Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Bethany Home for Unwed Mothers: Fighting for the “Fallen”

babies for alyssa

In celebration of International Women’s Month it seems appropriate to explore one of the many untold stories surrounding the women of Hennepin County. Being a woman, much less a mother, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was no easy feat. Women were confined to the private sphere and expected to be homemakers who reared the children. However, all too often, this idyllic vision of family-life created harmful stereotypes and devastating consequences for women who became pregnant out of wedlock. These mothers were shunned and at times completely exiled from their communities and families. In the 19th century they were called “fallen women. Under Christian religious doctrine, it was believed these women had fallen from grace after losing their purity and would not enter heaven. This stigma perpetuated the myth that the female sex was promiscuous and untrustworthiness. This often led to incidents of domestic abuse and the separation of mothers from their children so they would not “corrupt” them. However, during this dark period of women’s history, some women in positions of power and privilege took a stand.  

In July 1876, in Minneapolis, a small group of upper-class women, known as the Sisterhood of the Bethany, a Quaker religious society, joined together to establish the Bethany Home for Fallen Women, with the hope of giving unwed mothers a second chance. The founding of the Bethany Home would not have been possible without the work of two extremely dedicated women fighting back against the stigmas of their time. Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve and Abby G. Swift were both active members of the community with an unstoppable desire to better the lives of women. 

Abigail Grant Swift was born on August 19, 1832, in West Falmouth, Massachusetts. As the daughter of a highly-regarded fatherCapt. Silas Swift, she received a fairly comprehensive education, a privilege not offered to most girls at the time. On February 11, 1858, Abby married Richard Junius Mendenhall, a wealthy plantation owner from South Carolina. The newlywed couple moved to Minneapolis, arriving on April 25, 1858. Abby recounts her daily life and activist work in her diarynow kept in the archives at Hennepin History Museum, which dates from her first arrival in Minneapolis until her death in 1900. Abby acted as the first treasurer of the Bethany Home, serving in her role for 23 years. 

Charlotte Van Cleve was born on July 1, 1819, in Prairie dChien, Wisconsin. Charlotte was an early outspoken advocate of women’s suffrage in Minnesota. She became the first woman elected to the Minneapolis School Board in 1876. Charlotte’s stepped into the public sphere as she joined forces with other women in the Sisterhood of the Bethany, including Abby Mendenhall, to establish a home for “fallen women.” She was the president of the Bethany Home from its founding until her death. Charlotte had twelve children of her own and fostered another ten children from the Bethany Home over the course of her life.  

The first mention of the Bethany Home in Abby’s diary is on July 24, 1876. She writes, “Went to St. Paul to find a matron for our Bethany Home (Magdelene work) as it is now. Did not succeed.” This pattern of employment and financial troubles plagued the early years of the Bethany Home. In these formative years Abby and Charlotte made great sacrifices in their personal lives which culminated in the official incorporation of the Bethany Home on March 21, 1879, exactly 140 years ago during this 2019 International Women’s Month.  

The basic premise of the Bethany Home was to help women who had become pregnant out of wedlock, whether through sex work or by failed relationships. Upon entering the home, they signed a contract for a year and agreed to obey the house rules, although there was no security and the “inmates” could leave if they so choose. Once their infants were born, every mother was given the choice to keep their child with assistance from staff at the home for the next three to four months or to place their child up for adoption. Most women entered the home under aliases to protect their identities wither from disapproving families or male superiors seeking to return them to prostitution.   

Over the next decade, the Bethany Home became a pillar of the women’s community of Minneapolis. Charlotte Van Cleve and Abby Mendenhall began targeting the powerful men running the sex industry, rather than blaming the young women who had been coerced into the profession. Once, when interviewed by a newspaper regarding the integrity of the “fallen women,” Charlotte memorably remarked, “Where are the men who make these girls what they are? Go find them in our business marts, drawing rooms, and churches…Men are getting rich on the toil and tears of famishing women and children. With the mindset of targeting the source of illegitimate births, Charlotte and Abby took advantage of the already established laws and turned them in their favor.  

In the 1880s, the City of Minneapolis enacted fines against known houses of prostitution and brothels within city limits. This meant that these locales had to pay monthly fines to the city to continue operation. With money always being in short supply at the Bethany Home, the women set about to turn the tables on the stigma of “fallen women.” Charlotte and Abby convinced the city to give them two-thirds of the monthly collected fines to help fund the Bethany Home, directly supporting the women who were victims of the industry. With a solid budgetary plan and a persuasive argument, the women were victorious and acquired funding for years to come much to the dismay of some of the male council members.  

