St. Cloud Visiter/St. Cloud Democrat

St. Cloud visiter [sic] (St. Cloud, Minn.) 1857-1858 Browse the title

St. Cloud Democrat (St. Cloud, Minn.) 1858-1866 Browse the title

As a strong abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, Jane Grey Swisshelm used her newspapers, the St. Cloud Visiter and the St. Cloud Democrat, as a forum for her political and ethical beliefs in the late 1850s and early 1860s. After witnessing the conditions of slavery in Kentucky shortly after her marriage to James Swisshelm, she first made her loathing of the practice public through her editorials in the Louisville Journal, then the Pittsburgh Spirit of Liberty. When the latter newspaper went out of business in 1847, Mrs. Swisshelm purchased and renamed it the Pittsburgh Saturday Visiter, a paper in which she played an active role until her move to central Minnesota. After her divorce and upon settling in the city of St. Cloud, Minnesota, along the Mississippi River in 1857, she again took up her editor’s pen and purchased the Saint Cloud Minnesota Advertiser with publisher James Mowatt, changing the newspaper’s name to the St. Cloud Visiter. Distributed weekly in six columns and four pages, an early issue announced Jane Swisshelm’s creed: "the Bible, and the Constitution of the United States are antislavery; and human chattledom is unconstitutional in any association professing to receive either as fundamental law" she wrote.

The abolition of slavery and the advancement of women’s rights were inseparable to Jane Grey Swisshelm. She felt women, both white and black, were the greatest victims of slavery. Believing women to be morally superior to men, it was incomprehensible to Mrs. Swisshelm that men should then be masters of all domestic and public affairs, especially after experiencing a failed marriage to a domineering husband. She published a series of articles in Pennsylvania promoting property rights for married women that were instrumental in the adoption of these rights by the legislature in 1848. In the May 20, 1858 issue of the St. Cloud Visiter she wrote, "Maybe we are a fanatic, but no conviction could be stronger in our mind than the feeling that the Lord has prepared us, by a long course of discipline, to stand publicly as the advocate of the oppressed of our own sex, as a representative of woman's right, under God, to choose her own sphere of action".

Not afraid to use her newspaper to evoke change within the community, Jane Grey Swisshelm became the adversary of St. Cloud’s political boss "General" Sylvanus B. Lowry, a Tennessean who was keeping slaves in the free territory of Minnesota. As a Democrat, Lowry wanted to quell the resurgence of Republican sympathizers that the St. Cloud Visiter may have provoked. He was instrumental in organizing a "Committee of Vigilance" and conducting a midnight raid on the newspaper office in March of 1858, smashing the press, scattering the type, and throwing the rest in the great Mississippi River. A city-wide mass meeting was called, and it became obvious that the throngs of citizens were angered by the violent act, donating time and money to begin the press anew. By May of that year, the St. Cloud Visiter was re-issued with a full report by Mrs. Swisshelm of the events, which gained her a suit of libel. Agreeing to discontinue the publication of the Visiter, she surreptitiously changed the title of her newspaper to the St. Cloud Democrat, thus keeping to the agreement.

Retaining the same six-column, four-page format of the Visiter, Jane Grey Swisshelm became the sole proprietor and editor of the St. Cloud Democrat. After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Mrs. Swisshelm returned East on a lecture tour to convince the population there and Lincoln’s administration that the American Indian tribes involved in the massacre should be exterminated. After seeing the conditions caused by the Civil War, however, she volunteered as a nurse and spent the next two years caring for Union troops and supplying letters to the Democrat about her experiences. In June of 1863 the newspaper was purchased by Mrs. Swisshelm’s nephew, William Bell Mitchell, who continued to publish under the Democrat name until 1866 when the paper was enlarged to nine columns and the name changed to the St. Cloud Journal.


Mitchell, William Bell. History of Stearns County. Chicago: H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co., 1915.

Sargent, Julian. "St. Cloud ‘Lady Editor’s’ Crusade For Abolition Set Forth in Files Presented to Historical Society." St. Paul Dispatch, March 11, 1929.

Klement, Frank. "The Abolition Movement in Minnesota." Minnesota History Magazine 1 (1951): 15-33.

Stearns, Bertha-Monica. "Reviews of Books." Review of Crusader and Feminist: Letters of Jane Grey Swisshelm, 1858-1865, by Arthur J. Larson. Minnesota History Magazine 16 (1935): 76-78.

Treckel, Paula A. "Jane Grey Swisshelm and Feminism in Early Minnesota." The Midwest Review 2 (1980): 1-17.