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collections up close Blog

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

Brenda Ueland and Sinclair Lewis

By: admin | What's New | July 30, 2010

Brenda Ueland

A recent addition to the papers of Brenda Ueland (1891-1985), Minneapolis feminist, diarist, and author, includes extensive family correspondence, a childhood diary, and correspondence from literary and political figures.  A new inventory to the entire collection is available on the Library web site. Embedded in the inventory are digital images of five letters from Sinclair Lewis, single letters from Langston Hughes, Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg, and an autograph card of Henrik Ibsen.  In an especially poignant letter of February 27, 1942, Sinclair Lewis writes:

“I’ve for years thought that I’d like really to live in Minnesota.  I wish I had one small root in some one solid area….Now that I’m fifty-seven (though only for 20 days have I been in that horribly advanced age) and practically grown-up, I ought to do something serious about this root business….I love the hills of Connecticut, and hate the grudging people; I love the gay people of New York City, and hate the steel and cement prison corridors that are called streets. I think that some day, if I ever got settled down, I might become a novelist, and I am informed that that is a very fine and happy state of being!”

Thanks to cataloger Chris Welter and interns Shelby Edwards and Julia Weisgram, working under Monica Ralston’s direction, for enhancing access to this important manuscript collection.

Duane Swanson, Curator of Manuscripts

Letter from Lewis to Ueland

Oh, Canada!

By: admin | What's New | June 25, 2010

Canadian and American border patrols

The Minnesota Historical Society Library has opened a new exhibit of Canadiana from our Library Collection in celebration of 40 years of the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis! Our state and Canada share many cultural similarities, some common history, and, of course, a border. It will be on view until September. Come take a look, eh?

Canadian Consulate in Minnesota

Amelia Earhart Found in St. Paul!

By: admin | What's New | June 24, 2010

Earhart newspaper clippings

Actually what happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean has never been solved, but some documents about Amelia Earhart were found in the records of the St. Paul school district.  Amelia Earhart attended Central High School as a junior during the 1913-1914 school year, and her family attended St. Clements Episcopal Church where she sang in the choir.  The documents include correspondence and memoranda (dated 1955-1956) about Amelia Earhart regarding a book the author, Jack Pitman, was writing about the world famous aviator.  Also donated were newspaper clippings (dated in the 1930s) primarily about Earhart’s aviation career.

Featured here is a memo written by Central High School librarian, Laurie C. Johnson, describing Amelia as “an attractive, friendly, red-haired teenager-not at all unlike her friends”.  Also, a newspaper clipping with a story about Amelia’s brief residence in St. Paul, along with a photograph of Amelia in the St. Clement’s church choir.

Description of Amelia EarhartAmelia Earhart at Central High School

Five year fireman's certificate

By: admin | What's New | April 14, 2010
Minneapolis Firemen's Certificate

According to legislation passed in 1873, Minneapolis firemen who had served five years as active firefighters were entitled to be exempt from jury duty and from paying the poll tax (a requirement for voting).  This fancy certificate testified that Patrick Daly had served his five years and therefore was exempt from these obligations.  Patrick Daly had been born in Ireland in April 1836, had lived in Australia and New Zealand, and emigrated to Minneapolis in 1870.  In addition to his stint as a firefighter, he served as a liquor dealer and a policeman, attaining the rank of Captain.  He died in April 1887 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Minneapolis.

The Society has an existing collection of Patrick Daly papers to which this new item will be added.

Duane Swanson, Curator of Manuscripts

Images from the Walter F. Mondale Papers

By: admin | What's New | April 1, 2010
Walter Mondale in Office

KSTP-TV photo editor Skip Nelson shoots from an unusual angle in the office of Senator Walter Mondale in Washington, D.C. while filming the Channel 5 documentary "Mondale of Minnesota."

What’s New?  We’re thrilled to feature hundreds of never-before-seen photographs from the Walter F. Mondale Papers now available online.  Walter Frederick (“Fritz”) Mondale, a native Minnesotan, spent most of his life in public service, at the state, national, and international levels. This selection of images from his papers offers exciting new looks at his life and political career.  Included are the work, travels, people, places, and events that shaped his experience and that of the country during the latter twentieth century.

