Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors

As I've written elsewhere, given my time at the Initiative, I've developed an interest in Big Data analysis and how this methodology can be applied to history ("the digital humanities"). Specifically, as collections become digitized, the sheer volume of resources ought to inspire historians to find new ways to engage and manage information. While the result will only be as good as the analysis, it has the potential to reveal trends that otherwise may be implied but not obvious. The following tracks the state newspaper mentions of particular keywords -- in this case, names -- of four Minnesota governors: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, and John A. Johnson. For example, every instance in which "John" and "Lind" appear within five words of one another on a Minnesota newspaper page, that page is counted. Searching for variations of how these individuals were addressed (such as "Governor Van Sant" rather than "Samuel Van Sant" or "S.R. Van Sant") yield different counts but the overall trends are the same.

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Governor Floyd B. Olson on Law School Debt

After working a series of odd jobs around the country, in 1914, at the age of 21, Olson returned to Minneapolis and attended night-classes at the Northwestern College of Law (now the William and Mitchell College of Law). The next year he graduated and passed the bar exam. But after doing so, he was sued by his law school over unpaid tuition fees. What happened next is recounted by Joseph Poirier, a college friend and later Minneapolis Municipal Judge (1937-1942): "... I recall that one of the first lawsuits Floyd tried was one in which he was a defendant. He was sued by [the] law school for an alleged unpaid balance on his tuition fee. He defended his own case, and I well recall his defense, in which he was Exhibit One as well as defendant. His argument was: "I know nothing about law, have learned nothing; and while I have been admitted to practice, you can readily see that I am no lawyer. My ignorance of the law, and the way I try this case are clear proofs that I have received nothing by reason of my alleged instruction at this school." And, strange to say, the jury found for him." (32)

Sinclair Lewis and Floyd B. Olson at Breezy Point Lodge

Overlooking Minnesota's Big Pelican Lake is a lodge, a large one, renowned for the visitors it's attracted in its long history. Everyone from actors to governors have stayed there, planting themselves on Breezy Point Resort's long, lumber decks overlooking the lake. It's some of the state's best fishing and also the spot where the author Sinclair Lewis met future-governor Floyd B. Olson for the first, and only, time in 1926. Spending the first half of the year in Kansas City gathering material for his next book in June Lewis headed to Breezy Point to sit down and write. His choice of the northwoods was twofold as it "offered a sophisticated inn where he could get a good meal and drink with Minneapolis' business elite, as well as rustic isolation" (Lingeman 282). When he wasn't writing, Lewis could be found in the lodge doing impressions (as he was known for) or leading guests "in hymn singing around the piano" (Lingeman 285). Many of these he knew by heart since childhood but some came from his time shadowing ministers for what would become Elmer Gantry.

Minnesota’s “Mrs. Peter Oleson is Mrs. Peter Oleson.”

In the early 20th century it was not uncommon for women to identify with their husband's full name and so when women started running for public office it raised an interesting question - how should their names be listed? In Minnesota this question was answered when, in 1922, DNC-member "Mrs. Peter Oleson," Anna Dickie Olesen, announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate. In what would be the state's first direct election of a senator with a full electorate, it was an open question which name would appear on the ballot.