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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.

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David Backus Takes Shelter in Wine Cellar - June 13, 1917

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

In a 9-page biographical document composed decades after the war, the former ambulance driver David Backus recalls a particularly gruesome episode from June 14, 1917. About three weeks following the Second Battle of the Aisne, Backus and his ambulance unit found themselves in an unspecified town near the Chemin des Dames ridge. They came under rapid artillery fire from German troops, and they were able to save themselves by taking shelter in a wine cellar. When the shelling stopped, Backus and his unit emerged from the cellar, only to be confronted with a disturbing scene of the dead and the dying. Though Backus's work as an ambulance driver required him to remain calm and collected under such circumstances, he was never completely immune to the suffering around him. The scene outside the wine cellar prompted him to reflect on the sheer destruction of war. He recalls writing to his mother, "if the people of the World could see and realize the devastation and the monstrosities of war that I have seen in the last three days of the war – war would end tomorrow and forever!"


Round of Golf

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 13, 2017


A photograph of Bing Crosby, Wally Mund, Harry Cooper, and Bob Hope playing golf at Midland Hills Country Club, Roseville on May 9, 1942.

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

Anti-Suffrage Notes - June 12, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 12, 2017

This pamphlet from the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association archives takes a firm anti-suffrage position and attempts to convince its readers that votes for women would be America's downfall. Organized efforts to gain equal suffrage for women in Minnesota began as early as 1881 and, as this pamphlet demonstrates, the movement was still fighting staunch opposition over three decades later.

This pamphlet exemplifies arguments made in opposition to women's suffrage during the World War I era. The writer argues that woman suffrage would weaken the government, be too costly, and cause the U.S. to lose the war. The pamphlet warns that women suffrage would "increase the power of the socialists and pacifists who are opposing the draft and doing everything in their power to make our country weak and ineffective." It claims that Germany has financed the suffrage movement in England as a way to weaken its enemies. Fears that women's influence on the government would weaken the military through anti-conscription and pacifist positions dominate this leaflet, along with sexist assertions like the idea that suffrage leaders are involved in the movement because they enjoy the public fame.


Do you want your country to win the war, or are you willing it should suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power?
If you want it to win, WAKE UP and defeat woman suffrage!
Woman suffrage would cost millions every year—money which is needed, every dollar of it, to win the war if the United States is to remain a free nation.
Woman suffrage would seriously weaken our government by putting the power to make the laws into the hands of those who could not enforce the laws.
Woman suffrage would enormously increase the power of the socialists and pacifists who are opposing the draft and doing everything in their power to make our country weak and ineffective.
[...] Are the no-conscription leagues in this country, like the Pacifist movement financed by Germany? The first step towards making the United States a conquered nation is, of course, to keep it defenseless. [...]

Citation: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, P1519

Glencoe Button

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 12, 2017

A circular pin-back button from the sesquicentennial of Glencoe, Minnesota, 2005, with an image of the Glencoe Brewing Company.

False Chain Letter Campaign for an American Hospital in Paris - June 11, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 11, 2017

In a June 1917 chain letter, Charles F. Sidener of the University of Minnesota attempts to raise money for an American hospital in Paris. This hospital, which would be paid for jointly by the American Red Cross and the American National Committee, was to specialize in the treatment of facial and jaw injuries. Ideally, the hospital would reduce soldiers’ disfigurement and improve their quality of life. The chain letter reminds its reader that France supported the U.S. during the American Revolution, and it is now the duty of all Americans to return the favor in France’s time of need. Each recipient of the letter is expected to donate twenty-five cents to the fund and to forward four copies of the letter. If the fund reaches $18,000, the letter claims that the American Red Cross will donate an additional $2,000. However, this claim is false. A Red Cross letter dated 18 June 1917 indicates that the Red Cross has promised no such thing, and furthermore, it does not approve of fundraising by chain letter.


June 12, 1917.
An honorable appeal to the reason of the American business man.
France helped us tremendously in the revolution. Help her now. This chain is for the purpose of establishing a special American hospital in Paris for the wounded in face and jaw. Your help is needed immediately in the great work of restoring horribly mutilated faces, and thereby permitting the unfortunates to continue the remainder of their lives with as little disfigurement as possible.[...]
Kindly do not break the chain. To do so would work hardship on this humanitarian cause.
Very truly yours,
C.F. Sidener

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

German Army Grenadier's Helmet - June 10, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 10, 2017

The Minnesota Historical Society’s 3D Collections houses an ornate helmet once worn by a grenadier in the German Army. This helmet, pictured below, was produced in 1915. Its base is constructed of black leather, while its surface features numerous gilded brass fittings. In addition to a top spike and trim on the visor, the helmet is also adorned with a large front plate depicting a militant eagle. The bird holds a sword and a scepter in its right and left talons, respectively, and a banner across its chest reads “MITT GOTT FUR KOENIG UND VATER LAND,” or “With God for King and Fatherland.” The helmet was presumably brought to Minnesota at the end of the war as a souvenir.


