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Lesson Plan: John Pillsbury

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a person in Minnesota history. Your students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research itself. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Who was John Pillsbury?
John Sergeant Pillsbury was a Minnesota governor and businessman. His work in the milling industries and his support of the University of Minnesota made him an influential member of the Minneapolis community. He became governor during the grasshopper plagues from 1873 to 1877. To help farmers in the infested areas recover, Pillsbury coordinated with charitable organizations, churches, and other benevolent groups. He believed that it was unconstitutional for a government to intervene financially in these matters and relied upon the work of Minnesota citizens and charities to provide aid to those in need during this and other natural disasters. Pillsbury was also dedicated to education and donated much of his personal time, income, and property to the University of Minnesota during some critical years. His willingness to contribute his own resources helped insure that higher education was available to Minnesotans.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using This Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, instruct them to do the following in this order (you may wish to do this with them on an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on St. Anthony.
  4. Click on John Pillsbury.
  5. Read the introductory material on John Pillsbury and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Pillsbury. This is the first primary source the students will view. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to a different source to examine.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the John Pillsbury section of the web site and a transcript of the Activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.

John Pillbury's involvement in the St. Anthony Falls area included work with his family in the milling industry and owning and operating a local hardware store. He bemcame governor of Minnesota in the 1870s and was also committed to the University of Minnesota. He donated money, personal time, and property to keep the University intact.

Document 1
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
This is an advertisement for Pillsbury's hardware store printed in the Minneapolis and Saint Anthony city directory.

    2.1) What in this advertisement could suggest to you that Pillsbury was not the only owner of this hardware store?

    Possible Answer: The name of the store lists "Pillsbury and Co." and Woodbury Fisk's name is listed above "Co.", which would suggest that Pillsbury was not the only owner.

    2.2)Advertisments are purchased according to the number of words printed or the size of the advertisement. Knowing what you do about Saint Anthony at this time, why do you think Pillsbury would have made an effort to mention the "Mill Furnishing Goods" in his advertisment?

    Possible Answer: Since milling was a large industry in Saint Anthony, advertising for the materials and supplies that a mill might need for maintenance would possibly draw customers.

    2.3) Most hardware stores we know today sell building tools. Why might there not be any tools mentioned in this advertisement?

    Possible Answer: Advertisements usually do not list every product a store has in stock. It may be that Pillsbury's store does not sell tools, but it is more likley that readers would assume they could purchase tools there and that it would be more helpful to list some of the more unusual or hard-to-find items he sells, such as the "Mill Furnishing Goods."

    2.4) Because there is no phone number listed on this ad, can you conclude that the phone hadn't been invented yet?

    Possible Answer:No, you cannot make that conclusion without further research. As a matter of fact, Minneapolis did not have phones at this time.

Document 2
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
This is a resolution thanking Pillsbury for his work at the University of Minnesota.

    3.1) What things has Pillsbury done that have earned him the thanks of the University?

    Possible Answer: He has donated large amounts of money, built buildings on campus, and donated his own property to keep the University in operation.

    3.2) What threat did the University face if Pillsbury had not given his donations?

    Possible Answer: At one point the university would have been separated into different institutions because it could not afford to meet its bills.

    3.3) What might these things tell you about how Pillsbury felt about education?

    Possible Answer: It seems that education was very important to him, based on the time, gifts and resources he gave without expecting pay in return.

    3.4) Why might a state's governor feel that having a state university stay open is a good thing?

    Possible Answer: In Pillsbury's case, the university was a land grant institution, meaning that it was created to support and teach new farming methods, which would create more products for the milling industry and therefore also more profits for Pillsbury himself.

Letter 1
Click on the Letter 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a letter from a farmer and Methodist minister in Windom, MN during the grasshopper plague.

    4.1) What does the writer of this letter tell Governor Pillsbury to show that he has 'thought of everything' to get himself out of this situation on his own?

