My mother is a daughter of the middle border. Born in 1908, she was reared by a Danish father and a Yankee mother on a farm in southwestern Minnesota. She cherishes still the memories of her Danish grandmother who lived with the family and remembers well being schooled in Methodist ways by her mother. When she came of age, she chose to marry the son of a Norwegian Lutheran pastor who had been raised in deeply rooted rural Norwegian communities of the American Northwest. It probably came as little surprise to her when her son some years later wed a German American Roman Catholic. In sum, she lived in a region where ethnic and religious identities were clearly defined but where interaction between people, at least by the twentieth century, was relatively common and boundaries were often breached. Her life is emblematic of the narrative of the rural Middle West that is the topic of this book, and it is to her that the book is dedicated.
The premise that it takes a village to raise a child is no less true in writing a book. No scholar works alone, and my debts are many. My research work was eased by the hospitality and efficiency of the staffs of a variety of archives throughout the Middle West. In particular, I would like to thank the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison; the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul; the Iowa State Historical Division in Des Moines and Iowa City; the University of Iowa Library Special Collections; the Norwegian-American Historical Association at St. Olaf College; the Center for Dubuque History at Loras College; the Cedar Falls Historical Society; and the archive of the Dominican Sisters on the beautiful Sinsinawa Mound in southwestern Wisconsin. On the west coast, I have profited from the proximity of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. The opportunity to utilize these archives was made possible in part by grants and leaves from the University of California, including a Humanities Research Fellowship.
The path to this book's completion has been made simpler by friends and colleagues who have offered crucial advice along the way. My work