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Labor History for Labor Day

Labor history is very a interesting and controversial aspect of history. Did we do it right? Are things the best they could be now? The answers are varied and indelibly rely upon a mix of politics and personal perspectives.

My opinion? Have things been worse? Yes. Could they get better? Of course.

The most interesting stories about labor history come from America's transition to industrialization beginning shortly after Reconstruction (from the Civil War). The truth is, while industrialization changes the parameters for what is possible in a society (like the ability to mass produce weapons that allowed our successes in the World Wars) or the ability to move raw material quickly to plants and factories across the country, the process of becoming industrialized isn't without its shortcomings.

The plight of the factory worker, a pioneer in a new industry in which profit is king, was a serious one. Perhaps the most clear challenge was to craftsmen and skilled tradesmen who had spent lifetimes honing their art. The advent of Taylorism, which broke large complex projects into individualized, repetitive tasks (think assembly line) made the skilled worker practically obsolete if not replaceable entirely by machines. The men who could find their livelihood on the factory floorfaced grueling work hours, unsafe conditions and low wages implemented with strict oversight emphasizing productivity above all else.  Perhaps the most resilient group of workers were the unskilled laborers, whose work was largely unaffected by these transitions.  These men performed physical labor often moving from job to job in order to seek better conditions and wages. In order to overcome the obstacles that had arisen due to industrialization, workers organized and formed unions which would unite them in pursuit of a common goal.  Successful strikes encouraged more union involvement and the establishment of new unions. 

Change is always a struggle, but the fruit of this difficult time can be seen by analyzing the face of labor today. Unions, government oversight including a minimum wage, even the technology we use, all got their start here with Industrialization.

This Labor Day, let's be thankful for change and for having the ability to forge our own way.

Source: Steven Diner, “A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era,” 1998, pp. 37-65.

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Back to School

It's that time of year.  Nothing is more inspiration or exciting to me as fresh highlighters and G2s in pretty colors all on sale for back to school prices.  Is it bad that I still get giddy to get a five star notebook?  I don't think so.  Hey, it's the little things, right? (C'mon, just agree with me so we can move on...). 

Being as things are always a little hectic this time of year, I'm going to post an article from the archives of my Zimmerman Today column for your reading pleasure:


 My first year as a “Zimmerman Zebra” was as a fourth grader in Mrs. Blattner’s class. The halls seemed dauntingly large, and the sixth graders appeared to tower above me. What I remember most is the most amazing playground I had ever seen. From the jungle gym to the spring-loaded balance beam, that place was enough to erase all the fear in a nine-year-old’s heart.

Zimmerman Elementary has been in operation since 1957. For over fifty years it has been an epicenter for educating the city’s youth, imagine in that time, the number of residents current and former who have walked those halls, the multitude of lessons taught, and the echoes of childhood laughter that must still swell in the space between the walls. But have you ever wondered what was there if you were to go back another 50 years? Back to 1903, where did the children go to school? What was where Zimmerman Elementary stands now?

The site of Zimmerman Elementary was farmland belonging to Hans Mickelson and his wife Sarah. Hans was born in Norway in 1850 and Sarah in Wisconsin in 1863. The couple was wed in 1879 in Beaver Creek, Minnesota. Together they had nine children: Mabel, George, Luella, May, Harry, Clifford, Theodore and Mary. Hans worked as a farmer through much of his residency in Lake Fremont, acquiring a sizeable chunk of land.

In the early 20th century, there were several schools throughout the area, small one room school houses where classes were held. One was located on the land of Mary Tildon, it is possible that she may have been a school teacher, or she may have provided boarding to the woman who was. The school would have been near what is now 269th Avenue and 5th Street West. The Mickelson children would have walked from where Zimmerman Elementary School is now to sit in a one room school house heated by a wood stove to listen to their lessons.

While the story of Hans and his children may be different, it is still very much the same as the story of my childhood and the story of your children’s first day of school. Even a hundred years ago, children still squirmed in their desks waiting to be excused, teachers were still overworked and under paid. For all the differences, so many things remain the same.   


Where did you go to elementary school? What are your first day of school memories? Share them below in the comments!

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Why We Love History (And You Should, Too!)

