Monthly Archives: August 2016

More New Collections at the Archives!

The end of the summer was a time of much processing, and so we have several more small new collections to share with you:

Muriel Bunker papers: Muriel was a Marquette native who joined the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) during World War II. Much of her collection is her correspondence with her family members, including her brother Earl. Earl was in the Pacific theatre while she was in Europe. There are also photographs and a 2007 oral history interview with Muriel.

George Tomasi papers: George was one of the “Barracks Boys,” a group of sixteen men given free tuition at Northern for playing three sports each. His papers consist of memorabilia from his high school years through his old age, though the bulk are from his years at Northern.

Nora Silk diary: Nora seems to have been a teenager living somewhere in the UP during the 1940s. We have no donor information and therefore know little about her. Her diary spans from 1940 to 1944, with the bulk of the entries being from 1940. It is a good record of the life of a young woman at the time and includes stories such as her father catching her “necking” with a boy and grounding her for a week.

Margaret Whitman papers: Margaret attended Northern in the late 1940s. Her collection of memorabilia includes photographs, event programs, and a scrapbook.

John Langaas papers: John was a Norwegian immigrant who lived in Ishpeming and kept a diary from 1909 to his death in 1924. The journals are in Norwegian, but the papers include translations of the first two of the five books as well as the articles and notes that the translator was using to understand his writing. John was extremely religious and much of his diaries (the first two, at least) deal with his faith. If you know anyone who reads Norwegian and would be willing to translate the rest for us, please let us know!

Bookbinders Cafe photographs: Bookbinders Cafe was a cafe located in the basement of the Harden Learning Resources Center (the same floor that the archives is on!). These photographs, taken between 1980 and 1993, show students and faculty and staff eating at the cafe as well as parties and events at the cafe.

Pi Omega Pi papers: Pi Omega Pi is an honors society for business education students. Northern’s chapter started in 1967. Our collection includes copies of their bylaws, a scrapbook documenting inductees and events from 1967 to 2000, photographs, meeting minutes and reports submitted to the national council, a history of the organization, and more!

Rudi Prusok papers: Rudi was a German professor at Northern who was heavily involved in the Upper Peninsula Area Foreign Language Teachers Association and who wrote about Thomas Mann. He was also personally and professionally interested in the “schuetzen movement,” or rifle shooting as a hobby. His papers consist largely of correspondence, newsletters, and syllabi related to his time at Northern.

Elisha Greifer papers: Elisha was a political science professor at Northern from 1967 to 1997. His papers consist of a number of his publications, including such titles as “The Bursley Act: Cases in the Politics of Education,” “Locating United States Propaganda in the Context of Foreign Policy,” “The Conservative Pose in America: Irving Babbitt and the Search for Standards,” and his translation of “Essay on Catholic-Liberal-Socialism” by Juan Donoso Cortes.

To check out any of these collections, just stop in anytime we’re open! Our fall hours are Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10 AM-5 PM and Tuesday/Thursday 10 AM-7 PM.

Written by Annika Peterson


The 1946 Marquette Iron Range Strike and Paul Robeson

At 12:01 a.m. on February 8, 1946, nearly 3,000 iron miners on the Marquette Iron Range in Michigan’s central Upper Peninsula walked off their jobs.  It was the first major labor action in the region since 1895.  Three thousand inexperienced union miners on the Marquette Iron Range joined 750,000 steelworkers nation-wide in a strike of the steel industry led by the recently formed United Steel Workers of America (USWA).   The nation-wide strike against the steel industry lasted just nine days, but the strike on the Marquette Iron Range against the iron mining companies lasted 104 long and frustrating days and finally ended on May 22 when the companies capitulated to the union’s demands for recognition, dues write-off, and 18.5 cents per hour more in wages. Towards the tail-end of this bitter strife stepped an extremely unlikely hero, but one that would reinvigorate community support and give the strike a lifesaving morale boost.

Negaunee strike parade

Strike parade through downtown Negaunee (Central UP and NMU Archives)

Today, very few people remember the famous Broadway star and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University, All-American football star, and accomplished lawyer, Robeson by 1946 was best known for his stellar Broadway performances of Othello and Showboat, where his rendition of Ol’ Man River became a sensation and is still considered a standard. However, Robeson was also an ardent and tireless supporter of organized labor, making numerous appearances at labor rallies throughout his career. Historians also suspect that he was a member of the Communist Party USA, although no direct evidence exists.

othello robeson

Robeson in The Theatre Guild performance of Othello, 1943 (Wikipedia)

Oddly enough, Robeson’s arrival in Ishpeming, Michigan, on April 25 had nothing initially to do with the iron miners’ strike. In the fall of 1945, Robeson had embarked on a national concert tour that took him to all the far-flung regions of the country. George Quaal, part of a wealthy Ishpeming mercantile family, had engaged Robeson for a performance as part of a concert series that he sponsored and held in the Ishpeming public auditorium. Soon after his arrival at the train station, leaders of the strike, including District Director Jack Powell, besieged the famous singer in his Mather Inn room. Although it is likely USWA officials had reached out to Robeson prior to his arrival, they had little difficulty encouraging him to publicly lend his support to the strike effort.

