National Society of Colonial Dames of America – Minnesota Chapter
Outing at Oliver Kelley Farm
Outing at Oliver Kelley Farm
Minnesota Dames Facts
Below is a summary of NSCDA/MN history from our founding in 1896 to 1971, from History of The National Society of The Colonial Dames in the State of Minnesota, 1896-1971 written by Elsie Thayer Rider, and A Brief History of The National Society of The National Society of The Colonial Dames in the State of Minnesota, 1972-1996”, written by Georgia Ray Lindeke. Both booklets are available in the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota Historical Society.
The final portion, summarizing our history from 1997 2016, is taken from the narrative written for the 120th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon on Saturday, April 23, 2016 held at the Minikahda Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
 
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1.  
On October 8, 1896 the Minnesota Society was admitted to the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America with 14 charter members. According to National Society records, this made us the tenth non-Colonial state to be admitted.
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2.  
According to our Centennial year history, the first meetings evolved from being rather “meaningless” to writing papers on Colonial history and landmarks, finally settling on an interest in Minnesota history--relations with the Sioux nation, the importance of Fort Snelling and the Mississippi River, fur traders, explorers and early settlers.
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3.  
A most interesting meeting was held at the Sibley House in 1914. Mrs. Mary Schwandt Schmidt, victim of the Sioux uprising in 1862, told of her memories of being a small captive living in a tepee with an adored Indian foster mother. This was so interesting to the Dames that a repeat performance was held with a court stenographer taking down the story verbatim. Copies were sent to the Historical Society and the National Patriotic Service Committee. The Historian for that year recorded, “Altogether we have done a bit of original work with which we may be well satisfied.” (Susan Dunnavan has created a storyboard with some of the history of Mary Schwandt Schmidt. You may have seen it before you sat down for lunch.)
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4.  
During all these years members contributed generously to the projects of the National Society: the War Memorial in Arlington Cemetery for all members of the Armed Forces, the restoration of the church at Jamestown, the George Washington memorial, Sulgrave Manor and “Bellevue”, now called Dumbarton House. Members have been particularly generous in support of Gunston Hall.
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5.  
Heading the list of gifts on record is money sent to the Hospital Ship “Solace” in 1898. The Minnesota Society supported the American Hospital in Paris, France, American Ambulances, Liberty Loans and Comfort Bags. It contributed $1000 to purchase yarn for the Knitters, as well as giving to the Red Cross and War Relief funds. Over half our membership was involved with Red Cross work. One quarter were directors of departments or chairmen of units. Thirty-one Dames gave 750 hours a week to their services.
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6.  
In 1923 we placed a tablet at Itasca State Park to commemorate Henry Schoolcraft’s discovery of the headwaters of the Mississippi. In 1927 we erected a bronze tablet in Governor Alexander Ramsey’s memory at the State Capitol. In the 1930s the Society published two books: Five Fur Traders of the Northwest and Father Louis Hennepin’s Description of Louisiana, translated from the French by Minnesota Dame Marion Cross. Both books are displayed here today.
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7.  
War work began again in 1942. We furnished rooms for the Induction Center at Fort Snelling and made generous donations to War Relief Funds and the U.S.O. in Ketchikan, Alaska. The Minnesota Dames worked in all branches of the Red Cross serving in the Grey Ladies, the Motor Corps, Surgical Dressings, Nurses Aides, Blood Donors, Knitters and Sewers.
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8.  
A major undertaking, begun in 1953 was the annual giving of scholarship aid to foreign graduate students at the University of Minnesota. This scholarship continues to this day, thanks to an endowment from Marion Cross and from Minnesota Dames’ donations.
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9.  
Upon the death in 1964 of Minnesota Dame Miss Anna Ramsey Furness the Alexander Ramsey House and all its furnishings were given to the Minnesota Historical Society with the understanding that the Minnesota Dames be allowed to have three of its members sit on the Board of Governors of the Ramsey House Museum. We now had a museum property without the responsibility of ownership!
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10.  
Elsie Thayer Rider concludes her history of the first 75 years of the Minnesota Dames with this interesting comment: “I am impressed with the changes that have been made through the years. Going to meetings without hats and sometimes without white gloves is symbolic of this change. From an extremely formal Society that tied its annual reports with blue ribbon, sent wide black bordered obituaries to each state upon the death of its president, acknowledged each report, notice and invitation received, we have become much more practical. No one has time to answer endless communications. The methods of achieving our “objects” have also changed; the recommendations given by the National Committee Chairmen are no longer “busy work” but something relevant for historians and present day problems.
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11.  
In the final quarter of our first century, the National Society of The Colonial Dames in the State of Minnesota continued valuable programs and services begun by our predecessors, but our Society also developed new programs in connection with special events, local and national, occurring between the years 1972 and 1996. In addition, Minnesota Dames have continued to fulfill our responsibilities to the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, our parent organization, and to support its national programs in historic preservation, history education, and patriotic service.
