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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

Past Bloggers'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.

Guest Blogger: Genia Hesser

Genia HesserGenia Hesser was the Curator of Exhibits for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

AmeriCorps Volunteers Help Out at Fort Totten

On September 15, 2018, a team of AmeriCorps volunteers arrived at Fort Totten State Historic Site. The team, comprising eight volunteers aged 19 to 25, originated from all over the United States. Tasked with cleaning out the historic gymnasium in preparation for restoration, the team members got to work almost immediately.

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AmeriCorps team members upon arrival, posing in the auditorium at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

Created in 1993, AmeriCorps is a federally funded volunteer program that sends teams all over America to complete their mission of “helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.” The process of acquiring an AmeriCorps grant and team began back in 2016 with several meetings between State Historical Society staff and AmeriCorps leaders. Upon acceptance, the staff of Fort Totten began preparations for the team’s arrival. The team would be staying at the Totten Trail Historic Inn, a Victorian-themed bed and breakfast operated by the Fort Totten State Historic Site Foundation and housed in the former Officer’s Quarters on the grounds of Fort Totten State Historic Site. Accustomed to sleeping outside and in church basements, the team rejoiced at having their own bedrooms and bathrooms for the duration of their visit.

AmeriCorps team members in hazmat suits outside gymnasium

Team members pose outside the gymnasium during clean-up.

Fort Totten staff slated 2-3 weeks for the gymnasium cleanup and were amazed when the project was completed in just five days. The team members then moved onto a lengthier project — the rehousing of the museum collections of the Lake Region Pioneer Daughters. You may remember from my previous blogs that the State Historical Society has made the restoration of the historic hospital/cafeteria a priority in the last few years. The historic hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten has been home to the Lake Region Pioneer Daughters and their collections since 1960. Since the massive overhaul and restoration of the building, completed in 2017, the collections were housed in boxes throughout the basement of the building and accompanying buildings. AmeriCorps was tasked with combining the collections from multiple buildings, removing the objects from unsatisfactory boxes and housing, placing them in archival, acid-free boxes, and adding object tags with accession numbers to the items and boxes. Team members spent almost three weeks working on this project and were fascinated by the many treasures discovered in the vast collections.

AmeriCorps team members rehousing collections

Americorps team members rehouse the Lake Region Pioneer Daughters collection in the historic hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

The experience of working with AmeriCorps was phenomenal and one we hope to have again. The young people involved were truly committed to public service and strengthening communities. We’re very excited to see what becomes of these young people and what they choose to do with their lives after AmeriCorps.

Guest Blogger: Guinn Hinman

Guinn HinmanGuinn Hinman was a Historic Sites Manager at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.