Happy National Library Week 2021!

To celebrate National Library Week, we would like to tell you a little bit about a local library.  Not ours – I’m sure you know quite a bit about the services we offer.  The library you should know about is the George Latimer Central Library, located just one block west of the courthouse.

The George Latimer Central Library (“Library”) is the main branch of the St. Paul Public Library system.  It has over 350,000 books and other materials.  The Library was established in 1882 with a collection of over 8000 books.  In 1900, the library moved to a space on 7th Street, but community initiative and an unfortunate fire in 1915 spurred on construction for a new library. 

The building’s architect was Electus Litchfield, a prominent New York architect who is also known for designing the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn and Bellevue Hospital in New York.  The cost for building the new library, including the research library named after notable railroad baron and philanthropist James J. Hill, cost $1.5 million dollars.  The building was completed in 1917 and has been there, across the street from Rice Park, ever since.

In 2014, the library was renamed the George Latimer Central Library, honoring a former mayor of St. Paul.  Mr. Latimer was born in Schenectady, New York and was a graduate of Columbia Law School.  He came to St. Paul in 1963 and practiced law until 1976 when he was elected mayor.  Mr. Latimer served as mayor from 1976-1990, and later served on the Library Board of Trustees from 1998-2012, and as chair from 2008-2012.  In May 2014, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced the renaming of the library, which was received with much enthusiasm.  As Kit Hadley, the former Director of the St. Paul Public Library said,

We are honored to have Mayor Latimer’s name placed on Central Library.  All of Saint Paul has benefitted from his tireless work, from education to affordable housing to helping those in need. There is no more fitting name for this library given Mayor Latimer’s work with the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library and the fact that libraries are active centers for community engagement.

Happy National Library Week everyone! 

 

Dr. William D. Green
Professor of History, Augsburg College

As Black History Month comes to an end, it is the high honor of the Ramsey County Law Library to recognize Dr. William D. Green for his scholarly research and captivating publications about Minnesota African American history.  The winner of two Hognander Awards, Dr. Green has published many works that describe nineteenth and early twentieth century events and individuals that highlight Minnesota’s African American heritage.  The two books that received the Hognander award are The Children of Lincoln: White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity in Minnesota 1860-1876and Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912. The esteemed Hognander award is given biennially as part of the Minnesota Book Awards.  The award is supported by the Hognander Family Foundation, and it recognizes and celebrates the most outstanding scholarly work about Minnesota history published in the previous two years.

Dr. Green also showcases his scholarly endeavors through his fascinating, live storytelling. The law library collaborated with the Ramsey County Bar Association in October 2020 to present Dr. Green’s program about Nellie Francis, featuring his remarkable story of an African American suffragette. The October virtual program was attended by hundreds of attorneys. Dr. Green not only drew from his expansive research about Ms. Francis, but he also provided an enthralling tale through his palpable regard for Ms. Francis and her accomplished life.  Nellie Francis: Fighting for Racial Justice and Women’s Equality in Minnesota was published in January 2021.

In addition to Dr. Green’s books listed above, the law library also has A Peculiar Imbalance: The Rise and Fall of Racial Equality in Early Minnesota available for loan.  However, his research, scholarship, and published work goes far beyond the titles mentioned here.  For Minnesotans and readers around the U.S., Dr. Green’s contributions to African American history and research are a gift for all.

 

The biography of an extraordinary woman

Nellie Francis

Regular readers of our blog will remember the announcement last fall regarding a CLE about Nellie Francis, a local civil rights activist who was instrumental in passing an anti-lynching law in Minnesota and who also worked to bring the right to vote to women.  We are happy to report that the biography of Nellie Francis, written by Dr. William D. Green, Professor of History at Augsburg University, has been published and is available at the Ramsey County Law Library.  This extensively researched book chronicles Nellie’s story, telling us about her family, her friends, her activism, and historical context of the events in her life that influenced her. 

