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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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What's New

Gilbert Wilson Collection

By: admin | What's New | March 29, 2017
In 1905, Reverend Gilbert L. Wilson, Presbyterian minister and amateur ethnographer, started traveling to North Dakota to work among the tribes who lived at Standing Rock and Fort Berthold. During his travels, Wilson forged relationships with individuals, prompting him to be able to collect items for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). While collecting these items for AMNH, Wilson began accruing an impressive personal collection of items, mainly from the Mandan and Hidatsa at Like-a-Fishhook Village near Fort Berthold.

After Wilson’s death in 1930, his personal collection was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society at his bequest. This donation included journals, reports, photographs, drawings, artifacts and wax cylinder recordings related to his travels to North Dakota. This plethora of information is now connected across collecting areas by including notes from Wilson’s reports that relate with specific objects in the collection. These objects will have an additional Notes section on Collections Online.

Wilson took great interest in many aspects of daily life at Like-a-Fishhook Village. The most notable is the agriculture of the Mandan and Hidatsa which is highlighted in Wilson’s book, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. Wilson learned the majority of the gardening techniques from Buffalo Bird Woman and her son, Goodbird.

Goodbird sitting under sliced squash drying on stage, 1916

Goodbird sitting under sliced squash drying on stage, 1916

Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden

While the collection has gardening tools such as a scapula bone hoe and deer antler rake, Wilson made sure to collect some of the foods that became a staple of life at Fort Berthold. This includes dried berry cakes, prairie turnips and squash.

Dried squash on string, 1916

Dried squash on string, 1916

The wonderful thing about this collection is that many of the objects, including the squash, appear in Wilson’s collections in multiple formats. There are photographs of squash being harvested, cut up and dried, the actual physical dried squash and the squash knife that was used to slice the squash. Having these collections in various formats along with the information that Wilson wrote, is a great way to connect to the daily activities of the Mandan and Hidatsa. One is able to learn about the tools, the process and the product of Mandan and Hidatsa life and agriculture.

Bone squash knife, 1916

Bone squash knife, 1916

Please use this link to view the objects in this collection and this link to learn more about Wilson’s reports and photographs.

Rita Walaszek
Collections Assistant

1908 Minneapolis Colored Keystones

By: admin | What's New | February 15, 2017

Photo of baseball team Minneapolis Colored Keystones, 1908

February is Black History Month, and to honor the contributions of Black players to the history of Minnesota sports, the Minnesota Historical Society is pleased to feature one of its newest Acquisitions - a 16 x 20 photograph of the Minneapolis Colored Keystones from 1908. At the time, baseball teams were segregated, and the Negro National League had not yet formed. The Keystones played teams around Minnesota from approximately 1908-1911, including the St. Paul Colored Gophers. The Keystones’ manager, Kidd Mitchell and his wife, Mamie, ran the Keystone Saloon at 1313 Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis.

This particular image, labeled 1908, likely dates to the early part of the season based on the lineup of players. It was not uncommon for players to switch teams, and many players had ties to Chicago and Chicago-area teams. The names and positions are annotated on mat and identified as follows.

Back row, left to right: Fred "Pop" Roberts (2nd Base), Dick "Noisy" Wallace (Right Field), Eugene "Cherry" Barton (Left Field), Charles Jessup (Pitcher), "Topeka" Jack Johnson (1st Base), Bobby Marshall (Captain, Utility), George Hopkins (Center Field), Bill Binga (3rd Base). Middle row, left to right: Walter Ball (Pitcher), Edward "Kidd" "K.F" Mitchell (Pres. Manager/Owner), Mamie Lacey Mitchell, Eddie Davis (Secretary), Andrew Campbell (Catcher).

The Keystones appear in some books in the Historical Society’s Collections. They Played for the Love of the Game: Untold Stories of Black Baseball in Minnesota by Frank White and Swinging for the Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota edited by Steve Hoffbeck provide rich histories of Black baseball in Minnesota.

Jennifer Huebscher, Curator of Photography and Moving Images

Keystone Buffet, 1313 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis

New Library Lobby Display: Rondo and Chinese Immigration

By: admin | What's New | February 2, 2017
Why might the Rondo neighborhood and Chinese Immigration be featured together in a Library Lobby display? The History Theater in downtown Saint Paul has two upcoming shows on these topics; we saw it as a chance to highlight what we have and continue telling the stories of all Minnesotans.

