strike, creamette company, john vachon, September 1939, LOC

Labor strife and the making of Minneapolis

Published September 2, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

This week we’ll feature images of Minneapolis workers, in honor of Labor Day. The 1934 Truckers’ Strike is the the most famous labor conflict in the history of Minneapolis and is now credited with making the city a union town. This strike did break the control of the repressive Citizens’ Alliance. But this one conflict did not make the city into a union stronghold. This epic clash ushered in a period of labor unrest and for the rest of the decade, workers struggled for collective bargaining and higher wages in workplaces all over the city. This image from the Library of Congress shows a woman picketing the Creamette Company–known for making macaroni part of an American diet–in September 1939. Photographer John Vachon captured the scene.

bertillon ledger, prostitution post

Minneapolis “alleywalkers” and the campaign to end prostitution

Published July 1, 2014 by Heidi Heller

Today’s blogger is Heidi Heller. She is a senior history major at Augsburg College and an intern with the Historyapolis Project.

Today we have another excerpt from the Bertillon Ledgers in the Tower Archives at Minneapolis City Hall. This entry–which documents an arrest in 1917–illuminates the city’s campaign against prostitution in the run-up to World War I.

In 1910, city officials claimed victory over the social evil of prostitution when they shut down the red-light districts. Yet only one year later, the city’s Vice Commission issued a report that acknowledged that prostitution still represented a major problem for the city. The once segregated sex trade was now dispersed the throughout the city – into alleys, residential areas, hotels and saloons.  Faced with the tasking of determining how to handle the growing city-wide problem of prostitution, the Commission debated the idea of once again allowing segregated areas of prostitution. Ultimately the Commission concluded “nothing is more certain than that segregation in Minneapolis has not, in fact, successfully segregated” prostitution.

To remedy this situation, Commissioners demanded increased police vigilance, encouraged citizens to report disorderly houses in their neighborhoods and insisted that police ban “vicious women” from saloons. They directed hotel keepers never to assign a room to two people of the opposite sex unless they were listed as husband and wife on a “bona fide register”; never to assign a room to a couple between 9pm and 6am; and never to provide a room to a couple that included a minor. Exceptions could be made only if the couple had “bona fide luggage”; permission from the police; or an affadavit from a “reputatable resident of the city” that they were husband and wife.

These measures did little to dampen the commercial sex trade. The industry continued to grow until 1917, when the federal government decided prostitution threatened wartime mobilization. Law enforcement in Minneapolis was happy to do its part for military preparedness and began rounding up the women they called “alley walkers.”

The Bertillon ledgers record scores of arrests. A disproportionate number involved “colored” women, who were sentenced to time in the workhouse. White women appear occasionally in the ledgers. But in the period between 1915 and 1919, it was primarily African-American women who were singled out for punishment. No doubt white women were also “alley workers.” But it seems that police did not see them as a pressing problem.

Police targeted women like Frances McRaven, who was arrested on October 1, 1917 for running a disorderly house and working as an “alley walker.” She was 22 years old, originally from Kansas and described as a housewife with a stocky build and one gold front tooth. She was also African American. According to the officer who described her crime and physique for the ledger, she “one of the numerous colored women who infest south Minneapolis, robbing white men in alleys, etc.”

Her arrest–and the many other ones like it–shed light on the changing nature of the sex industry in early twentieth century Minneapolis. But it also reveals the intense racism of the time. Prejudice isolated the city’s tightly-knit African-American community, making employment and affordable house difficult to find.

The city’s black community was small at the time of McRaven’s arrest. The Great Migration began in 1916, drawing millions of African Americans north with the promises of work and a better life. Few of these migrants would end up in Minneapolis. Between 1910 and 1920, the African-American community in Minneapolis grew from 2592 to 3927, an increase of 51.5 percent. In comparison, Detroit would see its African American population increase by 611.3 percent in the same period. Yet even this small population increase was viewed by many whites as a threat.

Negative racial attitudes prevented qualified African Americans from securing well paying jobs. In 1919, the Minneapolis Morning Tribune admitted that African-American women were “unable to secure the type of employment they are trained and fitted in every way to do.” Turned away from factories, department stores and telephone switchboards, many of these women were forced into the underground economy. Prostitution may have been the only way that many could survive.

