Tag Archives: Minneapolis Public Library

Frances Naftalin – Reader, Leader, Feminist and Friend

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.

 These words of Rosalynn Carter well reflect many of the women who have shaped our state’s social, political and cultural environment. The stories of some of these women stand out as subtle threads woven into the fabric of Minnesota’s political history.   Women such as Joan Mondale, Nancy Latimer, Arvonne Fraser and Muriel Humphrey were wives of powerful political leaders; each in her own life embodies Carter’s truth that leadership should be judged by the movement of the minds and hearts of people to “where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

One such leader, Frances Healey Naftalin, died recently died at age 95 in her Minneapolis home. She was memorialized on Valentine’s Day by loving friends and family. Arvonne Fraser, who shared with Naftalin the experience of being typecast as the dutiful wife of an elected official, spoke for many:

She didn’t parade her magnificent intelligence; it simply demonstrated itself in conversations. She read widely, deeply and intensely, and discussed what she was reading about, or had read, with respect and admiration for the author or the subject when it was relevant to discussion. Without condescending to all of us lesser minds, she educated us as she talked, never really realizing that was what she was doing.

Fraser described early politicking for women candidates with Naftalin, recalling how “people listened when Fran talked whether it was about children, politics, the fine arts, her mother…whatever. She neither wasted nor minced words.”

Many of us knew Frances Naftalin best as a peerless advocate for libraries. She served with distinction as President of the Board of the Minneapolis Public Library and was appointed by President Carter to serve on the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. As a member of NCLIS she served with distinction during a turbulent era marked by political challenges to the appointment of some of the Commissioners, including Naftalin – all survived the tempest in the NCLIS teapot, though it did involve Fran’s having to defend her appointment before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.

It was in her role as a member of NCLIS that Fran quietly maneuvered one of her most subtle strategies to “move people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” In 1982, when the information age was more a gleam in the eye than a reality, NCLIS sponsored a national study on Public Sector Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The fledgling information industry managed to skew the final report to the benefit of corporate interests that effectively squelched the public’s right to know and the role of public agencies, including libraries. (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED500878.pdf)

Commissioner Naftalin entered a minority response and grudgingly supported the report on the explicit condition that NCLIS follow up with discussions of the volatile issue of “public sector/private sector interaction.” Naftalin chaired the opening session of the first response, held in Minnesota, sponsored by Metronet and funded by the Minnesota Humanities Commission. At that session she introduced Harlan Cleveland, Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, who chose the occasion to elaborate on his prescient theory of the unique characteristics of “Information as a Resource.” (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/harlan-clevelands-characterization-of-information-as-a-resource/) Cleveland’s formulation reshaped the premise of the report and the offered a new lens through which to view and assess the properties of information as a resource.

Aware that the information and communications environment was poised for massive change, Naftalin had once again proved herself “a great leader (who) takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Reflecting on her early days of politicking with Fran, Arvonne Fraser wrote these words which were read at the memorial service for her friend: “Activists we were…In many ways, we were feminists – the suffragists had preceded us; we were just a bit ahead of the mid-20th century women’s movement.”

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Eileen Cooke, A National Library Week Tribute

With a firm hand and a smile that could charm the toughest solon, Minnesota native Eileen Delores Cooke (1928-2000) shaped and steered the legislative agenda of America’s libraries.  She anticipated the role of telecommunications technology, held firm to the principle of freedom of information, and saw to it that there are public libraries in small towns throughout the nation.

Born in Minneapolis Cooke, graduated from St Margaret’s Academy and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Library Science from the College of St. Catherine.

From 1952 until 1964 Cooke served on the staff of the Minneapolis Public Library – working as a bookmobile librarian, branch assistant, hospital librarian and public relations specialist.  For one year, 1957-58, she took a position as branch librarian at Queens Borough Public Library.

It was probably Cooke’s public relations acumen that caught the attention of Germaine Kretek, legendary director of the political arm of the American Library Association.  ALA, with its main office in Chicago, had long maintained a strong presence in Washington, DC.  In 1964 Cooke moved to DC where she held a variety of positions with the ALA Washington Office, serving as Executive Director for two decades, from 1972 until her retirement in 1993.

The early years of her tenure Cooke described as “a great time for libraries.”  The Kennedy administration set a high priority on libraries, which the Johnson Administration continued.  The passage of the Library Services and Construction Act in 1964 marked a time of great library development, particularly support for small and rural public libraries.  The next years saw passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that included generous appropriations for school libraries.  The Medical Library Assistance Act followed in 1966 along with the Higher Education Act of the same year, both of which included unprecedented funding for library support.