This world premiere drama is set in 1956. The construction of Interstate 94 destroyed the thriving, tight-knit Rondo neighborhood where homes, stores and businesses once stood. The new freeway tore through the heart of St. Paul’s largest African-American community.

While the neighborhood of Rondo was forever changed, the voices and stories live on. On view in this display are just some of the materials in the collection which document that important community.

The play runs February 4 – 26, 2017.

The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin

This play follows the true story of Harry Chin, one of the many Chinese nationals who landed in the U.S. through a loophole in the Chinese Exclusion Act; it explores the personal and political repercussions of making a group of people “illegal.”

This display shows materials relating to the Chinese immigrant experience in Minnesota.

The play runs March 18 – April 9, 2017.

Use the History Center Promo Code:  HC2017 for $30 tickets at History Theater!

History is Now: Women's March

By: admin | What's New | January 26, 2017

MNHS is collecting material documenting contemporary social activism and we have received many inquiries about the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, which was one of the largest protests in state history. While we can’t preserve everything, we are interested in collecting items and photos. We are aiming to document:

  • Diverse voices

  • Varied reasons for marching

  • Multiple locations around Minnesota as well as Washington DC

We are taking submissions until March 1, 2017, at which point we will make a selection from the submissions and contact potential donors.

Please submit photos of the event and/or photos of objects with a short description of your experience and the items you are submitting to collections@mnhs.org with the subject line “Women’s March 2017” no later than March 1, 2017.

To offer items not related to this event, please see our Potential Donation to the Collection form. For more information see our How to Donate FAQ.

Thank you!

Minnesota Dressmakers Resource

By: admin | What's New | December 16, 2016

Visually stunning women’s formal wear is a highlight of the MNHS costume collection.   Minnesota Dressmakers:  The Business of Dressmaking is expanded research about costume in the MNHS collection dating between 1880-1920. About 100 garments are identified by the label of the dressmaker’s business sewn into the garment and represent 25 different prominent businesses operating in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Dressmaking by 1900 had become the third most important occupation for women.  These business owners and the seamstresses they hired supplied custom-made fashion to their clients at a time when ready-to-wear was an emerging concept.   Enjoy this new resource   that provides business histories and biographical information on the women engaged in this work.

The research to identify these businesses took on a life of its own as staff, volunteers and interns combed city directories, newspapers, census data, death records, birth records, family papers, photographs, maps, and probate records.  Occasionally, we found family members to interview. We looked at every possible source of information for clues into these women’s lives in order to imagine their relationships as proprietors, workers or clients.

This project was supported by The Bean family grant for business history, the Ken and Nina Rothschild Endowment fund for business history and women’s history, and support from Art and Cultural Heritage Funding.

Linda McShannock, Associate Curator

Minnesota Dressmakers:  The Business of Dressmaking

Remembering Miles Lord

By: admin | What's New | December 12, 2016

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Judge Miles Lord last Saturday. He was born on the Iron Range and became a towering legal figure in Minnesota and the nation. Prior to being appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, he served as Minnesota’s Attorney General from 1955 – 1960 and U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota from 1961 – 1966. He was known for issuing rulings in favor of those regularly disenfranchised, such as minorities, women, consumers, and environmentalists.  His friend Hubert Humphrey called him “the people’s judge.”

Learn more about this important figure here:

Bob Dylan: Nobel Laureate

By: admin | What's New | October 14, 2016

Many years ago, when I was the young Head of Library Acquisitions at the Minnesota Historical Society, an auditor walked into my office. He had been charged with making sure the Society was appropriately spending the State’s money. Perhaps frustrated by our squeaky clean finances, he was excited to find malfeasance. Waving a list of books the Library had purchased that year, he accused me of buying a book about Bob Dylan and his music for my personal use. Biting my tongue, I signaled him to follow me into the locked library stacks. We walked to a section overflowing with the great literary works of Minnesotans, the likes of O. E. Rolvaag, Sinclair Lewis (our other Nobel Laureate), Ann Chidester, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There among those giants were two shelves of books about Dylan, including the title in question. Deflated, the bean counter went away. I hoped he learned what we knew well, that Bob Dylan has had an unprecedented influence on our State’s culture and that his work was the unquestionable product of the unique environment that is Minnesota’s Iron Range. That it is the sacred duty of the Historical Society to document his Minnesota voice.

Occasionally, skeptical eyebrows have been raised not only by auditors but by my colleagues as well. When I came back from an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York with Dylan’s hand written lyrics for “Temporary Like Achilles,” I had to assure them, on my reputation, that $10,000 would seem like a bargain someday. Proof of its historic value came just last year. The manuscript spent a year on exhibit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential library as an iconic representation of the 1960’s.

