Looking at the Great Depression of the 1930s through the eyes of its cookbooks gives a new perspective on food, one of the vital needs of Minnesotans in a time of economic crisis. The Historical Society library has a nice collection of Minnesota cookbooks from the decade, many of which reflect the economic travails of the period.
Minnesotans who lived on farms often had more food available to them than people who lived through the Depression in town or in The Cities because they raised animals for milk, eggs, and meat and grew vegetables, berries, and some other fruits in large gardens. Farm women had the skills, space, and equipment to preserve food when it was ripe and plentiful, for their families' nourishment and enjoyment after the state's short growing season. In general, though the 30s were tough on farmers too, food remained plentiful for many, as demonstrated in this charming oversized cookbook published by The Farmer in 1931 to help farm girls learn to cook. The cookbook says nothing about the need to help Mother economize, to stretch ingredients or learn to use less expensive substitutes. It gives recipes and instructions for everything from muffins to a whole meal for the family. And this was published after the farm economy had been in dire straits throughout the 1920s!
People in small towns, on the iron ranges, and even in larger cities also planted gardens and even raised an animal or two for the family table. Cookbook writers and organizations that compiled cookbooks for sale clearly expected town and city women to put up food and probably assumed they grew at least tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill in backyard gardens. These cookbooks encouraged them to emulate their sisters on the farm - without saying so directly - by including large numbers of recipes for canning preserves, pickles, relishes, and sauces.
A frequently seen recipe type in 1930s cookbooks is the "Mock recipe" which attempted to make a desirable dish without using one of the main ingredients that makes it desirable. The best known is probably mock apple pie, made with soda crackers and lots of sugar and spices. The Northwest Housewives Prize-Winning Recipes Book, published by the St. Paul Daily News Home Economic Dept. in 1934, includes a recipe for Mock Maple Mousse that uses brown sugar and water to substitute for the maple syrup and a recipe for Mock Turkey Legs that calls for veal steak and pork tenderloin, molded into the shape of a drumstick on a wooden skewer.
Even during the Depression, the flour millers of Minneapolis still needed to sell their flour. The Betty Crocker cookbooks in the MNHS collection show how General Mills encouraged women to use their products in baking and other cooking: the key words here are Bisquick and celebrities. Bisquick combined flour and fat to speed the baking and cooking process; movie stars helped struggling Americans to escape temporarily from their difficult lives. And movie stars using Bisquick - well, the combination must have seemed irresistible to the advertising folks at General Mills. The cookbooks emphasized the glamour of the stars, both men and women, with alluring portraits of the celebrities and their chosen dishes like Mary Pickford's strawberry shortcake.
Pillsbury started a cookery club to encourage both brand loyalty and more use of flour. The MNHS collections only hold one issue, Bulletin No. 2 from November of 1934 - but we'd love to acquire more. The editor was Mary Ellis Ames, whose title was Director of Pillsbury's Cooking Service. Unlike Betty Crocker, she was a real person who used her own name. ("Ann Pillsbury," who demonstrates delicious baked goods at the Mill City Museum, came later.) Ms. Ames's only reference to hard times in this issue is to use the word "practical". Several recipes provided, like Mexican Pancakes and Almond Marigold Sponge Cake, promoted the use of specialty flours like Pillsbury's Pancake Flour, Pillsbury's White Corn Meal, and Pillsbury's Sno Sheen Cake Flour.
The Russell-Miller Milling Company promoted its Occident Flour with a booklet of Tested Recipes that featured a cross-stitched cover and proclaimed its seals of approval from the Good Housekeeping Bureau, the Farmers Wife magazine's reader-testers, and the Household Magazine. It appealed to economy-minded bakers by printing a letter that asserted that Occident Flour produced 13 to 28 ounces more bread per 49-pound sack than Flour A and Flour B. Which just might have been General Mills and Pillsbury, but brand names weren't mentioned.