    Possible Answer: He had planned to go away from home to work, had asked about mortgaging his last cow, and had already sold some of his goods to get medicine for his wife.

    4.2) What is Pillsbury's response to this letter?

    Possible Answer: He sends the man $10 to help pay for some medicine.

    4.3) Where did the money sent to the man's wife come from?

    Possible Answer: Pillsbury used money that had been collected in churches on a special day set aside for charity.

    4.4) What does Pillsbury's response to this letter tell us about him?

    Possible Answer: Even though he didn't believe that the government should give direct aid to suffering people, he was willing to help out when he could and offer aid from charities and other sources when needed.

News 1
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This is an article describing Pillsbury's inaugural address.

    5.1) What characteristics does the author of this article say that Pillsbury has?

    Possible Answer: He says that Pillsbury has good sense and sound practical judgment.

    5.2) What does this article tell us about Pillsbury's earlier political career and how could that help him in his new job as Governor?

    Possible Answer: Pillsbury used to be the chairman of the senate committee on finance. This could help him plan better budgets. He says that the state's economy is one of his main interests.

    5.3) What action does Pillsbury NOT want to happen while he is Governor?

    Possible Answer: He doesn't want the offices of insurance and railroad commissioners combined. He thinks that the railroad commissioner's office should be dropped unless more can be found for that officer to do.

    5.4) How do you think Pillsbury's earlier jobs in milling and business could help him as Governor?

    Possible Answer: He had experience with business dealings and working with a budget. His work in milling would also help him understand the effects of the grasshopper plague on the grain crops and local industry.

News 2
Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This is Pillsbury's obituary.

    6.1) What can an obituary tell us about a person's life that other sources might not tell us?

    Possible Answer: An obituary usually describes a person's life from beginning to end, and is a good source for general information about what a person did. It can give us some hints about other sources to look for to learn more about the person.

    6.2) Although Pillsbury did many things in his life, this obituary mentions one period of his life as the most interesting. Which period does the article mention?

    Possible Answer: The article suggests that his greatest contribution to Minnesota was his work with the University of Minnesota. He helped pull the university through some very difficult financial times and gave almost half a million dollars to the school.

    6.3) Would you be able to get this amount of information from any person's obituary notice?

    Possible Answer: No. Most people have much briefer notices that give basic facts about the death, the burial, and the names of family. . For people as well known as Pillsbury, however, longer obituaries are written, making them good places to turn for information.

    6.4) What might make an obituary an unreliable place to find information?

    Possible Answer: Because obituaries are written at the time of someone's death, information about the person's life might be less accurate since those events happened much earlier. The article might also not be as thorough about difficult issues in order to be sensitive to the death. Obituaries for famous people like Pillsbury were also often written by their companies or family members, who would be unlikely to mention any scandals or difficulties the person encountered.

Thought Questions for Online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. Pillsbury was involved in a number of different businesses and fields of government during his life in Minnesota. The sources presented in this section are a sampling of Pillsbury's business and government interactions. What advantages can you list to viewing sources from a variety of a person's activities? How can seeing a number of different sources from a person's life sometimes make our research more complicated?

  2. Many farmers and others in need wrote to Pillsbury asking for help. What does that tell us about the impression people had of Pillsbury as a governor? Do you think people today would write to the governor in similar situations? What do you think people today might expect the governor to do if they asked for help? What other organizations that we have today are designed to help people in need?

  3. The letter to Governor Pillsbury from the farmer and pastor in Windom, MN, includes many misspellings and mistakes in grammar and punctuation. This is one of the hazards in primary source research. What can these mistakes tell you about the author of the letter? What might they tell you about the time in which the letter was written? How can using a source like this possibly cause problems for us in our research?