Of particular interest is the information written about her family.  Her grandmother, Nellie Allen Seay, for whom she was named, was a strong influence in her life – so much so that after her husband died of yellow fever, she moved back to Tennessee to live with her.  Dr. Green also detailed information about other family members that were influential in her life, such as her mother, sister, and of course, her husband Billy Francis.  Billy, like Nellie, was heavily involved with the local community, and was friends with Fredrick McGhee, a prominent St. Paul attorney.  Billy eventually took over McGhee’s law practice when McGhee died in 1912.

In addition to telling Nellie’s story through the lives of her family, Dr. Green also writes about the people in her community.  Nellie was a member of many organizations, such as the Everywoman Suffrage Club, the Red Cross Suffrage Group, the Booklover’s Club and Social and Literacy Society of Pilgrim Church, and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, to name a few.  But Professor Green also tells the reader about other prominent people she worked with in these groups.   Not only did Nellie meet and work with both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, she met several U.S. presidents, including President Taft and President Harding.  But she also worked with other women, like Clara Ueland and Mary Church Terrell, on civil rights issues and the women’s suffrage movement.

Nellie’s story is also told in the context of major events in Minnesota, the most infamous being the lynching of three Black men in Duluth in 1920.  The next year, she helped to enact the state’s anti-lynching legislation, which was passed on April 20, 1921.  This well-researched book also describes the start of the restrictive covenants that were cropping up in Minneapolis and St. Paul and how it impacted Nellie and her husband when they tried to buy a house in a White neighborhood.  (Neighbors offered them a thousand dollars to not move in.  They did anyway.)  

To learn about a remarkable woman and learn more about Minnesota history, as well as the history of important African Americans in Minnesota, please do read this new book, Nellie Francis:  Fighting for racial justice and women’s equality in Minnesota by Dr. William D. Green.  This book is available at the Ramsey County Law Library.

 

Nellie Francis and the right to vote

Picture of Nellie Francis

Nellie Francis, photo courtesy of The Appeal newspaper, via Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/image/49700184/, circa 1921

 

Please join us (virtually) for a CLE to learn about Nellie Francis, a key activist in the suffragist movement in Minnesota.  Dr. William D. Green of Augsburg University will speak on her remarkable life and achievements.

Thursday, October 1, 2020
12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
1.0 Elimination of Bias Credit
FREE for all attendees
This event is virtual only.

Ms. Francis was born in Nashville in 1874 and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota with her family when she was 11.  She was interested in civil rights at an early age, and won a high school speech contest when she spoke on the topic of  “the race problem,” which she described as one that existed entirely in the minds of white Americans.  After graduation, she was heavily involved with her community, as she was an excellent vocalist and sang in the community, was a teacher at her church, and helped get money for a new organ for the church from Andrew Carnegie.  In addition, she was very active in promoting the civil rights of African Americans and had met many prominent Black leaders, such as W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington.

To learn about her activities relating to women’s suffrage, please register for the CLE this Thursday.

Registration information at the Ramsey County Bar Association CLE Calendar.  A flyer about the program is located here.

 

 

 

 

In the most recent issue of the Ramsey County History magazine, Ramsey County Chief Judge John H. Guthmann’s piece on Clara Anderson is one of the featured articles. In this well-researched article, he describes the circumstances that led up to Ms. Anderson’s case, clearly explains the legal arguments that supported her case, and then outlines the changes to the law after she lost her final appeal in the Minnesota Supreme Court in the late spring of 1948.

Long-time readers might remember this bit of Ramsey County history from a previous blog post, but here is a quick reminder of who was Clara Anderson, and why her case is so interesting. Ms. Anderson started as a waitress at the Frederic Hotel in St. Paul, MN in 1936. In 1940, she changed jobs, and was then identified as a bartender at the same hotel. Her salary increased dramatically; as a waitress she received $45 a month (plus tips), but as a bartender, her pay increased to $200, with her room, board, and meals included.