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12.  
Minnesota Dames have a long record of independence and originality in our Historical Activities and Patriotic Service programs. For example, we established very early the tradition of honoring our own state history, not just colonial history, in our Historical Activities. And to fulfill the obligation of Patriotic Service, fifty years ago Minnesota Dames developed a scholarship program for foreign students at the University of Minnesota that is unique among all the state societies, and it remains strong today.
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13.  
In cooperation with the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Dames have continued their participation in the management and maintenance of the historic Governor Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul, with particular emphasis upon “the long parlor” as our “museum room”.
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14.  
Minnesota Dames have contributed significant sums each year and provided strong volunteer leadership to maintain and support the NSCDA’s national museum house Gunston Hall in Virginia; the NSCDA’s national administrative headquarters Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C.; and Sulgrave Manor, the home of George Washington’s ancestors in England.
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15.  
During the nation’s Bicentennial 1974-1976, the Minnesota Society participated in two efforts designed for the celebration and sponsored by the National Society. These two projects were: writing biographical sketches of “Women, Colonial and Pioneer,” about women famous in each state’s history; and conducting a pre-1914 national Portrait Survey, to compile a record of portraits by famous artists held in private collections in each state. The completed biographical sketches were added to the archives of the Library of Congress, and the portrait records were submitted to the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian institution in Washington, D.C.
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16.  
The National Society of The Colonial Dames’ Region II Conference was held in the Twin cities in 1976, the Bicentennial year, with Minnesota Dames acting as hostesses.
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17.  
To commemorate Father Hennepin’s visit three hundred years ago to the falls he named “Saint Anthony,” the site of the future Minneapolis, in 1980 the Minnesota Society published a second edition in paperback of Father Louis Hennepin’s Description of Louisiana.
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18.  
Minnesota Dames held a dinner theater benefit in 1989 to raise funds for the Minnesota Historical Society’s new history center. The fillet mignon dinner and play took place at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s members lounge and Crawford Livingston Theater in St. Paul. The evening’s attendance enabled our Society to present $2,000 to the new Minnesota History Center.
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19.  
In April 1994 the NSCDA’s Region II Conference, representing Colonial Dames from seven Midwestern states, met in the Twin Cities, with the Saint Paul Hotel as headquarters. Former Minnesota Society Presidents Carolyn Benepe and Nancy Harris were co-chairmen.
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20.  
To honor the one-hundredth anniversary of our Society in 1996, Minnesota Dames, under the leadership of Marnie Hensel, organized a national tour to Virginia. We also celebrated our anniversary that year with a party on the Mississippi River organized by Betty Chandler and Mary Jo Wachtler aboard the Minnesota Centennial paddle wheel boat.
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21.  
In summary, the Minnesota Society has been loyal to past commitments and responsive to the needs of changing time. Locally and nationally, our image is slowly evolving from quaint, white-gloved, and exclusive to fax-oriented and computer-literate, more welcoming, and more relevant.
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22.  
In the last 20 years the Minnesota Dames have lost a number of long-time members but have gained an equal number of new members, many of whom have become quite active. New member orientations are now offered for new members.
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23.  
Our presidents during this period have been Kandi Osborn, Ruth Huss, Joan Herfurth, Nancy Bergerson, Kitty Petit, Priscilla Brewster, Marnie Hensel and Muffy MacMillan.
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24.  
We continue to support the Ramsey House and the three National properties, the District and Regional scholarships, the Indian Nurse Scholarship and the Minnesota Dames International Student Scholarship at the University of Minnesota.
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25.  
The Patriotic Service Committee now has a strong relationship with the Minnesota Veterans Home to support their needs list.
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26.  
In 2011, the Minnesota Society hosted the Region II Conference in Minneapolis. The same year we were a sponsor for the outstanding “Discover the Real George Washington” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center as well as the PBS production, “Dolly Madison”, produced by Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul.
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27.  
We have designed a Minnesota Dames state pin with the image of a pink Ladyslipper. The Communications Committee launched a newsletter entitled “The Ladyslipper” and the board approved that we have our own website and a Facebook page.
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28.  
In 2013, Minnesota Dames members contributed significantly as individuals to help establish the “Alexander Ramsey House Endowment Fund”. The $650,000 first year goal was met with the generosity of our society and many other donors in the Twin Cities community.
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29.  
In 2014, we began to participate in History Day through the Minnesota Historical Society and have sponsored prizes for essay entries in the area of American Colonial History. Winners have been invited to present their essays at our member meetings.
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30.  
Work was begun and continues on the Minnesota Ancestry Book with ancestral biographies of Minnesota Dames members’ ancestors who contributed significantly to the founding and development of our state, from 1858-1958. As the project progresses look for completed family names in our newsletter, “The Ladyslipper.”
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