Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I from Pleasant Grove: About those pioneer women January 24, 2017



I ALMOST CAN’T BELIEVE what I am reading:

The first “real” settlement, with housekeeping and women, in Olmsted County was made in 1853 by Philo S. Curtis in the village of Pleasant Grove, then known as Curtis. The following year Mr. Curtis opened the Pleasant Grove House, a three-story log hotel at the junction of the Pioneeer (Fort Atkinson) Trail and the Territorial Road (St. Paul-Dubuque Road)…




Reread those first words: The first “real” settlement, with housekeeping and women




What exactly does that mean? The words are posted on a sign erected in 1966 (or maybe it was 1986 at the Pleasant Grove Town Hall; I can’t decipher the decade) by the Olmsted County Historical Society.




Pleasant Grove, as I understand the historical marker, was the first settlement in this southeastern Minnesota County where women lived. And those women were tasked with housekeeping. (Maybe more?) Now there’s nothing wrong with either sex assuming household duties. But I’m bothered by the wording; as a woman, it just strikes me as wrong. This is, after all, 2017, not the mid 1800s. A woman ran for President. Women ran for office everywhere, even in Olmsted County. We can vote. We can march. Perhaps this could be written in a more positive way to honor the early pioneer women who settled here.




And why were so many towns named after men? Did you catch that? Philo Curtis established the village, originally called Curtis. Thank goodness someone had the good sense to change the name to the much more pleasing Pleasant Grove.




Now, if only someone would replace the weathered, nearly unreadable historical marker with something more pleasant.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on the wording of this sign? Should it be changed? If so, what would you write? Or is it OK given the historical context?

FYI: Please check back as I bring you more discoveries from my stop in Pleasant Grove several months ago, well before winter arrived.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


31 Responses to “Part I from Pleasant Grove: About those pioneer women”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    Perhaps the problem could be solved with punctuation. Try this:

    The first “real” settlement, “with housekeeping and women”, in Olmsted County was made in 1853 by Philo S. Curtis in the village of Pleasant Grove, then known as “Curtis”….

    I think it is just as important to preserve historic attitudes as it is to preserve historic buildings. We need to know how our ancestors viewed the world to truly understand the value of the struggle to change those attitudes.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    It’s funny how words hit everyone differently. I read this and chuckled and did not take offense at all at the wording. I just read it as a sign of the times then and not an indication of being anti-women at all. I took it as part of the historical context and yes–we have come a long way since then. Thank goodness. But we obviously still have a way to go.

  3. –All of it concerns me.
    I’m voting for you, Audrey, in the next election))!! xx from Duluth.

  4. I think the sign is meant for historical context but it could use a little more context to explain what that means.

    “If the records are not at fault, the first real settlement – housekeeping, and the “women-folks” at home – was made in the village of Pleasant Grove, by Philo S. Curtis and family, in October, 1853. Mr. Curtis opened the first hotel in town. He was appointed postmaster when the office was first established, and was the first sheriff elected in the county.” (from Olmsted County history website)

    Interesting . . . It peaks my curiosity and wanting to know more.

    Cannot wait to see more posts on Pleasant Grove (much better name). Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Littlesundog Says:

    I chuckled a bit at first reading the sign, and agree that perhaps more information about the wording of a couple of phrases might help us have better understanding of the times. Pretty much, Beth Ann relayed the same thoughts I had.
    Words and punctuation do matter!

  6. Jackie Says:

    I guess I’m more perplexed as to what “real” means in this verbiage. I think “with house keeping and women” could just be taken out because it really makes NO sense at all. Why would “housekeeping and women” make something the “first REAL” anything? Weird sign if you ask me!

  7. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    When I read the sign, I took it for the historical context, but given that the audience is living in modern times, perhaps a reworded sign that explained that historical context would be a nice thing. Or an additional sign that indicates how the older sign shows how women were seen in those days, something like that. I’m not a fan of removing the older wording altogether simply because we all need to be reminded how things have evolved, that it was hard work for us to get to a place in which women have more choices. We still have a ways to go!

  8. Don Says:

    My impression was that the wording “The first “real” settlement, with housekeeping and women”, was intended to indicate that this was the first permanent settlement e.g. with permanent buildings and that housekeeping and women indicates that this is a real permanent town, clean, and with the beginnings of community pride. The statement with women indicates that it is not a transient settlement such as a fur trappers camp would have been but one that is civilized to the point of having women and perhaps children living there. Just my two cents, your millage may vary………..

  9. Jamie Says:

    I think it should be left the way it is. Now, I don’t agree with the wording but in my opinion, it’s a good primary source which allows us a glimpse into the viewpoint of the time it was written. It helps us understand our fore bearers attitudes and worldview, and how they saw things in the world at that time. A good way, if anything, to show people how far we have come in progressing in our views, and how much work we still have to do.

    Also, I believe that back in the day they believed a place wasn’t “settled” unless women were brought in to “settle” the men so to speak. If they didn’t bring the women in, it was just a bunch of dudes running around fighting and bullshitting :-P.

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Perhaps a new sign could shine light on who these women were besides housekeepers

  11. Kyle Pike Says:

    I just visited this site and read this placard today, matter of fact. I got a kick out of the antiquated vernacular employed by the Olmsted County Historical Society. I think that the fact that some one had the good sense and prudence to put a sign up at all says much about this generation you berate and accuse of misogyny. The early pioneers of the prairies in Pleasant Grove township were indeed composed of men and women, and their sheer courage and perseverance established the footings of the precursor to the great county we enjoy now.

    It was immeasurably popular to dedicate a village after its first settler. Think about how Rochester got its name and consider that Olmsted County was named for David Olmsted who was first mayor of the territorial town of Pigs Head, now known as St Paul.

    The existence of this placard at all is crucial to our rural county heritage and its history. The Olmsted County Historical Society undertook the incredible task of highlighting and distinguishing several dozen important landmarks in the mid 20th century. This placard and the others dotting various sites of varying significance are part of what gives our community retrospective and legends. Should this placard be removed because of poor verbiage which exists inconsistent with progressive modern values, a 70 year old retrospect on pioneer heritage and another measure of history is also lost.

    I believe that this dinky, out touch little placard adds personality and distinction to the tiny, ancient out of the way community of Pleasant Grove, and i feel that it is important we remember P T Curtis and his work done to incorporate a tavern and post office along the Dubuque Stage on its way to Saint Paul.

    • Kyle, I appreciate your detailed and thoughtful response. It’s been awhile since I published this post, so I had to reread what I penned. You provide some valuable historical context and insight. Thank you for that. I meant no disrespect to the early pioneers, men or women, or to the historical society. Thank you for appreciating history and sharing your thoughts.

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