When World War II ended and men came back from the war, they found that many of the jobs at home were being performed by women. Bartender unions, many with “male-only” membership requirements, pressured governments across the county to ban women from the lucrative bartending positions so that their male members could step into these jobs. The St. Paul City Council, with the strong encouragement of the St. Paul’s Bartender Union Local 287, passed Ordinance 8604 which prevented women (except for the owner’s wife) from tending the bar.  Understandably upset at the prospect of losing her job, Ms. Anderson sued the City of St. Paul.

We encourage you to read Judge Guthmann’s article to find out more about the case, and what happened afterwards. (Hint – eventually, St. Paul amended Ordinance 8604 in 1970.) In addition to the excellent research, the article has many pictures showing pictures of the judges, attorneys, and parties in the case, as well photos of historical downtown St. Paul. And a small plug for the law library: There is nice picture of Judge Carlton McNally, who was the first judge to weigh in on Ms. Anderson’s case. The portrait is part of the Ramsey County Law Library’s Judicial Portrait collection.

 

March is Women’s History Month

Her Honor

 

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which legalized a woman’s right to vote.  In Minnesota, 1922 was the first year that women could run for office in the Minnesota legislature, and four of the eight women candidates who ran for office won.  In the book Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement author Lori Sturdevant provides intriguing and interesting facts about the twentieth century women’s movement in Minnesota:

  • The Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association agitated for the full enfranchisement of women for forty years before achieving success.  The organization morphed into the Minnesota League of Women Voters.
  • Cornelia “Coya” Gjesdal Knutson—12 years Rosalie’s senior—was born on a farm in North Dakota.  Despite family struggles, she rose to political significance by financing her own campaign for election to the U.S. Congress, which she won in 1954, becoming the first woman in Minnesota to do so.  Sadly, her 1958 re-election bid failed due to false statements made about her family life and troubled marriage—attributed to her DFL colleagues and husband.  Coya Knutson was a victim of the inherent sexism of her time.
  • Rosalie Wahl went to law school by financing her own way; her family was well-established by then, and yet she gave birth to a fifth child while in law school.  Overcoming many obstacles, defeats, and triumphs, Rosalie became the first woman justice appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1977.  Her appointment came amidst Minnesota’s politically active feminists maneuvering for political office.
  • After her appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Justice Wahl “viewed her role as helping her colleagues see justice from the bottom up—that is, from the vantage not only of women, but also of disadvantaged people of all kinds, including those accused of serious crimes.”  In 1987, the “Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force for Gender Fairness in the Courts” was established; it was headed by Justice Wahl.
  • Justice Wahl retired from the supreme court on August 31, 1994.  She involved herself in community service, including leadership training for young women.  She lived to see more women take on leadership roles in Minnesota: Kathleen Blatz was elevated to first woman Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Amy Klobuchar was elected Minnesota’s first woman U.S. Senator; and DFLer Betty McCollum was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since voters sent representative Coya Knutson home in 1958.

Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement is available for check-out from the Ramsey County Law Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diversity in the Bar Association: Then and Now

This photo of the bench and bar of Ramsey County from 1958 was donated to the Law Library by Tom  Boyd.

This photo of the bench and bar of Ramsey County from 1958 was donated to the Law Library by Tom Boyd.

On Monday, September 24, the Ramsey County Law Library and the Ramsey County Bar Association sponsored a CLE entitled Diversity in the Bar Association:  Then and Now.  The CLE featured four speakers: Thomas Boyd, Winthrop and Weinstine, PA;  Emeritus Professor Douglas Heidenreich, Mitchell Hamline College of Law; Paul Nelson, attorney, historian, and author; and Honorable Nicole Star, Second Judicial District.  Preregistration for the program indicated about 20 for this session, but many spur-of-the-moment attendees filled the north reading room.

The program started with Tom Boyd presenting to the law library a photograph of the membership of the Bench and Bar of Ramsey County from 1958.  The photograph was received by John Trojack, Chair of the Law Library Board of Trustees.

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Mr. Boyd then went on to give a brief overview of diversity (and the lack thereof) in the early years of the Bar Association.

