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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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South of Freedom, 1952

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | February 8, 2018

Carl Rowan received a M. A. in journalism from the U of M and wrote for the Minneapolis Spokesman, St. Paul Recorder, and the Minneapolis Tribune covering Civil Rights issues. His provocatively titled first book South of Freedom began as a series of articles for the Tribune which were his observations based on his visits to the south and for which he received a “Service to Humanity” award.

The Problem of Illegitimate Children

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 7, 2018

This letter was from the American Red Cross National Headquarters to its Division Directors of Civilian Relief. It concerns trying to prove the paternity of illegitimate children of soldiers for insurance purposes, as the wives and children of soldiers were eligible to receive aid from the Red Cross. It contains a letter from the Judge-Advocate General saying that court martials cannot be used to determine paternity, and marriages also cannot be forced upon soldiers just to make children legitimate. Thus, if a woman comes to the Red Cross claiming that a certain soldier is the father of her child and he denies it, the case cannot be brought to a civil court, as the man is a member of the military, and it cannot be decided in a court martial as there is no mechanism by which a decision could be reached. The letter concludes that Red Cross chapters who encounter this situation may do nothing to help those women.


February 7, 1918
The correspondence quoted below leads to the conclusion that there is no possibility of establishing the paternity of an illegitimate child by court-martial proceedings, and that the military authorities will not surrender an enlisted man to the civil courts for the purpose of having his obligations, if any, in such cases determined. [...] The Home Service Sections are charged with the responsibility of rendering such service to the families of soldiers and sailors as may be desired or expected by them. [...] In relatively few instances -- perhaps two score -- our Home Service workers have been asked for advice and help by unmarried mothers or by unmarried expectant mothers, each of whom has alleged that a certain soldier is the father of her child. [...] Proceedings to establish the paternity of children are of a quasi criminal character, but in effect they are civil suits. [...] There is no provision in courts-martial proceedings for the trial of such actions. There is no machinery known to military which the same or a like result could be reached.

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

Laura Ingalls (Wilder) is born

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | February 7, 2018

On this date in 1867 Laura Ingalls (Wilder) was born near Pepin, Wisconsin. The family moved around quite a bit in her youth, living in Walnut Grove, Minnesota two different times.  She is remembered for writing the Little House on the Prairie book series based on her family's experiences.

Minnesotan Casualty in the Sunken Tuscania

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 6, 2018

On February 6th, 1918, the USS Tuscania was hit by a German torpedo and sank in the Northern Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland. This Gold Star Roll is for Fred Allen of Ada, Minnesota, who was aboard. Several newspaper articles were written about his death. The articles include information such as a snippet from the last letter he wrote his parents, the date of the memorial service, and his engagement to Irene Edwards of Wisconsin.

Citation: “Allen, Fred Kent” Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.2F

Drawers for skiing

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | February 6, 2018

These full-length drawers were made by Munsingwear, 1940 - 1949. They are made from a knit of rayon and wool, and were to be used as underwear while skiing. Today we would simply call them long underwear.

See them in Collections Online.

"Helen C. Hoerle Expects to recruit 500 cooks for the navy" and "Plan to Destroy Ract" - The Daily People's Press. February 5, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 5, 2018

2004 Winter Carnival Ice Palace

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | February 5, 2018

In 2004, the Minnesota Historical Society commissioned two visual artists to depict that year's monumental and ambitious Winter Carnival Ice Palace. This is one of the resulting pieces by Carolyn Swiszcz using acrylic paints.

See it in Collections Online.

Trench Art

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 4, 2018

This brass artillery shell casing was turned into a vase and embossed with an image of leaves as decoration. The bottom of the casing is stamped "37-85 / PDP's 4". This type of "trench art" was popular during World War I as it was something for soldiers to do during their down time in the trenches. This piece was a souvenir brought home by Harry E. Briggs of Saint Paul, Minnesota.


What it is to Breathe

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 3, 2018

William K. Fraser casually mentions in his diary that Officers were intentionally exposed to gas so they would know what it was like to breathe it on the battlefield. This seems like a drastic action, as one would think that if someone were to encounter gas they would immediately know it, regardless of whether or not they had experienced it before; but this training was nonetheless done. Additionally, Fraser states that he and his friends made hot chocolate and buttered toast as a snack before bed, indicating that rations must have been plentiful at this time.


Arose at 7. Rather sleepy on account of ridding and early hours. Work all morning. Stayed around the barracks all day. French General Pekin in camp. Officers given gas so as to know what it is to breath. Fellows played balled. Rained a little late in day. after supper Ed Lindell Herb Hale and I made chocolate (hot) Toast and had butter some feed before bed. 9.30

Citation: William K. Fraser Diary, 1917-1919, 1944. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul Minnesota. P1943

Blown to Atoms

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | February 2, 2018

The second of February, 1918 is the death date for Alwyn Abbott of Minneapolis. He was killed in action, "blown to atoms" according to his mother, in Toul, France, while part of a volunteer expedition repairing a trestle bridge which was vital for communications. Abbott volunteered early as part of the Canadian Army, British Expeditionary Forces and participated in more battles than most Minnesotan soldiers, including "Ypres, Festubert, Sanctuary Wood, Somme,Courcelelte, Pozieres, Vimy Ridge, Givenchy, Messines, and Neuve Eglise - et. al. Nearly three years of almost constant fighting." Here are excerpts from an undated letter, copied by his mother, written during his time serving as an Engineer in the First Canadian Division Engineering Corps. The letter was published by Abbott's Lieutenant and later featured in a number of periodicals, including American Magazine and The Literary Digest.



Written by Alwyn Abbott after volunteering for service which he knew would cause his death.

Dear Mother:
Before you read this last message I may ever write you, please recited the beautiful quotation beginning "Those who are wise", which you have so often repeated to me. Feel braced, Mother Dear? I wish this letter could reach you before you hear that I am gone, but that cannot be. I have volunteered for a service which means certain death, or capture by the Huns; and I feel certain that the All-Father will grant death as my portion. I can't tell you what the service is, but a fine bunch of men willingly offered to do what may save the lives of many, and I gladly go to meet death with them. I've never got over my horror at shooting at a man. I entered the engineering corps thinking I'd never have to fight; but sometimes that duty has fallen to me and then I have prayed that no bullet of mine might carry death. You will understand that and also why I so much more joyously give my life tonight than perhaps live to take one tomorrow. You won't mind my dying like a man for the world's welfare. Do you remember, Dearest One, the time we killed the rattler on the ranch? Hal hated the thing and had a real enthusiasm in killing it. I helped kill it, because you said it was a menace to humanity and must be killed, even though we knew it was not to blame for not having evolved beyond the venomous stage. I recall that you said it was a gentleman among snakes, for it never struck without a warning, but that it must be killed. Hal fights the Huns as he killed the snake. He is only a few miles from here and, though I've not seen him, I've heard of him. His men say that he fights like a demon and that he constantly urges men to shoot to kill. He is right and I am wrong in that, but I could never be happy for an hour if I knew that I had killed a man, not even Emperor Bill himself, you know! I should have been born in a woman's body. I never was fitted to be a man. But I have no fear of death, or of the next stage of life, so I shall not die like a coward. [...]

Citation: "Abbott, Alwyn S" Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.2F