Articles, Blog

Compass: Historic Collaborative & Agrarian Revolt

August 13, 2019

■- [Voiceover] The
following program is a production of Pioneer
Public Television. (light music) (piano music) – Hello, and welcome to Compass. A new production from
Pioneer Public Television. – I’m Less Hein your
host for Compass and this is a
weekly discussion of public policy and
important issues facing our viewing area. This week, a look
at a new way that local historical
societies are working together and an interview with author Michael Lansing whose new book Insurgent
Democracy tells the story of the Non-Partisan
League and it’s impact in rural areas. First, we have the
story of how 10 counties are working
together to share a traveling exhibit
and promote their local historical
societies across western Minnesota. Small towns faces
challenges in daily operations in
historical societies, let alone promoting
special exhibits. The West Central Minnesota Historical Association
has a new way to face those
challenges and here’s a report from Pioneer’s
Laura K. Processor. – West Central Minnesota
Historical Association is a group with 10 counties that is getting
together to do traveling exhibits and our
first exhibit’s gonna be in 2017. It’s going to be a
traveling WWI exhibit. – [Voiceover] The
West Central Minnesota Historical Association has been meeting
unofficially since 2013, meeting as a means to exchange ideas and promote the area. – We each have our unique individual stories,
but if you look at the overall thing
a lot of the themes run through all of our counties. And, you know, each
county is doing their own thing but
this is a way to do it on a nice bigger
scale and bring more attention to West
Central Minnesota history too. – [Voiceover] The
next step once the 10 counties were
decided was to pick a project that reflected
the history that all the counties shared. – We’re gonna try to
go with milestones that happened like 2017, WWI. It’s a nice subject
because it’s a new subject sort of. I think if you asked
a kid, 6th graders, 7th grader, What do
you know about WWI? And they might
say, It happened in Europe, maybe. So it’s getting
that interest back. WWII usually gets the highlights because it has in
the few past years, but WWI just kind of
stuck out and said, hey let’s do that. – WWI is important. It was supposed to
be, you know, the war to end all wars. We weren’t supposed
to have WWII. So to learn about
that, and it’s been a 100 years and I
think it’s starting to get a little bit
overshadowed now. So when the museums
and historical societies have this exhibit most museums are gonna
beef up or redo their WWI exhibit. – A couple pieces
at least from each place travel with the exhibit. And so there’s gonna
be little signage on there, this is from. So then people will
realize, oh this is 10 counties involved
together to have this traveling exhibit. – [Voiceover] The
Candy Yo Hi Historical Society wrote a
Legacy Grant to the Minnesota State
Historical Society and was awarded $10,000 oh behalf of the association to hire
a museology consultant. Brett Pearson visited
each county and dug through their
archives, categorizing and writing a report
that highlighted their items of interest. – The day that the
museology came out and did the research
I was just, I was so overwhelmed with the stuff. And we only took
out the archives and some photographs. – We did find some
really interesting things in the archives
that he had not seen before. We had a traveling
saw that the soldiers would carry with them. It’s just amazing the
things that we have in the collection. – Any time you can
tell a local story people tend to connect
to it a little bit more than, you
know, so and so from New York City did this. But if you can say
this is a soldier from Candy Yo Hi County,
this is his story and his jacket, you know,
it just bring it a little bit closer to home. – It didn’t just
happen to my family but it happened to their
family and their family, and so just
putting the stories together, it’s not
gonna be about one person but it will
be about the whole, you know, West Central Minnesota involvement in WWI. – [Voiceover] However,
2017 is a ways off so what’s next
in getting this traveling exhibit going? – Well, after the
research phase the second phase would
be we’re gonna apply for another
grant to do the exhibit display and then
we’ll have it ready to go. – The individual
counties I hope will have a great impact with more attendance, more
recognition, just the promotion of
it to have these historical societies
recognized versus well do you know
where the historical society is in Renville County? When people come and visit our historical society to
visit the traveling exhibit in 2017,
2018, 2019, whenever it’s here, I want
them to walk through get misty eyed, go oh
I didn’t know that. (light music) – While we were
working on that report we found an additional
story we would like to share. When the Renville County Museum was looking for
WWI artifacts the museum was contacted by Betty Zolner. Betty had found the
WWI diary of her father, Arnold Freyhals. Betty brought the
diary to her county museum and here’s
some of her story. – My name is Betty Zolner. We grew up in Renville County at Fairfax, Minnesota
on a farm about four miles north on Highway 4. My dad was a very gentle person. He never did talk
about any of his war experience but when
he entered into the service, which
he entered in the later part of the WWI. He had a daily diary
that he kept and we found, and so he
told us day by day what they did and where he was. I left home February 26, 1918. Arrived at Camp
