What I’m Reading 12

These first two items have been sitting on my “post about these” list since October… shame on me.

Feminist Biography and the Historical Narrative” by Rebecca Montgomery on Rural Women’s Studies’ blog speaks to me — if you’ve checked out other posts on this site, you’ve likely seen biographical info on South Dakota women and it’s also a large part of my suffrage work. And Montgomery’s research subject–Celeste Parrish, an education reformer–has some resonance with the many women on my SD suffrage lists who sought higher education or were educators, who sought educational opportunity, leadership roles, and equal pay. There is still vast need to find and raise up stories of women in the historical canon. There are innumerable ways that these additional stories may change or expand what we know of our history.

Custom Dressmaking, 1880–1920” by Linda McShannock for MNopedia (Minnesota’s digital encyclopedia) was a wonderful read for context for some of my past posts. I’ve been (slowly) working through the 1909 state business directory and pulling out lists of the women included for certain towns, trying to do some basic biographical research for each (I recently posted the short list from Madison SD). A lot of those women worked in dressmaking, or millinery, etc. This is a great overview from a neighboring state with more information about how those businesses operated.

And finally, the new issue of South Dakota History v.50.1 (Spring 2020) features a series of essays about the (Swiss) Benedictine Catholic missionary experience. While the essays, written by three men with credentials on the topic (Robert W. Galler Jr., Steven A. Stofferahn, and Paul G. Monson) and written primarily about the white men who were the priests/monks/missionaries — they do re-evaluate those historical men, looking at how they themselves were affected by the networks of interactions with the native people in their mission fields and with the other parties of Protestant missionaries, the federal government, and Catholic leadership. One of the most moving stories highlighted was when a native man reminded the missionary that ‘God is nice’–changing the way the missionary saw his own faith. The essays include substantial information on Bishop Martin Marty, Father Pius Boehm, and the Immaculate Conception mission at Stephan on the Crow Creek Reservation. They use interesting sources that get at nuances of the stories behind official mission reports or newsletters. A couple times there’s a mention of the St. Paul mission on the Ihanktonwan/Yankton reservation and its Father Sylvester Eisenmann that I’ve looked at a bit before.

And there are a few discussions of the women who worked at or for the mission. Stofferahn talked about severe disagreements between Boehm and the Benedictine Sisters sent from Yankton to work at the mission, characterizing the women as frustrated and physically abusive to the students–including the death of one student from being hit by one of the nuns (according to the student’s father) while Boehm was away. Though he acknowledged (chronic) abuse and mistreatment of students in at least one private letter, he hid the accusation of assault from official documents. {It begs a study of women as perpetrators of violence in the colonial project, not as universally benevolent caregivers…} Then also Stofferahn and Galler both mention Boehm’s solicitation of financial support from Mother Katherine Drexel in Pennsylvania after the mission school’s federal contract ended. Drexel supported the Yankton mission too. Galler includes interesting details about Drexel’s instruction and direction that she tied to her financing. This then paralleled one of the books reviewed in the back of the issue–a biography of Phoebe Hearst (by Alexandra M. Nickless, 2018) who used her wealth to influence the development of the University of California (and civic and educational amenities in Lead SD where her Homestake mining company ran the town). {A study of the use of money by women to exert power in the early 20th century would be interesting.}

The issue concludes with a “Dakota Images” profile of Sister Mary Claudia Duratschek who was an educator and significant historian and archivist for Catholic history in South Dakota. {I should do a post of early women historians too.}

What I’m Reading 11

This set of recent good reads are just some interesting histories from edge to edge: a recent Atlas Obscura article about Sioux Falls’ divorce colony history, and a blog post from SD AIA about the architecture of fire lookout towers in the Black Hills.

The Legendary, Lavish Dinner Parties of South Dakota’s Divorce Colony,” Atlas Obscura, February 2019.
One of the articles quoted from the period is a 1908 article in American Magazine by George Fitch that is on GoogleBooks: “Shuffling Families in Sioux Falls: How a Little Town has become a Big City through its Divorce Industry.” [American Magazine 66(5) (September 1908), 442-451].

Lookout Architecture in the Black Hills,” April 2019, on Blueprint South Dakota, a blog from SD AIA. Cool structures and a great chance to learn about them, because they’re not super-accessible.

And some north-central stories in the newest historic preservation issue of South Dakota History, Brad Tennant’s “‘In the footsteps of the pioneer’: Ethnic Settlers and Their Churches in Brown County” and Robert J. Couser’s “Burckhard’s North Side Bakery of Aberdeen: A Community Staple for Four Generations.”

My copy of the issue 🙂

What I’m Reading 8

This article on the McMansion Hell blog speaks to my heart– beautifully done…

“As losses like the Orange County Government Center, barely in its fifth decade of existence, tell us, the time for preservation is not tomorrow or in a few years. The time for preservation is right now. If there’s a building that means something to you, take pictures, visit often, tell people about it! While it might take time and effort to make sure a building is protected for future generations, the first step of the process is always, as cheesy as it sounds, love.”

Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, “Campus history as public history: Interpreting slavery through historical walking tours.” June 20, 2018. History@Work

O’Brassill-Kulfan’s post was about the Rutgers University experience giving campus tours about the Scarlet and Black Project, on the history of slavery and the university.  I loved this bit of the post:

“The biggest takeaway reported by the tour guides and tour participants was the profound impact of sharing and learning this information on the actual physical landscape of the campus…. Nearly all involved reported that encountering this information in person and in situ deepened their understanding, a nod to the value of experiential learning and public history environments.”

Right after I graduated, the historic preservation students at the University of South Caroline did a public history project about the slavery connections to that campus.  I can’t find the website they created anymore, but I did find this November 2017 post about the plaques they erected on campus, link here.