Knute Nelson Refutes John Hetland's Opposition to the Draft - June 9, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 9, 2017

June 8th, 1917.

Hon. John M. Hetland,

Ada, Minnesota

Dear sir;

Your letter of the 5th is at hand. I am surprised at its tone and spirit. Moreover, it seems to me you entierly misapprehend the character and nature of this great war. Should Germany succeed in overcoming and conquering England and France our country would undoubtedly be the next victim because we have so far, by our Monroe doctrine, stood in the way of Germany acquiring colonies in South America, as she has been very anxious to do. [...] For this reason all thinking men, who understand the nature and scope of the struggle prefer to fight German over in Europ, with the aid of our Allies, France and England, rather than to leave an opening, in the future, for German invasion of this country. [...] Judging from the tone of your letter, I should say that you seem to be saturated with the German peace propaganda that has been carried on in this country ever since the war began. [...] We are not fighting for the crowned heads of Europe. We are fighting for free government and Democracy, and for the life of small nations the world over against the military autocracy of Germany, and the foregoing statement of yours is not only most unpatriotic, but it shows your utter ignorance of the true situation. You mention the fact that you have held many offices and on that account are familiar with the sentiment of your community. I doubt whether the people of your county feel as you express yourself. There is too much real Norwegian blood in them for that. [...] You have been a prominent man in your county and instead of teaching the people of your section patriotism you indulge in a most unpatriotic effusion. I do not believe you or your children would be glad to have your letter appear in print to show how utterly un-American you are.[...]

In response to John Hetland’s June 5 letter opposing the draft, Senator Knute Nelson pens a forceful rebuttal, which attacks both Hetland’s character and his characterization of the war. Senator Nelson first paints imperialist Germany as an existential threat to the United States. The way he sees it, Germany will certainly invade the United States if it defeats Britain and France in the war, and it is far better to fight them now, abroad and with allies, than to fight them later, at home and unassisted. Furthermore, Nelson strongly disputes Hetland’s assertion that the U.S. was fighting for the crowned heads of Europe. He rather describes the war as a fight for “free government and Democracy, and for the life of small nations of the world against the military autocracy of Germany.” Given Germany’s treatment of Norway, Knute is skeptical that Hetland’s majority-Norwegian county shares Hetland’s opposition to the draft. In sum, Senator Nelson believes Hetland’s letter to be thoroughly unpatriotic, and he makes no apparent effort to soften his disapproval.
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On the Bluff

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 9, 2017

This is a photograph of two artists painting on a bluff overlooking downtown Stillwater, MN on June 25, 1947.

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.

David Backus's Ambulance Breaks Down - June 8, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 8, 2017

David Backus, a St. Paul native and recent recruit to the French Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, had successfully completed his training by June 1918. During his first couple weeks of driving an ambulance, he spent some days much closer to the front and others much farther from danger, completing deliveries of medical supplies and checking in with his supervisors in Paris. Backus’s diary entries from this period indicate that mechanical failures were a common problem. On June 8, 1917, Backus took his ambulance, which was “working rotton,” to a garage in Paris, where they removed excess oil from the carburetor. He then attempted a delivery of iodine and bandages to Ambulance Section 6, which was operating much closer to the front. Unfortunately, his car broke down completely about nine miles outside of Paris. Backus was forced to spend the night in his ambulance along with a French private who had been sent to provide him assistance. In the morning, a local French woman offered them breakfast and cognac, and despite his recent setbacks, Backus declared that he “felt like a million dollars” and was optimistic about his future as an ambulance driver.


Friday, June 8-1917
[...] Drove to Garage. They took cups full of water out of carburetor[,] too much oil. [...] Got case of Iodine & 5 bales of bandages. They are all out of both in Section 6 […] Started, Convoyer and I. Car working rotten.Got to Lefeven [sic] - 9 miles from Paris on road to [...] Broke a connecting rod[,] pulled in a driveway called Mr. Harjis to send another car, and I would get Iodine out by AM sometime. Convoyer had to call & he speaks as much English as I do French, in other words - none. Slept in ambulance among the boxes. Convoyer private in French Army - slept on seat. Was chilly, never even took my boots off. Woke 7. Kind lady in house where car is gave us coffee, bread, and cognac. And she refused pay I gave her – candy. […] It is now nine AM, will I never get to the front. However, I felt like a million dollars despite my bad cough and I am very optimistic. [...]

Citation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]

Ceramic Vessel by Daga

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 8, 2017

This ceramic vessel was made by Minnesota potter Robert Daga Jr. in the 1930s. It has a small round base with a flared lip and is decorated with a mottled pattern of light and dark brown colors. Daga's signature and a partial date are inscribed on the base of the piece.

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