Hennepin County’s famous Aquatennial has been part of the Minneapolis summer since 1940. So, too, have been its royalty, including the festival’s Queen of the Lakes. Young single women representing cities and companies across the state gather in Minneapolis each year to compete for the opportunity to serve on the Aquatennial royal court. Here at Hennepin History Museum, our extensive historic Aquatennial collection has extensive files filled with historic photographs, scrapbooks, coronation gowns, and crowns associated with the Queen of the Lakes. Their stories are part of the Aquatennial story, but also provide a glimpse into broader historical trends and experiences. In the case of Queens Margaret Cary and Nancy Thum (above), the collection and its stories provides a peek at what it was like to be a young adult in World War II-era Minnesota.
During the 1940s, the Aquatennial Queen of Lakes rules were clear: married women were not eligible to run for or to hold the title of Queen of the Lakes. In 1944, this led to an unexpected situation when in that December, not one but two current reigning Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes were “conquered by Cupid in uniform!” With the advent of World War II, American marriage rates skyrocketed. The average age at time of marriage also dropped. Perhaps no surprise, the eligible young Aquatennial royals also found love and chose marriage.
In early December 1944, with the war still raging, Queen Margaret Cary chose to give up her crown to marry her fiance, recently returned army flyer Charles Sandberg. Nancy Thom, shown above, took over the royal duties. But just weeks later, Nancy announced her own engagement! Her fiance remained stationed in California, however, and Nancy’s wedding did not take place until after she had served out the rest of her reign and crowned her successor.
Hennepin History Museum is home to the historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to make a financial contribution to help us to preserve and share this important local historical resource.
By Heather Hoagland, HHM Collections Manager
This chair was made to suit the special needs of a disabled child who attended the Dowling School in Minneapolis. While we don’t know what those needs were, the desk lifts on a hinge and the high back raises. It likely dates from the 1940s or 1950s.
Above: child using similar chair
The Dowling School, established in 1920, was the first school for the disabled in Minnesota and one of the longest continuously operating schools in the area. Today it is an urban environmental learning center, serving students of all ability levels.
Above: Dowling students outside the school
The school opened with just 17 students in January, 1921, but quickly grew to fill a needed gap in the Minneapolis educational system, serving handicapped children throughout the region. In 1923, the school moved to its current location on 21 wooded acres overlooking the Mississippi, which was a gift from Minneapolis mayor William Eustis. In the 1930s, Dowling was the recipient of WPA funding to build an aqua therapy school. President and First Lady Roosevelt visited the school to dedicate the pool, which is still in use today.
The school’s founder, Michael Dowling, lost three limbs in a blizzard at the age of fourteen but went on to graduate from Carleton College—my alma mater!—and have a successful career as a businessman and speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Above: Michael Dowling
If you’ve lived in the Twin Cities for long – or even if you’ve just passed through the MSP airport frequently – you’re likely aware of our local Humphrey connections. Those not originally from here are more likely to associate Hubert H. Humphrey with his position as Vice President of the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson, or with his 1968 presidential run, but here in Hennepin County he also left his mark as, among other things, mayor of Minneapolis.
Humphrey’s first run at mayor, in 1943, proved unsuccessful, but he regrouped and won the office in 1945. He served as mayor until 1948, at which point he launched his political career into national politics when he successfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat.
This piece of political ephemera documents those Minneapolis mayor days. And what good is any campaign without a song? If you want to sing along but aren’t familiar with that Irish song, “Harrigan, That’s Me!” you can find an online version here. Warning: it’s a catchy tune (ideal for any campaign, of course), so don’t blame us if you find yourself humming a little H-U-MPH-REY for the rest of the day.