Collections Up Close

collections up close Blog

Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

See Collections Up Close Blog Archive

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

Nellie Stone Johnson’s sewing machine

By: Lori Williamson | Collections Up Close | July 18, 2017


“I’m not going to quit.  There is too much to do.  People need jobs, equality, education...Can’t stop now.”

--Nellie Stone Johnson, 1995

Nellie Stone Johnson (1905-2002) was one of Minnesota’s greatest champions for civil rights and economic opportunity.  For more than half a century the Lakeville, Minnesota native fought for justice and equality as a statewide labor union leader and organizer, a founding member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and an advisor to Hubert Humphrey.  A longtime employee of the hotel industry, Johnson’s determined organizing efforts helped to eradicate racial and gender pay inequities and segregated work facilities in the Twin Cities.   Johnson retired from the hotel industry in 1963 and started a tailoring business in Minneapolis, where she used this sewing machine for over 30 years.  

Johnson continued to support labor and political causes and in 1989 the W. Harry Davis Foundation honored her service with the “Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship”, which awards financial assistance to racial minorities and union members seeking an education at Minnesota’s state colleges and universities.       

Adam Scher, senior curator   

Nellie Stone Johnson's shop

"German Reinforcements Halt Russ; French Gain at Verdun" and "Members of I.W.W. Freed" - The Duluth Herald. July 18, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 18, 2017

Jesse Ventura Action Figure

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | July 18, 2017
Jesse Ventura action figure

This action figure doll with original box commemorates Jesse Ventura, who was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998. This version of the figure is wearing a blue sweatshirt with Champlin Park High School (where Ventura had served as a volunteer conditioning coach) and Zubaz logos, as well as white, blue, and grey Zubaz-style athletic pants, and white high-top sneakers.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this figure in our collections database.

An Urgent Plea

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 17, 2017

This letter by Kate Lowry of the Hospital Supplies Committee of the Minneapolis Chapter of the American Red Cross lists supplies, mostly clothing, that were needed by the Alllies. Lowry also records the articles that were shipped in June from the Minneapolis Chapter, as well as the donations of supplies given to the Base Hospital by various organizations including the Woman's Club, the Anti-Suffrage Association, the D.A.R, and East Side Station.


Sergeant Irvine

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | July 17, 2017
Sergeant William Irvine holding First Minnesota battle flag

This carte-de-visite photograph is of Color Sergeant William N. Irvine holding the shredded First Minnesota battle flag shortly after the battle of Gettysburg. He was injured in the Battle of Petersburg and died ten days later on June 28th, 1864.

"Freeborn County Soldiers Take Oath" and "French Assaults Crumple German Defenses in West" - Freeborn County Standard. July 16, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 16, 2017

David Backus's Unit Recieves French Military Award

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 15, 2017

For their evacuation of the dead and wounded at Chemin des Dames in the summer of 1917, David Backus’s unit of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps was awarded the Fourragere of the Médaille Militaire from the French Government. In a speech to Backus’s unit on July 14, 1917, the General of the Division informed Backus and his fellow drivers that they had received this prestigious award. The General proclaims that they are no longer simply attached to a unit of Chasseurs, a designation for French army soldiers trained for rapid action. Rather, with their service at Chemin des Dames, they had become honorary Chasseurs themselves. In recognition of this honor, Backus and his unit were given elements of the Chasseurs’ uniform, which included, as Backus put it, “funny little floppy caps.” Though Backus displayed a fairly non-serious, irreverent attitude toward the uniform, the fact remained that the award was notable. In fact, Backus’s division was the only ambulance division to receive this award during the First World War.


David Backus's Unit Recieves French Military Award
David Backus's Unit Recieves French Military Award

Saturday July 14-1917.
French Fourth, most of fellows left 5 A.M. went to Paris in our cars to see [...]. I stayed with four or 5 others. Rolled out 8. The General of this Division in a talk to us said that we were not attached to a Regiment of Chasseurs, but are Chasseurs, first Sanatiry [sic] Section to whom this honor has been awarded. We wear the Berry's [?] funny little floppy caps of the Chasseurs. [...]


"Every Eligible Registered Man Included in Draft" and "German Coalition Cabinet Seems to be Only Solution" - The Twin City Star. July 14, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 14, 2017

Tornado Damage

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | July 14, 2017
Tornado Damage Photo

This is a photograph of a man surveying the damage left by a tornado that hit the SW Metro area on June 24, 1952.

This image forms part of our Minneapolis and St. Paul Newspaper Negative collection. Additional photographs in this series may be available in the library, please view the finding aid.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.

"The Greatest Race in the History of the Sport"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 13, 2017

This poster for the American Red Cross Auto Derby at the Fort Snelling Speedway includes a map of the speedway with a list of seat prices and races. The race was 100 miles and featured new cars, "embracing latest American and Foreign discoveries." Tickets were available for sale at the Dyckman and Radisson Hotels.


Derby poster
Derby poster

Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [P781]