Home economists often worked at establishments where cooking for large numbers of people was essential. A boon to them was a book called Quantity Cookery, written by two well-known Minnesota home economists, Nola Treat and Lenore Richards. In the 1941 edition of their book, 1st published in the 1930s, they advise: "In Discussing the Limitations in Menu Making the Element of Cost Has Come Up Again and Again. It becomes a definite restriction in institutions that work on a budget, or where the group to be served demands good, wholesome foods at the lowest price." Examples given are factory cafeterias, school lunchrooms, and restaurants and hotels whose patrons comprise the lower-income groups. They then discuss the need to re-use all leftovers, noting "It requires a good deal of ingenuity to use these leftovers in some other form so as to maintain variety and that element of surprise which is so essential."
And of course, women continued to study nutrition and home economics at the University of Minnesota's "farm campus." The MNHS library is lucky to have an example of a small cookbook they produced, modestly titled Brain Food. The students used humor in compiling their cookbook, which featured recipes they had solicited from important and well-known members of the university community. University President Guy Stanton Ford had the honor of the first recipe, for a dish called Sunday Night Supper - a bowl of crackers and milk, with peanut- buttered crackers on the side.
A cookbook written by another Minnesota home economist, Mrs. J.B. Graham of Duluth, illuminates the challenges of feeding a family and of making a living on a northern Minnesota farm. 212 Ways to Prepare Potatoes, , establishes Mrs. Graham as a premiere writer of cookbooks for hard times. She lovingly dedicates the book, which sold for 75 cents, to "Our Rural Friends of the Arrowhead. May it Wend its Way Into Every Home and Add Interest to the Homemakers Cookery. May it Help to Bring Prosperity to The Arrowhead Farmer." The recipes came in large part from the Duluth Chamber of Commerce's annual recipe contests held during the city's Potato Week in 1932, 33, and 34. There are recipes for potato breads, muffins, pancakes, and a chocolate mashed potato spice cake, potato doughnuts, fritters, patties, and pies. Cornish pasties and English pasties, dumplings and puddings, souffles, and sausage, potatoes smothered, creamed and scalloped, hashed and fried. The "foreign recipes" section includes Swedish Kropp Kakor, Norwegian Lefsa, and a savory/sweet Austrian Potato Potica that calls for sugar and cinnamon as well as ham or bacon. The book may have helped many a poor northern Minnesota family through the rest of the Depression by providing a real variety of dishes from one primary ingredient that was inexpensively available.
Article contributed by Debbie Miller, former Reference Specialist at the Minnesota Historical Society
This is a qeej (Hmong wind instrument) made by Shong Ger Thao of Saint Paul in 1999. The Hmong language is tonal and Hmong instruments have a tonal quality that allows words to be heard while playing. The Qeej, a free-reed mouth organ, is the most recognizable Hmong instrument and each note can symbolize a word. Qeej players are known as storytellers and often dance while playing. This Qeej is comprised of a wood resonator with a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) mouthpiece and six bamboo pipes.
On March 7, 2018, students from the Saint Paul and Minneapolis public school systems left class, gathered outside Central High School in Saint Paul, and marched twenty blocks down Marshall Avenue toward the State Capitol. This protest was in reaction to the shooting of 17 high school students, teachers, and administrators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. The feeling amongst protestors was raw, unfiltered, and angry. Students had had enough of “thoughts and prayers,” and called for legislative change on both the local and national level.
This protest was the first of many in Minnesota, organized through a Facebook group and word-of-mouth, resulting in thousands of attendees. According to CBS Minnesota, about 5,000 students were part of the walkout (1). The vast majority of attendees were students carrying signs and chanting in the street, most marching in support of stricter gun laws. A 2018 graduate of Central High School and member of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Teen Action Group collected signs at the event (2). Recognizing that the signs and the moment itself were historically important, he donated them to the Society.
The signs expressed messages including “No More Silence, End Gun Violence,” “Protect Our Students,” “We Call BS,” and “Schools are for Learning, Not Lockdowns.” Handmade on poster board and cardboard and designed with markers, tape, and glue, each sign was a visual representation of the student’s feelings at the protest. In contrast to the majority of attendees, one counter-protester’s sign referenced the Castle Doctrine (3), the idea that a defendant can use deadly force in self defense when the defendant is in their own home. The interactions between the counter-protester and the other students were tense, but remained respectful.
