Category Archives: Uncategorized

Secret Societies and Female Leadership in Hennepin County



Image from HHM Collections

This blue velvet crown and robe from Hennepin History Museum’s collection are examples of regalia worn for ceremonies of the Order of the Eastern Star. The Order was developed in 1850 by Dr. Rob Morris as a more inclusive off shoot of Freemasonry. Dr. Morris believed that Masonry shouldn’t be confined to men, and developed Order of the Eastern Star as a means of bringing the doctrine of the Freemasons to everyone. 


Image from HHM Collections

In the 1860s, Dr. Morris visited Minnesota and conferred Eastern Star Degrees to important Masons and their wives. Those who received degrees from Dr. Morris wished to share the teachings of the Order with a larger audience and founded the eleven original chapters of Minnesota, including two in Hennepin County. On June 27th, 1878, five of the original chapters came together to form the Minnesota Grand Chapter.  

As the Freemasons and their associate orders, like Eastern Star, are secret societies, the nature of the ceremonies employing the tiara, scepter, robe, and crown is unknown to non-members. We do know, however, that the crown and gown  are coronation regalia, and would have been associated with the crowning of higher ups in the Order.  

In considering membership of higher offices of the Minnesota Grand Chapter of Eastern Star, it is beneficial to look at Louise Lyon Johnson as an example. Louise served as the Worthy Grand Matron of the Minneapolis Chapter in 1895. She came to Minneapolis in May of 1876, having been born in Pennsylvania in 1853. In June 1886 she joined the Harmony Chapter of the Order, moving to the Minneapolis chapter in 1892. Outside of Eastern Star, Louise was both a teacher and civic leader. She was one of the organizers of the Minneapolis Colony of New England Women, served as president of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society, was a member of the Minneapolis chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, a member of the Republican Women’s Club and the associate editor of Lyon Memorial of Connecticut.  

As this year marks the 141st anniversary of the formation of the Minnesota Grand Chapter, we can look to Hennepin History Museum’s collection of regalia from the Order as a reminder of early members like Louise Lyon Johnson, and how they served as examples for women seeking leadership roles in the community. 


Written by Marit Anderson, Collections Intern at Hennepin History Museum. Marit has a BA in Art History from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is currently working towards an MA in Art History and a Certificate in Museum Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. Her focus is on early Medieval to Baroque art, especially funerary and memorial art. 


Eastern Star Ladies Quartette, Minneapolis (Brochure). 1895. 

Foster, Mary Dillon. Who’s Who Among Minnesota Women. Minnesota: Mary Dillon Foster, 1924.  

“History.” Minnesota Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. Accessed 20 June 2019. 

“History of Order of the Eastern Star.” General Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star. Accessed 20 June 2019. 


College Educated: Alice Putnam’s 1908 Graduation Cap and Gown

Alice Elizabeth Putnam wore this graduation cap and gown at her college commencement ceremony in 1908. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota’s College Of Science, Literature And The Arts.


Image from HHM Collections

Alice was born and raised in Minneapolis. Her father, Frank Putnam, grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Minnesota in the early 1880s. Alice’s mother, Mary Christian, was a Swiss immigrant.* Alice graduated from Central High School in 1904 when it was still located on 11th Street in downtown Minneapolis. By the time Alice’s alma mater closed in 1982, it was the city’s oldest high school.  

The first woman to graduate from the University of Minnesota, Flora E. Matteson, began classes in 1890. By the time Alice became a student only fifteen years later, women made up the majority of the student body. In 1907, the University of Minnesota had more women enrolled than any other university in the country.

After graduating, Alice accepted a year-long teaching position in Royalton, Minnesota. By 1910, she had returned to Minneapolis where she worked as a bank clerk. She spent much of her career at Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank. While women were excluded from many fields of employment in the early 20th century, Alice was part of the first generation of college-educated women who pursued employment as clerks, secretaries, and stenographers. By the thirties, clerical jobs had been codified as “women’s work.”

Alice remained a life-long resident of Hennepin County. As a young adult, she lived with her father; her mother tragically passed away shortly after Alice’s college graduation. Following her father’s death in 1929, Alice purchased her own home on France Avenue.


