Lace-making in Morton, Minn., late 1890s

From right to left:  Mrs. Hibbard, Mrs. Henry St. Clair, Susan Salisbury (niece of Bishop Whipple), and

Jeanette Crooks (daughter of George Crooks).  Photo taken in the 1890s at Morton, Minnesota.

Lace Ladies

By Maxine V. Eidsvig

from the Native American Press/Ojibwe News
     June 7, 2002

Sometime in the mid 15th century, in Valenciennes, a city in northern France, near the Belgian border, women began making a lace that became quite popular in the world.  In the late 1800’s, another group of women in Minnesota began making lace in a cottage industry, which began with the help of three missionary women.
The Minnesota lace industry was started by Sybil Carter, who had visited a school in Japan. Upon her return she prevailed upon Episcopal Bishop Whipple to set up similar schools on Indian reservations in Minnesota.  She opened her first school at White Earth in 1886 and when it became successful, opened others at Red Lake and Leech Lake.

The Dakota Indians, who had been removed from Minnesota in 1863, began returning to the state after a generation of exile.  They returned gradually, beginning in 1883, and settled near the site of the old Redwood Agency.  In January of 1894, Miss Carter opened a school at the Lower Sioux Agency.  Mary Whipple was in charge of the school until 1905, when Susan Salisbury, the bishop’s niece, took over.  Miss Salisbury’s assistant was Mrs. Ameila St. Clair, the wife of the Reverend Henry St. Clair.

In addition to bedspreads which sold for as much as $1,000, the ladies at the Lower Sioux Agency made doilies, edgings, insertions and pillow cases.  A pillowcase was purchased by the queen of England, who wrote a letter of recommendation on the work of the mission.

The lace work was of such excellence that Miss Carter was accused of peddling machine-made lace.  To prove the lace was not machine-made, Miss Carter took Jeanette Crooks, who was a 17-year-old young woman at that time, to New York City to demonstrate that the lace was indeed, hand-made.

The lace made by the women on Minnesota Indian reservations probably did not become as popular as the Valenciennes lace but based on the two pieces of lace recently donated to the Minnesota Historical Society, the handiwork was equally as exquisite as the lace produced in France.

The story of the women who were involved in the lace industry on the Lower Sioux Agency should be an inspiring story to everyone now living on the reservation.  However, there is an ugly side to the story.  The only granddaughter of Jeanette Crooks Campbell has been fighting to be enrolled.  Lorraine (Marian) Bucholz, now in her early eighties, was born and raised on the reservation along with her brothers but she is the only one of Jeanette’s grandchildren who is not enrolled.  However, her own children and grandchildren are enrolled.  It just does not make any sense.

Dakota ladies' lace from Morton - 1

    Detailed examples of lace made by
    Dakota women at Bishop Whipple’s
    mission near Morton in the late 1800s.

Lace courtesy of Maxine V. Eidsvig
[click on thumbnails for
Dakota ladies' lace from Morton - 2
Dakota ladies' lace from Morton - 3

detail of lace made by Dakota ladies in late 1890s at Morton


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