It seems like almost a daily occurrence in adult life- running into someone you knew a while ago, or meeting someone new- the first question that they ask is: “What do you do?”

 Of course, my answer is what you’d expect.  “I’m a historical research consultant.”  Usually this is where it gets uncomfortable. 

There is a pause, a scratching the back of the neck and then, “I HATED history class in high school.”  Then they realize what they said and get awkward.  “I mean, but… how interesting!  Good for you!”

Usually, I smile politely and nod.  But here is what I would like to tell them, and what I’d like to tell you:

I am not surprised you hated high school history.  High school has to adhere to standards and so it teaches basic events like they are equations – cause and effect.  Real people become heroes, so high up on a pedestal that they are unapproachable and unrelateable.  More emphasis is placed on memorizing dates than understanding why things unfolded the way they did. 

It’s such a shame.  I wish that your teachers would have been able to put aside all of these national standardize requirements and figure out what part of history would resonate with you and make you passionate.  The truth is I know there is a subject somewhere in there that would evoke passion. 

Sure, maybe you thought the text book’s description about the invention of the steam engine was dull, but what if you found out that the only reason the town you live in exists at all was because of the people who moved there to build the track for it?  What if you knew that your great grandfather rode the rails from city to city taking pictures of people who were living in squalor during the Great Depression?  Would that change how you thought about history?

          All that said, here are five of the many things I love about history:

  1. I love the feeling I get when I realize that people who lived 100 years before me, were really not all that different. 
  2.  I love the idea that one little thing could have changed everything about the world we live in today. 
  3. I love that history touches everyone.  History shows that we are all tied together into this incredible context of the human experience that spans geographic bounds and time. 
  4. At its heart, history tells us a story.  Who doesn't love a good story?
  5. I love that history allows me to understand innumerable topics, I will never run out of subjects to research or places I know little or nothing about.  Even the greatest history “expert” cannot know everything, I find that humbling and challenging and it makes me rise to the occasion.

So, you don’t have to get awkward when you tell me you hated history in high school.  It’s okay! You have every right not to love the things I love.  But I wish for you the joy and the passion of knowing and loving something as complex and universal as history.  

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Top 5 Best Museums in Minnesota

It seems pretty obvious if you know anything about me at all that I love spending my free time in museums.  It works out pretty well for me because my husband is a restless man who loves exploring new cities anytime we have a free day.  Usually this means we are in lots of new areas, and a museum is a good way to find out some general information about points of interest.

Here are 5 of my favorite museums we've visited:

  1. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
    his museum focuses less on local art and historical artifacts and more on art.  I have many wonderful memories of coming here as a child and teenager.  I fell in love with art inside this building.  I saw my first mummy here.  Decided I wanted to be an Egyptologist for a time.  Became obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright in their furniture gallery... the memories are endless.  Yes, this museum may have had an unfair advantage.
  2. Minnesota Historical Society
    I have done hours and hours of research for clients and personal projects here.  What I love about MNHS is the staff is helpful, courteous and kind.  The library is well organized and the building itself is gorgeous.  The exhibits are always engaging and interesting.  I also love that they have so many events including concerts, plays and speakers that bring the community in. 
  3. Crow Wing County Historical Society
    This one is a little on the smaller side compared to the others, but compared to many of the other small county museums I've been to I found it most memorable.  Located in the historic sheriff's home and old jail they have traditional exhibits that wind through the front half of the house and jail cells and regularly scheduled tours of the other rooms in the back all staged with period-specific items.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the house and the families who lived there as well as the origination of many of the artifacts on display.  
  4. The James J. Hill House
    As part of the MNHS, I was hesitant to put this on the list separately, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it deserved its own line.  The number of interesting and unique activities they run here are so varied that it gives a person reason to come back again and again, not to mention they run different tours so you can see different parts of the mansion at different times.  James J. Hill is such a prolific part of Minnesota history that  every Minnesotan should see this house at least once. 
  5. Northfield Historical Society
    Northfield has such a fun quirky vibe to begin with, as a college town with a young hip populous. Add to that the incredibly rich history of Jesse James attempted robbery of the Northfield Bank and defeat by the townspeople and you have a fun and interesting museum accompanied by the annual Defeat of Jesse James celebration.  