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He was followed by Professor Heidenreich, who described how discrimination within the bar association started in the law schools.

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Professor Heidenreich was followed by Mr. Nelson, who continued with brief biographies of four well-known African American attorneys in the early years of Minnesota. Frederick McGheeCharles Scrutchin, William R. Morris, and James Anderson.  (Note of interest, Mr. Nelson is the author of a book about Frederick McGhee, and if you would like to read it, both the Ramsey County Law Library and the Minnesota State Law Library have copies.)

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The session concluded with Judge Starr speaking about her experiences, and she referenced the MSBA Diversity Strategic Plan as a resource for identifying ways to increase diversity and inclusiveness.

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For a better look at the photo of the Bench and Bar presented by Tom Boyd, please visit the Ramsey County Law Library.

 

Courthouse

As President Trump interviews his short list of U. S. Supreme Court candidates, various media outlets inundate us with the political overtones and sneak previews of who might be nominated.  The notoriety and long-term significance of a Supreme Court Justice are historic in American government. Even George Washington, in his 1789 letter to John Jay (the first Chief Justice) stated “It is with singular pleasure that I address you as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, for which your commission is enclosed….and I have a full confidence that the love which you bear to our country, and a desire to promote the general happiness, will not suffer you to hesitate a moment to bring into action the talents, knowledge and integrity which are so necessary to be exercised at the head of that department which must be considered as the keystone of our political fabric.”

Minnesota has the distinction of having sent three notable men to the U.S. Supreme Court.  They are Pierce Butler (1923-1939), Warren Burger (1969-1986) and Harry Blackmun (1970-1994).  These three Justices also had ties to St. Paul and Ramsey County, according to  For the Record: 150 Years of Law & Lawyers in Minnesota (Minnesota State Bar Association, 1999):

Pierce Butler—although he was born in Dakota County, he moved in 1887 to St. Paul and joined a law firm before being elected Ramsey County attorney in 1893 and 1895.  He maintained a private practice in the law firm Butler, Mitchell, & Doherty. President Warren Harding nominated Butler to the Supreme Court in 1923.

Warren Burger—born in St. Paul, Burger attended the St. Paul College of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1931. He joined the St. Paul law firm of Boyesen, Otis, Brill & Faricy.  He was later appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.  In 1969 Richard Nixon nominated Burger to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Harry Blackmun—Blackmun graduated from St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School and then attended Harvard.  In 1932 his first job out of law school was with Judge John Sanborn at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; Sanborn had been a Ramsey County judge in the early 1920s. Blackmun also served as an adjunct professor at the St. Paul College of Law.  President Richard Nixon nominated Blackmun to the Supreme Court in 1970.

 

 

Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court JusticesThe beginnings of Minnesota’s judicial system could hardly be more humble. In fact, its central player was anything but a respected legal figure.

Minnesota was established as a territory in 1849.  Prior to that time there were local justices of the peace in the area, who likely thought they handled local justice needs just fine, thank you.  But the day Minnesota’s territory status became official, President Zachary Taylor appointed David Cooper and Bradley Meeker as justices to the territorial supreme court, and Aaron Goodrich as its chief justice.  Goodrich’s selection was probably a return favor for the campaigning Goodrich had done to get Taylor elected.  Goodrich was a native of New York who later moved to Tennessee.  He likely would never have studied law, but the failure of his family’s bank in 1838 probably motivated him to complete his legal studies while in Tennessee.  He was one of the last members of the Whig Party, and was serving in the Tennessee Legislature when he was appointed to Minnesota’s territorial supreme court.

This ad hoc bench of three justices was predictably informal.  Minnesota territory had been split into three judicial districts, and each of the three justices served as the district judge for one of the districts.  Then, the three together would make up the higher court.  Goodrich presided over Minnesota’s first, or Stillwater district, with St. Paul’s Mazurka Hall serving as the “courthouse.”   This building left much to be desired, as litigants once needed umbrellas due to failure of the leaky roof to keep out a rainstorm.  Apparently Goodrich was also known to nurse a glass of liquor and a wad of tobacco as he presided over his court.  Meanwhile, American House in Saint Paul would serve as the first “judicial center” for the territorial supreme court, but the second and third terms were moved to the local Methodist Episcopal Church. (This interesting article about Goodrich reported that the local gossip was that Goodrich’s relationship with the landlady of American house was more than just business.)

