March 2019 – Women’s History

RCHS Facebook Posts from March 2019 – Women’s History in Ramsey County

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.
https://www.facebook.com/RamseyCountyHistoricalSociety/

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

Be inspired by local organizations, people and moments in time as we honor the 32nd Women’s History Month. Get a head start on learning more about some of the women who have influenced our community @ http://bit.ly/2GSCIds. And follow us as we share their stories, and those of other women, throughout March.

Featured image clockwise from top right: Women’s Institute Membership Application, Toni Stone, Mary Colter, Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark Van Cleve, Lettisha Henderson, Mary McGough, Jane DeBow Gibbs, Eliza Edgerton Newport.

During the first National Women’s Day in 1909, women in New York City commemorated by protesting for improved working conditions. It wasn’t until the mid eighties that the entire month of March was nationally designated to celebrate women’s history. In 2019, U.S. voters made history by electing a record-setting number of women to Congress. As of January 2019, there were 127 total women in Congress, with 102 in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate.
Image of women on strike at the New York shirtwaist strike (public domain, source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_shirtwaist_strike_of_1909)

Sisterhood and community can be created in unexpected ways and from many types of relationships. Jane DeBow (Gibbs) lived near Cloud Man’s Village at Bde Maka Ska from 1835-1839 as a young girl. She was best friends with Cloud Man’s granddaughter, Winona. The young girls taught each other their languages; Winona taught Jane the Dakota language, Jane taught Winona English. According to family lore, Jane even helped to translate during meetings between the Dakota of the village and officials from Fort Snelling.
Photo of mural from Gibbs Farm.

Jane Gibbs, like most pioneer women, kept extremely busy creating a homestead with her husband Heman. When Jane & Heman first arrived on the 160-acres of land they purchased, they built a “Soddy,” a low log shanty with a sod roof built partially below ground. They lived in it for 5 years before raising a small frame one-room cabin with a sleeping loft, living there for 13 yrs. There was a lot involved in making a pioneer homestead. Just some of Jane’s activities included:

  • Making clothes for family members (according to family lore, Jane was the first woman in the area to own a sewing machine!).
  • Shooting game (Heman was near-sighted and didn’t have good aim).
  • Cooking and helping with the farm/garden
  • Gathering wild fruit and plants for food and medicine (Lillie Belle, the youngest of the Gibbs children, remembered Jane making a “root beer” concoction every spring).
  • Birthing, raising and teaching the children
  • Attending church and social outings

In 1946, teacher strikes were illegal. But overcrowded classrooms, dilapidated schools, and St. Paul’s unwillingness to listen led 1,100 teachers to protest and strike. Principal Mary McGough and teacher Lettisha Henderson teamed up to fight for a charter amendment that raised per capita spending for the Saint Paul Public School system. Their leadership in one of the nation’s first teacher strikes convinced many school boards across the country to begin improving classroom conditions. Learn more at http://bit.ly/2IHPpcv.

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? There’s a grand woman behind some of the iconic buildings in this deeply majestic park. Mary Colter graduated 1883 from St. Paul High School at the young age of 14. She was already well-traveled in the west and had training and an interest in art. Eventually this passion led her to the prestigious California School of Design in San Francisco. She returned to Saint Paul and taught at Mechanic Arts High School for nearly 15 years, where she was quoted saying “We can do better with a chisel or a hammer.” Mary’s legacy includes eight buildings at the south rim.
Image of Lookout House from the Grand Canyon National Park Service.

Toni Stone slid through the gender barrier in baseball, growing up in St. Paul playing on boys’ teams. By the age of 15, she was playing for the semi-pro St. Paul Giants. She became one, if not the first, woman to play professionally in men’s leagues. But, she was often shunned and called names. She didn’t always receive her pay and she wasn’t always even allowed off the bench. Toni Stone’s final season was in 1954 with the Kansas City Monarchs. After her baseball career she became a nurse. In 1996, Dunning Baseball Stadium at Marshall Avenue and Dunlap Street in St. Paul was re-named Toni Stone Field in her honor. More on the history of baseball in St. Paul @ http://bit.ly/2VBSI71.

We’re highlighting a story of courage and perseverance, involving the first non-Indigenous women and children to enter present-day Minnesota. One of these women was Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark Van Cleve, born in 1819 at Prairie du Chien while her parents were traveling with the expedition led by Col Henry Leavenworth. An hour after arriving at Fort Crawford, her mother gave birth to Charlotte. According to Charlotte’s recounting, the journey was grueling, with food that had gone bad and moldy, and had taken longer than expected.

After the birth, Charlotte’s mother and older brother, still a baby, became very ill, but the group had to travel on to a camp on the St. Peter River, where they faced more hardships. Eventually, but not until the spring of 1820, they got crude quarters which would later become Fort Snelling. As an adult, she married another soldier, who served in the Dakota War of 1862 and the Civil War; they settled in St. Paul, then Minneapolis, where Van Cleve Park is named for her husband. Late in life she wrote a memoir, described here in an article in Ramsey County History magazine.

Tasked with bringing more business to downtown St. Paul, Agnes Kennedy and others created the Saint Paul Women’s Institute. In 1939, Mrs. Kennedy was elected the first executive director, and she commented to Mr. B.H. Ridder, part owner of a local newspaper, about the success of the Institute, “Give (women) a job worth doing, and we’ll do it.” Decades later in 1965, Mayor George Vavoulis praised the Institute with “What the power of organized women in our community can accomplish.” The Women’s Institute was wildly successful for 32 years, revitalizing St. Paul, presenting cultural programs and creating a greater community for women within the city limits and beyond. For more information on the Women’s Institute see the Ramsey County History article here.

In the Winter 2019 issue of Ramsey County History magazine, we feature Eliza Edgerton Newport who was devoted to St. Paul’s “Floating Bethel,” a refuge for the working poor docked off Sibley Street on the Mississippi River. Eliza Newport recognized the dignity of those in need and organized committees to provide educational, vocational, and religious instruction for the boat’s guests. She thought of everything: clean beds, wholesome meals, daily baths, afternoon teas and clubs for youth. The legacy of the Floating Bethel lives on through the Bethel Hotel, a transitional housing program run by Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities. Learn more in Ramsey County History article here.

Thank you for following along with us as we explored women’s history in St. Paul, learning the stories of some of the women who helped build and shape our community.

 

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