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Andrews, Frances (1884–1961)

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Mya Coursey
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Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907.

Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907. From the Ernest Oberholtzer papers, Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society.

Frances Andrews worked as an advocate for social justice, education, and conservation in the early twentieth century. She called for preservation of the forests and lakes that became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and experimented with land restoration in northwestern Wisconsin. Her legacy includes an endowment that continues to support social and environmental causes in the 2010s.

The daughter of a wealthy grain merchant, Frances Elizabeth Andrews was raised in an expansive house in the Loring Park area of Minneapolis. Hired staff cooked, cleaned, gardened, and provided chauffeur service for the household. Her parents, Arthur C. and Mary Hunt Andrews, gave generously of their time and fortune to improve the growing Twin Cities.

The Andrews family lived an upper-class lifestyle in one of the better parts of town. Each summer, however, they retreated to a rustic cottage on Isle Royale. There, Frances and her brother, William Hunt Andrews, hiked, fished, and gathered wild foods. By the time Frances was seventeen and William was fourteen, the two were spending time on their own at the island, and William was working as a hunting guide.

Following her mother’s death, when Frances was twenty-seven, she took over responsibility for the Andrews' household and social obligations. In that role, she developed her own portfolio of causes, mirroring her parents’ interests in the arts, social issues, and conservation.

Just a few years after Mary’s death, William died following a long illness. To honor both Mary’s and William’s love of the outdoors, Arthur purchased a large tract of farm and forest land near Sarona, Wisconsin, and named the property Hunt Hill in their memory. Frances assumed oversight of the property with a goal of restoring the farmland and returning the majority of the site to a natural state. For the next thirty-five years, she put her vision of conservation into practice, planting nut trees, establishing wildlife habitat, and managing the farm sustainably.

Starting in the 1920s, Andrews joined with other conservationists seeking to set aside Midwestern wilderness areas as sources of peace and tranquility for the common good. She was a contemporary and friend of the major players of the preservation project that eventually resulted in the designation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, most notably Ernest Oberholtzer, Sewell Tyng, and Sigurd Olson.

While the public face of the movement was overwhelmingly male, Andrews and several other women—including Minnesota progressives Frances Densmore and Gratia Countryman—played a vital but uncelebrated role. They wrote letters, developed strategies, and connected wealthy donors to the cause. Andrews also worked to protect the way of life of American Indians, fishing families, and backwoods dwellers in northern Minnesota, in Wisconsin, and on Michigan’s Isle Royale.

In 1951, Arthur died, leaving his daughter as the last surviving member of the family. She took seriously her responsibility for determining the fate of the Andrews legacy with her inheritance of well over $1 million. To preserve her dreams for Hunt Hill, she deeded the property to the National Audubon Society. Her gift stipulated that it should be run as a nature camp for Minnesota and Wisconsin residents; that all flora and fauna should be left to live out their natural lives; and that year-round conservation research should be conducted in partnership with local organizations.

Andrews died in 1961. Her will gave generous gifts to her closest friends and the employees who had worked for the family. She donated a large sum to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in memory of her mother, and she gave to the Nature Conservancy in William’s name. She established the Minneapolis Foundation’s Andrews-Hunt Fund to support the Hunt Hill nature center. The fund also underwrites the Minnesota Orchestral Association, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, Quetico Superior Foundation, and international exchange programs at Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota.

The National Audubon Society received $125,000 to be used for Hunt Hill. That endowment still supports the nature center in 2016, while the board of directors continues to guide its work by Andrews’ stipulations.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Andrews, Frances. “Grand Portage.” Outdoor America, March 1939.

Ernest C. Oberholtzer papers, 1854–198-
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00353.xml
Description: Papers of Ernest Carl Oberholtzer, noted conservationist, explorer, and wilderness philosopher of the Rainy Lake area. Within the Oberholtzer papers, see especially the Andrews family papers (M530, reels 46–52) for the journals and correspondence of Arthur C. and Frances E. Andrews as well as for the articles, notes, and other writings of Frances E. Andrews.

Frances Andrews papers and documents
Archives, Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary, Sarona, Wisconsin
Description: Unpublished papers and documents representing the private and professional life of Frances Andrews.

Paddock, Joe. Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.

Proescholdt, Kevin. Troubled Waters: The Fight for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. St. Cloud: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1996.

Shutter, Marion D., ed. “Arthur C. Andrews.” In History of Minneapolis, Gateway to the Northwest, Vol. II, 815–816. Chicago, Minneapolis: S. J. Clarke, 1923.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1900.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1900.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, 1903.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, 1903.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907. From the Ernest Oberholtzer papers, Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. 1907. From the Ernest Oberholtzer papers, Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. mid-1950s.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews, ca. mid-1950s.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews (far right) and two other women, ca. mid-1950s.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews (far right) and two other women, ca. mid-1950s.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews (second from right) and others, ca. mid-1950s. Used with the permission of the Hunt Hill Audubon Society.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews (second from right) and others, ca. mid-1950s. Used with the permission of the Hunt Hill Audubon Society.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews at a National Audubon Society dinner, 1954.
Black and white photograph of Frances E. Andrews at a National Audubon Society dinner, 1954.
Cottage on Isle Royale used by the Andrews family
Cottage on Isle Royale used by the Andrews family

Turning Point

In 1924, Frances Andrews helps secure funds to protect 640,000 acres of lakes and woods in northern Minnesota. She becomes a major contributor to the development of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and supports conservation efforts at the Grand Portage National Monument, on the Grand Portage Ojibwe Indian Reservation, and on Isle Royale.

Chronology

1884

Frances Elizabeth Andrews is born to Arthur C. and Mary Hunt Andrews in North Dakota on October 9.

1888

Frances’s brother William Hunt Andrews is born on August 3.

1891

Frances’ father, Arthur Andrews, moves his family to Minneapolis and forms the Andrews & Gage Grain Company with James Gage. (Following Gage’s death in 1908, the company is renamed Andrews Grain Company.)

1903

Frances Andrews enrolls at Wells College. She attends Oberlin College for two years, graduating from Wells in 1908.

1912

Mary Hunt Andrews, Frances’s mother, dies.

1916

William Hunt Andrews dies in California, leaving Frances as the sole heir to the Andrews family.

1917

Arthur Andrews purchases farm and forest land in Sarona, Wisconsin, and names it Hunt Hill in honor of Mary and William. Frances assumes oversight of the property, eventually restoring it to a natural state.

1924

Frances Andrews helps secure federal protection of 640,000 acres of northern Minnesota forest and wetlands.

1928 or 1929

Frances Andrews meets Ernest Oberholtzer, beginning a lifelong friendship based on the work to preserve land that later becomes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

1929

Frances Andrews travels to Alaska where she collects plant specimens and photographs the Mendenhall Glacier as a volunteer for a University of Minnesota longitudinal study of glacier recession and plant succession.

1931

Frances Andrews dedicates the newly rebuilt Grand Portage Dock in memory of William Hunt Andrews.

1934

Frances Andrews makes a solo trip to Moose Factory, Ontario, to learn about indigenous people and native flora and fauna.

1951

Arthur Andrews dies.

1954

Frances Andrews donates Hunt Hill to the National Audubon Society, to be used as a nature camp for citizens of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

1961

Frances Andrews dies, leaving the Andrews estate to multiple individuals and to local, state, regional, and national organizations.