Following the March 7th protest, students gathered again on March 14th for a moment of silence, which centered on grief, rather than the anger of the initial protest. On March 24th the national March For Our Lives, a student-led protest calling for tighter gun control laws, was held in Washington, D.C.. Satellite events took place throughout the United States, including one held in the Twin Cities. The march was heavily broadcast and supported by world-famous celebrities, bringing much greater national attention to the cause of gun control.
Despite not being old enough to vote in elections, students have had an immense impact on the national conversation about gun control. These students are part of a rich historical tradition of protests and walkouts, one that includes students from Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, who marched for Civil Rights, those from Birmingham, Alabama, who were part of the Children’s Crusade, and the high schoolers from East Los Angeles, California, who protested for Chicano recognition and rights. The response to the Parkland shooting by students throughout the United States is the most recent example of the impact that youth protest can have on US history.
Summer 2018 Curatorial Assistant Intern
1. “Thousands Of Students March To Capitol Building, Demand Gun Control.” WCCO | CBS Minnesota. March 07, 2018. Accessed August 27, 2018. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2018/03/07/walkout-student-protest-gun-violence/.
2. Year-long internship for high school students to introduce them to the world of museums and representation of communities in museums. http://www.mnhs.org/internships/highschool
3. Castle Doctrine is, “An exception to a rule in place in some jurisdictions that requires a defendant to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. The castle exception states that if a defendant is in his home, he is not required to retreat prior to using deadly force in self defense.” “Castle Doctrine.” LII / Legal Information Institute. November 20, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2018. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/castle_doctrine.
Minnesota Historical Society Collections staff have successfully completed another digitization project: items from the shop of Bess Stiegler. Born near Riga, Latvia, in 1892, Stiegler’s family fled to England when she was a young child to escape pogroms against the Jews. At age 18, Bess came to the United States and moved to the Twin Cities to be near her sister.
When Stiegler settled in Saint Paul, she began working for prominent local milliner, Miss Jackson, and eventually was able to open a shop of her own: Vogue Hat Shop. The main location was on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis and because all of the hats were hand-sewn, it had a reputation for quality. Business went well until the tall hair styles of the 1960s caused most women to abandon their fashionable headwear. While other stores closed, Stiegler managed to stay in business by producing fur hats, a necessity in wintertime, and the occasional men’s hat. Stiegler retired in 1978 after nearly forty years of owning and operating the Vogue Hat Shop. When she died a decade later, her family donated a variety of items from the Shop to MNHS, including hats, supplies, and more. These items, along with a variety of photographs, can be now be viewed on Collections Online.
Hello! My name is Clare Wedrickas and I was the 3D Objects intern during the fall of 2018. I have a background in art history and am currently in a library and information science graduate program. The work that I did within the department perfectly melded both worlds and allowed me to gain more experience working with objects and recording them. Much of my day-to-day work focused on cataloging within the collection; I created catalog records for incoming objects and completed records that had been started earlier. A wide variety of artifacts are housed within 3D Objects which made my time interesting because I was able to learn about so many different pieces of history: handmade Christmas cards by Minnesota artists David and Lolita Granahan; lace and linen dresses from the early 1900s; a metal and wood hand crank coffee mill; Prince’s personal travel Bible (shown above); a wood and metal cane from 1889 that was a gift from employees of Norwegian language newspapers to their boss; and large assortment of objects relating to the Green Giant Company.
One of my favorite acquisitions to cataloged was a white Irish lace day dress worn by Harriet Weyerhaeuser in the first decade of the 20th century. A member of a prominent Saint Paul family, Harriet was the wife of powerful timber businessman Frederick Weyerhaeuser. One of three dresses from this family accepted into the collection this year, this particular dress is the most elaborate. The dress is constructed out of white pique - a type of woven cotton fabric - with floral designs. Some of the flowers are three-dimensional, making the dress even more interesting in my eyes. Think of the amount of skill and the number of hours that it took to create these by hand!
