December 6, 2014

Who Was Fredrika Bremer and Why Was a Minneapolis Elementary School Named For Her?

Fredrika Bremer

Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865) was a celebrated Swedish novelist often compared to Jane Austen, although her romantic novels are considered inferior to Miss Austen's today.  But what was her connection to Minnesota and why did an elementary school in Minneapolis bear her name?

In 1850, Fredrika visited the Scandinavian communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  She was quoted as saying: "What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become!" Her description of the journey, chronicled in the book "Homes of the New World" published in London in 1853, is considered one of the most important first hand accounts of Minnesota while it was still a territory.

When she returned to Sweden, she became an advocate for women's rights.  She believed “that women should, like men and together with them, be allowed to study at the elementary schools and academies, in order to gain an opportunity of obtaining suitable employments and situations in the service of the state. . ."

The Bremer Building as it looks today

I don't know whether her Minnesota travel narratives, her novels, or her stance on education for women, or all three, was the ultimate reason a new elementary school built in 1887 in Minneapolis was named for her. Fredrika Bremer School was in service at 1214 Lowry Ave. N., for nearly 100 years.  The castle-like Romanesque Revival building still stands today as residential condominiums.

References and additional reading:,_Ninth_Edition/Bremer,_Fredrika

November 21, 2014

Carol's Quaint Quotes

I thought this quote from Good Morals and Gentle Manners for Schools and Families from 1873 was kind of cute in a smelly sort of way.  Hail deodorants!  

Good health requires that the whole body be frequently and thoroughly bathed, an operation that some persons neglect entirely in winter.  The skin is full of minute pores or openings for the escape of insensible perspiration, and if these are obstructed, they can not carry off that waste matter which should pass from the body in this way.   Not only does the skin become rough, dry, harsh, and covered with pimples, but unpleasant odors emanate from it.  These odors impregnate the clothing, and become very offensive.   The remedy is the bath.  

November 10, 2014

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard: Advocate for the Rights of Women and the Insane

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard
In 1860, the county sheriff arrived at the home of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard (1816-1897),took her into custody and delivered her to the Jacksonville, Illinois Insane Asylum. Mother of six children, Elizabeth had been married to Theophilus Packard for many years when she began to openly question her husband's religious beliefs.  The couple also disagreed on issues of child rearing, finances and slavery.  Her husband declared her insane and committed her to the asylum.

In Illinois at that time, there were laws that required a hearing before someone could be declared insane.However, there was one exception: a husband could commit his wife without either a public hearing or her consent. Elizabeth was an inmate of the asylum for three years. An article in the Colorado Antelope, June 1882, summarized what happened next:

Finally, after public pressure, Mrs. Packard was brought out for a jury trial before Judge Starr of Kankakee City; the jury declared her falsely imprisoned, and she was released. In 1863, in part due to pressure from her children who wished her released, the doctors declared that she was incurable and discharged her.

Elizabeth headed home only to find that her husband had taken everything, including her children, and left the state.  Women were considered the property of their husbands and had no rights of their own.  Elizabeth filed suit (Packard vs. Packard) and in the jury trial that followed it took the jury only seven minutes of deliberation to declare in her favor - she was legally declared sane.

Following the trial, Elizabeth wrote several books and founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society. In 1867, the State of Illinois passed a "Bill for the Protection of Personal Liberty" which guaranteed all people accused of insanity, including wives, had the right to a public hearing. She also saw similar laws passed in three other states.

Elizabeth was never formally divorced from her husband but they remained separated for the rest of their lives.  She remained close to her children and retained their support.

References and additional reading:

August 19, 2014

Lost and Found: The Ripley Memorial Hospital

Entrance to the former
Ripley Memorial Hospital 

I really enjoy the PBS series "Lost Twin Cities" which highlights historically significant buildings that have been destroyed over the years.   But there are still some important sites remaining - I will call them "Found Twin Cities."

In a previous post I talked about  Dr. Martha Ripley who opened a maternity hospital in Minneapolis in 1887.  Click here to read the previous post. Her mission was to "admit girls who have previously borne a good character, but who, under promise of marriage, have been led astray" and also to "care for destitute children born in the institution."  The hospital grew to include a residence for unmarried mothers and an infants' home.