Image from HHM Collections

Ella Hopkins moved in with Alice in 1941. Like Alice, Ella was college-educated and during WWII, she was the chief clerk for the  Hennepin County Selective Service Board. Alice and Ella shared the France Ave home for twenty-five years.

Alice sold the home in 1966 when Ella moved into an assisted-care residence. Together they donated several treasured belongings, including Alice’s academic regalia, to Hennepin History Museum.


*Mary Christian was not related to Carolyn Mcknight Christian, who once owned the mansion now known as Hennepin History Museum.



“Accept Pedagogical Positions.” Star Tribune, May 29, 1908. Star Tribune Archive.

Brandt, S. “Central alums mark alma mater’s centennial.” Star Tribune, July 3, 2013. Accessed August 9, 2019.

“Central Class Now Alumni.” The Minneapolis Tribune, June 7, 1904. Star Tribune Archive.

Gilman, Rhonda R. “Women in Minnesota: Weaving the Web of Society in the North Star State.” MNopedia, June 17, 2011. star-state

“Girls Lead for Degrees: Co-eds in great majority in largest academic class of University’s history.” The Minneapolis Journal, February 25, 1906. Star Tribune Archive.

“Needs of University Discussed; Proportion of State Aid Shown.” The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, March 10, 1907. Star Tribune Archive.


Author Bio: Madelyn Osmon is a volunteer researcher at the Hennepin History Museum. She received her BA in Media & Cultural Studies from Macalester College. Over the past year, she has worked as a research assistant on a project studying Ottoman state photography and Armenian emigration to the US. 

The Oldest Hospital in Minneapolis


Image from HHM Collections

Throughout the years, the area around the present-day Hennepin County Medical Center in the Elliot Park Neighborhood was home to seven different medical organizations, and one of those was the St. Barnabas Hospital and School of Nursing. Founded by Reverend D.B. Knickerbacker of the Gethsemane Parish of the Episcopal Church in 1871, the Cottage Hospital was the first hospital in the four-year-old city. While it initially only had six beds, it marked the start of a soon-to-be booming medical industry in the area.

Located on the block between Sixth and Seventh Streets South and Ninth and Tenth Avenues South, the Cottage Hospital changed its name to St. Barnabas Hospital sometime within its first two decades of operation. In 1894 the hospital’s campus expanded when they opened their School of Nursing to accommodate the growing interest of medical professions. Inspired by Florence Nightingale, the first modern nurse, the school’s mission followed her main principles of compassion, commitment, intelligence, and training. Instructions for newly appointed nurses in 1915 required them to have the following: “One pair ground gripper shoes, one pair rubbers to fit shoes, a watch with a second hand, a fountain pen, an inexpensive umbrella, and four plain dresses.” The nurse cap pictured here came from St. Barnabas Hospital. Caps can tell us a few things about a specific nurse, such as where they went to school and their seniority. Most nursing schools had their own cap style, so it was easy to tell where nurses learned the trade, and in the case for caps worn around the turn of the twentieth century, the longer and frillier their cap, the more senior they were. The owner of this cap was in the process of climbing that ladder.

Between the opening of the school in 1894 and before the United States entered World War II, the age requirements hovered around nineteen to thirty-one. However, once we entered the war, in 1944 the minimum age was reduced to seventeen and a half, and 108 of 109 students were also enrolled in the U.S. military cadet program. In 1948, the St. Barnabas Hospital School of Nursing partnered with the University of Minnesota as Science and Social Science courses were taken there, and they also offered a pre-entrance nurse aptitude test for prospective students.

It wasn’t until the 1960s when the school accepted males into their nursing program, and a short while later in 1970, the School of Nursing closed when St. Barnabas Hospital merged with the Swedish Hospital and St. Andrews Hospital to form the Metropolitan Medical Center. Mount Sinai Hospital also partnered with the Metropolitan Medical Center for almost four years starting in 1988. In 1991, the Metropolitan Medical Center closed its doors and was incorporated into the Hennepin County Medical Center. While St. Barnabas Hospital may not be around anymore, HCMC carries on the legacy of the oldest hospital in Minneapolis.


Hennepin County Library Special Collections. “St. Barnabas Hospital.” Hennepin County Library. January 24, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2019.

