How Women Have Shaped the State

Women in Minnesota: Weaving the Web of Society in the North Star State

Rhoda R. Gilman, a founding member of Women Historians of the Midwest and a former candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, considers the influence of women in Minnesota: the Willmar 8, the Schubert Club, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, and much more.

Women inmates at Minnesota State Prison, Stillwater

Women inmates at Minnesota State Prison, Stillwater

Women inmates at Minnesota State Prison, Stillwater, 1909.

Glass nipple

Glass nipple

Glass nipple, possibly from a nursing bottle, found during excavation of the wood barracks (long barracks) at Historic Fort Snelling in 1973. Accession 343.213.19, archaeology collection, Minnesota Historical Society.

Straight pins

Straight pins

Straight pins found in 1971 during excavation of the southeast wall line at Historic Fort Snelling. The excavation trench ran from the South Battery (also known as the Hexagonal Tower) to the officers' latrines. This area was used as a dump and contained a wide variety of artifacts.

The common pin or straight pin made from iron wire or, more commonly, brass wire, dates from the medieval period and later. It wasn’t until the 1840s that straight pins could be mass produced; at that time, most straight pins came from England. The presence of these pins at Fort Snelling demonstrates the fort's participation in a global economic system even when it was one of the westernmost outposts of the United States. Records of the fort's sutler’s store from the 1830s don't mention pins, but they do mention needles and thimbles. These pins have not been dated, but they are made from two pieces of wire, one forming the shank and the other twisted to form the head.

Baby's or toddler's spoon

Baby's or toddler's spoon

This sterling silver baby spoon has a handle that curves back on itself completely, forming a loop. The word 'baby' is written on it in raised lettering. The bowl has the words "Hey diddle diddle" and a scene depicting the actions described in the Mother Goose rhyme: "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle / The cow jumped over the moon / The little dog laughed to see such sport / And the dish ran away with the spoon." The spoon was found in 1971 during excavation of the southeast wall line at Historic Fort Snelling. The excavation trench ran from the South Battery (also known as the Hexagonal Tower) to the officers' latrines. This area was used as a dump and contained a wide variety of artifacts

Thimble

Thimble

This metal thimble was found in 1968 during excavation of the sutler’s store at Historic Fort Snelling. Thimbles appear in the store's inventories from the 1830s. They could have been used by the women at the fort (laundresses, domestic servants, enslaved women, and officers' wives) or by the company tailors.

Washing tubs, boards, and dolly pins at Historic Fort Snelling

Washing tubs, boards, and dolly pins at Historic Fort Snelling

Washing tubs, boards, and dolly pins used by interpreters at Historic Fort Snelling to teach visitors about the fort’s laundresses. Photo by Bobbie Scott, 2012.

European American Women at Fort Snelling, 1819–1858

When the Fifth Infantry Regiment came west in 1819 to build a fort on the bluff where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers flow together, some of the soldiers brought their wives and daughters with them. Women and girls made up around 20 percent of the fort’s population from the time of the first census in 1849 until at least 1900. They included the wives and daughters of officers but also lower-class women (wives and daughters of enlisted men, as well as their servants).

Sarah Burger Stearns

Sarah Burger Stearns

Sarah Burger Stearns in Duluth, 1895.

Sarah Burger Stearns

Sarah Burger Stearns

Engraving of Sarah Burger Stearns, undated. From History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Husted Harper et al., eds (Rochester, NY: Susan B. Anthony, 1889).

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