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Manuscripts by Subject - Politics / Government - #10794

Title: Clinton A. Denison Papers

Dates: 1933-1937

Collection Number:
Mss 10794

2 feet

Includes a biography and photograph of Clinton Denison, office files which consist of applications for aid, case work files, memorandums, minutes, personnel files, regulation notices, correspondence, and financial records. Correspondence files contain letters and memoranda written by or to Denison. There are newspaper clippings detailing the work of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and county offices and the concerns of county residents about the running of Denison's office. Finally there are financial records consisting of budgets and ledgers detailing the expenditures of the office, and detail order forms, and receipt books.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the Clinton Denison Papers from Thomas S. Denison in August 2000.

Property Rights:
The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs.  Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.


Biographical Sketch

Written by Thomas S. Denison

Clinton A. Denison was the son of Walter A. Denison and Emily C. (Sims) Denison of Cathay, North Dakota. Walter and Emily had four children, three girls: Marion (b. 1895-d. 1907); Phyllis (b. 1907-d. 1999); Alice (b. 1904-d. 1987?) and one son, Clinton (b. 1909-d. 1990).

Walter Denison was born in Dayton, Ohio on September 20, 1869 and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota at an early age. He apprenticed as a harness maker and then went to McAllister’s School of Telegraphy in Minneapolis. He worked as an Agent & Operator for the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (the Soo Line) first as a traveling relief operator and then as the Soo built across North Dakota, at the end of the line. Initially his work was in the southern part of the state, Cogswell and Merricourt and ultimately was assigned to Cathay, North Dakota as the Depot Agent & Operator in 1892.

Emily C. Sims was born in Hailing Island, England and immigrated to the United States as a small child settling in Minneapolis. At a very early age she went to work for Munsingwear Clothing Manufacturing in Minneapolis. She married Walter Denison in 1894 and the lived in the Depot at Cathay.

As immigrants arrived at Cathay on the train they often stayed at the Depot until relatives or friends arrived to pick them up. During that period of time Emily and Walter befriended the new arrivals, often taking care of the ill and caring for them until they left. Walter was known as a trustworthy and honest man and many of the immigrants and pioneers left money in the railroad safe in the Depot.

Around 1907 T. L. Beiseker opened the First State Bank of Cathay. Business was very poor and Beiseker could not understand why no one would deposit money in his bank. He finally discovered that the immigrants and pioneers trusted Walter with their money, why should they trust Beiseker? Beiseker hired Walter Denison as cashier of the bank and the money from the railroad safe followed Walter to the bank. The bank was exceedingly prosperous and was ultimately sold just as World War I ended in 1918.

In the late 1890s Walter and Emily started to buy farmland in and around Cathay. This early investing in land in the late 1890s as well as the prospering bank business allowed then to continue to purchase farmland. By 1912 they owned two sections of land and also built one of the largest homes in Cathay.

Such was the world that Clinton entered when he was born in 1909. His home was one of comfort and a hub of Cathay society. Hired girls worked in the home doing laundry and cooking. An orphaned teenage girl, Annie Helm, was taken in to the home primarily to care for Clinton and his sisters and Walter became the executor of her parent’s estate and her guardian.

In the fall of 1918 with the sale of the bank, Walter also sold their home and half of the land. The family moved to Fargo and Walter reentered the banking business buying into two banks with T. L. Beiseker and relocating to American National Bank in Forsyth, Montana as the cashier. An unwritten agreement for this banking enterprise would allow Walter to close the bank if it was in danger of failing and arrange for the bank to be taken over by someone else. However, in no case would depositors lose money even if Walter and Beiseker had to pay out of their own pockets.

Due to severe drought conditions in Montana, the bank did fail in 1922. True to their word, Walter and Beiseker made good for all depositors. This left Walter and Emily close to broke with the remaining farmland heavily mortgages. Walter continued to work with Beiseker until August 1925, but the majority of the family moved to Minneapolis to live with relatives. After leaving Beiseker, Walter worked for the Federal Land Bank and traveled a great deal. Emily was quite ill at this time and lived with her family. Clinton lived with a friend of the family and due to a severe bicycle/car accident underwent extensive dental surgery.

The bicycle accident is of interest mostly for the odd twist of fate, or the Divine Providence act that occurred. Clinton was severely injured while riding his bicycle down a hill. He struck a car at an intersection, was knocked unconscious and taken to one of two hospitals in Fargo. Lacking identification, the hospital was unable to contact the parents. Significantly injured and requiring surgery, the child was delirious and kept calling for Annie. One of the sisters suggested that a nurse working at the hospital named Ann might calm the child. The nurse sent for was Annie Helm who identified Clinton as her brother. Once he heard her voice he relaxed, his parents were summoned, and surgery performed.

Clinton was an Eagle Scout and won the Harmon Foundation Award. He was one of very few scouts in Minneapolis who had earned the Aviation Merit Badge when Charles Lindbergh visited Minneapolis after his historic flight. The Boy Scouts had the honor of carrying Lindbergh’s luggage. Clinton started at the University of Minnesota in 1928, but was interrupted by the onset of the depression. In 1933 the Federal Emergency Relief Administration was created and Clinton was recruited for the North Dakota FERA. He was trained as a Home Visitor in Burleigh County and then was sent to Dickey County to organize their program. As the Federal Relief Program expanded Clinton began to cover Richland County, too, and eventually moved to Wahpeton where he worked until the program was discontinued in 1935. He then became the Richland County Welfare Director until late 1937.

Clinton earned a degree from the University of Minnesota in 1938, was employed by the American Red Cross and married Catherine Barta who he had hired while in Dickey County. They had two sons: Walter Barta and Thomas Sims Denison. Clinton worked on the national staff of the American Red Cross in various capacities until his retirement in 1970. From 1950 to 1952 he worked as the North Dakota State Relations Officer and participated in many disaster recovery operations due to floods, tornados and snow storms. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he represented the Red Cross in the Midwest and Central U.S. His last assignment was representing military veterans and their families in actions involving the Veterans Administration. He died in 1990.

Box / Folder Inventory

Box 1:
1 Biography and photograph of Clinton Denison                               
2 Office files consisting of applications for aid, case work files, memorandums, minutes, personnel files,              
regulation notices and some correspondence
3 Correspondence files contain letters and memorandums written by or to Denison
4 Newspaper clippings detailing the work of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), county offices and concerns of county residents about the administration of Denison’s office
5 Financial records consisting of budgets and ledgers detailing the expenditures of the office

Box 2:
1 Financial records including order forms and receipt books

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