'I Thee Wed' exhibit celebrates Beltrami County weddings across time
Despite possessing about 1 million images, the collection isn't complete. The organization is seeking documentation of Indigenous weddings as well as interracial and same-sex marriages in the region.
BEMIDJI — The joy and traditions of weddings over the decades are the focus of a new exhibit at the Beltrami County Historical Society.
"I Thee Wed" is a collaborative exhibit highlighting weddings over the history of the region. Organizers seek to create a joyful continuum of history of Beltrami County through the collection of images, gowns and memories, according to Emily Thabes, executive director.
But despite possessing about 1 million images, including the catalogs of two prominent Bemidji photographers who took thousands of wedding photographs, the collection isn't complete. Thabes said the society is seeking images and other documentation of Indigenous weddings as well as interracial and same-sex marriages in the region.
"We don't see a lot of these because they weren't celebrated in white culture for quite a long time, and in many cases, they were not legal,” Thabes said. “Interracial marriage was not legal for some time. Gay marriage has only been legal for a very short period of time. So we don't have a lot of documentation of that because it just hasn't been around for very long and because there's still maybe some cultural challenges with feeling comfortable sharing that openly.”
During a live interview with Katie Carter on the Thursday, March 23, Morning Show, Thabes implored locals who might have images or documents fitting the bill to take part in the exhibit. in an effort to make the collection more expansive and reflective of the culture of the area.
“We welcome having that history because it is part of the history of who we are. It is part of the history of this community. Individuals who are in these kinds of marriages are part of this community as much as everybody else, so we want to make sure that their marriages are recognized and celebrated, too, in our history.”
Two events are planned in conjunction with the weddings exhibit.
The Brown Bag speaker series at Beltrami County Historical Society set for noon April 20 will focus on the research around the “Cupid Letters” portion of the wedding exhibit. Mail-order brides weren't uncommon in Minnesota's pioneer days, when there weren't many women to go around. These courtships were based around correspondence, hence the term "Cupid Letters."
"Individuals who are in these kinds of marriages are part of this community as much as everybody else, so we want to make sure that their marriages are recognized and celebrated, too, in our history."Emily Thabes, Beltrami County Historical Society executive director
Then at 2 p.m. April 30, the historical society will host an afternoon tea called “I Said Yes to the Dress,” during which women are welcome to enjoy wedding fashion through the years with a style show and community gathering.
March is also Women’s History Month, and unknown and unnamed women of Beltrami County were the topic of a recent blog post by Thabes. She said there is an inequality in recognition of men versus women in the images at the historical society. Most women in those images are unnamed or simply "Mrs. ____________," while the men were most often named with a first and last name.
"They're just 'woman,' 'unknown woman,' ' woman unknown.' They just don't have a name at all. They're not even listed as being in the photo in some cases, even when there are men in the photo who are named," Thabes said. " ... It's super challenging because women have contributed just as much to this county, if not more in some areas or cases than men have."
Thabes invited visitors to visit the historical society's digitized photos and assist with naming the women in Beltrami County history.
Learn more about weddings and women in Beltrami County as well as upcoming celebration plans for a 200th birthday in this segment of Area Voices.
Area Voices is made possible by the MN Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.