In order to humanize and contextualize the material evidence found at the excavation site, our group examined oral and documentary histories of the Women’s League Cabin. (A history of the Women’s League itself can be found here.) We hope that by gathering and sharing these stories we can involve the Carleton community more directly in our project. Giving voice and agency to people whose history we are studying is an important consideration in archaeology, since by excavating the site we are in some ways destroying it.
These interactive timelines organize our documentary findings chronologically by decade. Documents include letters, memos, news articles, photographs, and more.
We were not able to conduct interviews with alums from the early years of the cabin; however, we were able to get personal perspectives on the Cabin during these years by looking at the captions of female students’ pictures in the Carleton yearbooks.
After 1948, there were no more personal statements about the Cabin in the yearbook. While this has to do with changes in the yearbook formatting, it also fit with a pattern we noticed, that during the 1960s there was a decline in mentions of Cabin usage. At the end of the 1960s, maintenance of the Cabin was transferred from the Women’s League to the Outing/Natural History Club, and usage increased again. Our interviews capture what the Cabin was like in this second era of popularity.
We interviewed ten Carleton alumni and staff from the 1970s to 1990s. The range of experiences and perspectives is wide, but overall the interviews made clear that there was a great deal of appreciation for the cabin. A big thank you to everyone who spoke with us!
Want to see these documents in context? Our list of sources contains links to each item in the Carleton Digital Archives or its location in Gould Library.
Personal Statements from the ALGOL Yearbook:
“Along with Marian’s activities of Women’s Government and Women’s Athletics, she has made it her aim to see the outing cabin under construction. As vice-president of the Women’s League, Heusie is also head of the Inter-Dormitory Council. One of the greatest distinctions given to seniors recognition in the in the college’s “Who’s Who,” and this honor is also Marian’s. In addition to representing Carleton at various conventions, Heusie was last year’s Junior Prexy of Dean. She, however, is not too busy to welcome very beamingly a visit from the “other-half” of that famous combination of the past few years.”
Thyllis Williams, Class of 1937
“Thyllis seems to have had no difficulty in getting back into the swing of things, although she stayed out of Carleton two years before coming back to graduate. Section A is especially thankful for Thyllis, and her alternating words of nonsense and wisdom are eagerly welcomed by each and every “hag.” As a junior Thy was a Nourse Junior Head, member of the arbitration board, and Y.W.C.A. treasurer. She belonged to the Women’s League Council as a sophomore, and this year was a valuable asset to the women’s cabin committee.”
“A ’44 transfer from Idaho University, Rudy really made her two years at Carleton count. She proved her love for the equine as a member of the Saddle Club, helped on the Horse Show and participated in riding and ski-joring whenever the opportunity presented itself. She claims the highlights of her Carleton life were sleepless week-ends at the Cabin.”
“Gra was one of the luckies to be listed in the “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.” As senior editor of the ALGOL, Junior Head chairman of SWIC, Vice-President of the League of Women Voters and Vice-President of the State League, Cabin Chairman of the Women’s League, ad infinitum, she was well qualified for the aforementioned honor.”
“Whether she’s whipping up an Easter bonnet or arranging for junior carnival decorations, Phyl’s full of ideas. She’s been cabin chairman, Co-op faculty-student coordinator, chairman of the art interest group, member of the Women’s League cabinet, ALGOL writer, and junior head.”
“Liz managed a double major in psych and extra-curricular activities which included presidency of Senior Women’s Honor Board, Y. Who’s Who, junior heading and chairmanship of the Cabin. Carleton historians will remember her excellent job as co-chairman of the first real post-war Homecoming of ’46.”
“Joey, hailing from Hinsdale, often found her Soc major running a poor second to her interest in women’s athletics. She was on the WAA board her junior and senior years, the cabin committee, and was secretary of the swimming club. Quote: ‘The mice at the cabin must go!'”
George-Ann (Davis) Maxson, Class of 1973
“Fall of 1969, the 4th Meyers RAs led us freshmen girls on a hike through the Arb by flashlight, to spend the night in the cabin. I remember the stars and the spookiness of finding a trail in the dark. The Outing/Natural History Club sponsored overnights in the early 1970s. The mature white pines and general woodsiness of the setting was reminiscent of MN’s Northwoods. Very sad that the cabin couldn’t be restored and maintained, it was a special refuge. Thank you President Cowling for supporting the construction of the cabin.”
