MacAulay Steenson is a junior at St. Thomas, majoring in Art History and currently spending her fall semester studying abroad in Paris. She is also an active member of the Department of Art History, working for our Visual Resources Library.
Last Christmas, I was approached by the University of St Thomas Art History Department and the 1006 Society with a project concerning the Governor’s Residence First Ladies of Minnesota portrait collection. What I initially thought would be a simple research project quickly grew into a multifaceted exploration of the history of both the Residence and the state of Minnesota. An additional side project emerged, as I was asked to write the Governor’s Residence entry for the new SAH Archipedia website, an authoritative online encyclopedia of significant architectural structures throughout the United States.
I began the First Ladies project by deconstructing the portraits—removing them from their frames—to create digital versions of each, which will eventually be displayed online. From there, I started my initial research on the First Ladies themselves. Through an individual analysis of each lady, my research has provided a unique lens through which I could examine what was happening in Minnesota during their husbands’ time as Governor. For example, the first ten or so First Ladies moved to Minnesota from another state. Their stories are examples of the struggles that many new residents faced when creating lives in the very young state of Minnesota.
A webpage devoted to the First Ladies will be added to the Governor’s Residence’s website showcasing the research and stories I have found. I originally underestimated the role that these women played in Minnesota’s history and have learned that they were their husbands’ counterparts in every way. Their role provided them with flexibility and power that differs from the Governor’s and the way in which the first ladies exercised their position changed from woman to woman. Each woman took on the responsibilities of First Lady in their own way and I am interested to see how the role of the Governor’s spouse continues to change.