The former Baby's Bungalow

The Ripley Memorial Hospital and many of the other buildings including the nurses residence and the baby's bungalow still stand today at 300 Queen Avenue North in Minneapolis.  The buildings have been re-purposed as apartments under the collective title of Ripley Gardens.

June 4, 2014

What is the Difference Between a Bride Price and a Dowry?

Chinese bride courtesy of Wiki Commons
The terms bride price and dowry are often confused.  Bride price is actually the opposite of dowry.  Here's how it works:  A bride price (or bride wealth or bride token)  is paid by the groom to the bride's parents or family at the time of the marriage.   A dowry is money or property brought into the marriage by the bride.  The dowry is usually provided by the bride's parents. There's also a dower which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom.

In the Western world, both practices have largely been abandoned except in the case of a uniquely American system of dowry practiced by the wealthy (See my post (click here) ).  However, in some countries bride price or dowry are still is use today. Some countries practice both.  Bride price is common in rural China, many other Asian countries, parts of Africa and some Pacific Island societies.  Dowries are common for marriages in India and Pakistan.

References and additional reading:

May 6, 2014

Pioneering Minnesota Women: Liang May Seen

Liang May Seen with her son Howard
At the age of fourteen, Liang May Seen was sold to a brothel in San Francisco.  How did she become a Minnesota pioneer?

Liang May Seen (1871-1946) was born  in China to an impoverished family.  When she was fourteen, her parents sold her to a man who promised she would be married to a wealthy Chinese American businessman. Instead, she was sold to a brothel in San Francisco. After three years of servitude, she planned her escape. In 1889, Liang appealed to the Presbyterian Mission for help.   She sneaked away from the brothel and was taken to the Mission Home. There she remained, learning a new religion and a new language.

In 1892, Minneapolis businessman Woo Yee Sing came to the mission looking for a wife.  He chose Liang and together they returned to Minnesota.  Liang May Seen was the first Chinese woman in Minnesota.

After 1900, more Chinese women arrived in Minneapolis.  Liang was there, helping them learn English and adapt to their new home.  This pioneering Minnesota woman died in 1946, a valued and respected member of her community.

References and additional reading:
More Than Petticoats:  Remarkable Minnesota Women by Bonnye E. Stuart. 2004; The Globe Pequot Press, pgs. 47-58

April 21, 2014

Breaking the Bathing Suit Barrier: Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman, a famous Australian swimmer, was arrested at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, in 1907.  Why?

Kellerman (1886-1975) was a strong advocate for the right of women to wear a one-piece bathing suit, a very controversial issue at the time. In the early 1900's, women were required to wear a cumbersome bathing suit composed of a  dress in combination with  pantaloons.  While swimming at Revere Beach in her fitted one-piece bathing suit, she was arrested for indecency. But her one-piece suit became so popular that she launched her own line of swimwear called "Annette Kellermans".

In 1908 she was dubbed the Perfect Woman by a professor at Harvard University who found that her figure was similar to that of the Venus de Milo.  Kellerman was portrayed by Esther Williams in the 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

References and additional reading:

April 14, 2014

Author's Notes: Pioneering Minnesota Women: Dr. Martha Ripley

This stern woman was a commanding, determined figure who wore her skirts well above the ground for sanitary reasons and cut her hair unfashionably short.  She was Dr. Martha Ripley, Minnesota pioneer doctor and social reformer.The character of Dr. Alexander in my book, The Baby Farm, is modeled after this remarkable woman.

Licensed to practice medicine in Minnesota in 1883, Dr. Ripley was among at least seven women doctors in Minneapolis and a total of twenty in the state.  A highly successful obstetrician, she championed unwed mothers, arguing that they deserved medical care and should be helped, not punished.  At that time, most births occurred at home which was frequently closed to erring daughters and hospital maternity facilities were limited.  No city hospital would admit an unmarried woman for confinement.

Dr. Ripley opened a maternity hospital in Minneapolis in 1887 to "admit girls who have previously borne a good character, but who, under promise of marriage, have been led astray" and also to "care for destitute children born in the institution."  The hospital grew to include a residence for unmarried mothers and an infants' home.  The hospital closed in 1957, but the Ripley Memorial Foundation ( to this day focusing on the prevention of teen pregnancy, a lasting legacy of this extraordinary pioneer.