Following the passing of Abby Mendenhall, in 1900 and Charlotte Van Cleve, in 1907, the Bethany Home fell on hard times undoubtedly due to repeated attempts by the City Council to cut the facility off financially. The home closed its doors after being condemned sometime around 1924 and was replaced by the Harriet Walker Maternity Hospital, which continued operation on the site until 1945. An article published in 1921, detailing the work of the Sisterhood, claims that 8,000 women have been helped over the course of the Bethany Home’s 45-year operation. Both Charlotte’s and Abby’s obituaries commemorate their years of tireless dedication to the Home. Although confined by the societal expectations and politics of their time, these women challenged the accepted standards and sought to give unwed mothers a new lease on life.  

Author: Ashley Fischer is the Undertold Stories Intern at Hennepin History Museum. She is earning a bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on literary criticism and 19th century American history. 



“Giving a Square Deal to the Babies Who “Have No Right to Be Born”.” The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, May 15, 1921. 

Mendenhall, Abby G. “Bethany Home for Unwed Mothers.” The Quaker Writing. Accessed February 27, 2019. 

Perlman, Tamatha. “Where Are the Men Who Make These Girls What They Are?” The Historyapolis Project. March 11, 2014. Accessed March 6, 2019. 

Petersen, Penny A. Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 

Wright, Gwen, writer. “Unwed Mother’s Home.” Transcript. In History Detectives. PBS. September 19, 2005. 

Innovation in the Kitchen: Foley Manufacturing Company


Image from HHM Collections

This Foley food mill in the collection at Hennepin History Museum was one of Foley Manufacturing Company’s most popular products.  Foley was founded in 1926 by Walter M. Ringer. When he introduced the food mill in 1934 it was immediately popular, but that was only the beginning of a long line of innovative kitchen utensils and housewares.  Our collection includes some of those lesser known Foley Mfg. Co. inventions that were patented by Hennepin County residents.


Image from HHM Collections

This small flour sifter, which could be operated with one hand, was patented by Freeman E. Collier in 1934. Collier was superintendent at Foley for twenty-six years. This flour sifter was an improved an ordinary flour sifter in several ways. In his patent, Collier explains that existing flour sifters at the time were large, heavy, poorly designed, and difficult to use. He goes on to write, “It is an object of this invention to overcome these objections and to provide an improved flour sifter that will be light in weight, yet strong and durable, well balanced and easy to use, capable of being manipulated by one hand, and in all more satisfactory than devices heretofore available.” 


Image from HHM Archives

Collier’s confidence in his invention may have been misplaced, as it turns out there wasn’t a huge need for flour sifters that could be operated with one hand. However similar products and new versions of it can still be found on the market today. While Foley Mfg. Co. is no longer an active concern, it left behind many patents for inventions by innovative Hennepin County residents like Collier.


Written by Alyssa Thiede


Collier, Freeman E. Flour Sifter. U.S. Patent 2,326,761 filed October 7, 1940, and issued August 17, 1943.

Hart, Mary. “Foley Wares Awarded Six Design Prizes.” Minneapolis Tribune, June 14, 1966. Star Tribune Archive.

Morris, Margaret. “Lucille Barbery is Key Cog in Company,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 15, 1954. Star Tribune Archive.


This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.


Pond-Dakota: Living Through Language


Image from HHM Archives

The Dakota, like many American Indian communities, passed down information orally over generations, without incident. However, during ever-important treaty negotiations, under the pressure of white settlers to cede territory, the Dakota were forced to rely on the work of white translators, who had reputations for being unreliable and working to sway negotiations in favor of the settlers. Nonetheless, the Dakota held steadfast in their refusal to abandon their language in favor of English, a factor which presented a distinct challenge for missionaries seeking to spread Christianity among Native communities. Consequently, like any effective negotiation the two sides found a compromise. In the archives at the Hennepin History Museum there are three pocket-sized hardcover books. The covers show not only their age but also the fact that they were well-loved by their owners. These booklets tell an important part of Minnesota history.  

Samuel and Gideon Pond moved to Minnesota in the spring of 1834 from Connecticut. The brothers were inspired to pursue religious missionary work after being converted in the Second Great Awakening: a religious revival movement that swept the eastern half of the country in the first decades of the 19th century. Without any financial sponsors or professional schooling, the brothers set out to bring Christianity to the Dakota people of Minnesota. Furthermore, they lacked a government issue permit to enter Native American territory, resulting in them almost being expelled by officials at Fort Snelling. However, they convinced government officials that they would help reduce tensions between the Dakota people and settlers and were granted a permit to build a mission. 