These newly cataloged photographs are part of a larger project to process the Walter F. Mondale Papers.  The project was funded in part with a two-year grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A valuable component of the Society’s extensive public affairs collections, the Walter F. Mondale papers document Mondale's service as United States Senator from Minnesota (1964-1976), Vice President of the United States (1977-1981), presidential candidate (1984), Ambassador to Japan (1993-1996), and Special Envoy to Indonesia (1998). Along with his official records as state Attorney General (1960-1964, also held here in the Minnesota State Archives), the papers cover Mondale’s six-decade career, including all of his public offices, campaigns, and Democratic Party and other non-official activities. In addition to the breadth they add to the Society’s public affairs collections, the Walter F. Mondale Papers now enrich the Society’s photograph collection. By highlighting almost 500 images from the more than 7,000 contained in his papers, we deepened the political and governmental content of our Photo & Art Database and provided you greater access to the story of this important Minnesotan.

Walter Mondale’s wife Joan is also an integral part of the story.  An artist and craftswoman with many ties to the arts community, Joan Mondale was appointed ambassador for the arts during the Carter administration. She carried out numerous functions aimed at raising the public profile of art and artists and served as honorary chair of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities--the first time a vice presidential spouse was given a specific role and duties. We feature several photographs of her activities as well.

What else can be seen in these newly visible images?  Not surprisingly, there are insights to Walter Mondale’s work with a variety of constituents across the country, key political leaders through the decades, international initiatives, local communities, and national events.  We also catch a glimpse of celebrities, holidays, family and leisure activities. We encourage you to explore the selection, reminisce, gain new insights and enjoy!

Diane Adams-Graf, Curator

Mondale Family, 1965

Mondales, Walter, William, Joan, Eleanor and Ted

Camp Fire Centennial Display

By: admin | What's New | March 31, 2010

Keep faith with youth - Camp Fire Girls

Camp Fire celebrates 100 years of building caring, confident youth and future leaders this year.  Started in 1910 by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife, Charlotte Vetter Gulick, Camp Fire has grown from a small camp for girls to a national organization welcoming and empowering all children and youth. Today, Camp Fire USA Minnesota Council connects children and youth with nature and helps them learn and grow in their own communities. To learn more about Camp Fire in Minnesota, visit their website at: www.campfireusa-mn.org.

Materials from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collections, in addition to pieces from Camp Fire’s own historic collection, allow visitors to see many aspects of Camp Fire life. It is a great opportunity to revisit some of these wonderful pieces; it is fun to see what has changed over time and what has stayed the same.

This display in the Library Lobby will be up through June 16, 2010.

Secretary of State Record Book, Volume I

By: admin | What's New | March 23, 2010
MN Secretary of State Record Book, Volume 1Interior Minnesota Secretary of State Record Book

Recently received from the Secretary of State’s office is a particularly valuable record book dating back to the early days of Minnesota statehood.  In many ways the Secretary of State is the “official record keeper” for the State of Minnesota, and this record book reflects that important function.  The record book, entitled “Official Letters, Communications and Railroad Liens”, is dated from May 1858 to June 1879, and contains copies of important documents received for filing, or sent by the Secretary of State’s office.

Noteworthy documents and topics include articles of incorporations of Minnesota companies;  commitments of individuals to the Iowa Insane Asylum in Mt. Pleasant;  memorials such as the establishment of mail service;  donation of lands and money to aid in railroad construction; removal of Winnebago Indians; compensation for losses by Indian depredations; a commission to investigate the management of Indian affairs; the extension of the pension Law of 1861-1862 to the “sufferers of the Sioux Raid” ;  adoption of the State Seal;  joint resolutions endorsing Andrew Johnson’s impeachment; appointments and resignations of officials; and notices of elections.  The record book is indexed, and is Volume 1 of a set of volumes that date through 1942.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

Minnesota Secretary of State Record Book

People, Places, Things: Selections from the Permanent Collection

By: admin | What's New | March 12, 2010
red wing

On view at the Hill House Gallery through September, 2010

This exhibition is an opportunity to showcase fine work from the Society’s vast collection of art by and about Minnesota. Focusing on our strengths in portraiture and landscapes the show features portraits of such notable Minnesotans as Alexander Ramsey and artist Stanford Fenelle as well as such iconic locations Minnehaha Falls, Swede Hollow and Red Wing, Minnesota. The exhibition also highlights our small, yet exquisite, collection of still life paintings. Well known Minnesota artists such as Cameron Booth, Mike Lynch, Paul Kramer and Clara Mairs are included in People, Places, Things.