Mary Panke (née Welna), Class of 1975
Did you ever go to the Women’s League cabin, or remember anything about it, from your time at Carleton?
“I have no recollection of there being such a cabin during the years I was there. I wonder if you had to belong to the Women’s League (if there was such a thing in the early 70’s) to go there – or even hear about it. We were so preoccupied with anti-war, anti-establishment, co-Ed housing-based equality, etc. that the subtler attractions and delights of a women’s cabin in the woods escaped us.”
What exactly was the “Self-Reliance” course that you taught in 1978 and how did it involve the cabin?
“Konrad Liegel was a student at the time, I think he was a senior, and Nancy Braker graduated in ’81, I think she was a freshman. There were 7 or 8 students involved, and all of them were kind of amateur naturalists, and many of them lived at the Farm House. We met once a week to discuss some readings, and I think we met at Farm House mostly. Self-Reliance was a theme, so we read some Thoreau, of course, and some of the discussions branched off into other directions. I can’t remember who suggested the Women’s League cabin, but the group wanted to undertake a project, kind of a hands-on project. I’m not quite sure what demonstrates self-reliance, but I’m sure undertaking something like that does. Oliver Younger was director of buildings and grounds at time, good friend of mine, and I went over to Oliver and said that we have a group of students interested in undertaking a project, and I suggested the cabin.
He had a $1000 budget for upkeep, and said ‘Well the cabin needs a new roof, or re-shingling’, and I said ‘Oh, I think we can handle that.’ Our major project was tearing the old asphalt shingles off, and putting up new paper and replacing the shingles. Once you start re-roofing you want to finish it quickly, so we started on a Saturday and went through to a Sunday, and probably did a couple of afternoons. It was pretty straight forward, and then we undertook a few other projects, kind of housekeeping, cleaned up the inside of the cabin.”
Where all of your repairs relatively small?
“The roof was kind of a major job, but everything else was more or less cosmetic. We didn’t replace any windows, we didn’t replace any doors. We did a little painting inside. We did do a lot of washing and cleaning. There was certainly limited time that the students had to spend out there, so it was a Saturday afternoon thing.”
How did you react upon hearing about the cabin’s demolition?
“I don’t remember hearing about the cabin’s demolition…I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that security was one of the reasons they finally demolitioned it. I know there had been a number of break-ins somewhat repeatedly. I don’t think it was Carleton students, I think it was probably a couple of high school students, you know, who got a couple of six packs and broke the door. I don’t think there were any windows broken when we were there in ‘78. It was very serviceable.”
Konrad Liegel, Class of 1978
What was your involvement with the Women’s League cabin during your time at Carleton?
“I was involved with it essentially from just after I started, when I discovered it on a map of the Arboretum, to the time that I left. Both staying there and working with the college to manage it and to do some restoration work, and to design a course that made use of it.”
What did you restore while you were there?
“It needed the care, so I wrote a proposal to the college to do some restoration work, and we were re-roofing it and doing other repairs in association with a ‘Self-sufficiency’ class that Roy Elveton taught, and worked on the cabin at the same time. [Nancy Braker] was in it. She was a freshman when I was a senior.”
Did you ever stay at the cabin?
“Some of us stayed there during the fall, and there was a group of us that thought it would be a good idea to stay there during the wintertime…the person who was in charge of taking care of buildings said that if you lit a fire there during the wintertime you could crack the fireplace, and so you simply could not use it. And I said ‘Well how about we essentially start it out slow and sort of build up the a big fire, and then kind of let it taper down could we stay there’, and it was hard for him to say ‘no’. There was a group of us, and we arranged to stay there for an entire week and I checked everybody’s calendar to see when they could be there and had a schedule to make sure we had someone there at all times. And we started the fire very slow and then sort of built it up to the weekend when everyone was going to be there and then let it taper down, and we cooked and people skied into their classes and it was a lot of fun.”
Do you have any favorite memories of using the cabin?
“…It was just a very fun place to stay and have friends stay. It was a little bit wild and we liked the historical connection for what it had been used for before. One sad story- we had this class my senior year the ‘Self-sufficiency class,’ and we did a lot of work on the cabin and it was going along just fine; and I can’t remember if it was about a month or so before graduation, and somebody broke into the cabin and essentially took all of our tools and before they left with them they broke all of the windows and went onto the roof and started taking off all of the roofing that we had been doing. And I remember going out there and seeing it and I stepped on a nail and I had to get it out and actually pull the board away from my foot. It was just really really sad. I remember feeling at the time, well I wasn’t finished with my work at Carleton, and I was supposed to graduate, and I decided to not attend graduation and I would finish up first the work that I had started, so I would have a sense of accomplishment…”
How did you feel when you learned that it was demolished?