References and additional reading:

March 21, 2014

March 17, 2014

Who Really Conquered the West?

Homestead near Benson, Minnesota

American legend has it that the West was settled by sturdy young men.  But that's not the whole story. Single women, either unmarried or widowed, made up a substantial number of frontier settlers.

In 1863, when the land offices opened for homesteading in Minnesota, one unmarried woman homesteaded for every four unmarried men. From 1863 to 1889, about 2400 women without husbands actively sought and farmed land by themselves in Minnesota. This was true across the West.  Susan B. Anthony claimed that in the mid-1880's, one third of the land in Dakota Territory was owned by women. So let's change our perception of the frontier farmer to include single women, who, by themselves, played a significant role in the settlement of the West.

Reference and additional reading:
Forgotten Persephones

February 18, 2014

The History of Ice Skating

With the Olympics in full swing, I'm loving the figure skating, especially the ice dancing. Here is a charming photo of two couples enjoying the ice back in 1910. But when did man first strap on a pair of blades and take to the ice?
From the Library of Congress

The archaeological record documents ice skates made of bone found on the banks of Lake Moss, Switzerland, as early as 3000 BC .  The first mention of ice skating was made by a monk in Canterbury . He talks about children on bone skates, carrying sticks, flying across the ice in the 1100's.  The Dutch refined the sport, adding sharpened, steel blades in the 13th and 14th century. The design of modern ice skates is largely the same as that developed by the Dutch way back then. Jackson Haines is credited with the invention of figure skating.  In 1864, he incorporated ballet and dance movements into his skating.

February 10, 2014

How to Give Birth 100 Years Ago by Therese Oneill

Image Credit:  Getty Images
This article was reproduced with permission from the author:  Therese Oneill.  It appeared in Mental Floss, December 8, 2013 (

Up until the mid-19th century, childbirth was something men avoided. Women had babies in a room full of other women, aided by female midwives and nurses. Then the profession of "doctor" began to mean more than "guy who waves burning sage over your head while draining your blood." Science entered the practice of medicine, and it became a respectable profession that was almost exclusively the domain of men.
Male doctors wanted everyone to know that their knowledge and abilities were far superior to that of a common grubby midwife. So they began writing books. They took childbirth out of the intuitive hands of midwives, and claimed it as their own.

Most of what they wrote was as scientifically sound as could be expected for the era. Still, some of it was egregiously puzzling. Here, we look at some of the stranger advice of the day.

Preparing for the birth

In the mid-1800s, many women went to the "lying-in" hospital to be attended by physicians for childbirth. (This practice often proved fatal, as doctors who had no concept of sterilization or contagion would transmit diseases from woman to woman with their own bare hands). But if a woman lived rurally or had enough money, she delivered in her own home. Preparing the birth-room was an important part of childbirth. Turn-of-the-century plumbing, for instance, was an evil in need of a good spackling, according to Henry Davidson Fry's 1907 book, Maternity:
Sewer gas in the room is dangerous; for that reason a communicating bathroom is objectionable. In such a case the communicating door should be locked and the key removed. For the same reason stationary washstands are undesirable. The outflow openings should be closed with plaster of paris. [Fry]
Preparing the patient herself was also important. Fry's desire that the patient be sterilized was admirable, albeit rather abrasive.
The nurse should give particular attention to cleansing and preparing the skin of the abdomen, thighs, and external genital parts. First scrub with warm sterile water and soap, then rub dry, and afterward bathe the parts in a bichloride solution 1-1000, or solution of Lysol, one percent. It is particularly difficult to render the external parts surgically clean. The hair around the genitalia should be cut short with scissors or shaved, scrubbed with hot sterile water, and bathed with bichloride solution. [Fry]
Shaved, scalded, and sprayed down with Lysol. Now you're ready for some real discomfort.
However, John Gunn's 1861 Gunn's New Domestic Physician had a gentler suggestion for preparing those sensitive areas for the task ahead:
The parts of generation during labor should always be well oiled or greased with lard, as it greatly assists and mitigates the suffering, and lubricates the parts of passage. [Gunn]
Candles, cooking, refurbishing, and greasing up the birth canal. What can't lard do?
Women today usually choose to give birth in as few clothes as their modesty (such as it is in childbirth) allows. In his 1907 book, Coming Motherhood, Louis A. Spaeth shows us that women 100 years ago felt the same way. Unfortunately, the popular sports bra and knee socks combination was apparently not an option back then.
Probably the best way to dress a woman for the lying-in-bed is in short undershirt or under vest, shirt waist (blouse) and a skirt or petticoat, warm stockings and bed-room slippers. The supreme advantage of this method of dressing lies in the fact of the easy removal of the soiled garments. When labor is over, the skirt or petticoat is removed over the feet, the shirt waist taken off, and a clean night gown put on. [Spaeth]
Just because you're pushing a bloody human being from your vagina doesn't mean you get to dress like a slob, Madam. Show some decorum and be grateful Mr. Spaeth doesn't recommend returning to corsets until after the birth is over.