Dodge February 28th of 1918 and April 5th
left for Camp Hogan in Houston, Texas. And May 25th we
left for Camp Merit. And arrived at
Camp Merit May 29th and left for New
York Harbor June 10th and sailed for France. He would write, uh,
he was in active duty and then there would
be a few days lapse and when they were on
duty they were like five days on and
then four days off because it was too stressful. From July 26th to the
27th we’re in Boucq Sector, reserve line duty. July 28th to the 21st
back to Elbert Sector. We’re on front line duty. August 1st to the 6th we’re
back in Mullins Woods. On August 7th to the
12th we’re in Albert Sector front line duty. We couldn’t understand
in his, in his journal too at the end it’s
like well why are you going back and forth
and back and forth? He said they did that
just to show face. Okay, we’re Americans,
we’re fighting here, we’re still here
and you just better remember, we can
come back after you. (piano music) – With us now to
talk about how the multi county collaboration
is helping to keep personal stories
alive and local history alive here
is Jennifer Andres, director of the
Lion County Museum. That’s one of the
10 counties involved int he West Central Minnesota Historical Association. Jennifer, thanks
for being with us. – Thank you for having me. – This sounds like a
really exciting idea to get all these
counties put together. I mean this must be
really exciting work for you right now. – It is, it’s great
to get together with colleagues to, you
know, talk about what we’re doing and what
we want to work on to grow our
historical societies. – And from our
discussion before during the break there one of
the things I noticed is that these county
historical societies they’re often scattered. There are long
distances between them so you don’t have the time
necessarily to collaborate. But I suspect as you
pull together you’re finding a lot of
things that you have in common, a lot of
things that you could work on. – Absolutely. We all struggle with
the same things as far as too little
storage space, not enough volunteers, not enough of
a budget to do projects. But it’s just great
to hear, you know, successes that
people are having at their museums and
then, you know, how we can implement
those at our own museums. – Yeah, well and
as you work through this traveling
exhibit and the other collaborative projects
you hope to do, what do you think a lot
of the impact will be for the people who
come to actually see the museums and see
the collections? – Well I think a lot
of people don’t realize that every county in
Minnesota has a county historical society
and most counties have more than just
the county museum where they have a
community museum as well. So, you know, getting
people to realize that there are museums
working to preserve the history of their area
and I hope that the traveling exhibit will
bring people in and realize that we are
working across our borders and telling the
story of not only our our county but the region
and the state of Minnesota. – Yeah. Well and of course
we’ve heard a lot of attention over the
last few years about WWI, you know, exhibits
and there certainly have been some all
over the country in various places because
of the 100th anniversary. What do you think it
is that’s gonna be really special about
it for the people of you know, whether it’s
Western Minnesota, or Eastern Dakotas
or Northwester Iowa; the rural people that
come to these things. What do you think
they might see that would surprise them? – Well I know in our
own personal collection at the Lion County
Museum we don’t have a lot on WWI in our
archives or in our collection so I’m hoping
that this traveling exhibit will help us
achieve by getting some more artifacts
into our collection, maybe people will
realize, you know, I have something in
my basement or attic that might fit
with your exhibit. Maybe getting that
communication out that we’re looking for
more things to add to our collections. – Sure. Let’s explore that a little bit. When you talk about
things that people might bring forward,
’cause they may make assumptions either
about what is or what isn’t in a collection,
what are the sort of things that people
really should consider coming forward with? – Items that have a
personal story to them. And a story that
people can relate to are really important. For example, we have
a lot of objects in our collections that
don’t have a story which aren’t as
meaningful but diaries, journals, photographs, you know, something that has a
personal attachment to it really
resonates with people. And when we have
those items on display you know, people will
at least have some kind of a reaction to it. – Do you find that a
lot of people may sort of underestimate the
value or the interest in what they have
before they bring it forward? – I believe so. You know, some people
may think it’s not worth any value and
maybe just toss it out. So I think the best thing
is to contact people at these historical
societies and just ask them first; is this
something of value? For example, it may
be an old school photograph or it could
be a letter from the 1930s, it could be valuable. It’s just great to you
know, offer it first. – Well and of course
when we talk about personal stories the
idea of something like Betty’s diary
comes to mind as the most concrete
example of the story. But there may be other
things where there is say just a letter
or a note and artifact that go together. Right? It’s not necessarily all
about a lot of words. It may be just a few