paul robeson in mather inn

Paul Robeson and the USWA’s press officer in the Mather Inn (Central UP and NMU Archives)

On the afternoon of April 26, Robeson and strike leaders drove out to the Mather Mine (at present day Negaunee High School) and joined the picket line.  Surprised and excited miners and their families crowded around the famous singer as he shook hands and offered words of support.  Robeson then stepped up to a sound car and gave a Broadway worthy performance.   Along with his standard repertoire, he serenaded his audience with a number of radical working class songs, such as “Joe Hill.”   Home on leave from the Army shortly after Robeson’s visit, retired labor activist Ernie Ronn was struck by the effect the singer had on the strikers.  “I don’t know of anyone,” he remembered, “who was on that picket line that day who ever forgot.  Robeson built-up their spirit and morale.”  In fact, one observer described Robeson as a “heroic physical type of man” possessed of “innate dignity and emotional sincerity.”    For many of the miners and their families, Robeson’s appearance was their only chance to see the famous performer, since few could afford the $5.00 ticket price for the concert.

robeson picket line

Robeson on the picket line with striking miners and their families. Standing to his left is Jack Powell, the local USWA district director and strike leader. Powell is a member of the Upper Peninsula Labor Hall of Fame located in the Superior Dome. (Central UP and NMU Archives)

On the following day, Jack Powell interviewed Robeson on WDMJ radio.   The activist recounted the poverty of his early childhood and expressed support for the struggle of the working class.  Because of the country’s great wealth and productive capacity, Robeson told his listeners, the sight of the miners and their families huddled on the picket line was a travesty of justice.  “It should be plain to all,” he declared, “that these people have a right to share more equally in the wealth they create.”  For their part, the iron mining companies denounced Robeson and decried the USWA’s use of a known communist agitator.


USWA strike radio program on WDMJ. Labor Hall of Fame member, the late Ernie Ronn is second from the right. He was home on leave from the Army. (Central UP and NMU Archives)

Ten years after his appearance on the Marquette Iron Range, Robeson’s radical support for labor, civil rights, and his alleged connection to the Communist Party caused him to be dragged before the House of Representatives’ “Un-American Activities Committee” (HUAC). Black-listed and his career ruined, Robeson fled into self-imposed exile eventually returning to the United States in 1963. He died in relative obscurity and poverty in New York in 1976.

But to the iron miners and their families on the picket line that cold April afternoon, Paul Robeson made their struggle something more than a demand for an additional 18.5 cents per hour.  He crossed race and class boundaries to remind them that economic and social justice is a universal and moral goal and that music and courage can create “a real meeting place of hearts and minds.”

To learn more about the 1946 Iron Miners Strike, please visit the Central UP and NMU Archives. Our new fall hours are Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10 AM-5 PM and Tuesday/Thursday 10 AM-7 PM.

Written by Marcus Robyns

New Collections at the Archives!

In the past couple of weeks, we have processed several small collections and we thought that we would introduce you to them.

Judith DeMark papers: Judith DeMark was a history professor at Northern in the late 1990s. Although there are some photographs from her time at Northern, the bulk of the collection is research materials. Her research topics include mining, tuberculosis, Finnish folklore, and immigration to the Upper Peninsula.

Student Girls’ League calendars: This collection contains calendars created and sold by the Student Girls’ League (SGL) from 1911 to 1916. The calendars contains images of people and places around Northern as well as inspirational quotes. Founded in 1911, the SGL was a social group for female students. It helped freshmen get used to the school and published calendars (as seen in this collection) and a senior pamphlet called the “Handbook of Northern.” By 1932, every female student was required to be a member and its goal was “to help every woman enjoy her life at Northern,” and in the 1940s it helped to establish the student council, which evenutally became ASNMU (Associated Students of Northern Michigan University). In 1957, it changed its name to the Associated Women Students. In 1969, with the creation of ASNMU, it was disbanded.

Ruth Craig papers: Ruth Craig was a music professor at Northern from 1926 to 1963. Her collection consists of letters from faculty and students at her retirement as well as photographs from her retirement dinner and the rest of her years at Northern.

Connie Binsfeld papers: Connie Binsfeld was the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Michigan under John Engler in the 1990s. She had previously served as a county commissioner, state representative, and state senator. Her most notable legislative work dealt with adoption and child abuse and neglect. She was from Munising and is the only woman in Michigan to have held office in the Michigan House of Representatives, the Michigan Senate, and the Michigan executive branch. The collection contains personal photographs and memorabilia, correspondence with constituents, staffers, and others, subject files on various political issues, and a gigantic press clippings file of articles about her that covers her entire political career.

To learn more about these collections, you can access the finding aids by clicking on the links above. The Archives is open Monday through Friday from 10 AM-5 PM. Beginning August 22, our hours will change to Monday/Wednesday/Friday: 10 AM-5 PM, Tuesday/Thursday: 10 AM-7 PM.

Written by Annika Peterson