Pain mitigation

A few decades make a world of difference in the popular methods of handling the pain of birth. Dr. Gunn's method is as natural and low-impact as his suggested use of lard. Just get yourself a nice towel.
A towel, sheet, or some convenient article, should be tied to the bed post, so that at each pain the woman may pull it, as it assists her very much in her efforts, and she derives great benefit and comfort from the support. [Gunn]
It was long believed that pain was supposed to be part of childbirth, and to try and cheat it was to cheat God. Fry tells of a story wherein a poor woman in 1591 was burnt to death in Edinburgh "for employing charms and other means to cast off the pains of labor." Fry explains why pain mitigation was unpopular for most of history.
The arguments against it were:
The relief of pain during childbirth removed the maternal instinct.
It was immoral because it produced a condition similar to intoxication.
Various ill effects were attributed to it — epilepsy, convulsions, and insanity.
The most powerful argument against the relief of pain was that it was sacrilegious to thrust aside the decrees of Providence. Woman had been sentenced to suffer the pangs of childbirth, and it would rob God of the deep, earnest cries which arise in time of trouble for help. [Fry]
It is amazing how attitudes toward childbirth can change, however, when the most powerful woman in the world has eight children. In 1853, Queen Victoria was chloroformed during the birth of Prince Leopold, and a new era of pain control was born. One Sir James Y. Simpson even helped convince the religious-minded that perhaps God did not insist on suffering in birth.
Says Fry:
The Scottish clergy reviled Simpson for his work in opposition to the primeval curse, "In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children." He turned their shaft to ridicule by reminding them that the first operation recorded in history was performed under anesthesia, since when God created Eve from one of Adam's ribs, he "caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam." [Fry]
Good enough for God, good enough for the Queen, good enough for you.
Of course there will always be women who prefer natural pain control to chemical. In 1907, Spaeth had a unique approach to dulling labor pains. Apparently, the nerves of the womb are directly connected to the clitoris. Ergo sum:
With our present knowledge of the nerve supply of the womb, we are enabled to lessen the pains of labor to a very marked degree. During the first stages, pressure is made with the fingers on the terminal filaments of the sympathetic nerves in and around the clitoris. The index and middle fingers are placed, one on each side of this organ, and firm, moderately hard pressure is made against the bone with the direction of the pressure upward toward the abdomen; this is done by the attending physician, the nurse, or by the woman herself. A reflex result occurs, in which contraction of the womb follows; its mouth dilates, normal propulsion pains ensue, and labor proceeds naturally, all unnecessary flying pains cease. [Spaeth]
I cannot speak against this method, as even though I have had two children, I have never tried it. And likely would have punched anyone who suggested I should.