“A little bit sad. I mean it was one of those cool historical parts of Carleton…it was just gorgeous to walk out there at night and to stay there when we stayed there during the winter and skied in. It was truly a sense of adventure, yet being very close to the school. I can’t remember when I learned that it had been taken down, and I am certainly sad for you guys not being able to have that experience of being close so school, but really truly getting away from it at the same time. It was a fun adventure. We had a lot of fun with it. It was well used during the years that I was there once we had a system in place, and we left it better than we found it when we did leave the school.”
Nancy Braker, Class of 1981: Student Caretaker in 1979, and current Arboretum Director at Carleton
What was your involvement with the Women’s League cabin during your time [at Carleton]?
“My sophomore year I lived at Farmhouse, and my student job was as the cabin caretaker. I had the key to the cabin and people would have to come and check it out from me. The two things I had was a key and an axe…They left a 5 dollar deposit, you know to make sure things came back and that they cleaned up the cabin, and then I had to go and check it in-between everybody’s use to make sure they had cleaned up. And I had occasional clean-up days and so forth. People who wanted to use the cabin, you know, would call me because of course we did not have any email then, or send me a note in campus mail that they wanted to reserve it. And I had a calendar to keep track of that.”
What was the state of the cabin like during those years?
Well, it was always quite rustic…so the things I remember about it, I guess I would say it was fine. It was not fancy, it was not falling apart. It was always a bit dirty because people were there on and off, and squirrels or woodchucks would get in. But it never felt like it wasn’t a fun place to go or a nice place to be. There was quite a bit of vandalism issues because it stood empty for so often…there had just been a lot of window-breaking and so forth to get in…there was this sort of constant vandalism problem being so far from campus that it was hard to, you know, keep an eye on it. The biggest issue I thought was the indoor latrine problem. Because, for whatever reason, the cabin was built with a vault that was supposed to be pumped out on a regular basis, but I never remember that happening. You know how a pit toilet smells at a campground? That’s how it smelled inside the cabin.”
How frequently was it used by other people, do you think?
“People were aware of it, although not like everyone on campus knew, were aware, if they were they weren’t like excited about it. I think the long walk out there kind of prohibited people being excited, and that it wasn’t like really clean, it’s not like there was a housekeeping staff, you know, and so forth. So I think there was a certain percentage of the campus that were fine with that and appreciated it. But we did, I would say, in the nice weather it was occupied almost every Friday and Saturday night, and we had to have rules about how many nights you could make a reservation for, and if you used those nights then you just had to wait and do it on a, if it was vacant then you could use it. So there was enough use that we had to restrict some people who would otherwise hog it every night.”
As Arb Director, have you had to address any issues with the site, positive or negative things?
“So, this must have been four or five years ago, I had a request from some students to build something they were calling a shrine, and I didn’t really know what that was, and they mentioned they wanted to do it in a remote part of the Arb where people would find it and just be kind of surprised and enchanted at finding this thing. And they described the cabin site…so they had collected all of those rocks, and built this really very nice sort of beehive shaped structure on top of where the old campfire ring was. And I think it was probably four feet high and about five feet across. And it was just really nice, and it was very stable—they had been very careful about how they placed the rocks. And then, you know when you’re at the very beginning of the path that leads to the patio there’s some bigger rocks on either side, they had moved those as well to that location, those had never been there before. So they were kind of marking the entrance to where their shrine was. It was fine, I didn’t have any concerns about it, and then someone later came and pushed it all over, so that’s why it’s like in this jumble instead of this really nice beehive shape.”
Do you know who ultimately made that decision (to tear down the cabin)?
Well I believe it was not an Arboretum decision, so I think it was probably you know someone in the administration…so Myles Bakke was the Arboretum manager at the time, and he thought that the cabin should be retained because he saw it as a great way for students to get out in nature. But he was not willing to take on the responsibility for up-keep, and so the regular maintenance and then getting it to the level where it would be considered safe because the Arboretum has a very small budget.”
