Profile of a Scholar: Gertrude S. Young

Gertrude Stickney Young taught history at South Dakota State College (now University) from 1907 to 1955.  A small collection of her papers are held at the H.M. Briggs Library at SDSU, link to their site here (also has a photo posted).

It has been a rewarding life, certainly not a dramatic one — this one of teaching for four decades, this one of attempting to point out helpful patterns for working in the present entanglement of world affairs to be found in a study of good and bad reactions to like problems of other peoples and places…. It has been a life of an observer, an interpreter, not a participant….

To have lived through these decades – a blessed privilege; we hope that we have not altogether abused it.

— “A Study in History for the ‘I Personally Award,'” c.1948, p43.

Background and Education

Gertrude Young was born on September 14, 1883 in Sioux Falls.  Her family had a privileged status with the resources to support her education.  Her father, Sutton Young, was the first Speaker of the House in the South Dakota legislature.  He had come to Sioux Falls in 1881 from a Yankee family in Ohio, working in law and real estate interests.  Her mother Emma Stickney Young was born in Ohio, graduated from Oberlin College in 1867, and then taught at a Freedman’s Bureau school in Mississippi for a year and in Ohio schools before marrying Young.  In Sioux Falls, Emma taught for a time at the high school there.  Mrs. Young set an example of civic engagement for Gertrude in her service to the church, charities, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Women’s State Board of Charities and Corrections.

In 1891, they returned to her father’s home village in Ohio but the family found the East very orthodox and conservative, and her father’s business interests took a hit in the 1893 panic.  In 1897, the Youngs went again to Dakota because her father had invested in the Crown Hill mines although they made no great profit.  They lived a time in the Black Hills and a time in Sioux Falls.  In 1901, he accepted the superintendency of the “Reform school” at Plankinton where he served until his death in 1911.  Her mother was also active in the work of the school.  One brother, Allyn, became an economics professor at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, and the other, Evan, worked for the U.S. State Department.

Gertrude attended multiple schools including the South Dakota School of Mines, Sioux Falls College (now University of Sioux Falls), and Carleton Academy (at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota), but she received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1906, the school where her brothers had also attended and where she took courses from Frederick Jackson Turner.  In “A Study in History,” she wrote of herself in college as a feminist, being exposed to new perspectives and watching the suffrage movement [page 18].  She continued her education by taking summer sessions at Cornell University in 1911 and 1916 with George Lincoln Burr, the University of Chicago in 1912, the University of Wisconsin in 1913 and 1915, and the University of California with Herbert Bolton.  She also studied through the Chautauqua Institution, the Williamstown Institute of Politics, and the Institute of Public Affairs in Charlottesville.  The census in 1940 listed her with six years of higher education in total.

[For a fuller biography, see her memoir essay “A Study in History for the ‘I Personally Award’,” Young papers, Briggs Library–it’s rather beautiful actually].

Career at South Dakota State College

In 1907, Gertrude Young joined the faculty at South Dakota State College as an instructor in English and History.  In 1912, she was one of nine women who were members of the state chapter of the History Teacher’s Association.  There were twenty members total that year and she was the only representative from her college.

In 1914, she became an Assistant Professor of English and History.  Before 1925, she became an Associate Professor.  In 1921, she had a salary of $1,300 for her 10 months employment.  In 1940, she had a reported income of $1,950 for the year.  She saw the department shift its focus over time from British history and institutions to U.S. relations with Latin America and Asia.  Some of the records about her indicate that she was a popular instructor with her students.

In 1920, Young was awarded the first Beadle prize.  The Beadle prize was established to recognize South Dakotans (requirements: a resident and educated in South Dakota schools) who had made a significant contribution to their field of study.  The award was created in 1916, but the award committee had not actually made any prizes until their award to Young for her article “A History of the Mennonites in South Dakota,” which was printed in the South Dakota Historical Collections in 1920.  Her research on Mennonite immigration was also printed in the American Historical Review in April 1924.

LincolnMusicHall (1)

The history department was first housed in the old Central building, then the Administration center in the early 1920s, but after its construction in 1929, the department had classrooms and offices in the Lincoln Library (now Lincoln Music Hall).

Young was not the only woman on the history faculty.  According to her own history of the department, Miss Folsom was an assistant in English history and language in the 1890s.  Mary Stites, who had her Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania, came as an Instructor in the early 1920s until 1928.  She eventually went into medical social service work and taught at Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee.  Onalee Heldredge had an M.A. from Columbia University with a specialty in European History and was part of the department from 1928 to 1933.  She married Clarence Balof and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska.  Pauline Hackbarth was a professor in History and Psychology in 1940-1942.  Vivian Volstorff was a specialist in Contemporary Europe who had a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, joined the SDSU faculty in 1932, and eventually served as Dean of Women.