I also was able recently to read the printed speech “Finding Connections” by the National Council on Public History’s (NCPH) past-president, Alexandra Lord, that was given at their annual conference in the May 2018 issue of The Public Historian (Use the link on the title to find info about joining NCPH and getting a subscription to the journal).   This is my favorite quote that she included, one that a colleague/friend had told her years before:

“Ellis Island is my story; it is your story.  Being a slave is my story; it is your story.  Being a slave owner is my story; it is your story.  We are Americans. These are our shared stories and they are central to our identity, regardless of the experiences of our own ancestors.”

Followed by: “[Her comments] pose a challenge to us, a challenge that is at the heart of what being a historian entails… to seek out and understand the experiences of people who were not like us…” [p9]  “…our histories are incomplete and poorly done when we do not incorporate diverse voices.” [p13]

Her talk/essay continued with great discussions about storytelling, diversity (both of what stories are told and who is doing public history), public engagement on contemporary issues, and dealing with troubling legacies within history work and public history spaces.

What I’m Reading 7

What I’ve been reading in spare moments over the past few months…

‘This is all the home I now have’: Deserted and Widowed Homesteaders” by Rebecca S. Wingo, Macalaster College on Rural Women’s Studies to promote the new book Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History, with a focus on Nebraska.  The excerpt/adapted text in the blog focuses on ‘non-traditional’ paths to becoming a woman homesteader by desertion or being widowed – which required a lot of hoops to negotiate in the bureaucratic process of claiming the land, and their reliance on male relatives/neighbors to bear witness for their claim.

This great online exhibit: Protecting Places: Historic Preservation and Public Broadcasting from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting on “the many ways Americans have created a dialogue through public media about these places that embody local and national histories” made the rounds on social media a short while ago.  It’s great to see a study about historic preservation with a particular aspect of media like public broadcasting, and I will have to keep this archive in mind for research generally.  And, it looks like they have some crowd-sourcing transcription on their site–that looks like fun.

I was looking at the SD Agricultural Heritage Museum and can’t believe I missed these exhibits: Land In Her Own Name and Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964.

And finally, I’ve read several good articles in recent issues of South Dakota History, particularly ones on the Presentation Sisters who founded and ran the network of Catholic hospitals in South Dakota, on the experience of one particular Scottish-trained nurse in the Plankinton (I think) area, on the persistence of the sod house building on the South Dakota prairie, and on the women of Brown County who served as nurses and other jobs during World War I.

What I’m Reading 6

A few things I’ve read worth sharing–

John Morrell’s Bloody Friday” by Scott Stoel for South Dakota Magazine (as revised from the January/February 1995 issue):  On a conflict between union and non-union workers at the Sioux Falls meat-packing plant during their second strike of 1935.

A Visitor’s Observations on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Part II“, by Will Walker for History@Work from the National Council on Public History:  A quote–“Although much of the press about the museum has focused on showpieces like the guard tower from Angola Prison and the Jim Crow railroad car, it was the cumulative effect of so many stories told through individual objects that had the greatest impact on me. Through five floors of jam-packed exhibitions, I continually found delightful, fascinating, and occasionally heart-wrenching objects, as well as the ideas, stories, and movements behind them.”  Walker also shares the awesome quotes from Ida B. Wells and James Baldwin that the museum has on display to highlight their mission.

Looking Around: Horizontal Space” by Kate Wagner on the website McMansion Hell: The website “roasts the world’s ugliest houses from top to bottom” but also has fantastic posts about architectural history, like this one about how we built things in the mid/late-20th century.

New Book!

Just arrived today!  A new book “Conservation on the Northern Plains: New Perspectives,” edited by Anthony J. Amato, and published by the Center for Western Studies, arrived in the mail.  I’ve only read as far as the table of contents, but am excited to get into some regional environmental history!

It’s so shiny…


For Further Reading 4

Recent reading on House Museums:

I also was able to hear Frank Vagnone speak recently, the founder of the “Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums.”  I greatly understood the frustration that led him to create the book and his consulting practice — it’s scary how many history museums can bore or irritate historians, let alone the general public.  It really was inspirational to hear from Vagnone ways that house museums could be better, and to hear about efforts currently underway in many places.

We have quite a few historic house museums in South Dakota, as well as other historical villages et al., and they’re managed with varied levels of success.  A big problem is that limited visitorship (and/or limited volunteer availability) has meant that open hours are also limited, or unusual times, like only for two hours on a couple days during the work week… so actually visiting is tricky.   Most have an online presence somewhere, so that’s something.  And we don’t have nearly as many as some other parts of the country that are super-saturated.  All that said, however, programming options tend to be limited to tours, velvet ropes and “do not touch” are standard, and the stories told aren’t particularly complex.  Do SD museums in historic places that weren’t houses still telling the story of their building(s) and landscapes for visitors…?

House museums in South Dakota that I’ve visited–and these (I think) do relatively a good job with programming and/or storytelling, and have beautiful properties:

Others I’ve been inside, but not as a traditional visitor:

  • Austin-Whittemore House, Vermillion
  • Murtha House, Elk Point (until 2013 was a private residence, also barns, brick kiln ruins, and grounds — I hope improvements for the house and exhibits are still in progress)

Still on my list:

What South Dakota house museums have you visited?  Did you take a tour, go to an event or program?  What did you think were the best parts, the meh parts, and the irritating parts?  Would you go back?  Did you give feedback to the museum itself?

[Update 2018]:
I’ve now been to the Stavig House and the Pickler Mansion.  Both have excellent buildings and collections–incredible for how much is actually from those houses and families.  Both times were sort of non-standard tours, one for work and the other with a special group, so I assume the regular tours are fine.  Both use students/interns for tour guides.