words that ties to something, right? – Absolutely. And it’s great that by
getting the word out that we’re doing this
traveling exhibit and when Betty came
forward with this diary I’m hoping that more
people come forward with their own stories. ‘Cause like I said,
WWI we don’t have as much on the Veterans
from our area that served in that war
compared to WWII and later. – Sure. And of course in
some cases people may have something but
they don’t even know what era it is. Do you find that sort
of thing where people say, I don’t know what
this uniform is or where it’s from or how
it got into my house but here it is, and
that’s the sort of thing where you could perhaps
help them identify what it is? – Absolutely. – And tell me about,
I mean a lot of people may identify a
uniform but sometimes even smaller artifacts
that they may not realize that are
connected to the war maybe a part of a
kit that someone had; are those things also
the sort of things that you would
want people to come forward with? – I think those are
things that we can investigate further
and see if we have something similar in
our own collections. And to do some
work at some other historical societies. The Minnesota Historical
Society is a great asset for figuring
out what these items are and if they
are of any value. – What about photographs? Because one of the
things that I’ve noticed in talking to
people who care about history is that
we’ve seen such a tremendous improvement
in recent years in what people can
do with photographs through digital restoration. Are you finding those
kinds of things, that people come
forward with photographs that at one point
perhaps they thought might not have been
good enough to show but now they do
bring them forward? – I haven’t seen too
much of it at our own museum but I’m sure
it’s happened at other museums. I know a lot of people
are wondering if we’d want to take
unidentified photographs. I get that question more. But even unidentified
photographs of people that we don’t
know who they are, you can still get
something from those photographs for
education purposes. – Sure. Jennifer in the last
couple of minutes that we have left here
before we move on to our next segment I want to
talk just a bit about, you know, the exhibit. I know you’re talking
about this is 2017 going into 2018
as we look at the 100th anniversary
of the United States entrance into WWI. How can people learn
more about these exhibits and find
out more about them? – Well, we do have
a Facebook page. We are gonna work
on a website to get the West Central
Minnesota Historical Association name out there. And to get the word
out that these 10 counties are
collaborating together. I know each of our
own museums, we are getting it out in our
own newsletters to members about the,
what we’re working on. And it should be the
end of this month that we find out
about the next Legacy Grant for the next phase. – Okay, and of course
we should mention you are at the Lion
County Historical Society in Marshall. I know in the story
we saw folks in Wilmer at the Candy Yo
Hi County and that there are a number
of other counties as well. So if they would like
more information they can talk to their
local county historical society, right? – Yes. – In whatever county they’re in. Great. Okay I also want to
say too that you talked about the Minnesota
Historical Society and of course people
who want to go and find out more
information about the anniversary of the
historical society, state historical society,
whether it’s in Minnesota or the Dakotas or
Iowa, also very good place for folks to start
learning about this. Right? – Yes. Absolutely. – [Voiceover] So they
can just Google the Minnesota Historical
Society or others and they’ll be in good shape? – Yeah. – Okay, great. Jennifer Andres
thank you very much for being with us
today on Compass. – Thank you. – Now we will introduce you to Michael Lansing. Mr. Lansing joined us
int he studio a few weeks ago to discuss
the history of agriculture in his new book, Insurgent Democracy:
The Non-Partisan League in North
American Politics. Today on Pioneer we have with us Professor Michael J. Lansing of Augsburg College. Author of a new
book that’s of great interest to people
in agriculture. Insurgent Democracy:
The Non-Partisan League in North
American Politics. Professor Lansing,
thank you for something to Pioneer. – Thanks so much for having me. – You know I was so
excited to hear about this book because
I remember watching a film about the
Non-Partisan League in college more than 30 years ago. And it was at that time
the Non-Partisan League was discussed as something you said, oh my gosh, this
is so interesting to hear about what some
people call the most important farm
protest movement in North American
history, but yet so few people know about it today. What is the Non-Partisan League? – Well, the Non-Partisan
League was a membership based,
platform oriented organization that
was involved in party politics but chose
not to be a party. Kind of unusual when
you think about it in our day and age. – Yeah, and so the
Non-Partisan League, it’s focus was really
on agriculture and agricultural movements
and it really got its start in a big
way in North Dakota. Right? – That’s right. It starts in Western
North Dakota in 1915 and it’s organized by farmers. Farmers who had
spent years working together in cooperative moments. In particular a
movement called the Equity Movement. And these farmers
had worked to create not just local
cooperative elevators and other services for
years, but were trying to create a terminal
grain elevator in Minneapolis or St.
