Suffrage Exhibits in NoDak

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…].

Visit to “The Right is Ours: Women Win the Vote” at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre

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 🙂

Visit to “The Bottle and the Ballot” Exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum

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!

Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home, Yankton

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.
The exterior of the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton.
The exterior of the Cramer-Kenyon Heritage Home in Yankton, photo by author, June 2019.

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.

More photographs:

The museum’s profile on; and on

Early Historic Preservation in South Dakota: The Old Log Schoolhouse

Historic Preservation has a history of its own.  Some of the biggest national stories are relatively well-known to the profession: Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, Penn Station, Jane Jacobs in NYC… but to see the national story, you have to look at the whole nation, right?  So, I asked myself: What is South Dakota’s historic preservation history?


The first ‘permanent’ schoolhouse in South Dakota was built in 1864 in Vermillion by Captain Nelson A. Miner and Company A of the First Dakota Cavalry.  It also served as a meeting place for early religious services of multiple denominations, for courses in singing and penmanship, for political gatherings and elections, and for community social gatherings.   After it was gone, the earliest interest in preserving the history of the log schoolhouse was the formation of the Log School House Association by the original teachers and students in the summer of 1905.  In 1909, the Log School House Association erected a monument to the school on Ravine Hill in the approximate location of the original school.

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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.

Teaching South Dakota History

I’ve recently come across a few people concerned with the availability of teacher resources and continuing education for South Dakota history.  One was particularly looking for digital and primary digital resources to use with an existing curriculum plan.  I have only moderate experience with planning and hosting youth programs and no professional experience with curriculum development, but I do love research and learning about history.  Their conversations made me think about whether the digital research sources I use on a regular basis, or come across randomly, could help teach significant South Dakota stories.  So this post is thinking out loud about this question…  Let me know if anything here is helpful and please do comment with other ideas or great examples of teaching SD history!

There are a lot of great digital archives and some local digital resources in South Dakota, some of which I’ve covered in previous posts, but here is a starting list at least:

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