Series by Kristina Gray looks back on Northwest School of Agriculture, and more

    Thanks to Dr. Albert Sims, Director of the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, I have been looking into the past of the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) where historic letters have been stored. Maureen Aubol has graciously been helping me find photos that go along with these stories I uncover from the correspondence that stretches for thirty years (1895 to 1925). Finally, thanks to my former composition student, Katie Lienemann, she has been photocopying these primary sources of history in the last several weeks despite her very busy school schedule. With this NWSA series, I hope to share with my readers what I have learned over the past nine months of reading these important documents.

    I left off last week with Superintendent Selvig’s compassion towards orphan boys who needed a “home” to get training for their future life. In April of 1918, Selvig wrote to Superintendent Faulkner of the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum in Minneapolis stating that they would be able to take five boys by May 15 until the first of June.  Times were tough for anyone to do the work at the Northwest School of Agriculture because many men were fighting in WWI. Selvig thought there might be some young lads at the Orphan home who would like to get training to be a farmer while earning their keep at the agricultural high school.

    Starting January 1918, the correspondence went back and forth then on November 17, 1918, Faulkner wrote to Selvig to respond to Joseph’s request of leaving Crookston for the holidays. Faulkner wrote that it would be very nice if the orphan boys stayed at NWSA celebrating together for Christmas at Selvig’s place.  Faulkner finished his letter with, “For one, I am highly resolved that the State shall not neglect or avoid its duty to those over whom it exercises powers of guardian control. Let us work together, steadily in the faith that right policies will prevail, and great rewards will follow.”

    The final letter on December 25, 1918, on Christmas Day, reveals when Faulkner wrote to Selvig his usual, “My dear Mr. Selvig.” Painfully he must have written this particular note to answer Selvig’s question. “I have your note asking about Joseph Kinning, and regret to advise you that we have not seen or heard from him [Joseph Kinning]. I have written to his Grandmother, Mrs. Caroline Kinning, living in St. Paul and as soon as I learn anything, I will advise you. I presume that his father has interfered and taken him to his own boarding home. His brother John is here, but does not hear from his father, and was not remembered at Christmas.”

    Faulkner also added, “His father has been a drunkard, and has quarreled with his mother who was appointed guardian of his children and who place them in our care. I regret very much what has occurred and will advise you as soon as I can learn the reason why Joseph left his home.” That finished this conversation between two superintendents who had father hearts for young boys. Since there was no 1919 box of correspondence to tell the rest of the story, I was left to despair as to what happened to Joseph Kinning. I had dark questions about Joseph living with a reckless father, getting swept up by the wrong crowd, living in poverty and dying too young….what happened?

    Therefore, I did my own search on using the scraps of information that Faulkner had given Selvig. I found out a little bit more about what happened to Joseph to know that he DID survive beyond 1918.  As it turns out, Caroline Kinning was Joseph’s paternal grandmother. She had been born in Canada and her father, John Gilmore, was from Scotland.  At the age of 18, she lived in St. Paul and married Joseph Kinning, the grandfather to young Joseph Kinning.   

    I also learned that Caroline’s son Alexander had married in 1905 to a woman named Geneva Hartman at the age of 18 while he was 33.  Turns out that was the year when Joseph Kinning, Jr. was born, and then his brother John was born two years later, next Geneva in 1909 and Clarence in 1911.  Apparently, Alexander’s wife and Joseph’s mother died when she was just 26 in 1914. Perhaps she died in childbirth because there was a Baby K listed with the four other siblings, Joseph being the oldest. That left the father, Alexander at age 42 with four young children under the age of 9 years old.  Caroline Kinning, the grandmother, had been given legal guardianship over her four grandchildren and must have admitted at least Joseph and John to the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. Her health had not been good since she had her first attack of apoplexy in 1916 and died Sept. 13, 1919.

    Joseph Kinning, Jr. went missing in Dec. of 1918 and his Grandmother Caroline Kinning died nine months later. Whatever happened in between 1918 and the year Joseph died in 1998, I’ll probably not ever know. I did learn that he got married and had three boys of his own.  We may never know what happened to Joseph after he left in December 1918, but at least it seems a happier ending than my pessimistic imaginings.

    I write all this to reveal that Superintendent Conrad S. Selvig had an educator’s heart for young people’s advancement in farming. He also had a father’s heart since he had three of his own children who were born around the same time as Joseph Kinning and his siblings. Next week, I will share what I learned about another boy from the Minneapolis Orphan Asylum who came to Crookston like Joseph Kinning. His name is Charles Smith and more common and thus difficult to follow on to know what happened to him.

    Superintendent Selvig learned firsthand from the Red River Valley farming parents who wanted their children to be educated, just how very difficult it was to make ends meet. However, Selvig would make things work by allowing them and orphans from Minneapolis to have an education at the NWSA. Thanks to the young, unknown life of Joseph Kinning, I knew I had to start this series about the Northwest School of Agriculture.       

    Kristina Gray is a local author and historian, and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.