Each of these political accomplishments reflects the strategic approach and influence of the ALA Washington Office and of its Executive Director.  Cooke herself described the philosophy and style of the Washington office as being firmly anchored on a commitment to “persistence, persuasion and planning.”

Not one to rest on the organization’s political laurels Cooke worked with library leaders to anticipate and hold at bay the changes that were to come with the next administration.  One notable accomplishment was establishment of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science in 1970.  NCLIS led in time to two White House Conferences on Library and Information Services, both of which engaged a inclusive  public of library users and supporters, along with administrators and board members.

Cooke’s approach was to emphasize the importance of not only engaging but also training staff, board members and the public in the tools of effective politics.  Today library buildings and networks thrive because of the groundwork Cooke laid decades ago.

Still, her legacy far exceeds bricks and mortar.  Among other commitments, she was a formidable supporter of the Copyright Revision Act of 1976, working tirelessly for fair-use provisions of the copyright law, which required revision to respond to demands of evolving media.

In 1978 when the future of the Internet and the role of telecommunications was a gleam in the eye of futurists, Cooke was elected the first woman president of the Joint Council on Educational Telecommunications.

Perhaps best known for her encyclopedic knowledge of the facts and her dependability as a resource, Cooke was also an excellent communicator.  Her public relations background and innate ability led her to write extensively for a host of library-related journals, including the ALA Washington Newsletter, a timely and habitually read information pipeline.

In addition Cooke recognized the way that libraries could collaborate with organizations and projects set on parallel paths – listening to their goals and pointing out the overlap of interests, whether with the needs of older Americans, school media professionals, literacy providers, proponents of library services to American Indian tribes, the National Periodicals Center, services for people with disabilities, preservationists or scholars.

On the occasion of Eileen Cooke’s retirement in 1993, former ALA President and Director of the District of Columbia Public Library, Hardy Franklin, described her as the “51st State Senator on Capitol Hill.”

After her retirement Cooke returned to her birthplace in Minneapolis.  There she found time to enjoy the arts, including her own watercolor painting.  She participated in activities at her alma mater, the College of St. Catherine.  And well into her 70’s Cooke took on the awesome challenge of learning to drive for the first time in her life!

Cooke died April 30, 2000.  On June 30 of that year Congressman Major Owens (D NY) rose to pay tribute before his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives:

As a result of Eileen Cooke’s efforts the library profession moved into the mainstream of the political process.  She demanded that the federal government recognize and respect libraries as universal institutions in our democratic society which deserve greater and more consistent support….

With indefatigable optimism Eileen Cooke worked with Members of Congress, staff assistants, educational and cultural organizations, and all others who supported education and libraries… 

She was a fighter capable of hard-nose analysis but always focused and deliberative.  She was a coalition builder who won both fear and admiration from her adversaries.  Above all she had vision and could see far ahead of the government decision-makers.  She understood the nature of the coming “information superhighway” and could predict the vital role of libraries and librarians as the traffic signals on this expressway into the cyber-civilization of the future.

The work of Eileen D. Cooke benefits all Americans.  She has won the right to be celebrated and saluted as a Great American Point-of-Light.

In commemoration of Eileen Cooke’s commitment to open government the American Library Association continues to sponsor the Eileen Cooke State and Local Madison Award, conferred on Freedom of Information Day, held each year on March 16 to honor the birth date of President James Madison.

Women on the Homefront – Classic WWII Posters at the Library

 

Grow your own Cana Your Own

Grow your own Cana Your Own

It was a poster from the Kittleson Collection on exhibit in the Minneapolis Central Library Hosmer Collection that spurred my reflections. The World War II-era posters depicts a loving mom and daughter, their gentle exchange as they plant their Victory Garden, the little girl‘s optimism as they work together to support the War effort. Peaceful, full of life and hope.

That, I realized, was the contribution of my mother and millions of other women to the War effort. Though we know the stories of the 36% of American women who shouldered heavy labor during the War, we overlook the fact that those women were also rearing families alone while their husbands and sons were fighting overseas

Even further buried in time are the stories of the two-thirds of American moms and wives whose legacy remains unheralded. Theirs was the day-to-day life of feeding, clothing, caring for a family, often an extended family, during the war. American women on the home front were valiant contributors to the War effort in subtle, domestic, ordinary ways that escape the notice of war historians and of the federal agencies that take a lead in promoting March as Women’s History Month. All during WHM I have found myself reflecting on their contributions.

