Minnehaha Academy celebrates a hundred years
Casey Haffield and Marcellous Hazzard were crowned queen and king at Minnehaha Academy's 100th anniversary homecoming this September.
Minnehaha Academy dedicated its first building in 1913, almost a hundred years ago. The school had actually been in existence, teaching in homes in South Minneapolis, since 1884. The building was the culmination of the work and dedication of Swedish immigrants (many of whom took out mortgages on their own homes to help finance the construction), and the school was meant to act as a safeguard of Swedish cultural values. All students of Swedish immigrants were required to take two years of Swedish language. The school emphasized vocational skills, such as how to be a railway clerk or a letter carrier. The board of directors was made up mostly of Swedish Evangelical Lutheran ministers from the area.
A religious “awakening” had spread through Sweden in the middle of the 19th century. It was marked by an emphasis on living an active Christian life, translating the gospel into action. The state church of Sweden considered this new pietism a threat and discouraged their gatherings. Many people from this movement were early immigrants to America, and this spirit marked the founding and continuing tradition of Minnehaha Academy. They wanted to escape the state church of Sweden where the ministers were paid by the government and funded by taxes.
They wanted to have their own churches, hire their own ministers and not be told by the government how to worship and how to vote. This democratic impulse made them resentful of the aristocracy. They wanted to live in a country where every person was as important as any other.
The heavy migration of Swedes into Minnesota happened between 1880 and 1915. Like all migrants, they dreamed of a better life in America. But their dreams were quite often different and contradictory. Along with their democratic ideals, there was also a hunger for land. The common lands in the rural areas of Sweden had been divided, and after one generation many farmers in Smaland (the province in Sweden where most Minnesotans have their roots) had lost their land and had to migrate to the cities in search of work. There were few industrial jobs in Stockholm, and it was easy for Swedes looking for work to book a ticket on a steamship to America. Between 1850 and 1910 more than a million found their way to the U. S. By 1910 more Swedes lived in Chicago than in Gothenburg (Sweden’s second largest city).
It’s hard to find much evidence today of the heavy Swedish and Scandinavian influence that dominated South Minneapolis a hundred years ago. Dania Hall, the center of Danish culture at the beginning of the 20th century and the Gustavus Adolphus Hall on Lake Street burned down years ago. The Nordic Center on 42nd and Cedar just got sold. And the dozens of Swedish Evangelical churches that were such a common presence are now merged and abandoned.
WIKIPEDIA contributes this information:
“In Europe, socialist ideas were becoming popular, and many Swedish immigrants carried those ideas to America. One immigrant’s son, from a Norwegian father and Swedish mother, was Floyd Bjerstjerne Olson. He graduated from North High School in 1909, went to the University of Minnesota for a year, dropped out, knocked about for a while, worked in Seattle as a longshoreman and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
“In 1913, he returned to Minneapolis and found work in a law office as a clerk. Spartacus Educational says, “At night he studied at the Northwestern Law College and graduated in 1915. Olson became a lawyer and in 1920 was appointed as Hennepin County Attorney.”
“Olson joined the Progressive Party and was a strong supporter of Robert La Follette in his bid to become President. A strong opponent of racism, Olson prosecuted the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
“Olson joined the Farmer-Labor Party and became its candidate for governor of Minnesota. He told voters: “I am not a liberal, I am what I want to be—I am a radical.” In 1930, Olson won 82 of the state’s 87 counties and beat the candidate of the Republican Party by 200,000 votes.
“In office he introduced public unemployment insurance, a mortgage moratorium on farms, progressive income tax, old age pensions and helped to establish cooperative business enterprises. Olson also advocated the state ownership of utilities and some basic industries and a government owned state bank. In 1934 he upset conservatives by refusing to use state troops to crush the Teamster’s strike in Minneapolis.”
He was wildly popular as governor. Highway 55 is called Olson Highway. There are statues of him in North Minneapolis and on the grounds of the State Capitol.
Although the ministers that founded Minnehaha Academy may have disagreed with some of Olson’s politics, they understood his idealist impulse sprang from the same roots that led them to build a school for the children of Swedish immigrants.
There are still some traditions at Minnehaha Academy that seem to echo its Swedish roots. They do very well in skiing. The Minnehaha boys’ Nordic Ski team took third place in the state meet in 2011, and the girl’s Alpine Skiing team made three consecutive appearances in the state tournament from 2008 to 2010, including a third place finish. The boy’s Alpine Ski team went to the state tournament in 2009 and 2010.
The school hired its first woman and its first African American to head the school in 2009. Jim Volling, chairman of the board of education for Minnehaha Academy, said in an article in the Star Tribune on Dec. 9, 2009, “The more we got to know about her credentials and background, the fit seemed tremendous to us … It wasn’t part of our agenda to make history here—to do something that was not in keeping with the past. We were looking for the best person to lead this school. There was no question in my mind that the best person was Dr. Donna Harris.”