Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Elise Dukart's blog

Surveying the Museum Collecting Survey

Last year, the museum collections committee analyzed the current representation within the state collection and noticed there were particular gaps of objects from childhood and teenage years, most significantly those items from the 1960s to the present. The State Historical Society of North Dakota is also looking ahead and considering how much collections storage space we will need as we continue to collect objects into the future.

To help us get an idea of what the people of North Dakota would most like to be collected and preserved from their childhood and beyond, the staff began conducting an online survey in February to gather input from lifetime, current, and past North Dakotans, as well as visitors to the state, about what the State Museum should collect.

We have received many great responses since the survey launched, and here is a little about what we have learned so far. I hope you like stats and nostalgia as much as I do, because here we go!

Here are the results as of Aug. 10:

  • 134 unique responses.
  • Representation from 37 North Dakota counties, with the most responses from Burleigh (34) followed by Morton (8).
  • The highest number of responses from participants born in the decades 1950-1959 (37) and 1960-1969 (32).
  • 230 suggestions for toys.
  • 239 suggestions for clothing.
  • 234 suggestions for activities.
  • 105 suggestions for “other,” i.e., stuff that didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

By object category, here are the top responses, as well as an assortment of other interesting answers.

Toys

Top responses: Barbie, GI Joe, Cabbage Patch dolls, Hot Wheels, LEGO toys, Lincoln Logs, toy vehicles

Random responses: Chatty Cathy dolls, color-changing toys, homemade toys, lawn darts, water baby dolls, Yu-Gi-Oh cards

orange barbie car with vintage barbie sitting in drivers seat

Clothing

Top responses: Bell-bottoms, bib overalls, Hash jeans, jeans, jelly shoes, Air Jordans, scrunchies

Random responses: Toe socks, stirrup leggings, skinny jeans, paisley, hand-me-downs, Uggs

Activities

Top responses: Bikes, roller skating, baseball, books, board games, video games/game consoles (Super Mario Bros., Space Invaders), phonographs

Random responses: Cartoons on Saturday mornings, 8-tracks, chalk drawing, drive-in movies, local music bands

Duran Duran puzzle

Other

Top responses: CD & cassette Walkman, inflatable furniture, boombox, clamshell VHS tapes, ordering Scholastic books from a catalog, teen magazines (Tiger Beat, J-14, Bop)

Random responses: The ”Macarena,” TV dinners, duck-and-cover training pamphlets, food and drink packaging, hairstyles (the Rachel, mullet, bouffant, etc.)

As someone who falls into the 1990-1999 age range, it has been wonderful seeing the creative, thoughtful suggestions both from my peers and people born in the decades before and after me. Not only are the responses helpful for us at the museum as we look to the future of the collection, they are also a great way to learn about what objects, activities, styles, and clothing have been important to children in North Dakota throughout the decades.

Is there something from your childhood that you think we should collect? Does it look like your county or age group needs more representation? Head to the collections survey here and make your voice heard!

If you would like to donate to the State Historical Society museum collection, be it a My Little Pony, bellbottoms, a boombox or anything in between, you can complete our Potential Donation Questionnaire here.

Women’s Work: Expanding the Scope of an Exhibit

While most of my internship at the State Historical Society was spent working with collections in the deep recesses of the museum, one of my projects was to create an exhibit commemorating the upcoming 100th anniversary of woman suffrage (right to vote). This meant my work was actually going to be seen by the public, as I was writing, designing, and compiling objects specifically for public viewing. It was an exciting change! While planning for this exhibit, I decided to expand upon the topic and include not only objects related to the early suffrage movement, but also highlight North Dakota women’s leadership and activism through the 20th century, showing how the ripples from the woman suffrage movement continue today.

To help illustrate the scope of these women’s work, I chose objects from international and national women’s rights events and the push for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s and ’80s.

silver metal cuff bracelet with the letters E R A cut out

The museum collection holds many artifacts related to women’s rights activism, most of them being buttons, ribbons, and clothing. But there was one unusual item: this bracelet from the 1970s. It has a cutout reading ERA, referring to the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the US Constitution guaranteeing equal rights regardless of sex. This bracelet is the only piece of women’s activism jewelry in the collection, directly drawing attention to the ERA and the ongoing fight to ratify it.

White and blue striped smock shirt with red embroidery on hem

This smock is from International Women’s Year (1975). The garment is from the donor’s days as an activist working to gain ratification of the ERA. In choosing it for the exhibit, I hoped to put women’s activism in a global context, as International Women's Year was celebrated by the United Nations. So not only is the smock fashionable, it’s making a political statement and is a marker for a year in which women’s rights were recognized on a global scale.

orange burlap tote bag reading “A woman’s place is in the House . . . and in the Senate.”

Finally, one of my favorite artifacts in the exhibit is this tote bag reading “A woman’s place is in the House . . . and in the Senate.” This object’s existence is a direct result of women becoming engaged in politics. It was purchased by the donor in 1981 during the 53rd Girls Nation held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. I loved researching Girls Nation, an ongoing program introducing girls to the workings of government. This tote helps show the scope of organizations encouraging women to become leaders in their communities, while also proudly bearing a slogan I’d like to cross-stitch onto a pillow.

Elise Dukart, guest blogger standing in front of exhibit case

By expanding the scope of the exhibit using these objects, I hoped to draw a direct line from women gaining suffrage to activism continuing through the 20th century and today. Women’s direct participation in politics and activism helped pass the 1917 North Dakota Suffrage Bill, and continued activism by women in the decades following have strengthened support for advances in equality like the ERA. I love how the exhibit turned out, and it made me hopeful that the State Historical Society museum collection will continue to add artifacts symbolizing North Dakota’s history of women’s activism.