“St. Barnabas School of Nursing.” Hennepin Healthcare. Accessed July 10, 2019.

“The Buildings of HCMC’s Past, Present & Future.” Here for Life. April 19, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2019.


Author Bio:

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs. Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 7+ years, and the history columnist at the Mill City Times.


Building Bridges: The Minneapolis Skyway System


Image from HHM Collections

This wooden souvenir jewelry box dates to 1980. While the object itself may seem mundane, there is an interesting story to tell about what can be seen here. The image on the lid of the box is of downtown Minneapolis, with the IDS Tower at the center. The IDS is certainly easy to make out, given that it is the tallest building in Minneapolis. However, if you look closely, you can also see parts of the skyway system, which connects the buildings and creates a labyrinth that is unique to Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is home to the largest continuous skyway system in the world. It connects eighty city blocks and stretches over nine miles. This network of enclosed bridges allows pedestrians to get from one building to another in a climate-controlled environment. The skyway system was originally conceived in 1959 to decrease the number of pedestrians on city streets and to facilitate better flow of automobile traffic. Of course, allowing pedestrians to stay out of the frigid cold of Minnesota winters was an added benefit. The first skyway was constructed in 1962, though it was demolished in the eighties. The second skyway to be constructed opened in 1963 over Seventh Street, connecting the Roanoke Building and Northstar Center, where it still stands today.

The system encompasses most of downtown, stretching from the Target Center in the West, the Minneapolis Convention Center in the south, and U.S. Bank Stadium in the east. The IDS Tower serves as a central crossroads. Construction of the IDS Tower in 1972 played an integral part in the development in the network, as the building is connected by skyways in all four directions. Before then, the skyway system was disconnected and more difficult to navigate. Today the skyways are a unique local novelty for tourists, and an amenity for locals who navigate the city by foot.


Written by Alyssa Thiede


Ehlert, Bob. “I Was a Rich Skyway Bum,” Star Tribune, January 6, 1985. Star tribune Archive.

Reinman, John. “Skyway Patrols, App to Guide Fans in Urban Labyrinth,” Star Tribune, December 28, 2017. 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.


The Baker Coffee Maker


Image from HHM Collections

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Thomas K. Baker invented a product that allowed anyone to make coffee just as well as an experienced barista. The Baker Coffee Maker was patented on September 30, 1902. The inventor had already established Baker & Company, later named Baker Importing Company, in downtown Minneapolis. Baker used his expertise in roasting coffee to develop a product that coffee drinkers could use in their homes. The product’s packaging boasted that it would allow the user to brew a “perfectly clear liquid” without the “unpleasant woody flavor of coffee left to settle itself.”  

The Baker Coffee Maker consists of a strainer inside of a metal funnel with a handle. To use, coffee grounds and water are placed in the Maker and then brought to a boil, then removed from the heat and left to brew for a few minutes before straining the liquid into a coffee pot.  


Image from HHM Archives

Baker’s goal, according to his patent, was to create a “simple and cheap coffee maker in which the minimum amount of the aroma of the coffee is lost by admitting air during the process of infusion.” Though Baker may have achieved this goal, the device never became very popular. Around the same time, Baker & Co. began producing and marketing Barrington Hall brand coffee, which became the company’s cash cow. In 1950, the company was even awarded a series of contracts with the U.S. military that totaled one million dollars to produce instant coffee for soldiers’ rations. Though the company is no longer in operation today, the Baker building still stands in downtown Minneapolis at 212 Second Street North, a reminder of one man’s desire to bring good coffee to the masses.


Image from HHM Collections

Written by Alyssa Thiede 


Baker, Thomas K. Coffee Maker. U.S. Patent 710,132 filed November 11 1901, and issued September 30 1902.  

Norfleet, Nicole. “Plans Would Turn Coffee Building into Apartments in North Loop,” Star Tribune, June 30, 2017. Star Tribune Archive. 

Paul, Herb. “Contracts Awarded State Firms Climb to 60 Million,” Minneapolis Star, November 3, 1950. 

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.