Susan Gerstner, Class of 1981
“In the late 70s, twice a year we held cabin parties. 16 of us would pick up our raw Saturday steaks from Burton dining hall, and then head out to the cabin for an evening of grilled steak, and as you can see, cigars, beer, wine and great conversation. We would make pancakes Sunday morning, clean up and head back to campus. Good times. Good times.”
Klay Christianson, Class of 1982
(notes from interview)
In general, students during his time at Carleton loved using the cabin. They felt that it was something unique, and enjoyed where it was out in the wilderness. Students usually got to the site by walking, although there was a cabin shuttle back and forth from campus that they could also use. Concerning the state of the cabin, Klay remembers that there was a double-decker stone fireplace, with a hearth on the first floor and the basement. The main room had large bunk beds on the south side of the cabin that fit about 15 people. The indoor outhouse was unpleasant, though, and smelled really bad. Almost no one went into the basement or downstairs because it was scary and “dungeon-like”; but it was still a great party spot. One of Klay’s favorite memories associated with the site is going out at night to the cabin and hearing Neil Young’s song “Are You Ready for the Country” ringing out.
Klay, who works for Carleton Security, was working at the college when the cabin was demolished. During the 90s, it needed a lot of repairs and was being broken into often. When he spoke to facilities, they were resistant to taking action, even suggesting the cabin wasn’t really a part of Carleton. Their attitude changed, however, and when the school realized the cabin was an asset, a great deal of money was put into repairs. Sadly, the repairs were in vain because the cabin was demolished just a few years later.
Kirk Ormand, Class of 1985
What was your involvement with the Women’s League cabin site? What experiences do you remember most distinctly and/or fondly?
“At some point in my sophomore year, I learned about the cabin through word-of-mouth. There was a process — now fuzzy in memory — of applying to the student in charge of the cabin to “reserve” it for a night. Weekend nights were almost impossible to reserve, because people in the know applied for them right at the start of the year. Weekdays were possible, but not convenient, since it was a long walk to get there, and usually I had class early the next morning.
Beyond that, all I can really say is that a few times a couple of friends of mine and I would manage to reserve the cabin, and head out there late in the evening. It seems we never arrived before dark. Once there it was a place to be out and away, and we would enjoy a quiet evening. It felt much further away from campus in idea than it was in fact. I’m afraid my use of the cabin wasn’t very exciting… it was, of course, a place where one could go with a romantic interest without having to worry about one’s roommate, but a gentleman never speaks of such experiences.”
What physical state was the cabin in while you were there?
“As I have allergies to dust, I remember vividly that it was always dusty and musty. I think there was a fireplace; I don’t know if we ever successfully had a fire there. (Where would we have gotten wood? A mystery.) The beds were bunks, and we always dragged the old mattresses off of them and onto the floor and slept there. More comfortable and more companionable. There were no sheets, needless to say — we always brought out sleeping bags and pillows. Since I always walked out there, there wasn’t much incentive to bring much else. (A bottle of wine? Some snacks? Who knows.) It also seems to me that I was only there in relatively warm weather — it would have been unheated, and so bitterly cold in the winter, I suppose.”
Do you remember what the general feeling on campus was towards the cabin? Did students seem to know about and use it frequently?
“It seemed to be well-known secret. Whole segments of the campus appeared never to have heard of it, but the people who did know about it made fairly regular use of the cabin, and we thought of it fondly as a kind of get-away spot. I don’t know how one was supposed to hear about it — I learned about it through word-of-mouth, when I was living in Farm House. A lot of Farmies knew about it. (We were well out there towards the Arb anyway).”
Was the site a popular place to party while you were at Carleton?
“This doesn’t surprise me, but I was a fairly quiet type, more interested in getting together with a few friends than in arranging a large party. So no, I can’t really speak to that.”
Do you remember when you heard that the cabin was going to be, or had already been, demolished? What was your response?
“I’m afraid I have no memory of that. I would have been saddened, had I heard. But it was clear even then that nobody was putting anything into upkeep. I suppose it was inevitable that it would pass, in time.”
Anne Becher, Class of 1987
What was your involvement with the Women’s League Cabin?
“I was just brought there once. And I didn’t ever want to go back.”
What was the context?
“A late night party with a lot of people and maybe, like, a bonfire, or at least a fired inside and just sort of, you know, like a lot of drinking and didn’t seem like a very safe place to me and so I just kinda wanted to leave.”
Do you know if there was a general feeling on campus towards the cabin?