Compiling this list was fun, but challenging, so many other great museums were contenders, and I enjoyed all of them! Some of the front runners include:

Winona County Historical Society, Carver County Historical Society, Mcleod County Historical Society, Dakota County Historical Society, Oliver Kelley Farm, Stearns County Museum, The Pioneer Village in Nisswa, LeDuc Historic Estate, Fort Snelling, Sherburne County History Center, The Folsom House

Are you going to visit any museums on National Museum Day this Sunday?  Would any of these have made your list?  Which would you add?

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Sneak Peek! Help me choose the cover for my new Ebook!

Big news here, I have been hard at work on my brand new, first ever, E-book!  I couldn't wait to share the news with you.   It's called The Purposeful Family Historian and in it I explain my fool-proof method for organizing a huge research project, like putting together your family tree, while staying focused, driven and motivated. 

I need your help!  I have two great cover designs, and I would love some help choosing which one is the best!  

Tell me in the comments below if you like A or B better!  Whichever gets the most votes will be the new cover.  I'll announce the winning design and the release date in a future blog post! 

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

Celebrate National Senior Citizens Day with a New Friend

I have been blessed to have had some amazing clients, but some of my favorite experiences in my life have been sitting down with people from generations before mine and talking about their experiences. 

It is amazing to learn how similar certain things are, how they transcend time: the smell of cookies baking in the oven; how pets can be a kids best friend; the freedom of the first days of summer.  But also how different they can be:  the trials of women in the workforce; traveling before airplanes;  how much safer big cities were. 

I never pass up the opportunity to chat with someone about their life experiences.  I once spoke to a woman who grew up alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald on Grand Avenue, who told me that if she could go back and change one thing about her life, she would play with her dog more often.  Moments like that warm your heart and make you realize that you aren’t so different from anyone who came before you, but also help you realize the kinds of things that will affect you most as time goes on. 

So, tomorrow is National Senior Citizens Day and I challenge you to go out and make a new friend.  Befriend someone who grew up in a different time than you, a time when things were different but people weren’t discover how much you have in common and what parts of life were different. 

What lessons have you learned from talking to an elder?  Share your stories in the comments!

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

3 Easy Ways to Find Your Motivation

I’ve been there so many times before: an endless cycle of getting a(nother) cup of coffee, staring at that blinking cursor and bashing my head against the desk.  Between working on client projects, columns, articles and working on my book, sometimes my writing juices just go dry.  On the darkest of those days (sometimes after a week of this infuriating routine) it can be hard to remember why I am doing this, or even to believe I can do it at all. 

The truth is, even though this is my dream come true, and I have been pretty successfully living that dream for 5 years now, I have these moments where I can’t find my motivation!  I think this goes a step beyond procrastination into the realm of fearful paralyzation. 

So how do I break through?  I go back and I read my very first blog posts.  I pull out the thank you note that my very first ever client wrote me.  I think about how nervous and excited I was, and how far I’ve come.  I remember that everything I have done in my business has been deliberate and intentional.  Every move I have made had a purpose. 

I have found that these moments are a result of losing sight of my sense of purpose, so I have come up with a little reminder that sits right at eye level from my workspace.

It says, “Because I want to inspire in others the same passion for history that drives me.”  It is nothing elaborate or overly lofty.  It just reminds me what gives me drive, what my mission and purpose is.  That motivates me.

No matter what you do every day, I bet you have a purpose in your life that motivates what you do, even if you lose sight of it sometimes.

  1.  If you are not sure what it is, go back through some of your memories, when did you feel inspired and excited last?  What happened?  Who was there? What were you doing? 
  2. If you can narrow this down, figure out what part of that situation would change what you are doing today and how you could apply it. 
  3. Finally, if you come up with the same answer more than once, write it down on a post-it or a note card and put it somewhere you will see it several times a day.  Make it your mantra and your purpose.

What do you do when you lose your motivation?  Have you figured out your biggest motivator? Share your answers in the comments!

Tara Cajacob

Hi, I'm Tara!  I am more than a huge fan of history, you might say I'm a little obsessed.  I would spend a Friday night in with a glass of local wine and a reference book any night of the week.   Learn more about me and my work here

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