Post-partum instructions

In 1835, postpartum care mostly involved holding very, very still for a ridiculously long time. After childbirth, women are particularly fragile in mind and body, and physicians were terrified important things would fall out of a lady if she jostled around too much. In his book The Home Book of Health and Medicine, William Edmonds Horner lays it out:
Rest and quiet should be strictly enforced; no visitors should be admitted for a fortnight or three weeks, both to secure the mother from fatiguing herself by talking, and from hearing anything that might agitate or distress her mind. [Horner]
In 1896's Preparation for Motherhood, Elisabeth Robinson Scovil agrees. Even if the new mother wants to talk, she's not allowed to.
After all that the newly made mother has undergone, she needs perfect quiet for several hours before she is permitted to see anyone. A five-minute interview with her husband is all that should be granted. However well she feels, quiet should be insisted upon. Excitement is dangerous and no visitors must be permitted to enter the room, nor should conversation be allowed, even if she wishes to talk. Neglect of this precaution may cause serious disaster, even when all seems to be going on well. [Scovil]
Fry details the amount of interaction and movement the mother is allowed in excruciating detail.
For the first two hours after labor the patient should lie upon her back with the lower limbs extended and her head low. She can then be changed to the side position when desired, but for the first four days she ought to lie upon her back most of the time. After the fourth day she should change to the side often, and it is desirable to lie upon the abdomen some. After the fifth or sixth day she may be propped up in bed with pillows behind her for one-half or one hour at a time. She should not sit up in a chair until the top of the womb has descended into the pelvic cavity — from the tenth to the fourteenth day. The first day that she sits up she should remain out of bed only one hour and must not stand upon her feet or walk until the middle or end of the third week. On the second day that she gets out of bed she can stay up one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening. The length of time is gradually increased, but even during the third or fourth weeks she should lie down or recline upon a sofa much of the time. She should not get up early in the mornings, but have her bath, breakfast, and a rest before doing so. She should wear a wrapper and not go through unnecessary fatigue of dressing.
She should not go down stairs until the end of the fourth week, and then only once a day for the first three days. After that she can go down morning or noon and evening. At the end of the fifth week she can go out for a short walk or drive. Shopping and visiting should be avoided for some time longer.
Neglect of these precautions often causes backache, subinvolution, and displacement of the womb. [Fry]

Fry must have been writing for a very elite group of women who had the luxury of lying around all day. Today, we live in a world where pre-made clothes wash themselves in large whirring boxes, and meals come prepackaged in plates you can throw away, and I still don't know any woman who can spend six weeks not moving. One-hundred-fifty years ago, if the average farmwife took to her bed for that length of time, her family would starve, her animals would turn feral, and the dark forest would reclaim her homestead. Still, it's a lovely thought.
Aside from stillness, there are other precautions to consider. For instance, if you find your generative organs have been unduly tormented by the act of childbirth, Horner suggests milk and bread. Or leeches.
Great stretching of the parts. This occasions great soreness, and uneasy feelings, which are best removed by bathing with warm milk and water. If there be much swelling, an emollient poultice of bread and milk, or linseed meal, may be applied, and frequently renewed. If there be general uneasiness, with heat and throbbing pain in the part, leeches may be necessary. [Horner]
As for the rest of your general post-partum health, one of the worst things you can do, according to Horner, is to eat and drink. Which may not be all that bad, considering you're not allowed to move.
The diet of women, after delivery, should be particularly attended to. For the first five or six days, all heating and stimulant food, and in general all solid and animal food whatever, should be forbidden, as such diet is very apt to bring on inflammatory complaints.
If the woman is not to nurse, she should avoid liquids as much as possible, and rather take a little fruit, ripe or preserved, to quench the thirst. If she is to nurse, she may have a little tea and panado, or gruel for breakfast, and, after a few days have elapsed, a little weak chicken broth or beef-tea, with toasted bread, for dinner; but wines and malt liquors should be avoided. [Horner]
If you're not going to breastfeed, you haven't earned the right to eat your gruel. But you can have malt liquor.
Today, childbirth is slowly returning to the domain of the female attendant, with female doulas, midwives, nurse midwives, and obstetricians slowly outpacing their male counterparts. It is possible that the time in which men were the prime authorities on childbirth will prove to be but a small blip in history. Because, after all, women were made for it. Put humbly by Gunn:
That Women generally endure pain and sickness with more fortitude and patience than men, is evident. Looking forward with the pleasing hope of being the mother of a tender offspring, upon which she can lavish her affection and tenderness, sustains her in fulfilling the conditional requirements of Nature. Few men could be induced, for any consideration, to suffer in a similar manner. [Gunn]