We continue looking for rare Dylan works to fill in our collection. Coincidentally, less than 12 hours before Dylan was announced as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner for Literature I bought a first edition of his “Poem to Joanie.” I swore to the rare book dealer that I had no advance knowledge of the coming announcement.

Over the nearly four decades of my tenure at the MNHS, the Society has done an excellent job documenting Dylan. We regularly, if quixotically, bid for Dylan material at auctions against better endowed institutions and fabulously well-heeled private collectors. While those efforts seldom work, a library search of Dylan’s name still turns up over 250 items. From his earliest recorded “party tape;” to his three interviews in Playboy Magazine; to the “bootlegged” edition of Tarantula (Hibbing: Wimp Press); to Denis Anderson’s unique Dylan research collection (compiled while he taught Dylan at a German University), the MNHS Collection is rich. If you want to learn or write about Bob Dylan, or if you want to understand why the Nobel Committee took the unprecedented step of awarding him the 2016 Prize for Literature, you’ll want to visit the MNHS Library.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Learn More:

If you are a fan of Minnesota music, make sure not to miss Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis, coming out from the MNHS Press on November 1!

Fore! Golf!

By: admin | What's New | September 30, 2016

With the Ryder Cup happening this weekend in the Twin Cities and the golf season itself beginning to wind down, we thought now would be a good time to take a look at our golf collections before the long winter begins.

Golf has a long history in Minnesota due to our fresh air and open spaces. While the fashions may have changed, the opportunity for fun outside remains the same.

Two women playing golf, 1925.

This Munsingwear promotional item features golf professional Billy Casper, seen wearing a Munsingwear polo shirt (Grand Slam). Circa 1964-1965.

Although golf has a long and sordid history as a segregated sport, there were occasionally opportunities for African-Americans to play. This photo of the Sterling Club golf tournament in 1948 is one.

The golf club, bag, and glove belonged to golf professional Patty Berg.

This beautiful magazine started in 1927 and went through several name changes before ending in 1946. A mix of sport, outdoors, and society news, it is definitely is a glimpse into a different time. It was published by Fawcett Publishing, the same company that published Captain Billy's Whiz Bang. One has to wonder at how often those audiences overlapped.

If you weren’t ability to get tickets to the Ryder Cup itself, come to the MNHS Library Lobby and see golf-related materials through time! And if that’s not enough sport visit Gridiron Glory, the major traveling exhibit from the National Football Hall of Fame, now open at the History Center just upstairs from the Library.

Remembering Governor Wendell Anderson

By: admin | What's New | August 15, 2016

The public memorial service is being held today, August 15, for one of our most beloved governors. Wendell Anderson was elected in 1970 when he was just 37.  While Governor Anderson was a member of the DFL party, he went on to pass one of the most important and impressive pieces of bipartisan legislation, the "Minnesota Miracle," credited with transforming public schools in the state. He grew up on Saint Paul's East Side and won a silver medal with the USA hockey team in the 1956 Olympics.

The Minnesota Historical Society is proud to hold his papers as well as several photographs and objects relating to his life and work.

History is Now: Remembering Prince

By: admin | What's New | June 14, 2016

The Minnesota Historical Society is seeking to document the tragic passing of Prince by placing a call for personal photos at memorials and celebrations dedicated to the talented musician and cultural icon.

Prince memorial at the Minnesota Historical Society, April 2016

First Avenue, April 23, 2016

Our goal is to collect 100 photographs to illustrate how Minnesotans celebrated and grieved after the news of his death, whether it was a purple flower beneath his First Avenue Star, attending an all-night dance party, or making the trek to Paisley Park.

Please consider sending us one digital image based on the criteria below. If your photo is selected, you will be sent an official donor form and your image will become part of the Minnesota Historical Society permanent photograph collection and included in our Collections Online database.


  • Please submit only one digital photo. File format must be JPEG or TIFF, with a preferred resolution between 300-600 pixels per inch.  The date and location of the image must also be included.

  • The image must have been taken between April 21, 2016-May 5, 2016.

  • You must submit contact information for follow up, and be willing to sign a donor agreement form that includes granting copyright to the Minnesota Historical Society.

  • Please email the image to collections@mnhs.org with the subject line History is Now.

  • Images should be emailed no later than July 15, 2016.

The MNHS Curatorial Staff will select up to 100 images.  Thank you for your consideration!


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