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.

North Star Woolen Mills

“When a girl’s got her living to earn she can’t choose where she’ll work”

Published March 20, 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 the working conditions of women in the Mill City, using the work of labor journalist Eva Gay to bring readers to the weaving floor of the North Star Mill. The image above shows the North Star Woolen Mill building, which still exists in downtown Minneapolis.

Sunlight made a spotty appearance through the garden level windows in the basement of the North Star Woolen Mill. Tucked in the back of the large room, behind the men operating the dryers, women washed the blankets finished on the floors above.  In 1888, for 90 cents a day, women of all ages operated massive “gigs,” washing vats filled with scalding water. The hot air was thick, hovering around 98 degrees. The stench of wet wool and lye clung heavily to the heat. It was something, the girls said, you got used to after a while.  Opening the windows in the mill–located near Sixth Avenue South in Minneapolis–was out of the question. Dirt kicked up from the street would stick to the blankets. Washing and drying them once was enough.

Weaving was skilled work. It took endurance to perform and patience to learn. A women hoping to learn had to rely on a friend good enough to sacrifice a few days’ wages to teach her. Weavers were paid by the piece and a good weaver could make up to $1.35 a day. Factory foremen did a final count each day, rating each piece for quality to see if it would be counted for payment.

The weaving floor at the North Star Mill was immaculate, a fact that always impressed factory visitors. They remarked on the way that light streamed through large windows and gleamed off whitewashed walls. What they did not realize is that these young weavers were expected to clean over the lunch hour. Employers were able to exploit the fact that relentless work kept mill girls from becoming too close to one another.

Life in the woolen mills was a short term prospect. Most weavers could not work year-round. Many women could only work three or four years before being forced to find other employment after succumbing to repetitive stress injuries. Others had back pain from standing at the heavy looms for ten hours a day. “Some get married, some go to the hospital, and we don’t know anything about many of them; they just drop out and others take their places,” one of the young women explained.

Despite these grueling conditions, mill owners had no shortage of willing workers. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, women were streaming into Minneapolis from farms and overseas. These jobs required little experience with machinery and no proficiency in English. Employers had little regulation. They had only their conscience to dictate how much they worried about workplace safety or comfort.

“Do you think it’s worth while to ruin your health by working in this place for such wages?” a reporter asked a gig operator in an 1888 interview.

“I don’t know as it is,” was the wary reply; “but when a girl’s got her living to earn she can’t choose where she’ll work.”

Quotes are taken from newspaper articles by Eva Gay that were published in the St. Paul Globe in 1888. The image is from the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) at the Library of Congress.


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, 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.

Indian sugar camp, eastman

March is Maple Sugar Month

Published March 5, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

The month we now devote to women’s history was traditionally dedicated to maple sugaring for Dakota and Ojibwe women. The beginning of meteorological spring sent Indian men in search of muskrat pelts.  They separated from their women and children, who moved their camps into the sugar bush. These camps labored to create enormous stores of maple sugar, which would sustain the community for the rest of the year. In good years, they were able to make enough for their own consumption and extra to trade. Women could exchange maple sugar for the manufactured goods that had transformed their lives in the early nineteenth century.

Most critical for women were the kind of metal kettles pictured here, in this 1845 watercolor by Army officer Seth Eastman. Normally used for routine cooking, these pots were filled with sap in March. The sap boiled for days until it was reduced to sugar, which could be packed into birch bark containers. These served as early Indian tupperware.

Maple sugar was an important dietary supplement for everyone in the region. According to the explorer Henry School craft, it was “profusely eaten by all of every age,” leading to enormous problems with tooth decay. Sugar consumption increased with the advent of the fur trade, when newcomers brought both metal kettles and an expectation that their food would be sweetened. Pots made large scale sugar production possible. And Indian women cornered the market on maple sugar; local cravings for sweets were satisfied by their hard labors and planning every spring.

In the area that became Minneapolis, Dakota women made annual pilgrimages to sugar bush groves located on Nicollet Island and near Minnehaha Falls. In these spots, proximity to the Mississippi River ensured that trees had the moisture they needed to create a steady stream of sap. Early reports describe how soldiers sometimes tried to push women out of these choice locations, in an effort to seize control of this valuable local commodity. In 1829, the Dakota protested to Indian agent Lawrence Taliaferro. “You my Father promised not to let any person interfere with a Small piece of ground where our women go sometimes make a little Sugar,” they asserted. “You promised us this.”

Information on maple sugaring in Minneapolis is from Bruce White and Gwen Westerman’s Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2012): 97-98. This watercolor was created by Seth Eastman and might depict the Nicollet Island sugar bush in the winter of 1845.