Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Jane Shields Freeman: Minnesota's First Lady

While many women of Minnesota's Greatest Generation chose to stay home to care for their husbands and raise families, others chose to balance a career or active volunteer work with home life. Jane Shields Freeman, wife of former Minnesota Governor Orville L. Freeman, took a lively interest in local and national politics, actively campaigning for her husband and other prominent Democratic candidates. Jane was educated at the University of Minnesota and had begun work on her Master's Degree when she met her future husband in 1941. They were married the following year. The Freemans moved in important political circles, counting among their close friends Hubert and Muriel Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson, and others. When Orville decided to run for office, Jane stepped up to the plate with her full support.

After unsuccessful bids for Attorney General in 1950 and Governor in 1952, Orville Freeman was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1954 and went on to serve three terms, from 1955 to 1961. As First Lady of Minnesota, Jane had many responsibilities. She shared some of her memories of her early experiences as a politician's wife with historian Douglas Bekke in an oral history interview conducted in 2007.


Jane C. Freeman Oral History Interview (Excerpt)


JF: [Orville] said he would not run early in 1954 and that he just couldn’t. He said also, "my wife doesn’t want me to run." That was not true. I really knew that if he really wanted to run and it looked like a good chance, of course I would support it. But it was a good way to hold off the pressure and let’s find out what other people are going to do to help you this time. Are they going to help raise money and do all the things it takes to get elected?

DB: And that is a huge factor. If you think about it today, how many millions and millions of dollars are spent on every campaign and how much time politicians have to devote to fundraising.

JF: Exactly.

DB: How significant an inroad into everyone’s time was that? There wasn’t as much money involved in those days.

JF: Not nearly as much money. Orv was very, some people thought stuffy, about fundraising. He found it very hard to ask people for money and he also was extremely sensitive about conflict of interest. So a good deal of his fundraising was done by other friends, particularly one friend who was a professor at the university, a professor of chemistry and engineering of all things.

DB: Doesn’t sound like a fundraiser.

JF: No. It doesn’t.

DB: Did you get involved in fundraising activities?

JF: I went with him to the gatherings but I didn’t ever call and ask anybody for money.

DB: So he had a committee that took care of that primarily?

JF: Yes. Exactly. But we went to the gatherings and all. But he did a series of television programs, and that’s when we got our first television. It began in January-February of 1954 on issue discussions. So that we could hear daddy on television we bought a television. Orv’s parents had had a television and our daughter had come to love going to grandma’s to watch "Howdy Doody" and all those good things, and it was pretty tough not to have a television at our house. But anyway, then we bought a television and we watched the programs and these issue discussions, half an hour, can you imagine? Nobody would listen to that kind of thing now but you had to buy time in half hour chunks.

DB: It wasn’t a sound bite.

JF: No.

DB: This wasn’t something that was sponsored by the media then. This was something that the campaign committee had to buy.

JF: Right. The DFL Party bought.

DB: DFL forums on the issues then.

JF: Yes. So the pressure built up and by the time we went to the DFL convention in Albert Lea which I think was early June—they’re usually about the first week or so of June—and I went with him and I thought I wouldn’t be a bit surprised but what the endorsement will come out and he by then privately agreed with Humphrey and a group of strong supporters of Humphrey and of Orv over the years that he would run. Humphrey wanted him to run and the people around Humphrey wanted him to run because they were very worried about his re-election and were afraid if they didn’t have somebody who was strong that it would hurt him and that secondly, if they had somebody, they considered how one or two of the other possibilities might act, that they run off separately from Humphrey, not really supporting Humphrey but running their own campaign and try to steal the limelight and the money and concentrate on their campaign, and he trusted Orv to support him. Eugenie Anderson, the woman who’d been ambassador to Denmark under President Truman and was very active in the Party and she just said, “Orv, you’ve got to do it to protect Humphrey. We can’t afford to lose Humphrey.” She said, “I don’t see how you can make it but you’ve just got to do it.” I still remember that.

And by [1954] we had several volunteer women working on organizing the coffee parties, calling all the DFL people at the various county level who can give a party in your area and working out how to do it. Then I would go with Orv, say we’d drive out to Willmar for an evening thing at a church basement, and then the next day he would go north to various towns and county things with the farmers and the local business people and so forth and I would go south with a couple of the women from the area and attend coffee parties and teas at people’s houses and maybe a luncheon or something. Then we’d come together and meet in another town by that night and he’d make a speech in a high school auditorium or something. So it was really a much more organized and formalized campaigning then. I was able to be gone more then, particularly through the summer, because then I had a college student who lived with us and she was going to summer school but she’d be there to be with the children when I was gone. So by the 1954 election we really had great hopes of winning. I still tried not to get too excited because when everybody around you is so excited and all—

DB: You tried to be a realist.

JF: And I won’t go into how we feel we finally won that election with a final couple of television programs with all the family and relatives and supporters on it. But we felt that finally pushed us over. But that was a great victory.


First Ladies of Minnesota, Jane Freeman, Minnesota Historical Society.

Amanda Becker, filmmaker, First Lady of Minnesota: Mrs. Jane Freeman. Share Your Story, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Project, Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

Johnson, Frederick. "Anderson, Helen Eugenie Moore (1909–1997)." MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society.