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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Libraries in Sherburne County

Libraries—“Elk River Should Have One” read the headline from the 1902 Sherburne County Star News newspaper.  Although a subscription based library existed in Elk River since the early 1870s, publicly funded, free libraries were a product of the 1900s.  

In the editorial published by the Star News, the paper explained that a lending library was available from the Minnesota State Library Commission for a minimal price.  For a fee of only one dollar, any community with at least ten taxpayers, could access fifty books.  More books were available for fifty cents per 25 books.  The community to keep the books and loan them out for six months.  The program served not only communities that could now support a free public library, it also aided established libraries that “cannot have frequent accessions of new books.”  This was something new to Sherburne County—a publicly funded, yet free lending library.  

The Minnesota State legislature commissioned the project to provide these libraries in 1899, with the first traveling libraries beginning in January 1900.  It proved to be a significant success.  In 1915 Clear Lake had opened a circulating library inside the Eckstein Drug Store.  Five years later, Mrs. H. E. Craig opened her home in Orrock as a traveling library.  By the end of 1920, the Orrock library boasted 80 volumes.  

In contrast to the free libraries supported by the state, Elk River had created a library association dating back to 1873.  The library was available for dues paying members only, and so became a subscription library.  Early on, the collections of the Elk River Library focused on theatrical works to support a local drama troupe.  Only later did it evolve into a broader, circulating library. 

A free library may have been slow to arrive in Sherburne County.  But once the doors were opened, the access to information was welcome.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Immigrants

Betty Belanger begins her book, From Dairy Farms to Gravel Mines with a very telling quote.  Elizabeth Ekker Rotz said, “this isn’t America, this is miseryca.”  These six words summarize the challenges, difficulties, and problems faced by immigrants coming to America.  In her study of Hungarians in Sherburne County, Betty highlights the local challenges to immigrants.  Although her work is specific to the Hungarian community, it highlights the prejudices and challenges that every immigrant is forced to face. 

She reported: for a long time dental care was not available to immigrants in Elk River.  The only dentist in town refused to see Hungarian patients.  In addition young Hungarian girls were derisively referred to as “gypsies”.   Betty also reported at volunteer, social events, Hungarian women were often given the dirty and heavy work in the kitchens and on clean-up duty. 
 
The prejudice spilled over to significantly impact entire families in the immigrant communities.  Perhaps one of the most well-known stories of Elk River history recalls the fire at the Bedoch family farm where five children were killed.  Only the father and mother survived. Because of the prejudices of the local legal system, the father of the family (a Hungarian immigrant) was suspected of setting the fire and the murder of his five children.  He was held in the St. Cloud jail for five months while the grand jury investigated and finally exonerated him.   

Immigrant life was never easy.  Reports of events like those revealed by Betty Belanger and by others show the immigrant life is often more difficult than it needs to be.