Image from the Minneapolis City Archives. Material for this post is taken from Bertillon Ledgers, Tower Archives, Minneapolis City Hall; Report of the Vice Commission of Minneapolis, 1911; African Americans in Minneapolis: The People of Minnesota, David Vassar Taylor; “Survey for Benefit of Colored Women,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune¸ May 14, 1919.

two women, MHS, 1860

Hoop Skirts and Winter

Published March 7, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

Nineteenth century women’s fashions were rather impractical for life in Minnesota. In 1914, a woman who had arrived as a young girl in Minneapolis in 1856–two years before Minnesota became a state–remembers the challenges of winter when you had to wear a hoop skirt, like the two women pictured above. She told the Book Committee of the Daughters of the American Revolution that:

“No one who was used to an eastern climate had any idea how to dress out here when they first came. I wore hoops and a low necked waist just as other little girls did. I can remember the discussion that took place before a little merino sack was made for me. . . I must have looked like a little picked chicken with goose flesh all over me. Once before this costume was added to, by the little sack, my mother sent me for a jug of vinegar down to Helen Street and Washington Avenue South. I had on the same little hoops and only one thickness of cotton underclothing under them. It must have been twenty degrees below zero. I thought I would perish before I got there, but childlike, never peeped. When I finally reached home, they had an awful time thawing me out. The vinegar was frozen solid in the jug.”

Interview with Mrs. Charles Godley (nee Scrimgeour) for Old Rail Fence Corners, the ABCs of Minnesota History, which was put together by the historians of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  The image of two women was taken in 1860 and is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

lake of the isles hockey skaters, january 10, 1926, side 1

Women’s Hockey in the Jazz Age

Published January 10, 2014 by Kirsten Delegard

On January 10, 1926, these skaters on Lake of the Isles posed, smiling, with hockey sticks. Two of the players were women. This photo–along with many others from the decade–show that young women across the state were picking up sticks and enjoying recreational hockey match-ups. They were never allowed to shed their skirts for hockey pads or warm trousers. Yet the University of Minnesota recognized women’s interest in hockey during the Jazz Age, starting a club hockey team for women students.

World War II interrupted most recreational activities, including hockey. Demobilization brought what Betty Friedan later dubbed the “Feminine Mystique,” an increasingly rigid set of gender roles that emphasized domesticity and femininity for women. As the nation worked to move beyond the crises of war and economic collapse, women were expected to devote themselves to ever-more ambitious homemaking and were forced to give up the autonomy and financial independence they had gained by working in war industries. They were also expected to eschew competitive sports–especially those like ice hockey, which involved physical confrontation. Girls may have skated with their brothers and hit pucks around the city lakes. But their opportunity to compete on ice disappeared, unless they were willing to don figure skates and spangly costumes.

In 1972, Title IX was passed, requiring schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for girls. But it took more than a new law to create equal athletic opportunities for girls and women. Minnesota lagged in this regard, especially with hockey. No college hockey team existed for women in Minnesota until 1995, when Augsburg College put female Auggies on the ice. The University of Minnesota started its women’s hockey team in 1997.

Photo is from the newspaper morgue at the Minneapolis Collection, Hennepin County Central Library. Thanks to Rita Yeada for unearthing this image. And thanks as well to Annika Shiffer-Delegard, who helped me do the research necessary for this post.

smaller version, betty crocker kitchen from minnesota today, 1968007

“Betty Crocker Tours”: Minneapolis 540-2526

Published November 19, 2013 by Kirsten Delegard

This  advertisement invites anyone visiting Minneapolis to tour the kitchens of Betty Crocker, who was one of the best known and most admired American women in the years after World War II. Crocker was not a real woman. She was the fictional household expert fabricated to personify General Mills, the food processing giant that had consolidated the Minneapolis milling industry during the 1920s.

The incorporation of General Mills was a significant turning point for the city, which was struggling to cope with the agricultural depression that had gripped the region since the end of World War I. The new company signaled a shifting economic base for the city, which was transformed from a milling capital to a center for new consumer industries by the end of World War II. The city’s grain mills stayed intact. But business leaders used the profits they had gleaned from milling wheat and timber to create a new generation of industries that were heavily dependent on sophisticated marketing techniques. General Mills sold pancake mix as well as plain flour; it devised labor-saving packaged foods that it had to convince traditional cooks to buy. This economic shift meant that business leaders became increasingly concerned with the national reputation of their city, as the image of the city and the products it products was inextricably connected. Starting in the late 1930s,the business community bought billboards, launched the Aquatennial and then supported the mayoral campaign of Hubert Humphrey, all in an effort to build a new reputation for a city known for labor violence, gangsters and anti-Semitism.

By the time this advertisement was published in 1968, Crocker’s kitchens had moved out of downtown Minneapolis to an expansive corporate campus in Golden Valley.  A far cry from the old Grain exchange, which banned visitors from the grain trading floor, General Mills worked to lure customers to its headquarters, where they could sample new products. General Mills fashioned itself into a Disneyland-style tourist destination, building a series of test kitchens meant to evoke California, Hawaii, the Arizona Desert, Cape Cod, Chinatown, the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch and colonial Williamsburg. Tours ran six times a day, Monday through Friday. To arrange a visit they had only to phone: “Betty Crocker Tours,” Minneapolis 540-2526.