Cases of Fun – Norton & Peel Photograph Collection

By: admin | What's New | February 24, 2010
Toyland Department, Dayton’s, Minneapolis, 1940

Toyland Department, Dayton's, Minneapolis, 1940

Take a look at the new finding aid for the Norton & Peel Photograph Collection! Would you like to see an image of a chimpanzee in Longfellow Gardens, taken in 1915?  Perhaps you're renovating an historic building on University Avenue and looking for construction elements?  Maybe you're a collector of fire trucks and want to study vehicle details?  Do you have an interest in 1950s department store window displays? The Norton & Peel Photograph Collection has it all: find it using the new finding aid.  Descriptions of nearly 20,000 images, photo albums and card files are available in this searchable list.

Norton & Peel was a commercial photography studio operating in Minneapolis from 1886-1969. Photographers Walter Norton and Clifford Peel both worked for the studio's predecessor, C. J. Hibbard, for a number of years before forming their own business and buying Hibbard's studio in 1928. Their purchase included Hibbard's 75,000 negatives and equipment. For a time, they referred to themselves as the Norton, Peel & Hibbard Studio, but eventually dropped the Hibbard name. Both firms were among the best in Minnesota and had a reputation for high quality images. During their time, Norton & Peel took over 300,000 photographs, mostly in the Twin Cities metro area.

C. J. Hibbard arrived in Minneapolis in 1885 and soon after pursued his interest in photography, first as a hobby and then as a profession. From 1899-1903 he was the botany photographer at the University of Minnesota; later he traveled to Cuba for business and to Harvard for assignment. His specialty, though, was commercial photography. Clifford Peel studied photography at school, took aerial photographs with the Army Signal Corps in WWI, and worked for a portrait photographer in Bemidji. He moved to Minneapolis in 1920 and was hired by Hibbard. Walter Norton had briefly worked for Hibbard before joining the service during WWI. After the war he continued his job at Hibbard's Studio.

The Minnesota Historical Society acquired a portion of Norton & Peel, Inc. holdings in 1979. It includes negatives, photo albums, and client cards. A substantial portion of the negatives were printed by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The bulk of the Norton & Peel Photograph Collection is associated with Norton & Peel, but there are many taken by C. J. Hibbard, as well. Hibbard's mark on the collection is his group of street scenes and building photos from Minneapolis. Norton and Peel's studio continued Hibbard's commercial focus and their views represent Twin Cities business exteriors, interiors, or products. To a lesser degree, views of landscapes, home exteriors, accident scenes (for insurance), and family events are included. A client card file created by Norton & Peel is included with the collection. The card file is keyed to the firm's negative numbering system. The cards identify the negative, date, and for whom the image was made. A card file that serves as an index to addresses is also part of this collection, but it was created by the Minnesota Historical Society, not by Norton & Peel.

The new, online, searchable inventory, or finding aid, provides easy access to the collection's deep, rich and expansive content. Take a look at whatever interests you!  Perhaps a Dunwoody Institute shop in 1940?  Sailing on Lake Calhoun?  Toyland in Dayton's Department Store? The possibilities are endless!

Diane Adams-Graf, Sound and Visual Collections Curator

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Railway Post Office exam practice kit

By: admin | What's New | January 13, 2010
CaseInto the 1960s, much of the nation's mail moved on railroads. Passenger trains carried Railway Post Office (RPO) cars equipped with sacks and slots that allowed clerks to sort mail en route. Sorted mail was delivered, and new letters were picked up, as the train passed through each town. It was complex work, and required a high degree of speed and accuracy. Clerks took regular examinations to keep their skills well-honed.

Sharp clerks practiced for their exams with kits like this one. It belonged to Richard Loida, a St. Paul-based postal clerk who made frequent RPO runs to Duluth and the Dakotas in the years after World War II. The kit consists of a wooden box, about the size of a briefcase, which opens to reveal slots labeled with primary railroad junctions; and a box of cards for each post office in Minnesota. Mr. Loida would practice placing the cards into the appropriate slots as quickly and correctly as he could. RPO clerks were required to sort as many as 600 pieces of mail per hour, and needed to score 97% to pass their exams. Needless to say, a little practice wasn't a bad idea.

Matt Anderson, Objects CuratorCard


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