  4. The article about Pillsbury's inauguration gives us an example of how Pillsbury was viewed by the press. Do you think we would see an article in the paper today that would describe a governor as having "good sense and sound practical judgment"? What role do you think the media can play in how the public views their elected officials? What effect can it have on a politician if the media portrays them in a negative way?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes in John Pillsbury
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Pillsbury's life. Below are possible discussion starters and activities to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Pillsbury does not provide comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
1. Role of Government during times of crisis
2. Influence of one person on a community.

Theme One:
Role of Government:

The student will be able to :

  1. Use information gathered from primary sources to evaluate Pillsbury's influence in his time period.
  2. Describe the role of government in their own life
  3. Discuss and debate their own opinion of government's role a community.
Class Discussion:
Break students into groups and ask them to use the thought questions they completed in the skills section and the information they gathered about Pillsbury to discuss the following questions about him and his work. You may wish to write these questions on the board or generate a worksheet with these questions to guide their discussion and help them keep notes.

  • How much influence do you think the governor has in your life today?

  • What responsibilities does a political figure have to the people he or she represents?

  • How involved should a government be in helping those who may be going through "hard times" for some reason?
Discuss their answers as a class using the following additional questions for focus.

  • What characteristics should a governor possess if he or she is going to be effective in office?

  • What challenges do politicians face that may make it hard for them to do what their constituents (the people they represent) want?

  • What kind of background do you think a governor should have in order to be able to manage a state government? What business or work or military experience do you think might be helpful?
Optional Activities:
  • Ask the students to interview a local political figure (or possibly a student government member) about what they do and how they try to achieve the goals established by the people who voted for them. Have students report to the class in oral or written form or invite the politician to speak to the class and describe his or her job in person.

  • Have students run their own mock election in the classroom. Give them time to plan their campaigns in class and present campaign speeches to the "voters." Have students vote for their candidate and explain why that candidate was the one they chose.

Theme Two:
Influence of One Person

The student will be able to:

  1. Use information gathered from primary sources to examine Pillsbury's influence on local and state events during his lifetime.
  2. Discuss and evaluate the role of the individual in society.
Class Discussion:
Students (especially teenagers) are often quick to discount their own influence and impact on the lives of others and how their own choices can direct their lives. Use these questions (either in handout or overhead projector form) to get students thinking about their role and influence in the community around them. You may wish to have students discuss these as a whole class or in small groups.

  • Pillsbury made a huge impact on Minnesota by working with the University and in business, as well as by being governor. Who today is making a big impact in your local community?

  • What role do you think individual citizens can play in impacting their government? In what ways can you or your family help out those in need?

  • It is often said that one person cannot make a big difference in the world. Think of as many examples as you can (locally and historically) of people who have made a big difference in your country, community, family or school.

Optional Activities:

  • Have your students prepare a collage of items or pictures from their own life so far. Ask students to present this collage to the class as a description of who they are and where they come from. You may even wish to have students work in partners and present their partners' collage as a way of introducing them to the class.

  • Sometimes the attitudes and actions of those around us can have an effect on how our day progresses and whether or not it is a good one. Have students list on the board or on a sheet of paper (can be done as a whole class or small group activity) all of the things they do in a day that could have an effect on others. Consider issues such as the following: How do they treat people at school? How do they treat their family or friends after or before school? How can someone else be impacted if the student does not do their chores or assignments or responsibilities for the day? How can they change a negative influence (being angry at someone and picking on them at lunchtime) into a positive influence (offering to help someone study for a test or carry their books)?

  • Pillsbury's work as a businessman prepared him well for his job as governor of Minnesota. Ask students to think about and list experiences they have had in their lives that have prepared them well for their life now. What events have helped them grow stronger or more confident? Who influenced that growth in their lives? The teen years can be especially difficult - this activity can enable students to see their own progress and the cause-effect relationship between events and their own character. Students should choose one experience and its effect and describe it to the class. You could collect these experience as written articles for a class book about overcoming obstacles or learning lessons in life (you may not wish to publish student names in the book for the sake of privacy).

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