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HISTORY TOPICS

Frances Densmore

Susan Windgrow (Makawastewin) with Frances Densmore. Location no. E91.1M r7Frances Densmore was born in 1867 in Red Wing, Minnesota. She studied piano, organ, and harmony at Oberlin Conservatory. Densmore became interested in the music of the Omaha tribe after reading a book about the ethnomusicology of the tribe, and soon pursued the study of Native music herself. In 1905 she visited the Ojibwe bands in Grand Marais and Grand Portage where she started to transcribe the music. Although Densmore began her work in Minnesota, observing and recording the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe, she traveled across North America preserving the customs and traditions of many Native American tribes. She was a prolific author, writing over twenty books and 100 articles, and recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music. Her records preserved a vast amount of Native American music and culture during a period when white settlers were moving into Native lands and encouraging the tribes to adopt Western customs.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • "Collection with a Mission: Frances Densmore's Chippewa Artifacts," by Carolyn Gilman.
    In Minnesota Archaeologist, vol. 39, no. 1 (Feb. 1980): pp. 3-16.
    MHS call number: F601.5 .M625 v.39:1.
  • Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists in the Southwest, 1880-1980: Biographical Sketches and Selected Bibliographies, by Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo.
    Frances Densmore is included on page 22.
    Tucson, Ariz.: Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, 1986.
    MHS call number: GN20 .B32 1986.
  • "Frances Densmore and American Indian Music: A Memorial Volume," compiled and edited by Charles Hofmann.
    In Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, vol. 23 (1968).
    MHS call number: E56 .N56 v.23.
  • "Frances Densmore: Pioneer in the Study of American Indian Music," by Nina Marchetti Archabal.
    Chapter 6 in Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays, edited by Barbara Stuhler and Gretchen Kreuter, pp. 94-115.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998.
    MHS call number: Reading Room HQ1438.M6 W65 1998.
  • "Miss Densmore Meets the Ojibwe: Frances Densmore's Ethnomusicology Studies Among the Grand Portage Ojibwe in 1905," by Nancy L. Woolworth.
    In Minnesota Archaeologist, vol. 38, no. 3 (August 1979): pp. 106-128.
    MHS call number: F601.5 M625 v38:3.
  • Song Catcher: Frances Densmore of Red Wing, Steven Smith, producer, writer, narrator.
    A radio biography/web documentary of Densmore.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Public Radio, 1994, 1997.
    MHS call number: Audiotape 143 for a recording of the program.
    MHS call number: ML3557.D4 S65 1997 for a printout of the News Documentary.

PUBLICATIONS AND RECORDINGS BY FRANCES DENSMORE:

  • The American Indians and Their Music, by Frances Densmore.
    New York: The Woman's Press, 1936.
    MHS call number: E98.M9 D34 1936.
  • Chippewa Customs, by Frances Densmore.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1979.
    MHS call number: Reading Room E99.C6 D38 1929a.
  • Dakota and Ojibwe People in Minnesota, by Frances Densmore.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society, 1977.
    MHS call number: E99.D1 D39.
  • Healing Songs of the American Indians.
    Includes program notes by Frances Densmore and Charles Hofmann.
    New York: Folkways Records & Service Corp., 1965.
    MHS call number: Sound Disc 33-A.
  • "Imitative Dances Among the American Indians," by Frances Densmore.
    In Journal of American Folklore, vol. 60, no. 235 (Jan.-Mar. 1947): pp. 73-78.
    MHS call number: GR1 .J85 v.60:235.
  • Poems from Sioux and Chippewa Songs, by Frances Densmore.
    Washington, D.C.: [s.n.], 1917.
    MHS call number: E99.D1 D4.
  • Recent Developments in the Study of Indian Music, by Frances Densmore.
    Washington, D.C.: [s.n.], 1917
    MHS call number: ML3557 .D4665 1917.
  • "A Short History of the Indians in Minnesota for Use in School, 1937-1938," by Frances Densmore.
    MHS call number: M157 (1 reel of microfilm).
    Note: Microfilm available on Interlibrary Loan.
  • Songs of the …, recorded and edited by Frances Densmore.
    Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Division of Music, Recording Laboratory.
    • Songs of the Chippewa, 1951, MHS call number: Sound Disc 49-A
    • Songs of the Menominee, Mandan, and Hidatsa, [1953?], Sound Disc 55-A
    • Songs of the Nootka and Quileute, [1953?], Sound Disc 54-A
    • Songs of the Papago, [1953?], Sound Disc 53-A
    • Songs of the Pawnee and Northern Ute, 1951, Sound Disc 52-A
    • Songs of the Sioux, 1951, Sound Disc 50-A
    • Songs of the Yuma, Cocopa, and Yaqui, 1951, Sound Disc 51-A

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Frances Densmore Papers
    This archival collection (1926-1939) includes essays, addresses, and articles prepared by Densmore and accompanied by photographs (some taken by Densmore). The papers discuss Dakota and Ojibwe music, ceremonies, stories, and crafts.
    MHS call number: P763; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is 1 box of material), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • Benjamin Densmore and Family Papers
    Among the many items by and about women members of the Densmore family are essays, notes, and fragments of articles by Benjamin's daughter, Frances Densmore, on Indian music and other topics.
    MHS call number: A/.D413; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes (there are 17 boxes of material and 116 oversize items, not all relate to this topic).
  • Newspapers that may be useful for this topic:
    • Red Wing Republican-Eagle
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.