They built a small log cabin and church on the shores of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) and immediately set out to interview Dakota community members in order to learn the Dakota language. Samuel Pond returned to Connecticut to be ordained in 1837 and did not come back to Minnesota until late 1839. Meanwhile, Gideon spent two years working with Dr. Thomas Williamson in western Minnesota near Lac qui Parle, before returning to maintain the original mission.  

During these early years, Gideon Pond documented his life on a nearly daily basis from 1837 to 1856 in his journal. These entries reveal Gideon’s strict approach to religious teachings. Dozens of times throughout his diary entries he refers to himself as a “sinner” and deems himself an unworthy failure. This fire and brimstone approach to Christianity was also prevalent in his judgement of native peoples. This is often lead to the Ponds’ disavowing and publicly shaming Dakota cultural practices. In an entry, dated August 10, 1838, Gideon notes that the entire church is fasting for a period of several days as punishment for the misconduct of one of its members. This “misconduct” was carried out by Joseph Renville Jr, the son of a Frenchman and a Dakota woman, reportedly the only members of Pond’s congregation who could read and write in English. Gideon states that Renville had committed adultery, which he deems “the most prevalent sin among the Sioux.” This account captures the different cultural perspectives on marriage. The Dakota, along with most other indigenous communities, had practiced polygamy as part of their culture for centuries, while in Gideon’s eyes, Renville’s behavior was adulterous and a sin worthy of punishment.  

Although we have no direct accounts of the Dakota peoples’ perspective on the Pond Brothers there are hints within the pages of Gideon’s journal. Shortly after his arrival, Gideon began making close connection with Wamdi Okiye, a Dakota man who agreed to help the Pond Brothers by teaching them Dakota words. Gideon recounts a time when he told Wamdi Okiye that “he and all other men are sinners and will all be miserable forever unless they are renewed in the spirit of their minds.” Wamdi Okiye, for his part, seemed hesitant to accept this vengeful depiction of a God. Okiye, who was literate in English, sent a letter, with the signatures of multiple other Dakota members, to Gideon Pond on August 14, 1837. Pond writes, “Today we have had a new exhibition of the ingratitude of these degraded heathens by a letter from the principal chief at this village written by Wamdi Okiye reproaching us not in anger but with savage mildness because we teach that we should love others as ourselves and do not share with them what we ourselves possess.” In order to placate the Dakota’s complaints about the missionaries hypocrisy, Gideon and his fellow missionaries endeavored to negotiate with the Dakota people. Eventually Pond agreed to teach the Dakota various Euro-American agricultural practices, particularly growing and harvesting potato crops, as an incentive for them to help him learn the language.  

By mid 1838, the Pond brothers had finally attained a fair grasp of the Dakota language and set out to begin translating the Bible and delivering sermons in Dakota. Gideon remarks that on June 30 he successfully translated the Ten Commandments and had undertaken beginning to translate several of the hymns to be incorporated into Sunday services. This progressed to the eventual full creation of a written alphabet and the publishing of the Pond-Dakota Dictionary in 1852. In later years, the Pond brothers began publishing a bilingual newspaper called, The Dakota Friend. This newspaper acted as a major channel to spread information throughout the Dakota community. However, the newspaper was discontinued in August of 1852 and brought with it the end of the mission in the face of Indian Removal policy. The Dakota people were removed to four reservations in the state and the community which Gideon and Samuel Pond had immersed themselves in for nearly twenty years was decimated.  

Although the mission ended, the legacy of the cooperative work of the Pond Brothers and the Dakota people lives on. The Pond-Dakota Dictionary is still used as the primary English-Dakota dictionary today. The dictionary was proceeded by the translation of hymns that the Pond Brothers used as part of Sunday mass at the mission. These hymns were printed in small pocket-sized books, which are now part of the collection at the Hennepin History Museum. These three worn copies stand as a testament, not only to the work of the missionaries, but more importantly to the perseverance of the Dakota people in retaining their language.  

Author:  Ashley Fischer is the Undertold Stories Intern at Hennepin History Museum. She is earning a bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on literary criticism and 19th century American history. 


Blegen, Theodore C. “The Pond Brothers.” MN History, September 1934, 273-81. Accessed February 13, 2019. 

“The Pond Brothers.” Pond Dakota Heritage Society. Accessed February 13, 2019. 

Pond, Gideon H. “Ruth Chapter 1.” Dakota Tawaxitku Kin/The Dakot Friend (St. Paul), August 1852.