Brenda Ueland Home, 2620 44th Street West, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Brenda Ueland Home
|Address:||2620 44th Street W|
|Neighborhood/s:||Linden Hills, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|Hennepin County, Minnesota|
|Material of Exterior Wall Covering:||Wood|
|First Owner:||DeForest A. Simmons|
The first owner, DeForest A. Simmons, was an agent for flour millers. Writer Brenda Ueland (October 24, 1891 - March 5, 1985) lived her last thirty years here and the house was often a subject of her writing. She once described a romantic fantasy of spying whales on Lake Harriet from her many-windowed room on the second floor.* Brenda was the daughter of Clara and Andreas Ueland. The Uelands lived at the intersection of Richfield Road and Lake Calhoun (their house stood from 1890-1953). The Uelands were significant leaders in early Linden Hills as well in the city of Mineapolis, the state of Minnesota and nationally.
- Brenda Ueland, Strength to your sword arms: selected writings (Duluth: Holy Cow Press, 1993)
Brenda Ueland was born in Minneapolis on October 24, 1891. After high school, she attended Wells College in Aurora, New York. As reported by the New York Times in 1912, Ms. Ueland won a Wells College English Department award for having the best essay. Ms. Ueland moved onto Barnard College in New York City, where she received her baccalaureate degree at in 19131. After her graduation from Barnard, Ms. Ueland moved back to Minneapolis for a short stint and was a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune and St. Paul Daily News. 2,3. It is often cited that she was the first woman reporter employed by the Minneapolis Tribune, which may be the case. However, there were female journalists in Minneapolis and Saint Paul prior to Ms. Ueland working for the Minneapolis Tribune. This includes Martha Scott Anderson, who worked for the Minneapolis Journal prior to 1900 and Agnes von Sholten, who was a Society Reporter for The Minneapolis Daily Times4. Another prominent female reporter in Minneapolis in the 1910s and 1920s was Lorena Hickok who went on to work for the New York Times. In addition to her work as a journalist, Brenda Ueland worked on women’s rights issues in Minneapolis after completing college.
Ms. Ueland moved to New York City in the 1910s and lived there until 1930. She wrote for dozens of magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Every Week, Charm, Ladies Home Journal, Colliers, Harper’s, Delineator, Hearst’s International, and was a writer/editor for Liberty Magazine7. As outlined in Ms. Ueland’s 1939 memoir, she was likely the first female staff writer employed by Liberty Magazine, which was a weekly, general-interest magazine that ran from 1924-19508. Her name and the articles she wrote were listed in advertisements taken out by the magazines in the New York Times. In addition to her work as a writer, she continued her work on women’s rights issues such as advocating on behalf of factory girls and prostitutes.
Ms. Ueland returned to Minneapolis in 1930 and lived at the family house with her father just to the south of Lake Calhoun (current address: 3830 West Lake Calhoun Parkway). While living at this residence, she wrote her first and most popular book, If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit that was originally published in 1938 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons based in New York City. This book was republished in 1987 by Minneapolis’ Graywolf Press. To date it has sold over 300,000 copies. Carl Sandburg, American poet and winner of three Pulitzs, called this “the best book on writing ever written9.” Ms. Ueland wrote her second book in 1939, an autobiography entitled Me: A Memoir, which was also published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. It chronicled her coming-of-age story in Minneapolis and Greenwich Village. Patricia Hampl (1946-), who was born in Saint Paul and is well known for her memoirs described Ms. Ueland’s autobiography in the forward as “her masterpiece.” And in 2007, Alice Kaplan, Minneapolis native and professor of French at Yale, considered Brenda’s memoir “a pioneering book” and as “one of the first in an autobiographical tradition, now so central to American writing, that gives value to everyday experience.”
In addition to her books, Brenda was a longstanding columnist for the Minneapolis Daily Times from 1941-1948. In 1948, The Minneapolis Times was absorbed by the Minneapolis Tribune. Her coverage of the Quisling trial in Norway in 1946 awarded her the Knights of St. Olaf medal by the Norwegian government.11 Vidkun Quisling served as Norway’s Minister-President from 1942-1945 and coordinated with Nazi Germany during World War II. In 1945, Quisling was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II: he was found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder and high treason against the Norwegian state, and was sentenced to death.'
In 1949, Brenda Ueland was caught plagiarizing. As Alice Kaplan details in her piece, Lady of the Lake: Writer Brenda Ueland and the story she never shared, “A decade after publishing If You Want to Write, Ueland copied, word for word, four or five paragraphs from an essay about a cowboy published in Life magazine and inserted them into a short story she sold to Collier’s magazine. Her copying was discovered and she was exposed. As far as anyone knew, she had never written about the incident.”
Brenda Ueland moved into the house at 2620 West 44th Street, the subject property, around 1954 when she was about 63 and lived there until she died at the age of 93 on March 5, 1985.14 As Alice Kaplan documents about the writing in her later life “Ueland continued to write short articles for several more decades—where she championed minor causes and underdogs, reflected on health and exercise, dramatized her habits and her self-discipline.15 Brenda Ueland also organized her articles and writings in the later years of her life. Brenda stated that “There’s too much to tell.” and “What I’m trying to do now is put together my collected works and get it decently typed so it won’t be thrown in the posthumous ash can.”16 In 1984, her book Mitropoulous and North High Band, was published by the Shubert Club. It was a book about Dimitri Mitropoulous, Minneapolis Symphony conductor. Outside of writing, Ms. Ueland’s interests included animal welfare and exercise. At the age of 87, she set an international swimming record in the 50-yard backstroke and 100-yard freestyle in the 80-and-over age group in a master’s swim meet at the University of Minnesota.