Washburn’s Legacy in Hennepin County


Image from HHM Collections

This tin is filled with recipes that call for Gold Medal Flour. Today, Gold Medal is the most popular brand in the market and is produced by General Mills. That company traces its roots to the Washburn-Crosby Company which was formed in 1877 and whose logo can be seen on this tin. However, even before that company existed, Cadwallader C. Washburn built a flour mill on Mississippi River next to St. Anthony Falls which established his legacy in this county. 

Hennepin County residents are familiar with the name Washburn. It is the name of a high school, appears on street signs, and even accounts for the first call letter of the local WCCO radio and television stations (named after Washburn Crosby Co.’s initials). The story of the man behind the name, is less well known. For instance, most people may not realize that Washburn never even lived in the Twin Cities. Yet given the role he played in developing Minneapolis into the flour milling capital of the world, Washburn deserves to be recognized as one of the great innovators of Hennepin County.  

Arguably one of the most enterprising individuals in milling boom of the late nineteenth century, Washburn made many decisions that would lead to the lasting success of his company and ensured that his name would become a legacy. After serving as a U.S. Congressman and Governor in our neighboring state of Wisconsin, and even serving in the Civil War and rising the rank of major general, Washburn set his sights on milling in Minneapolis. One of the first to recognize the potential for the industry, Washburn built his first mill in 1866. This mill innovated the way flour was produced by utilizing a new middlings purifier. This allowed them to produce a flour made from a type of wheat that had better baking properties than the wheat used by competitors. In fact, Washburn’s flour was so superior, it even won awards, hence the name Gold Medal. 

In 1874, Washburn built his second mill, called the Washburn A Mill. At the time it was the largest flour mill in the world. Unfortunately, that mill was the sight of a devastating explosion in 1878 that killed eighteen employees. When he heard of it, Washburn immediately left his home in Wisconsin for Minneapolis. When he arrived, he established a fund for the families of the men that died. He also announced plans to rebuild the mill and gave construction jobs to the employees who lost their job due to the destruction of the mill. Washburn also wanted to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again at one of his mills. When constructing the new A Mill, he worked with engineers and installed a safety exhaust system. This system greatly reduced the possibility of explosion and was the first of its kind to be permanently installed in a mill.  

Washburn was permanently affected by the loss of lives at his mill, as well as the lives affected by those deaths. When he passed away in 1882, he bequeathed money to fund the construction of an orphanage in Minneapolis called the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. The orphanage would close in 1924 and the institution evolved to serve the same mission. Today it is known as the Washburn Center for Children and it serves the community by providing mental health care for children, another part of the legacy left in Hennepin County by Washburn. 


Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Huesing, Sarah. General Mills: 75 Years of Innovation, Invention, Food & Fun. Edited by Tom Forsythe and Anne Brownfield. Brown. Minneapolis: General Mills, 2003. 

Meier, Peg. “They Built This City,” Star Tribune, September 7, 2003. Star Tribune Archive. 

Nathanson, Iric. “Washburn A Mill Explosion, 1878.” MNopoedia, Minnesota Historical Society. 

Washburn Center. “A History of Strengthening Children.” 


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.


No Place Like Old Home


Image from HHM Collections

This small wood crate in the collection at Hennepin History Museum once held two pounds of American cheese made by Old Home Creameries Inc. of Minneapolis. This local company consistently made high quality cheese, even winning awards at the National Dairy Show. However, they were better known for a different dairy product: cottage cheese. Old Home Creameries was the first to sell commercially produced cottage cheese in Minnesota, and it quickly became their best-selling product. The dairy was founded by F.A. Davies in 1925 with a single truck based out of a building in Northeast Minneapolis. By 1934, due to the popularity of his cottage cheese, the company had grown to include fourteen trucks and over thirty employees. At that point, Old Home Creameries was producing 50,000 pounds of cottage cheese every day and distributing it all over Minnesota and to several surrounding states. The company had continuing success for decades. In 1960, another Minnesota dairy company purchased Old Home Creameries. The combined companies took on the name Old Home Food, Inc. That company is still in operation today producing a variety of food products, including cottage cheese.


Written by Alyssa Thiede


“Cottage Cheese Concern Makes Rapid Increase,” Minneapolis Star, August 25, 1934. Star Tribune Archive.

“Cottage Cheese Exhibit Attracts,” Minneapolis Star, September, 1927. 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.