At the outset of the War an article published in the New Republic advised readers that “For the coming year, at least half our productive effort must be spent making things that citizens cannot eat, wear, or live in – making things for military use.” (1)

Writing directly to homemakers, the popular magazine Good Housekeeping advised their readers that “every item of our apparatus…is now at our Government’s command.” Then GH calmly assured homemakers that “There is another obligation that we will recognize: that of being anti-hysterical.…We will try to remember that entertainment and instruction and homely advice must continue….While we are fighting to win, we shall try to know that love will stay in the world;…that life in American homes must go on and will go on.” (2)

GH need not have worried; these ladies definitely did not resort to hysteria. And they didn’t just cope. Women became active learners – learning to garden, to cook creatively, to sew, to sell not apparel but war bonds, to operate canteens, and to do those domestic tasks that had heretofore been classified as “men’s work.” The exercised creative heroism in an environment in which tools and household basics were at a premium and the local handyman was fighting for his country.

Historian Doris Weatherford writes that American women made “rationing a topic of daily conversation thereby educating themselves rapidly” largely cooking, sewing, shopping, rationing, gardening, and other getting-by tricks of the homemaker’s trade..

Rationing

Rationing

Rationing was both a puzzle and a mighty challenge. Food rationing was a daily reality – sugar, coffee, meats, fats including butter, fish, cheese are just some of the basics that were rationed. Substitute foods such as dried powdered eggs and liquid paraffin to replaced cooking oil were the order of the day. Meat, poultry and fish were all in short supply – even with the introduction of Spam to the American diet. Dependable refrigeration was poor and replacement was unthinkable, so most food was preserved in recyclable tin cans.

Rationing also covered tires, gas, bicycles, shoes, rubber, including rubber pants, the precursor of disposables, fuel oil and kerosene. Though milk was never rationed, canned milk became the household staple for families that lacked refrigeration when steel, not milk, was rationed. Ration coupons were the coin of the realm and penalties were strict.

Conservation recycling altered virtually every daily routine. Since plastic was not yet the bête noire of environmental conservation, the challenge was more basic – crushing and recycling tin cans to be turned into munitions, bottles returned to the milkman for reuse, saving cooking fat to make soap.

Victory gardens were not just for the natural food purist but the basic source of produce for the family dinner table. At one point during the War fifty percent of the nation’s vegetables were grown in victory gardens. To lighten the load women created competitions for the gardens and for recipes that featured produce from the backyard of community garden.

The War Production Board became the nation’s premier clothing consultant. They influenced the appearance of civilian apparel by dictating the conservation of cloth and material, changing the style, especially women’s garments. Weatherford writes that “adult clothing made its wartime adjustment primarily in the promotion of fashions that used less fabric, heedless of the implication that new fashion guidelines implied new clothes.” One story is that fabric rationing led to the design of women’s two-piece bathing suits which Neiman Marcus was quick to market as “patriotic chic” beachwear.

Women also led the volunteer front. The Red Cross, the Office of Civilian Defense, serving at recreation centers and canteens, and constantly pitching war bonds were just one of women’s routine tasks.

In spite of the fact that women bore the brunt of fighting the War on the home front, they had little or no say in the regulation-making process. Women ‘s involvement in the decision-making didn’t begin until the rules were in place and women were brought on board as volunteers to deal with the public and otherwise implement the rules.

Though my reflections on women on the home front will continue, my goal was to make the Women’s History Month deadline. Still, I’m eager to learn more about the stories that that those posters, preserved in the Kittelson Collection, dredged to the surface.

I’m now on a quest to learn more about a topic that has had such an influence on my personal life as well as the role of women. Doris Weatherford’s book, American Women and World War II, of which I read just the chapter on “The Normal Housewife in Abnormal Times” is my starting point. From there I plan to explore the rich collection of resources compiled by the librarians and researchers at the Minnesota Historical Society who have prepared a helpful guide to “Women and the home front during world war II, an excellent introduction to women’s changing role in the workplace and in the home.

Save Freedom of Worship.  Buy War Bonds.

Save Freedom of Worship. Buy War Bonds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:
(1) “Rationing: Democracy’s Test” New Republic,(February 9, 1942), quoted in Weatherford.
(2) “Good Housekeeping and the War,” Good Housekeeping (February 1942, p.19) quoted in Weatherford.

Family History Fair

Autumn is the right time to locate the cold weather gear, check the insulation, dust off the bookshelves and focus on family.  The Family History Fair, Saturday, October 23, at Minneapolis Central Library opens up the possibilities to explore the roots and stories that are the family history.  It’s a chance to browse ethnic and special interest groups, to connect with genealogy experts, to learn how to start a family history and to discover the exceptional resources of the library.  And they are truly exceptional – for a quick peek at just some of the library’s treasures check the special collections page on the online catalog.

The Fair will run 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. in Pohlad Hall, top of the escalator at the Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall.  The event is sponsored by the Library Foundation of Hennepin County in partnership with the Minnesota Genealogical Society.

Register for the free event online or call 952 847 8000.