Goodrich himself accomplished little to establish himself as a popular legal figure.  To start, he had been tasked by a commission to prepare a system of codified law for Minnesota, but he was not a fan of either law’s codification or its strict application. (Read his dissent in Dosnoyer v. Hereux 1 Minn. 17 (1950) to understand his frame of mind.)  The result was a loose collection of provisions, one stating that questions not otherwise answered in his written compilation should be resolved by the “ancient statutes.” There was also a general dissatisfaction with him among locals, and subsequent lobbying to have him removed.  Even territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey believed that Goodrich possessed “utter incapacity for his place.”   President Fillmore assumed the presidency in upon the death of Taylor in 1850, and removed Goodrich for what he referred to as his “incompetency and unfitness.”  Goodrich practiced law after his removal, but his most notable client, Souix Indian “Zu-ai-za,” would be convicted of murder and hanged in Minnesota’s first official execution.  He made few friends when he later wrote a book attacking the character and motives of popular historical explorer Christopher Columbus.  Goodrich was also a charter member of the Minnesota Historical Society, however, and one of the founders of Minnesota’s Republican party.

The fact that we expect a certain competence and decorum from our judicial officers may be more than just a craving for fancy formality.  It may have been partly the result of the relatively poor impression made by Minnesota’s first chief justice.  To learn more of this piece of Minnesota history, consider checking out Testimony: Remembering Minnesota’s Supreme Court Justices, written and published by the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society.  Meanwhile you can read this excellent William Mitchel Law Review article.

 

 

 

Minnesota Capitol from Ramsey County Law Library

The Minnesota Capitol is visible from the law library

Last weekend the Minnesota Capitol hosted its open house to celebrate its recent extensive renovation and remodel project yet some might be surprised that the 112 year old building is actually Minnesota’s third capitol.  The history and timeframe of Minnesota’s capitols has some interesting parallels to the history of the Ramsey County courthouses. Each has had three buildings, with the present ones standing apart from the rest for their architectural significance and their longetivity. Similarly, their second buildings are both noteworthy for their short lifespans due to dissatisfaction of their users.  You might recall that Minnesota’s original capitol burned to the ground in 1881.  Built in 1854, it had become a patchwork of expansions by the end of its 27-year life.  The second capitol is the one probably most forgotten, for it served in its original capacity for a rather short time. Indeed, the state began planning the third capital in 1893, only ten years after the second one was dedicated.  The third-and-present capitol was completed and occupied in 1905, leaving the second vacated after just 22 years.  Ironically, this second building served another thirty-plus years as meeting space, storage, and parking until its demolition in 1937. This story of short-lived usefulness is similar to the second Ramsey County courthouse, which at least managed to serve its original function for 43 years before it was replaced and demolished.

Why such a short lifetime for a state capitol?  Granted, it had been hastily built, what with the need to replace what had been lost in the fire. The budget for the new capitol was also very lean and strict, with a misdemeanor penalty for exceeding the budget. (Never mind whether or not the finished project would last through the next generation.) Apparently, it was the faulty ventilation that led the push to replace this nearly-new building so shortly after its construction.  It was also postulated that the second capitol was insufficient in that it was little more than a “glorified county courthouse,” and inadequate to represent the grand state that many Minnesotans felt their state was becoming. (Decide for yourself if the capitol then looked like the county courthouse  located down the street.)

Minnesota’s trial-and-error history of building a capitol that could function and inspire through the ages is all the more reason to celebrate this recent renovation project.  If you missed the festivities, you can always take a tour or check out the excellent restoration photos.  Alternatively, track down the new book Our Minnesota State Capitol by Denis P. Gardner.