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This Date In Central Minnesota History – March 24th, 1858

Photos of Jane Grey Swisshelm from 1855 courtesy of the Stearns History Museum

ST. CLOUD – March 24th, 1858 – Opponents of Jane Grey Swisshelm, St. Cloud’s first female publisher and feminist, broke into her newspaper office, The St. Cloud Visiter, and destroyed the press, throwing the pieces into the Mississippi River

Jane Grey Swisshelm, an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and journalist, is perhaps St. Cloud’s most famous resident.  She was born in Pittsburg in 1815, and married her husband at the age of 21.  After 20 years in a bad marriage, Swisshelm left her husband and moved to St. Cloud with her daughter.  St. Cloud was just a pioneer village at this time, with a population of less than 600.

Swisshelm's home and office in St. Cloud in 1860

In St. Cloud, Swisshelm quickly became editor of the local newspaper and changed its name to the St. Cloud Visiter.  Her views made her the enemy of several of the men who lived in St. Cloud, especially General Sylvanus Lowry.  Lowry, who founded St. Cloud’s Lower Town, owned slaves and Swisshelm attacked him in her editorials.

On March 24th, 1858, Gen. Lowry and some comrades broke into The Visiter’s office and destroyed the press, throwing parts of it into the Mississippi River.  The citizens of St. Cloud were outraged, and they helped to buy a new press for Swisshelm.  She tried to publish her newspaper again, but Lowry had a lawsuit against The Visiter, so she could not.  To get around these legalities, she started a new newspaper!  She published the first issue of her new newspaper, the St. Cloud Democrat on August 5, 1858.  The front page included an “obituary” for The Visiter, as well as a detailed account of the recent incident.

Though she was pro-women’s rights and anti-slavery, not all of her views were as admirable.  She was anti-Catholicism, and, during the 1862 Dakota Wars, she strongly urged President Lincoln to sentence all the Native Americans involved to death.

Swisshelm left her newspaper to her nephew and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1863.  She started another newspaper, but her editorials against President Andrew Johnson led to her losing the paper.  She published her autobiography in 1881 (which is available for purchase in the book store at the Stearns History Museum), and she died in Pennsylvania on July 12, 1884.

Thanks to Sarah Warmka and the Stearns History Museum for their help with our series, “This Date In Central Minnesota History”.

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