Paul, Duluth, some location where they could
get a fair price for their grain because
the Minneapolis milling and transportation
interests were really taking it to them. – I remember when
I watched the film Northern Lights
what came through very strongly int he
film and you refer to it in your book, was that
there was a strong narrative structure
that made it very clear that this was a group
of people who felt that a lot of their economic
interests were, you know, falling,
you know, that they’re falling on the wrong
side of things because there were out of
state interests. In the case of North
Dakota they really looked to Minneapolis
as being the source of many of their troubles. So what was the
triggering event in that that really tipped some
of these organizers to say, we’ve got
to do something? – Well I think for the
organizers it was when North Dakota’s state government essentially refused
the will of the people. In 1912 and again in
1914 the voters in North Dakota had
decided that they wanted some kind of state
owned terminal elevator wether it was in the
state of North Dakota or one of these other
locations outside the state. But something that
would be owned by state government. In other words,
owned by the people. And therefore when
the state legislature continued to drag their
heels they decided that they kind of had
to start over with the whole thing. They had to get into
electoral politics, that a cooperative
moment that focused just on economic
issues would not be enough. – [Voiceover] And
what year was that? – That’s 1915, February
of 1915 is when the league gets started. – So it’s an appropriate
time to talk about it now as we look at
the anniversary of these things and all of
this activity and they had tremendous success
in North Dakota. There were a lot of
people in Minnesota. I know when I looked
at a map one time of the Pioneer viewing
area I looked at some of the Non-Partisan
League activities there, there was a lot of
activity in other areas. So how did that movement
spread then from North Dakota into
Minnesota after that point? – Well it spread
deliberately in most cases. Actually the first
place that the league spreads to outside
of the state of North Dakota is
Saskatchewan and that was just some farmer who
had lived in North Dakota for many years
and then at that point was living in
Swift Current, decided this was a great idea. And even though the
political context was different many of the
economic situations that farmers in
Saskatchewan and Alberta were facing were
pretty much the same. And in fact Minneapolis
Millers owned over 50% of the
wheat market and all the wheat trading
companies in Winnipeg which was the big Canadian grain trading center. So that’s just one
farmer taking the model north of the border so to speak. But the leaguers
themselves very quickly realized that the other
parts of the upper midwest and northern
plains that were a part of the Hinterland
of Minneapolis, part of the grain
growing area like Western Minnesota,
like Eastern Montana, like parts of South
Dakota, that these were prime locations. And sure enough they
find all kinds of farmers here in
Western Minnesota for instance that are
really interested. By 1917 they decide
to move their headquarters from
Fargo to St. Paul. And when that happens
the big businesses in Minneapolis and
St. Paul get really interested, really
scared I would say. And in fact, that’s
when you start to see real resistance to
the league emerging. But by then the
league was starting to organize in places like Nebraska and Kansas and
Idaho in particular. The league was very
strong in Idaho. Something that I think
is pretty foreign to those of us here
int he upper midwest. And then finally
Colorado was a really important place for
the league by 1920. So the league eventually expands operations into 13
states and that’s one of the things that the
book tries to do is reclaim this much
broader kind of sweep of the league’s appeal
and the fact that farmers who weren’t
necessarily wheat farmers got interested
in this idea around the genius of this
non-partisan idea and it’s approach to politics. – Sure, and then I
think for many people who have become
familiar with the league by reading over
the last few years, there hasn’t been a
lot written about it. Of course Northern
Lights got attention when it came out in
1978 and it did well on the coasts, had
some play in the midwest and I know
for people in the Pioneer viewing area
that I’ve talked to about the film,
they’ve seen it. They may not have
seen it for years but they loved the fact
that it had this marvelous realism about
it that they could see in the characters
in the film. The sort of people
that they grew up with, the farmers that
they knew and the way that they talked. And clearly that was
the greatest success in that area was
in North Dakota. What are some of
the legacies of that for today? Obviously North Dakota,
the North Dakota Mill is one of them. – Yeah, the mill and
elevator in North Dakota which actually
