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Manuscripts by Subject - Women's History - #10107

Title: Nielson Family Papers

Dates: 1875-1958

Collection Number: 10107

Quantity: 6 feet

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the Nielson Family papers from James Nielson in April 2001.

Property Rights:  The State Historical Society of North Dakota Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights:  Copyrights to materials in this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs.  Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code and an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access:  This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation:  Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection numbers, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.

Transfer:  Photographs and printed material were transferred to the Photo Archives and Library respectively.


The Nielson Family was among the earliest settlers of the Valley City area of Barnes County, Dakota Territory.  Having sold his hardware merchandise store in Jackson, Michigan, Wylie Nielson moved his wife and three children to Dakota's northern plains in 1880.  Upon arrival, the Scotsman established an agricultural supplies store with one James Baille. This enterprise proved successful, as it outlived both men.  Wylie Nielson lived in Valley City for nearly fifty years and died at his home on October 14, 1928.  His wife, Mary, with whom he had been married nearly 50 years, died in 1927.  Wylie Nielson's most lasting legacy however, was not his business nor his pioneering effort in Barnes County; rather, it was his children, and in particular his daughters, in whom dwelt much of the same spirit their father had exhibited.

Minnie Jean and Hazel Nielson were quite young when they arrived with their parents in Valley City. Both were schooled there, as was their brother John.  Minnie Jean and Hazel both taught elementary and secondary education in rural Barnes County, the former later teaching at Valley City High School. To the end of their lives, education was a passion of both women and prompted them to take active roles in the formation of North Dakota policies with regard to the profession. Indeed, in 1918, Minnie Jean ran and was elected to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and served until 1927 when friend Bertha Palmer was elected to the same post. After her time as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Minnie Jean served as director of the Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund, serving in that stead from 1938 to 1950. Hazel is best remembered for her work as Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction under her sister Minnie, and as president of the American Legion Auxiliary. Both women were actively involved in a myriad of women's clubs such as Pioneer Mothers, PEO, North Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs, and Delta Kappa Gamma.  Among the more unusual endeavors of Hazel was her work with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during 1917-1918. From her letters and postcards, it appears Hazel was involved in something akin to USO. Neither Minnie Jean nor Hazel ever married. Hazel died on July 10, 1957, and Minnie Jean on February 27, 1958.  Their brother John passed away February 19, 1946 at the age of seventy.

Minnie Jean and Hazel Nielson were unique women for their time. Active and outgoing, not to mention single, the two stood in stark contrast to the Catherine Beecher ideal of female domesticity. Minnie Jean, for instance, was elected to the post of Superintendent of Public Instruction when few women were involved in politics. Even more remarkable, she was elected as the only candidate not supported by the Nonpartisan League in the 1918 election when the NPL made an otherwise clean sweep. Both women, as pointed out, were active in various organizations too. This was less remarkable for women however, as female involvement in clubs and reform groups had become quite acceptable in the wake of the Second Great Awakening nearly a century before. Their leadership in them, however, was to strengthen each club and organization in which they were involved. The same can be said for their service to the state of North Dakota.

Sources:  Information given above was taken from the Nielson Family Papers.


The Nielson Family Papers, which were in no coherent organized form when received, have been divided into eight record series. The division is as follows:  Wylie Nielson Papers, 1875-1928; Hazel Nielson Papers, 1918-1952; Minnie Nielson Papers, 1920-1940; State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund Records, 1918-1951; Organizations and Club Records, 1909-1952; Greeting cards, 1918-1958; and Family History Papers, 1920-1951.  The entire collection occupies three cubic feet.

Series I, the Wylie Nielson Papers, 1875-1928, is comprised of correspondence to and from Mr. Nielson, business receipts for his mercantile store in Valley City, small diaries and address books, and financial records of his store.  By far the bulk of the series is made up of correspondence of both a personal and business nature to and from Mr. Nielson between 1875 and 1917. These are mostly letters to and from creditors, as well as correspondence from friends.  In this series, approximately three quarters of a cubic foot in size, one can glean something of the character of Wylie Nielson:  why he left Michigan, and the willingness he exhibited to take chances by the move to Dakota.  His papers lay an appropriate foundation for the papers of both Hazel and Minnie Jean Nielson.

The Hazel Nielson Papers, 1918-1952, is comprised of letters to and from Miss Nielson, a few personal greeting cards, and correspondence to various organizations and clubs.  Like the Wylie Nielson Papers, Series II is by and large made up of correspondence.  In addition, there are a fair amount of letters from Hazel to her relatives and friends in the United States during her stay in Europe in World War I.  The correspondence to and from Miss Nielson and organizations include PEO, BIL (Brothers-in-Law, the spouses of PEO members), Pioneer Mothers, and the American Legion Auxiliary.  Due to the size of the series, approximately 3/4 of a cubic foot, not as much information can be obtained about its subject as one in the series which follows.