Young was also a friend and associate of Ada Caldwell who was a professor of art at SDSU.  Caldwell died in 1938 and, in 1940, Young wrote a book “Ada B. Caldwell: A Tribute.”  Young’s citation from the university for fifty years of service in 1957 specifically calls out her “loving care” for Caldwell “during her years of illness” as a fulfillment of the college’s obligation that they could not meet.

Changing Residences: In 1910, Young is listed in the census both with her parents at Plankinton and boarding at a dormitory with several other teachers on Medary Ave. in Brookings.  In 1920, Young boarded with two widows, Mary Cutler and Emma Wilbur at 728 10th Ave. in Brookings.  In 1930, she was a lodger of Ada Caldwell’s at the apartment building at 604 11th Ave.  In 1940, she lived at 725 12th Ave.

Social and Civic Life

In 1931, Gertrude Young helped found the Brookings branch of the American Association of University Women.  Their primary activity in the early years was to establish a kindergarten, which they did in the basement of the public library.  The kindergarten was in operation from 1932 to 1941, when it became part of the public school system.  During World War II, the branch was active in the war effort by distributing ration cards, doing Red Cross work, and helping with material salvage drives.  In 1964, scholarships given by the branch to women entering college at SDSU were named for Young.

Young was also a leader in the Faculty Women’s Club, the Women’s Club of Brookings, and other local organizations.  She was also active later with the Episcopal Church, serving as secretary of the Guild in the late 1940s and at local and state levels for the United Council of Church Women.

Life after Retirement

In 1942, she suffered a bad hip injury and spent four months in the hospital.  Unable to continue active work, Young was made Professor Emeritus.  After her retirement, she continued to teach a few courses until 1955, lectured occasionally by invitation, and wrote several books including South Dakota: An Appreciation (1944) and Dakota Again (1950), which were printed privately.  An Appreciation was written in honor of her mother and included sections on the land, historical sketches, and biographies–including that of her mother Emma Stickney Young, Ada B. Caldwell, Robert L. Slagle, Alfred B. Kittredge, and Mrs. Andrew Beveridge.  Dakota Again is a book of biographical sketches of South Dakota women including Sarah Wood Ward (pioneer), Mary Uline Dunlap (churchwoman), Krete Kendall Miller (artist), Charlotte Elliot (scientist), Gladys Pyle (stateswoman), and Lois Thrather Clarke (journalist), followed by a few fictionalized stories.

Gertrude Young died in 1965.  Young Hall at the University was named for her when it was built in 1969.


  • Gertrude Stickney Young papers, MA 8, South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, H.M. Briggs Library.  Including list of publications, here.
    • Letter to Miss Corlie F. Dunster, August 11, 1947, #MA8-2-004.
    • “The Department of History, South Dakota State College, 1884-1943,” mss., #MA8-3_002.
    • Citation for faithful service for Professor Gertrude S. Young, May 22, 1957, #MA8-7_001.
    • “A Study in History for the ‘I Personally Award,’” c.1948, Brookings, SD. Mss. #MA8-8_001
  • American Association of University Women, Brookings Branch Records: Collection Summary, MA 15, Finding Aid, South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, H.M. Briggs Library.
  • History Teacher’s Magazine, vol.3 (June 1912), 139-140.
  • Oberlin Alumni Magazine, vol. 7, issue 10 (1911), 396.
  • South Dakota State Agricultural College, Annual Catalogs, 1915-1917 (on Google Books).
  • South Dakota Board of Regents of Education, Biennial Report, vol. 16 (1921), 43.
  • Twelfth Census of the United States, Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, South Dakota, Enumeration District #264 (June 7, 1900), sheet 9.
  • Thirteenth Census of the U.S., Ward 1, Brookings, Brookings County, E.D. #40 (April 22, 1910), sheet 8A.
  • Fourteenth Census of the U.S., Ward 1, Brookings, E.D. #24 (January 9, 1920), sheet 5B.
  • Fifteenth Census of the U.S., Ward 1, Brookings, E.D. #6-7 (1930), sheet 9A.
  • Sixteenth Census of the U.S., Ward 1, Brookings, E.D. #6-7 (April 16, 1940), sheet 11A.

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