Home > Departmental History at UND, North Dakotiana > Under Libby’s Gaze: Merrifield 209

Under Libby’s Gaze: Merrifield 209

As part of my project to document the space of the second floor of Merrifield Hall, with a particular emphasis on the space used by the department of history, I have started with Room 209.  (For my first effort see here).  Structurally, the room is interesting in that a partition wall separates it from my office (209B).  The wall is made of sheet rock and thin as a result I hear almost everything that goes on in the adjoining classroom.  (And sometimes I do feel like Aerosmith in their famous video with Run DMC.)

The room seats 55 or so easily and is one of the more spacious classrooms in Merrifield.  It has three features that most historians today can not live without: maps, a digital projector, and a closet filled with… stuff.  The maps are the Denoyer-Geppert floor standing models — one set dates to perhaps 1943 (no map is later than 1942) and the other to 1960.


The big windows provide great views of the sunrise in the winter.  Many mornings it is possible to find Gordon Iseminger diligently inscribing the key terms for his class on the chalkboards. 

The most striking features of the room, however, are two prints produced by the Fine Art Society.  The prints show battle scenes — suitable for a history classroom, it would seem.  The more interesting thing is that both prints have a plaque attached to their frames that states: “Presented to the Pioneer Club by E.H. Thursby 1892.  E.H. Thursby was among the “founding fathers” of the University.  He appears to have been a wealth land owner from Towner, North Dakota.  While he was not a member of the original board of regents, he did offer the first full scholarship to the school in 1890 and made it available for any resident of McHenry Country (see the Board of Regent’s Minutes June 12, 1890). 

The Pioneer Club is almost certainly the Pioneer Reading Club.  This organization was a women’s reading club organized in 1885The minute book from 1899-1901 shows the names of many of the most prominent women in Grand Forks — including the wives of faculty members (Josephine Connell Wheeler (presumably the wife of Henry Wheeler, a prominent local doctor) , Lillian Cool Babcock (wife of Earl Babcock, who would server the university in almost every capacity over a long career), Belle G. Estes (wife of Ludovic Estes, the first Ph.D. hired by the university and a physicist), a Mrs. Woodworth (either the wife or daughter of Horace B. Woodworth), Mrs. Kennedy (presumably the wife of Joseph Kennedy, longtime professor of education), Mrs. Brannon(presumably wife of Melvin Brannon, professor of biology).  These women met frequently to read and discuss books and issues of current affairs.  They also worked to raise money.  Perhaps their most significant achievement was working to secure funding for the Grand Forks Public Library.  Apparently the group enlisted William “Billy” Budge (whose wife appear to have been active in the reading club) to solicit funds from Andrew Carnegie.

In any event, one of this groups interests was art, and at various times they sought to acquire etchings and prints for the library, for the University, and for a private collection that they displayed and discussed in the community and in small towns throughout North Dakota.  It’s not entirely clear to me how the two prints in Merrifield 209 came into the possession of the University, but the close ties between the Pioneer Reading Club and the University make it not surprising.  Not only did the club include many faculty wives, but President Merrifield was known to give the occasional talk to the group and the group had given several gifts to the University over its existence.  It may even be possible that these prints came from the Lander family who were prominent local real estate developers and Mrs. Lander was active in the Pioneer Reading Club. 

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