Series III, the Minnie Jean Nielson Papers, 1920-1958, contains personal correspondence to and from the subject to friends and acquaintances, as well as an occasional letter from a relative.  A good many of those are between friends and deal in part with club and/or organizational matters.  Due to their personal nature however, they have been separated into a series of their own.  Perhaps the most salient feature of this series is the intense personal interest of Minnie Jean in individuals and organizations with whom she had contact.  It appears, at least as revealed in these letters, that anything or anyone with whom Miss Nielson had contact was regarded with intense personal interest.  Despite its rather small size, approximately one-third of a cubic foot, Series III is both revealing and informative about the character of Minnie Jean Nielson.

Series IV, consists of records of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund (1918-1951).  Among the topics and materials herein contained are correspondence, memos, a legal opinion concerning the Teachers' Retirement Fund, and an audit report of the same agency.  Also, there is a "Minnie Nielson Appreciation" file which, more than any other, shows the degree of respect enjoyed by Miss Nielson amongst her peers.  The material in the Superintendent of Public Instruction Files consist largely of correspondence to agencies, memos, and letters to individuals.  The State Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund Records consist of correspondence and memos for the most part, but also contain a few letters from retired teachers inquiring about missing or late checks.  This series is but five folders in size and occupies approximately one-quarter of a cubic foot of space.

Series V, the Organization and Club Records, 1909-1952, contain files on the many women's and patriotic organizations to which Minnie Jean and Hazel Nielson belonged.  Graphically detailing the importance both Nielson sisters placed on civic and patriotic organizations, these individual files provide a fine cross-section of the social and political views held by the two women.  Ranging in content from Pioneer Daughters to North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs, most of the files contain booklets, memos, and correspondence.  Other groups included in this series are PEO, Delta Kappa Gamma, American Legion Auxiliary, and Valley City Community Club Activities.  Series V occupies 3/4 of a cubic foot of space.

Series VI contains the rather considerable collection of Greeting Cards acquired by the Nielsons between approximately 1918 and 1958.  The sheer number of these birthday, Christmas, and other holiday cards is rather large and shows the extent of the Nielson family's contacts and friendships.  Approximately one-quarter of a cubic foot in size, Series VI documents the amazing capacity of the family to hold on to voluminous amounts of paper which most people would discard.

Series VII, which occupies approximately one-quarter of a cubic foot, contains material documenting the family history of the Nielson family. Although the material gathered begins around 1920, it actually covers events in the family history which go back to the 1870s when Wylie Nielson first arrived in Valley City.  The items included in this series are newspaper accounts, family correspondence, a memorial booklet on Mrs. Wylie Nielson, and a book containing newspaper clippings with family interest.

The photos and published material were transferred to the Photo Archives and Library respectively.  The photos were unidentified, but believed to be of family members.  The printed material was for the most part DAR magazines and other women's club publications.  There also are a few UND Alumni Reviews, as well as miscellaneous patriotic literature.


Series I. Wylie Nielson Papers, 1875-1928

Series II.  Hazel Nielson Papers, 1918-1952

Series III.  Minnie Nielson Papers, 1920-1940

Series IV.  State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Teachers' Insurance and Retirement      Fund Records, 1918-1951

Series V.  Organizations and Clubs Records, 1909-1952

Series VI.  Greeting Cards, ca. 1918-1958

Series VII.  Family History Papers, 1920-1951


Series I:  Wylie Nielson Papers, 1875-1928

Box 1:
1 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1875
2 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1876
3 Personal Correspondence, 1878
4 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1879
5 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1880
6 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1881
7 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1882
8 Personal Correspondence, 1883
9 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1884
10 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1885
11 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1886
12 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1887
13 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1888
14 Personal and Business Correspondence, 1917
15 Personal Correspondence - 50th Wedding Anniversary, 1923
16 Baille and Nielson Company Ads and Correspondence, 1889-1917
17 Miscellaneous Personal and Business Correspondence, 1917
18 Miscellaneous Financial Material, 1917
19 Miscellaneous Financial Material, 1917
20 Letters to W. Nielson from Toronto Globe, 1917
21 Letters to W. Nielson, 1917
22 Letters to W. Nielson, 1917

Series II: Hazel Nielson Papers, 1918-1952

23 Letters to Hazel Nielson, 1930s
24 Letters to Hazel Nielson, 1930s
25 American Women biographies for possible book, 1933-1934
26 Miscellaneous Correspondence and greeting cards to and from Hazel Nielson, 1918s-1930s
27 Hazel Nielson and North Dakota State Society Correspondence, 1930s-1940s
28 Miscellaneous Correspondence, 1920s-1950s

