Last fall (2019), I passed through Bismarck on my way to the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Brandon, Manitoba and stopped at their state Heritage Center. I spotted suffrage history in one case of their main exhibit, and one designed by an intern and shown in a large hallway display case off the main atrium (which I assume they rotate to feature different themes & collections). The content wasn’t anything ground-breaking but hopefully raises the profile of the topic for their visitors — and both did cover “the long history” of suffrage and take it through the ERA era [haha, ERA era… I wonder how many people have made that joke before me…].
The South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center opened their suffrage history exhibit in mid-November, a couple weeks ago, in their Observation Gallery space–upstairs from the back of their permanent exhibit hall. The center panels are organized by theme, there are some interactive opportunities, profiles of suffragists in lighted panels, and a video on a loop about the national story. Bonus, quality bunting work 🙂
Recently I was able to visit “The Bottle and the Ballot” exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum. It covers histories of prohibition and suffrage as Progressive-era women’s movements. I was glad to see a few photographs and local stories from Sioux Falls that I hadn’t had in my notes, and some of the artifacts that connected to stories I knew — it’s always impressive seeing things that were actually there at the time.
If/when you go, let me know what you think!
I was recently able to visit the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton for a crazy-short stop squeezed in-between lunch and going to the Events at the AME church to set up for a 2 p.m. presentation. I have to go back sometime and get the full experience…
It is another of South Dakota’s historic house museums with incredible integrity of building and collections – being minimally altered during the residence of family members before being transferred to a non-profit for a museum. Quite a number are Queen Anne Victorian houses, prominent Yankee people/families… The Stavig House in Sisseton is another with great integrity – but at least an immigrant family (but still prominent) and a slightly later-period architectural style… I still have a lot more on my list to visit though.
For the Cramer-Kenyon house, on my visit, I found these really interesting:
- Curved walls to keep the spirits from having corners to hide in.
- Lincrusta wall coverings like the Pettigrew House in Sioux Falls.
- Many of the paintings were done by a resident.
- Shakespeare-themed tiles in one of the fireplaces.
- They make furniture polish in the basement based on the recipe passed along from the family.
- Cabinet doors were installed on older shelves in the butler’s pantry during the “Dirty Thirties” to keep dust off the dishes.
- Several pieces from the Ward family and/or Yankton College are displayed.
- Some of the wallpaper is reproduction based on historic samples from closets, provided for free by a company in California with an agreement that the company could sell the pattern too.
Later I learned that the museum has teas, is used by book clubs, and Ben’s Brewing Co. in Yankton has done music recording sessions with local artists in the house for “The Cramer Kenyon Sessions” on their YouTube channel — cool ways to get more people exposed to the house, and build relationships with the community.
Some super coverage from Teen Vogue recently of historic sites and their problems, and how we historians, managers, staff, and volunteers at historic sites need to f-ing do better —
Benji Hart’s “What to Expect When Visiting a Plantation Where Your Ancestors Were Enslaved” (February 5, 2019) is incredibly powerful. I’ve written and re-written comments I can put here about it, but it’s really just… just read it.
I have found some words — Read it especially if you steward a historic places. And this should resonate beyond plantation homes–we in South Dakota have many places of pain, hard and unfair labor, broken families, violence, death… We should be aware of the need for treating those realities as realities, getting the tone of our space and interpretation right, providing space/time for mourning, too. When we feel the need to push our historic sites too far into tourist sites, making them ‘fun’ for fun’s sake, making them a business, or a game — Realize what that can do to them…
I’m ashamed the author has to give advice like “Be prepared to witness people ignoring and even reveling in your pain.”
I appreciate their encouragement for others not to feel the need to be polite, to feel what they feel without apology, to “reclaim” space during time at the site…
Quotes from the article: “as a new wave of young Black people attempts to learn more about its heritage, some of the only places available for us to look are sites of deep violence and trauma…. When we arrived, we didn’t find solemn ground… Be prepared to enter a site that makes no space for mourning, and papers over atrocities with benign language.”
“Though it was one of the hardest trips I’ve ever taken, I’m grateful to have new connections to my ancestors; to be able to say the names of my own people that survived enslavement.”
And then Somáh Haaland’s, “How Museums and Historical Spaces Disrespect Native American History” (February 19, 2019) is another excellent comment on the crap ways that native history gets told at historic places, put into stark relief against her mother Deb Haaland’s recent election to the U.S. Congress.
“I was suddenly brought to tears, both by the thought of pre-colonization and by the concept that this is how Indian people are still showcased: as primal, exotic attractions. These people, my people, continue to be talked about like far-off legends who lived in the past and no longer exist.”
“So many children grow up learning this Eurocentric, masculine, biased version of history, and they have to wonder where they fit in if they are not shown that their identity is valid.”
Props to Teen Vogue for publishing these great articles… they’re gonna hang with me a long time.
History is important.
Do history with accuracy, relevance, inclusion, thoughtfulness, and respect.
The Cultural Heritage Center museum in Pierre is soliciting input while they plan an upcoming exhibit on South Dakota in the 1970s, even if you’ve never been to the CHC. What defined the era? What would you want to see covered? What would be a glaring omission?