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.

Data May Be King, But Relationships Fuel State Historical Society Mission

These days, much attention is paid to data. In fact, those of us working in the history field are continually asked: “What does the data say?” And let’s face it, we live in a world where data rules. Big technology companies, social media, and the retail world are almost single-mindedly driven by data. More data means more money, and everyone tells us so. Someone is paying big money for your data. Important as data may be, I think it is wise to remind ourselves that organizations such as the State Historical Society of North Dakota are powered by an old-fashioned fuel called relationships. In fact, we thrive on them. It is my hope that every day we build at least one new relationship.

One of our most important partnerships is with the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation. The Foundation raises nongovernmental funding for us. The Foundation team is made up of a dedicated group of staff and board members from all over North Dakota. When people with financial resources want to support our work, the Foundation is the mechanism through which those funds are leveraged for our mission. The Foundation has been with us on the big projects such as the 2014 expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, but also on the smaller projects. The Foundation provides valuable assistance in volunteer recognition and appreciation events. It provides funding for staff development grants and helps our staff share their knowledge with people across North Dakota.

Another important state partner is the office of North Dakota Tourism. This partnership is very important to the State Historical Society because they assist with marketing our museums and historic sites. We are currently working with North Dakota Tourism to co-brand a few of our interpretive centers as state visitor centers. North Dakota Tourism does not currently have official visitor centers. The State Historical Society has interpretive centers on major transportation routes in North Dakota. We feel that by partnering with the state tourism office we can deepen existing relationships and build new ones. Our first visitor center pilot project will be at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site in Medora, opening in April.

Until the late 1960s, the State Historical Society and North Dakota Parks and Recreation were one agency. Since then, we have continued to partner with their agency on a variety of projects. Recently, for instance, I have been part of a team that consists of our historic site managers and new media specialists working with state Parks and Recreation counterparts to develop a program that will encourage new audiences to explore North Dakota’s state parks and state historic sites. We also work closely with their agency on archaeology and historic preservation projects.

Drawings of a picnic shelter that resemble a log cabin

Drawings of a Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park picnic shelter held by our agency are helping the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department plan for the reconstruction of the shelter, which burned this past fall. State Series 30249 Historical Society. State Parks, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park Records

At the ND Heritage Center & State Museum, we also share our physical space with paleontologists from the North Dakota Geological Survey. Because the missions of the two agencies are parallel, we collaborate on some fossil projects in the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time. It’s a win for all, as visitors to the State Museum can take in millions of years of history in a single stop. And data confirms that people love dinosaurs!

A dinosaur fossil with skin preserve on it sits on a mount ready for exhibit.

In a partnership with North Dakota Geological Survey, their paleontologists are working with our staff to update a State Museum exhibit about Dakota, a rare fossilized Edmontosaurus in our collection. Here, one of Dakota’s arms is fitted into a mount for future exhibition.

No conversation would be complete for us at the State Historical Society if we didn’t mention our friends groups that support the work at our historic sites across the state. By my count, we have 10 official friends groups supporting our work at Fort Abercrombie, Fort Buford, Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site, Chateau de Morès, Former Governors’ Mansion, Camp Hancock, Whitestone Hill, Stutsman County Courthouse, Fort Totten, and Welk Homestead. If you were to add up all the volunteer work and financial contributions of these groups over the years, the totals would be staggering. The work these groups help us achieve is truly remarkable.

The interior of barracks with white wooden bunk beads and black framed cots with blue trinks at the foot of them.

Friends of Fort Union and Fort Buford were instrumental in providing funding for the barracks exhibit at Fort Buford State Historic Site.

The exterior of an old, large, light green house with dark green trim and brown shingles. There is a frong porch on the house.

One of our friends groups, the Society for the Preservation of the Former Governors’ Mansion, raised about $40,000 for a new roof at the state historic site. The group has been helping support the upkeep of the mansion at 320 E. Ave. B in Bismarck for decades.

The left image is of a red church with dark colored trim. The roof alternates between the dark color and red. There are four sets of double windows. The first is stained glass but is too small to see what the image is. The right image shows an old version of the stained glass window before it was restored.

Our newest friends group, the Bismarck Historical Society, is fundraising to help us restore the stained glass windows at Camp Hancock State Historic Site’s Bread of Life Church.

