and their families. After an infant died in her care, she vowed to gain more expertise.  Inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman medical doctor in the United States and sister of family friend, Henry B. Blackwell, she enrolled at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), one of the few medical schools in the United States that accepted women.

Popular attitudes toward professional medicine were not uniformly positive in the nineteenth century.  Allopathic medicine – the drug-based treatment we now equate with medicine — competed with other theories of healing.  Homeopathic medicine, an approach that emphasized the use of herbs, regular bathing, good ventilation, daily exercise, and a vegetarian diet, was taught by many of the nation’s medical schools, including BUSM.  Homeopathy appealed to women as traditional healers — a third of Ripley’s graduating class were women.

She brought a sense of activism to her medical work. Brushing aside Victorian conventions, she tackled “delicate subjects” like prostitution and the age of consent, set at ten years of age in 1858 when Minnesota became a state.  She dismissed the popular belief that men needed sexual intercourse for health.  And she braved criticism by providing medical services to unwed mothers. Her unfashionably short haircut (picture) signaled her independent attitude.

martha ripley, 1900 hclib

Recognizing a need for better maternity services in Minneapolis, she rented a small house on Fifteenth Street and hired a nurse in 1886.  Within a year, the Maternity Hospital was incorporated as a homeopathic lying-in hospital. By 1896, the hospital moved to a five-acre tract at the corner of Western and Penn Avenue North, pictured here.

minneapolis maternity hospital 1, ripley, from mhs

The Maternity Hospital’s track record was remarkably successful.  Dr. Ripley insisted on aseptic practices and a cottage system (picture) in which babies were cared for in domestic settings.  Not one child was lost during actual birth in the first eleven years, and for the decade ending in 1937 the maternal death rate was 1.35 per thousand as compared to a state-wide average of 4.5.

A new building for the Maternity Hospital was constructed shortly after Ripley’s death in 1912. This building still stands at 2215 Western Avenue, though the hospital was shuttered in 1956. A bronze memorial plaque in her honor was dedicated in the State Capitol rotunda in 1939.

Notes:  Material for this post is taken from Thomas Neville Bonner, To the Ends of the Earth:  Women’s Search for Education in Medicine (Harvard, 1992), Mary Wittenbreer, A Woman’s Woman / A Woman’s Physician:  The Life and Career of Dr. Martha G. Ripley (M.A. Thesis, Hamline University, 1999), and Winton U. Solberg, “Martha G. Ripley:  Pioneer Doctor and Social Reformer,” Minnesota History 39:1 (Spring 1964): 1-17.

The photo of Martha Ripley is from the Minneapolis photo collection at Hennepin County Special Collections. The photos of the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital are from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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.



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.

st. anthony falls by Martha washburn allit, from stillwater library and bill wittenbreer

Want proof that Minnesota is cosmopolitan? “Ford or ankle out to the Minneapolis Art Institute”

Published March 27, 2014 by Bill Wittenbreer

Today’s guest blogger is Bill Wittenbreer, a founding member of the Historyapolis Lab at Augsburg College. In 2002-3, Bill co-curated an exhibition at Minnesota Museum of American Art called An Artist’s Paradise: Minnesota Landscape Painters 1840-1940. Here he profiles Martha Washburn Allin, a painter and watercolorist who made art in Minneapolis from 1926 to 1946.

Martha Washburn Allin was not related to the Washburns of milling fame in Minneapolis; if she were, we probably would know about her today.  During her lifetime, Martha was probably a fairly well known artist in Minneapolis art circles because she frequently exhibited her paintings in shows at the State Fair, University of Minnesota and the Art Institute.  These venues were popular with amateur artists like Martha. With the exceptions of Frances Cranmer Greenman and Jo Lutz Rollins, there were very few women in Minneapolis who were considered to be professional artists.

Martha was born in Minneapolis in December, 1888.  Her father was head of the University of Minnesota’s Entomology department from 1902-1918.  Martha graduated from East High School in 1906 and attended the University of Minnesota for a year before she transferred to Smith College and graduated in 1913.  Martha returned to Minneapolis after graduation. In 1917, she married Cephas Daniel Allin, a professor of Political Science at the university. Martha and Cephas had three children; Vincent, Roger, and Frances.

In 1924, Martha began her art studies.  She studied with Professor Samuel C. Burton at the University of Minnesota.  Burton was head of the studio arts department and professor of fine arts and architecture.  Burton was a painter himself and impressionism was his preferred style.  Martha must have been a quick study.  Two years after her first lesson, Martha had a piece included the 12th Annual Exhibition of Minnesota Artists at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  Martha’s piece was called A Gray Day. Gray Day was a view of the lake in Loring Park with church steeples in the background.  Martha did not win any awards at this exhibition, but it was her first exhibition of many.

And this exhibit became fodder for the public relations campaign waged after Sinclair Lewis published Babbitt, a scathing novel the portrayed Minnesota as a backwater of hopeless provincialism. A writer in the University of Minnesota Alumni Weekly asserted that this collection of art work challenged Lewis’s characterization of the Midwest. “Minnesotans Provincial?  It’s a charge that has been brought against us when one of our most red-headed novelists selects Minneapolis as the native haunt of Babbitt,” the magazine ruefully admitted on October 30, 1926. ” If you, too, are smarting a little under the sting of this accusation, we suggest that you Ford or ankle out to the Minneapolis Art Institute where the Twelfth Annual exhibit of work by Minnesota artists is on display.”

Martha continued to paint and exhibit until her death in 1946.   She entered her work in the Fine Art Exhibition at the State Fair nine times. Her work was included in four exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and several shows at the University of Minnesota.  Judging from the titles of her work, she preferred landscape and painted in oil or watercolor.  In the 1940s, the State Fair Exhibition had a special section on St. Croix Landscapes and it included paintings by Martha.

Little of Martha’s work is extant, but one of Martha’s paintings, St. Anthony Falls, is in the collection of the Stillwater Public library. This painting–shown here– suggests that Martha was quite comfortable with the techniques of impressionism: the quick, sketchy brushwork; the forms that are blurred; and her use of light to reflect off the water and the splash from the Falls.

The image comes from the Stillwater Public Library. And the material for this post came from  The Minnesota Alumni Weekly October 30, 1926 No 6 and Rena Neumann Coen, Minnesota Impressionists (Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1996).

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).