“I think probably a lot of people must have liked it a lot, just because you could get away a little bit and probably not, you know, definitely not be monitored. I do know that, I know that some people would, like, just go there and sleep there and go camping, like, you know, ski out there, snowshoe or whatever, and then stay out there. And I know that some people liked that about it. That it was sort of another space.”
Vanessa Bodrie, Class of 1996, and Dave Broske, Class of 1995: Student Caretakers of the cabin during the summer of 1994
How did you get involved with the Women’s League cabin, and what did the role of student caretaker require?
Vanessa: “So I got the job as a student job. I think it was advertised in the NNB and I think it was Bruce Colwell who at the time, he was the person who had the keys, and at the same time there was a student job that really just involved you possessing the keys and taking calls from people who might want to essentially check out the cabin and use it for a weekend or for some period of time. There were rules involved which I don’t remember at all. I was given the key and a folder, and I think that in my time doing the job, only one person actually called and booked the cabin. The cabin at that point was kind of run-down, and shortly after I was given the key I think Bruce called me and said, ‘You know…we’re thinking of shutting this down. Or don’t let…don’t sign anyone else up at this point because we’re kind of on the fence about what we’re doing about it.'”
Dave: “Yeah and I don’t know how I officially got involved at all…I thought [Vanessa] just dragged me along as well.”
Do you have any favorite memories associated with the cabin site?
Vanessa: “My first memory of that cabin was actually my freshman year. At that time it was still in use, and I lived in 2nd Goodhue, and every year at Halloween they would hire a storyteller who would go out to the cabin. And then everyone from, it seemed like it was mostly Goodhue folks, we would walk out there and he would tell us stories, ghost stories, and we would have a fire in the fireplace, and it was a very fun experience.”
Dave: “I remember one night we went out there and had a campfire…that was kind of pointless, to go way out there to have a campfire, but it was fun I guess. But I don’t think we went in the building, I think we just sat outside.”
What was the condition of the cabin like during your time?
Vanessa: “It was quite dirty. I mean, it just had fallen into disrepair. I just think they hadn’t done a whole lot of…and it was rustic to being with, it really was a cabin.”
Dave: “I do remember us having this idea that we could clean it up somehow”
Vanessa: “Well in that wonderful idealistic way that you have when you are your wonderful age…”
Dave: “But you certainly bite off more than if practical. Yeah, I remember like ‘Oh, we’ll get this cleaned up and it’ll be really cool’ and I think we worked on it for like a day and were like ‘we’ll never be able to get anywhere with this, this is way too much.”
Our goal throughout this project was to compile people’s memories and oral histories with documentary histories, such as memos and letters in the Carleton archives, of the Women’s League Cabin. In doing this, we learned a lot about the history of the Cabin and about the many different relationships people had with it. During the cabin’s initial years, it appears that the site was well used by the Women’s League and other female users, with many social gatherings and weekend trips out into the Arboretum. While break-ins and vandalism occurred at a higher rate after the cabin’s decline in popularity, the documentary evidence indicates that break-ins occurred throughout the cabin’s history, and even shortly after its construction. Although the documentary and oral history is less extensive during the 1960s, the cabin was still a popular location for students, and its frequent use continued until mid 1970s. During the 1980s, use of the cabin declined significantly, and it appears that this is when it began to deteriorate and become a location for more illicit parties. In the 1990s, many Carleton students were not even aware of the cabin’s existence, and it continued to fall into disrepair despite a few students’ valiant efforts to refurbish it. Although a few students protested its demolition, which was sometimes shortly after 1998, the cabin was mostly forgotten by the Carleton community until our archaeological investigations began.
- Carleton Archives
- Women’s League Box: “Cabin 1937-1955” Folder
- “President’s Office Women’s League Cabin” Folder
- “Buildings: Cabin” Folder
- Miscellaneous Folder
- ALGOL Yearbook (Carleton Digital Archives)
- The Carletonian (Carleton Digital Archives)
- “Women Retreat to League Cabin for Food, Frolic”: November 4th, 1950
- “WRA Plans Hike”: January 16th, 1960
- Article on Self-Reliance course: April 21st, 1978
- Party at the cabin: September 30th, 1983
- “Cabin Temporarily Out of Commission”: April 29th, 1994
- Carleton Facebook Page
- ALGOL Yearbook (Carleton Digital Archives)
Page created by: Elizabeth O’Connor, Elaine Sundberg, Rachael Sutherland, and Alice Welna