January 29, 2014

Author's Notes: America in 1898

My next book is set in 1898.  What was happening in America that year? McKinley was president, the Spanish-American war began and ended, and Hawaii was annexed, all well known events. But here are some rather amusing, little known happenings for 1898:
Atlantic City as it looked in between 1890 and 1910 (photo from Wiki Commons)
Jan 1st - Brooklyn merges with NY to form present City of NY
Feb 1st - 1st auto insurance policy in US issued by Travelers Insurance Co

Mar 24th - 1st automobile sold
May 19th - Post Office authorizes use of postcards
Jun 18th - 1st amusement pier opens in Atlantic City, NJ
Jul 30th - Will Kellogg invents Corn Flakes
Nov 26th - -27) Snow/ice storm over US; 455 die
Dec 18th - Automobile speed record set-63 kph (39 mph)

(Data from; click on the date to see other historical events for that day)

January 17, 2014

The Tragic Story of a Minneapolis Baby Farm

Reprinted with permission from the Alley Newspaper, October 6, 2009, by Sue Hunter Weir
"Bring a shawl and get a baby" from a 1908-09 Baby Farm
3341 Nicollet Avenue
The babies were buried in unmarked graves in The Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery
Between June 24, 1908 and September 6, 1909, 27 infants died at the same address–3341 Nicollet Avenue South. These babies (13 girls, 13 boys, and one whose gender was not recorded) were under the care of “Doctor” Hans Oftedal. As the quote marks suggest, Hans Oftedal was not a licensed physician; he was the proprietor of one of several “baby farms” operating in Minneapolis at the time.
Baby farms were essentially unlicensed boarding houses for infants whose parents were too poor to care for them. The parents surrendered their children to baby farm operators and paid a fee for the care that they believed their children would receive. In some cases, the parents intended to come back and reclaim their children, but in other cases they expected their children to be adopted by families who could provide for them. Adoption was unregulated at that time, and Minneapolis had the dubious distinction of being the baby-trafficking capitol of the Upper Midwest. The Minneapolis Tribune described the adoption trade in Minneapolis as one in which people could “Bring a shawl and get a baby.”
In October 1909, “Doctor” Oftedal shut down his baby farm. He ordered the utilities turned off and abandoned five infants in the care of two teen-aged girls. The girls had no food or supplies with which to take care of the babies. Eventually staff from the city’s Poor Department, as it was called at the time, got wind of what was happening and tried to take charge of the babies. At first the girls declined to give up their charges but eventually turned the babies over to city authorities. The good news was that all of those babies survived although three of them were in poor health. One of them was a five-month old child who had been one of the incubator babies successfully treated at Wonderland Park but who had lost considerable ground after being fed only skim milk while under Oftedal’s care.
After he closed down his operation, “Doctor” Oftedal, his wife, and a woman identified in the press as Nurse Siegel, fled to Seattle, Washington. City officials did not track them down and prosecute them. Indeed, it is doubtful that anyone had any idea about the 27 babies who had died—at least none of the newspapers mentioned them. The babies died from a variety of causes, many of them from gastrointestinal problems or pneumonia. Two of them died from malnutrition. They ranged in age from two days to 18 months old.
The babies are buried in unmarked graves at various locations throughout the cemetery. Their names are Erma Amundson, Marian Bachler, Myrtle Bowen, Wesley Brown, Baby of Catherine Carroll, John Coade, Baby Boy Douglass, Montague Edwards, Henry Hanson, Florence Helmer, Freddie Helmer, Leroy Jackson, Mildred Kenney, Violet King, Baby Girl Lather, Allen Meyers, Francis Mieselt, Elmer Olson, Lucille Ormond, Baby Girl Ross, Luther Severson, Blossom Smith, Wanita Thomas, Twin Girls of Edward Thompson and Walter Wold.
In 1917 the Minnesota Legislature adopted a Children’s Code aimed at regulating adoption and requiring that hospitals and boarding homes that took in homeless children be licensed. The bill was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court on a technicality, but soon afterwards the flaws in the original bill were corrected and the provisions of the Children’s Code were put into practice.
During the 1920s, Hans Oftedal returned to Minnesota. He was no longer a “doctor,” but was listed in the City Directory as a carpenter.