There are at least three books of Brenda Ueland’s writings that were published posthumously. In 1993, Strength To Your Sword Arm was published by Duluth’s Holy Cow! Press. This was a collection of her writings. Described as “a charming book about Minneapolis past and almost present.” In 1998, Tell Me More: On The Fine Art of Listening was published by Kore Press, an American nonprofit literary press located in Tucson, Arizona.18 In 2003, Brenda’s biography of her mother, O Clouds, Unfold: Clara Ueland and Her Family was published by Minneapolis’ Nordin Press.
Today, while Brenda Ueland may not be a national household name, she is regarded as an important local author. In 2003, Rebecca Smart, the then associate arts director for the Minneapolis St. Paul magazine named her one of the top 10 local authors (Brenda Ueland claimed to have had more than six million published words).
In that same year, John Habich writer for the Star Tribune said that her writings continued to be relevant and read and that “her books enjoyed a resurgence when feminist literature was championed in the 1960s and '70s.”20 Ms. Ueland was likely ahead of her time in the first part of the 20th century and helped pave the way for other women writers. In 1994, Patricia Hampl described Brenda Ueland as a “rule-breaking woman” and someone that “rode her charger against an essentially Victorian barricade (or windmill).”21 In 2015, Susannah Felts, a writer and editor based in Nashville stated that “[Brenda Ueland] was never a celebrated literary figure in her time, as both [Melissa] Gilbert and [Mary] Karr are now. Only after her death, and with a second life for her first book in a time when the culture was primed for it—did her name rise to something like prominence.” A large collection of Brenda Ueland’s writing and family papers are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society.
Family, Marriages, and Friendship:
Brenda Ueland’s parents were well known Minneapolitans. They had eight children including Brenda. Her mother Clara (1860-1927) was an activist in the women’s suffrage movement who served as the first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters (1919-1920), as chair of the League of Women Voters, and as a chair of the League’s legislative council. She was also a teacher and a campaigner for prison reform, child-labor laws and women’s rights. In 2007, Clara Ueland was listed as one of the most significant Minnesotans in Kate Roberts’ book, Minnesota 150: The People, Places, and Things that Shape Our State. Ms. Ueland’s father, Andreas Ueland (1853-1933), was a prominent lawyer, who served as probate judge and general counsel for both Midland National and the Federal Reserve banks of Minneapolis. His death in 1933 was covered in obituary section of the New York Times.
Brenda Ueland was married three times. She was married to Wallace Benedict, a New York Businessman from 1916 to 1926.23 They had a daughter, Brenda Ueland’s only child, Gabrielle (1921- 2007). Brenda Ueland married Manus McFadden, a Minneapolis public relations counsel and Minneapolis Times editor in 1945. Their marriage ended in a divorce in 1950.24 Her third marriage was to Sverre Hansen circa 1957 until 1964.25
Ms. Ueland was well connected as can be seen by the letters between her and Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Carl Sandburg.26 Her most documented association in written correspondence is that with Fridtjof Nansen from 1929-1930. Fridtjof is highly regarded in Norway as one of the country’s greatest athletes, a polar explorer, scientist, artist, statesman and humanitarian. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for saving countless Russians from starvation.27 In 2011, Brenda Ueland’s step-grandson Eric Utne, published a collection of love letters between Brenda and Fridtjof in the book: Brenda, My Darling: The Love Letters of Fridtjof Nansen to Brenda Ueland. Ms. Ueland also knew and associated with well-known free thinkers and writers such as Louis Bryant, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Emma Goldman, Eugene O’Neill, John Reed, and Robert Penn Warren.
In 1884, three years after Brenda Ueland was born, her father, Andreas Ueland purchased a tract of land on Richfield Road east of Cottage City and south of Lake Calhoun (current address 3830 West Lake Calhoun Parkway). That year, Andreas and Clara built their 16-room, Colonial Revival home with curved bay windows and porches.30 Brenda Ueland lived at this residence while growing up and then when she returned from New York City in 1930. She lived here when her two most famous works were published: If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit (1938) and her autobiography: Me: A Memoir (1939)31.The Ueland family lived here until approximately 1947 and the house was demolished in 1953. As reported in the Minneapolis Tribune, Arnulf Ueland, Brenda Ueland’s brother, stated that “the big house is being wrecked because it is no longer practical to heat and maintain.”32 The current structure on the site is a duplex that was built in 1964.
Brenda Ueland moved into the house at 2620 West 44th Street in 1954 when she was about 63 years old and lived there until she died in 1985. The two-story frame dwelling was built in 1900 for DeForest A. Simmons. Mr. Simmons was an agent for flour millers at Holt Grain Company.33 According to the applicant’s historical consultant’s historic review, occupants of this residence prior to Brenda Ueland included: Adelaide F. Bissell, Frank E. Bissell, Alice Swedenborg Johnson, and Douglas C. Jones and his wife. In a cursory review of these individuals, they were not shown to rise to the relevance of significance worthy of local designation.
The house at 2620 West 44th Street was often a subject of Ms. Ueland’s writing. She once described a romantic fantasy of spying whales on Lake Harriet from her many-windowed room on the second floor. She also noted that this was "kind of [a] bum old house but I could afford it". Ms. Ueland’s only child Gabrielle (Gaby) McIver continued to live in the house until 2001, when she moved to a Saint Louis Park nursing home.
Memories and stories