In addition to cataloging and working directly with 3D objects, I had the opportunity to attend a handful of staff training sessions that were led by librarians from the Gale Family Library. Session topics included becoming familiar with the library, how to search for people within MNHS Collections, searching for history about your Minnesota house, conducting state hospital records research, and tips and tricks for searching within the library systems. As a part of creating and filling out catalog records I occasionally had to research people associated with the objects, which can be a bit of a challenge depending on when they lived and how prominent within society they were. The knowledge that I gained from all of the research sessions was extremely helpful and allowed me to search a bit more confidently than before, which in turn made me a better cataloger.
Did you know that there is an online index called MOMS (officially the Minnesota Official Marriage System) where you can search for marriage certificates? Not every county’s records are in the database, but if you are lucky enough to find who you are looking for then you can discover the county and date of their marriage. As you try to piece together someone’s life, information such as this can be key. It was also neat to learn about the Minneapolis and St. Paul City Directories where you can look up who used to live in your house and what their occupation was.
Another fun opportunity that I had was to attend was the weekly meeting of the Collections Acquisitions Committee. In these meetings curators present materials they would like to purchase or accept as donations for the museum’s collections, and then there is a vote. The voting members are predominantly curatorial staff, but the meetings themselves are open to all MNHS staff. I enjoyed observing the process and listening to curator’s reasons for accepting material, which was often that the object up for vote would fill in an area of the current collection that was important but lacking. These meetings also gave me exposure to different areas within Collections, such as library acquisitions and photography. It was fun to peek behind the curtain to see how the collections grow and what criteria curators need to think about when making these decisions.
Learning about MNHS 3D Object cataloging standards, as well as why the 3D curators do or do not accept certain objects into the collection, gave me valuable knowledge that I can bring with me to my next museum role. In order to work with objects in museum collections you need to be detail oriented and able to conduct different types of research; my time as the intern helped me to develop those abilities even further. The skills and experience that I gained from my internship at MNHS further built upon past experiences working in art museums and with art collections, and I am leaving this role more confident in my collections and cataloging abilities.
3D Intern, Fall 2018
St. Paul's first black resident, James Thompson, died on this date in 1884. Thompson had the distinction of being the only slave sold in Minnesota. He was brought to Fort Snelling as the servant of an army officer in 1827, where he proved himself gifted in languages, quickly learning Dakota. Bought and freed by Methodist missionary Alfred Brunson, Thompson then served as an interpreter at the Kaposia mission and eventually settled in St. Paul, where he donated the land and much of the material for the city's first Methodist church (now the site of the St. Paul Hotel).
This painting of Kaposia is by Seth Eastman.
Learn more about James Thompson on MNopedia.
This decal or sticker consists of square white paper with a gold glyph symbolizing The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, circa 1993-1995. It is often referred to as the Love Symbol.
See it in Collections Online.
Visit the new Library Lobby exhibit Worlds of Wonder: Minnesota Children's Books, on view during Library hours now until mid- May.
From the Gag sisters to boys' adventure stories to Bink & Gollie, Minnesota's tradition of producing quality children's literature is worth celebrating. This is just the tip of the iceberg; play around on the Library catalog or ask a friendly librarian if you'd like to see more from our collection!
This etching on paper is titled “St. Paul Cathedral”; it was made by Minnesota artist Lowell Bobleter in the 1930’s or 40’s.
For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this print in our collections database.
Charles Beck, a Minnesotan artist, passed away yesterday. He was a talented and amazingly prolific woodcut printer, sculptor, and painter. We are lucky to have several pieces by him in the MNHS collection.
Charles Beck was born in 1923. He attended Concordia College and received his MFA from the University of Iowa. The inspiration for his work comes from his hometown of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and the landscapes of surrounding Ottertail County. Beck was an art instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College for more than 30 years, and he received an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia College in 1980. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Plains Art Museum.
See more of his work in Collections Online.