Finally, we must not forget the relationships that we have with our elected officials. The secretary of state and state treasurer serve on the State Historical Board. We also work with the governor’s office and staff on various programs and projects. With the North Dakota Legislative Assembly currently in session, we are reminded of our close relationships with our legislators.

A view looking from the stage of an auditorium out towards the crowd. Three men and two women sit among the blue cushy chairs.

Members of the state House Appropriations Committee, Reps. Mike Nathe, David Monson, and Mike Schatz, and staffers try out new auditorium chairs at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. Support for the auditorium remodel came from both state funds and the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation.

Don’t get me wrong, data can provide us with information about our visitors, how much they make, where they live, how many children they have, how long they have been married, and if they are likely to visit us again. It is good to have data. One thing the data tells me is that that we need to pay close attention to our relationships—we need to nurture the ones we have and look for new ones. All of them are important, and all of them are beneficial.

A 1930s Timeless Black Dress Still Stuns Today

Every woman seems to search for that timeless black dress that looks fabulous and helps them feel fabulous, that they can wear for years and will never go out of style. Fortunately for Donna Weinrebe of Minot, she had no problem finding that elusive dress. In 1936, when Donna was a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she wore this lovely gown to a college dance. While it was the height of fashion in 1936, this dress is still fashionable today.

Two side by side images of a black felvet dress. The first image has a matching short sleeved coat over the top of it. It is a full-length, sleeveless dress that is somewhat form fitting with a matching belt around the waist.

Worn to a University of North Dakota dance, this timeless black velvet gown was donated to the museum collection by Donna Weinrebe in1990. SHSND 1990.253.7

This dress was made for drama. The floor-length, Grecian-inspired gown was created from a luscious black velvet fabric that one of my co-workers described as a “black hole of gorgeousness.” It is sleeveless with a scoop neck and a peekaboo slit down the back. Blousy and loose at the top, the dress is fitted at the waist and hips. A matching belt helps to accentuate the narrow waist. To not distract from the dress, the belt buckle and button at the back are covered in the same velvet fabric.

The back of a black velvet dress. It shows an opening going down the middle of it to just above the waist.

The matching bolero jacket is the one piece that dates the outfit. In the 1930s, puffed sleeves on dresses were in fashion to exaggerate the shoulder and make the waist appear smaller. These puffed sleeves were made with five rows of corded pleats to provide more volume.

A black velvet jacket that clips together at the neck with short sleeves that are puffed.

Although not on exhibit in our upcoming fashion exhibit, Donna also wore this gorgeous coat made of the same black velvet and lined in white silk with the dress. The stylish, loose hood would help to keep the wearer warm and her hair in place on cold North Dakota nights. There is only one button at the neckline of the coat. The coat is held closed by ties and an interior loop at the waist.

A full length, hooded, long sleeved black velvet coat. There is a button at the neckline and ties around the waist.

Matching coat. SHSND 1990.253.276

The women of the Weinrebe family were quite fashionable in their day, and this dress is no exception. Few clothing pieces stand the test of time, but by leaving the bolero jacket off, a woman could still attend an elegant event wearing this dress today. No one would know her fashion dates from the 1930s. What classic pieces are in your closet?

The black velvet fabric that makes this dress so lovely also makes it nearly impossible to photograph and capture the details. It is a dress you need to see in person to really appreciate. So, visit Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style when it opens soon to see this timeless dress!

Three older women in dresses stand holding an award. They each wear a white corsage on their left side.

The Weinrebe women of Minot displayed an elegant sense of fashion. Here Ethel is receiving the Minot Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind award in 1974 with daughters Nita (left) and Donna (right). SHSND 10560.0002.00

A mother and two daughters pose for a picture. The mother wears a darc colored dress with white lace around the neck and cuffs and a white belt around the waist. The youngest child wears a  white puffy dress. The other child wears a dark colored dress with three white lines around the collar and wrists. She also wears a large bow in her hair.

The Weinrebe women were stylish at an early age. Daughters Nita and Donna pose for a portrait with their mother, Ethel, circa 1920. SHSND 10560.0002.00026

6 men sit and stand together while another man stands across from them looking down at something in his hands. The men wear sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck line and shorter lapels. They are all also wearing hats.

Julius Weinrebe, Donna’s father (seated), and his friends were also sporting national trends in men’s fashion. Notice their sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck and shorter lapels. Julius’s bowler hat was also the style choice of the day. Circa 1907. SHSND 10560.0002.00016