just announced a big expansion. The state bank in
North Dakota of course is a living legacy to
what I think is probably the most successful
agrarian movement in American history. And those three
legacies are just, they’re physical,
they’re embodied in our landscape today. But the league had a
number of other kind of outcomes in other places. Here in Minnesota of
course it ultimately helps organize a
coalition between farmers and organized labor. Not a natural coalition
when you think about it. Wage workers and cities
and smaller towns with people on farms. In many cases in
decades before they have found themselves in
opposition to each other but they come
together in the late teens and early 1920s
here in Minnesota. And of course the
league eventually becomes the farmer wing of the Farmer Labor Party. And the Farmer Labor
Party would go on in the late 1920s,
1930s to really become Minnesota’s second
party because they were so much stronger than the Democratic party. They were competing
with the Republican Party on a pretty
regular basis into the 1930s and early 1940s. – And sometimes
when you look at the sort of alphabet
soup of political nomenclature in Minnesota
or North Dakota, North Dakota you will
see, and you know, for years you would
say NPL as attached and similar in Minnesota
it says DFL after it. So, you know, one of
the lingering legacies of this is clearly
there were those people who, there was a
farmer movement and a labor movement, North Dakota, Minnesota, and so
there were these coalitions that people
may not understand now but the legacy is
still very clearly there. – Yeah, the Non-Partisan
League is the antecedent to the
farmer labor tradition here in Minnesota and
it’s really important I think to reclaim those
rural origins and it’s the farmers that
actually pushed organized labor into this coalition. Organized labor has
its own interests in doing so by 1920
here in Minnesota. But the idea for
non-partisanship, the idea that eventually becomes
this third party movement here it
grows out of the Non-Partisan League experience. And by the way, that
is replicated in Montana where there’s
a labor farmer coalition that becomes
important in politics in the early 1920s. Colorado the league
becomes a big player in the 1920 gubernatorial
election through a farmer labor coalition. In Idaho a third
party is created, the Progressive Party,
that’s what they call themselves and it
was a combination of farmers and laborers. And then finally in
Alberta the Non-Partisan league got powerful
enough that it pushed the cooperative
movement there which had tried to avoid
politics, into politics. That was the United
Farmers of Alberta, and they took over
the province in 1921 and ran it for over a decade. In the couple minutes
that we have left Professor Lansing,
I’d like to talk about there’s a gentleman
that I remember seeing int he film many years
ago, Northern Lights and you mention
him in your book; Henry Martinson. Because he is
someone who grew up in Minnesota and
the opening scenes of the film you see he’s from Sacred Heart, Minnesota. – [Voiceover] That’s right. – And then he went
on from Minnesota to become a major
figure in organizing. Tell us a little bit
about Henry Martinson. – Well so Henry
Martinson had grown up in Renville County
here in Minnesota. But ended up
homesteading on his own as a young man out
west of Minaud, outside of Crosby, North Dakota. Up in Northwestern North Dakota. And while he was
there he, you know, had the normal kind
of homesteading experiences that a
person might have on the northern plains in the early 20th Century. He eventually found
his way to Minaud, and Minaud in the
early 19-teens was actually a pretty
left leaning city. What we would now
call the mayor, the head of the city council
in Minaud in 1914 was Arthur Le
Sueur, probably best remembered today
for being the father of the poet, a
novelist and writer Meridel Le Sueur,
or the step father. Excuse me. But he was effectively
a Socialist and a well known Socialist
across the country. And Henry Martinson
gets pulled into that Socialist Party orbit
and then as the league kind of really
becomes powerful in North Dakota
Martinson is draw from Socialism into this
slightly different organization. Different because it’s
not a party and different ’cause it has a slightly
different ideology. And Martin becomes an
organizer for the league. – Neat. Professor Lansing,
we’re out of time. Thank you for coming in. It’s been great to talk
about the Non-Partisan League and it’s history in
Minnesota/North Dakota. – It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. – Again, the book is
Insurgent Democracy: The Non-Partisan League
in North American Politics by Professor Michael Lansing. Thank you. (light piano music) That’s it for us
this week on Compass. Join us next week as
we take a look at how worksite wellness is
impacting the workforce in Western Minnesota. (light music)

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