Series III: Minnie Nielson Papers, 1920-1958

Box 2:
1  Personal Correspondence, 1900-1929
2  Personal Correspondence, 1930-1939
3  Personal Correspondence, 1940-1949
4  Personal Correspondence, 1950-1958

Series IV:  State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund Records, 1918-1953

6 Judge Frank Allen's Opinion on North Dakota Ex-religious Teachers' Retirement Board vs. Hauge, Treasurer of Ransom County, December 26, 1916
7 Correspondence, memos, materials on Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1922-1939
8 Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund Correspondence, 1933-1944
9 Teachers' Insurance and Retirement Fund Correspondence, Audit Report, 1948-1951
10 Appreciation for Minnie Nielson, 1951-1953

Series V: Organizations and Club Records, 1909-1952

11 Pioneer Daughters booklets, 1938-1945
12 North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs, Yearbooks, 1909-1952
13 North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs, Annual Convention Programs, 1900-1952
14 North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs, "Suggestions to Clubs", 1914-1915
15 PEO Material, 1913-1948
16 Delta Kappa Gamma Material, 1942-1944
17 Delta Kappa Gamma Material, 1939-1944
18 Delta Kappa Gamma Material, Bulletin, 1942
19 Delta Kappa Gamma Material, Convention material, 1952
20 Miscellaneous, Delta Kappa Gamma Material, 1941-1952
21 Miscellaneous, Delta Kappa Gamma Material, 1942-1953
22 Valley City Community Club booklets, 1935-1952
23 Miscellaneous Valley City Club Activities, 1948-1954
24 Miscellaneous Club Activities outside the Valley City area, 1941-1944
25 Sunday School Conventions, "Religious Education and its role in Society" material, 1923-1930

Series V: Organizations and Club Records, 1909-1952

Box 3:
1 American Legion Auxiliary, Jubilee Celebration materials, 1927-1939
2 Women's Relief Corps materials, 1939-1952
3 Historical sketches of prominent Americans and North Dakotans, with special regard to women, 1939
4 Historical sketches of prominent Americans and North Dakotans, with special regard to women, 1937-1939
5 Historical sketches of prominent Americans and North Dakotans, with special regard to women, Historical Societies, 1936-1940
6 Historical sketches of prominent Americans and North Dakotans, with special regard to women, Women's Activities, 1940-1945
7 Miscellaneous Correspondence from Women's Clubs, 1930-1950
8 Women's Clubs, 1930-1950
9 Women's Clubs, 1930-1950

Series VI: Greeting Cards, 1918-1958

10 Greeting Cards to Nielson Family, 1918-1958
11 Greeting Cards to Nielson Family, 1918-1958
12 Greeting Cards to Nielson Family, 1918-1958
13 Greeting Cards to Nielson Family, 1918-1958

Series VII:   Family History File

14 Newspaper Accounts of Wylie Nielson and Family, 1920s
15 Nielson Family Correspondence, 1925-1946
16 Nielson Family Correspondence, 1933-1951
17 Miscellaneous Correspondence to and from Nielson Family Members, 1918-1955
18 Miscellaneous Financial Records, 1930-1950
19 Poetry collected by unknown Nielson Family member, n.d.
20 Miscellaneous reports from state agency, n.d.
21 Miscellaneous clippings by the Pollock Clipping Bureau of Minnie Jean Nielson, 1918

Box 4:
1 Literature of the Education Division US George Washington Bicentennial Commission 
2 Blank Scrapbook          
3 Account Book
4 Notebook       
5 Correspondence          
6 Nielson Family              
7 Annual Dues to the State Historical Society of North Dakota     1948
8 Lincoln the Man of the people by Markham unframed                1932
9 The Star of Araby by Edwin Markham autographed     
10 Letter, Attorney General Opinion from William Langer to Minnie J Nielson     
11 State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Certificate of Election and Filing of Oath of Office 1918-1909
12 North Dakota Hymn: Original Music Scores by Foley  
13 Photograph: Minnie J and Hazel B Nielson at Nielson homestead        
14 William Langer response to AC Townley          
15 Two Outdoor Plays by Foley 
16 Historical/Biographical Sketch of Minnie J. Nielson and Delta Kappa Gamma  
17 Nielson, Hazel B Teacher Certificate signed by Minnie J Nielson as State Superintendent of Education 1919
18 The Masque of Pedagogues by Maxwell Anderson original manuscript            
19 Bismarck: The Commercial Centre of Western North Dakota and state capital ca. 1905
20 “Christmas Greetings from the Nielson Family Living Room” 1957, by Minnie Nielson

Lincoln the Man of the People by Markham framed        1932


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