It’s like an archaeological dig.
That’s what it feels like when you plunge into the multiple boxes of bright-pink folders that constitute LSSND’s archives.
With our agency's 100th anniversary just days away (we're celebrating with a statewide network of Lutheran church potlucks Feb. 24!), we’ve done our share of digging.
Unfortunately, many of the old photos in the archives are undated and uncaptioned. The people gathering the archives back then probably didn’t have time to get all Dewey Decimal about things, and they probably didn’t realize that people 60 or 70 years later would find their activities so darned interesting. (Oddly enough, one of the few identified photos in the archives is one of the most inconsequential. It is of a coconut “lamb” cake that was used as a centerpiece at a long-ago event. Which event? We have no idea. THAT part was not identified! :)
But with a bit of tenacity and detective work, we've started piecing together the many chapters of our 100-year story. Those ladies’ horn rims and hats? That had to take place in the ‘50s. That old-fashioned fireplace? It must have been at the Svee Home in Devils Lake. It’s a fascinating puzzle, and we've lost hours and days at a time as we dive down that rabbit hole of nostalgia.
One of my personal favorites in this whole collection is a 1945 booklet titled, “The Last Come First.” Its purpose seemed to be part-fund-raising, part-educational as it gives an inside glimpse of the then-named Lutheran Welfare Society at the end of the second world war.
The cover of the booklet certainly seemed designed to pluck at the heart strings of potential donors: It shows a rather forlorn-looking lad and his dog sitting on a shabby stoop. It’s very Oliver Twist and looks suspiciously like stock art but, hey, you do what works.
Inside, I uncovered a variety of gems:
In an early history published in these pages, it's reported that Executive Secretary Miss Clarisse Clementson began operations out of "a small apartment just off Broadway on Eighth Avenue North," outfitted with "a desk, filing, cabinet, typewriter and two chairs which had been donated to the new venture, together with the car that brought her from Minneapolis to Fargo, by the Board of Charities of the Norwegian Lutheran Church." Beyond Clementson’s executive duties, the article says she also worked as caseworker, stenographer and director of public relations. “The case load very shortly reached seventy-five,” the narrative read.
By 1941, the Lutheran Welfare Society's caseload was reported at 203 children.
The booklet's editors envisioned a campus of LWS buildings being built on 13th Ave. S., between 12th and 13th Streets, and even included architectural sketches of a row of very large, almost baronial buildings to serve as receiving homes and administrative headquarters. LWS ultimately purchased land at 11th Street and 13th Ave. S., and the administration building completed in 1952 was a much more modest (and mid-century-looking) structure.
Another article grimly forecasts great shifts in the dynamics of the American family: "In 1945, there were 1,618,331 marriages in America. During the same period, there were 502,000 divorces, nearly twice the pre-war rate ... if present trends continue, in 1965 half of the marriages will end in divorce." The writer also predicted a dramatic rise in juvenile delinquency.
In this same piece, the writer predicts LWS will use "the preventive aspects of welfare work" to battle future deterioration of the family, including family counseling and "work with youth with behavior problems. "
Although the author certainly painted a gloomy picture of the future, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: Even in the face of negative trends, LWS was poised to respond and be proactive.
The concept of family counseling had to be pretty progressive in 1945, as did the observation that great strides can be made with “youth with behavior problems” if the right therapeutic approaches are used.
“The Lutheran Welfare Society is committed to stand side by side with the congregations in the battle to check these trends,” it concludes.
In fact, we still do that.