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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!

Genia Hesser's blog

5 Inspirational Women from North Dakota’s Past

There’s an old cliché that “history is written by the winners,” and it’s an uncomfortable fact that the winners — culturally, socially, and economically — have mostly been men. The result is a historical narrative biased toward men’s deeds with an often deafening silence surrounding women’s accomplishments. Women, however, have always been a part of making history. In recent years women’s stories have come to light and are adding to, if not rewriting, part of our shared history. Here are just a few remarkable women from North Dakota’s past.

Portrait of Dr. Fanny Dunn Quain

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Dr. Fanny Dunn Quain
Dr. Fanny Dunn Quain (1874–1950) was North Dakota’s first licensed female physician. As a young woman, she worked multiple jobs to save money to go to medical school. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1898 with a doctor of medicine degree. After moving to Bismarck, she became a prominent figure in the area and was elected Burleigh County’s superintendent of schools. She had an active private medical practice for many years, but later turned her efforts to organizing the North Dakota Tuberculosis Association.


Side portrait of Linda Slaughter

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Linda Slaughter
Linda Warfel Slaughter (1843–1911) accompanied her husband, a military surgeon, to Fort Rice in 1870 (http://blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/linda-warfel-slaughter-bismarck-pion...). After moving to Fort Hancock, near Bismarck, she effectively filled the role of postmaster, although technically her husband held the position. She was a prolific newspaper columnist, Bismarck’s first teacher, Burleigh County’s first superintendent of schools, a leading figure in the woman suffrage movement and an organizer of the Ladies Historical Society, which later became today’s State Historical Society of North Dakota.


Portrait of Minnie Craig wearing glasses and a necklace

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Minnie Craig
In 1923 Minnie Davenport Craig (1883–1966) was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives. Ten years later she became the first woman speaker of a state House of Representatives in the nation. She ultimately served six terms in the North Dakota legislature and was a Republican National Committeewoman for North Dakota from 1928–1932.


Florence Klingensmith standing in front of an airplane with the number 57 on it

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Florence “Tree Tops” Klingensmith
Florence Anderson Klingensmith (1904–1933) had an insatiable appetite for speed. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh, Klingensmith learned to fly, earning the nickname “Tree Tops” when she became North Dakota’s first female licensed pilot. She persuaded local Fargo businessmen to donate money for a plane in exchange for free advertising space on it. She bought a Monocoupe named Miss Fargo in 1929. Now licensed and with her own plane, she set out to break flying records. In 1931, over four hours, she completed 1,078 loop-de-loops, an average of four loops per minute. She did exhibition flying, and won international air races against men and women. In 1933 she tragically lost her life during a race in Chicago when a faulty wing caused her plane to crash.


Scattered Corn standing outside holding a hoe over her shoulder

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Scattered Corn
Scattered Corn (1858–1940) was a respected Mandan seed keeper and daughter of the last corn priest, Moves Slowly. With no successors, his medicine bundle came to Scattered Corn, who did her best to continue the traditions and maintain the accumulated wisdom of generations. Over hundreds of years, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara gardeners had developed vegetable varieties appropriate for northern climates. Scattered Corn shared her knowledge about native agriculture and Mandan traditions. Seedman Oscar Will began selling corn seeds originally sourced through Scattered Corn in his seed catalog. Ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore recorded Scattered Corn singing ancient prayer songs. Because of Scattered Corn’s generosity, many aspects of Mandan agricultural traditions have been preserved for future generations.

A Middle-Aged Museum Professional Learns New Tricks: Building Audience Engagement at Museums

In September I had the opportunity to attend the Mountain Plains Museum Association (MPMA) annual conference in Billings, Montana. MPMA is one of six regional museum associations in the United States that works in conjunction with the national American Association of Museums to advise on regional museum issues. The annual conference provides training, networking, and information sharing for museum professionals at a relatively low cost.

Montana's landscape with mountains and a body of water

Beautiful Montana

Due to budgets and schedules it’s not always feasible to attend every year. Billings, however, is practically next door to Bismarck. We’d just finished up a major exhibit project (The Horse in North Dakota, which if you haven’t been to visit yet — well, shame on you, because it’s amazing), so a few of us piled into a car and headed west.

I was most excited about the audience engagement workshops. A company out of New York called Museum Hack led both half-day workshops. Museum Hack got its start by giving unconventional tours of New York City museums based on the premise that (a) museums are awesome, but (b) many people don’t know that. This is something most museum professionals struggle with — how to effectively relay the incredible stories we know about the objects to visitors.

The morning session focused on storytelling — specifically on how to tell a good story. We all probably know a good story when we hear it, but we needed to break it down to identify its elements. To start, we role-played how both an inebriated person and a college professor might describe a museum visit. (As an aside, I think some of my museum colleagues really missed their theatrical calling.) After the short performances we tossed out adjectives to describe the museum-goers. The inebriated person was passionate, approachable, relatable, but also vague on details and not very knowledgeable. Our professor was authoritative, descriptive, trustworthy, but also quite boring and even snobbish. A good story combines the best parts of the inebriated and the expert storytelling — passionate but knowledgeable; approachable yet authoritative.

Our session leader, Zak, then outlined the five elements of a Museum Hack — whether that’s a program, a tour, or even an exhibit.

  1. Engagement or “the hook”: Get your audience to do something, and get them involved, because you can’t assume they care about the information you want to share.
  2. What’s the story? Quickly tell the story, best facts first, in no more than 30 seconds. You’ll have time for detail later.
  3. Mind=Blown: Why is this thing/topic amazing?
  4. Connection: Why do YOU respond to this topic or content? Does it connect to the bigger picture outside of the museum?
  5. Drop the mic: Maybe it’s a joke or a great last line. Button it all up, leaving your audience asking questions and wanting to continue the conversation.

I left the session inspired, making plans of how I was going to apply my newly learned hack at the State Museum and outlying state historic sites; knowing I now had the power to let the world know that NERDS ARE COOL. Ok, maybe not that much power, but I was pumped.