News from the State Historical Society of North Dakota
HISTORY FOR everyone.
We love our volunteers!

Volunteers are essential to the quality of service provided by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. In 1981, when the Heritage Center building was opened, a group of volunteers was trained and on hand to give tours of the facility and to staff the information desk and museum store. Within a year, the program expanded to include volunteers who work on special behind-the-scenes projects. Our volunteers work with paid staff throughout the agency on projects of varying degrees of complexity, from those requiring simple skills to the very specialized.

Volunteers Needed!

The Museum Division is looking for a dynamic duo!  We would like a pair of volunteers who can work together to inventory items in the museum collections. One volunteer needs to be comfortable with computers, and we will provide training in the program that we use. The volunteers will be trained on how to handle, inventory, and number the artifacts. Volunteers should be interested in working with museum artifacts and be detailed oriented.  Yes, you will be able to touch the artifacts!  We are requesting a minimum of three hours per week.    

Learn more about this and other volunteer opportunities with the State Historical Society. Contact Beth Campbell, 701.328.2674 or For more information about the volunteer program, visit

Photograph: Volunteers Jeanette Nickisch and Val Otto having fun in the photo booth at the annual volunteer Valentine's Day party in 2016.
"Love sickness is the worst sickness"

The following is excerpted from North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Vol. 75, Nos. 1 & 2.

The Letters of John C. Boren to his wife, Mary Jane Woods Pennell Boren, June-July, 1896
by Barbara Handy-Marchello, Ph.D.

After approximately twenty years of marriage, Mary Jane Pennell Boren left the Menoken Township farm home she shared with her husband John C. Boren to visit family and friends in Illinois. While she was gone, she wrote to her husband, and he wrote to her, but only his letters survive. Boren's letters to his wife are affectionate, but gradually change in tone over the course of three weeks. He orders her to return home by July 20.

"Menoken June 30, 1896, Dak
MJ Boren
Your wellcom letter [of the] 25th is now before me, it['s] contents corfuley perrouse[d]. Glad to learn you are Injoying you self so hugely. You want to remember what I tolde you before you left, visit some & then let some visit you then you wont belikely to make your self sick. Riding thrue the hot sun & changing water so often. Bee affule carfule of your self. If you should take summer complaint it would be likely to kill you - you are so fat you had better lay still and keep cole."

Read more of the Boren letters with an introduction by Barbara Handy-Marchello, Ph.D., here.

On with the Show!

The following is an excerpt from North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Vol. 81, No. 4/Winter 2016. 

WPA Repertory Theater in 1930s North Dakota
by Susan Wefald

In October 1938 several rooms in the new Bismarck High School were a beehive of activity. Talented adult actors were busy rehearsing three productions for a traveling North Dakota repertory theater troupe. Skilled woodcarver Thelma Rudser was putting the final touches on twenty-two hand-carved wooden puppets for the marionette show Uncle Tom's Cabin. Alice Bender, director of the productions, was busy designing costumes and sets for the stage plays The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Hansel and Gretel. Members of a three-piece "orchestra" were rehearsing the musical scores for Hansel and Gretel and Uncle Tom's Cabin

Read the rest of the story in the Winter 2016 issue available for purchase at the North Dakota Heritage Center Museum Store or online at  

Also in this issue:
Mapping the West: Isaac Stevens's 1853 Pacific Railroad Survey Expedition Across Northern Dakota, by Brad Allen

Other recent issues of North Dakota History:

Bringing Baby to Work: The SHSND Infant-at-Work Program
by Wendi Murray

This post will take you way behind the scenes, to talk about the tiniest members of our staff. Many people are not aware that North Dakota state agencies have an “Infant-at-Work Program” (IAWP). I don’t know how it works for other agencies, but I have benefited from it myself at the SHSND and thought the blog would be a good way to share about how it works here.

Very simply, IAWP allows new moms and dads to bring newborns to work every day until the child is six months old. YES. I KNOW. Amazing, right? Since I started here in 2011, I have worked alongside at least eight agency babies, including my own daughter. The policy has some caveats, of course – the baby must be in a safe environment, you cannot travel with the baby in a state vehicle, and the baby cannot be at work if he or she is so loud or disruptive that it affects productivity (our administrators make that decision). Parents also need to provide all necessary furniture or equipment like strollers, cribs, changing supplies, etc. So while it is allowed, parents still need to be mindful and considerate. That is not too much to ask, considering what you get in return.

Read the rest of this blog post here.

Photograph: Amy Munson, grants & contracting officer, was the first parent in our agency to take advantage of IAWP by bringing her son to work in 2006.
"Spirit Trails and Sky Beings: Mythical Scrolls of the Ojibway Nation"

A new temporary exhibit titled “Spirit Trails and Sky Beings” opens Feb. 17 at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck.
The “Spirit Trails and Sky Beings” exhibit shares eight rare birch bark scrolls made by Miskomin, or Richard LaFromboise, an Ojibway traditionalist from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.

Ojibway tradition tells that the epic struggles and great deeds of mythical beings, spirits, and heroes have affected the lives of people. Some of these myths are recorded on birch bark scrolls, using a series of symbols called pictographs, to be passed to future generations and serve as memory aids in telling traditional stories. The scrolls are preserved today in the hands of a few individuals, such as Miskomin, known as “Keepers of the Scrolls.”

The scrolls are expressions of Ojibway culture that teach lessons and values to children as well as adults. The exhibit also shows how to read the scrolls and explores how they are made. 

On exhibit through Jan. 31, 2018, the exhibit was produced by the State Historical Society of North Dakota in cooperation with the North Dakota Council on the Arts.
Admission to this exhibit and rest of the State Museum is free, seven days a week. The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit

Photograph: “Keeper of the Scrolls” Miskomin and hIs wife, Rebecca.
Upcoming events at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum

Little Kids, Big World, 10:30 a.m. Toddlers and preschoolers are invited to this free interactive learning series sponsored by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. These fun, hands-on 30-minute programs introduce children to North Dakota’s fascinating history
Feb. 13 - “I Spy in Double Ditch”
Feb. 20 - “Collection Crazy”  
Feb. 27 - “Dinosaur Discovery"

Museum Underground, 4 p.m. Students are invited to join us for a new interactive program that introduces middle school students to careers at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. Registration for the 45-minute program is required.
Feb. 9 - “Careers in Marketing, Web Design, & Education” Sixth to eighth graders are invited to tour behind the scenes and learn from specialists about web design, publishing, video production, and educational program development.
March 2 - “State Archives,” Sixth to eighth graders meet professionals, tour spaces not normally open to the public, and have opportunities to ask questions as they learn about the tools, skills, and interests needed to work with archive objects.  

Sensational Sundays, 2 p.m.
Feb. 12 - Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, performance presented by Capitol Shakespeare. Additional performances Feb. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. 
Feb. 19 - "U.S. Navy Ships Named for People and Places Connected to North Dakota" with Bob Wefald.

For more information on the programs above, contact Curator of Education Erik Holland, 701.328.2792 or

For more programs sponsored by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, go to


The State Historical Society of North Dakota oversees the State Museum, the Pembina State Museum, and 56 historic sites. Our mission is “to preserve, interpret, and promote the heritage of North Dakota and its people.”

Copyright © 2017 State Historical Society of North Dakota, All rights reserved.

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