Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Linda Van Ingen

Committee Members

Nathan Tye, David Vail


Fur Trade, Gender, Marriage, Minnesota, Sexuality, Two-Spirit


The colonization of Minnesota brought about a sexual revolution that redefined what gender, sexuality, and intimacy meant within Minnesotan society before the turn of the twentieth century. Initial Euro-American forays into Minnesota created a hybridized society where indigenous traditions and Euro-American cultural ideas intermixed. Fur traders and early settlers broadly accepted indigenous customs, and some Euro-Americans even adopted indigenous practices. The most apparent of these practices are indigenous marriage rites. Large numbers of fur traders engaged in marriages à la façons du pays, in the style of the Dakota and Ojibwe. In some instances, these fur traders even engaged in polygamy, which was a common practice amongst the Dakota and Ojibwe. However, as increasing numbers of Euro-Americans permanently settled in Minnesota, religious leaders and political leaders pushed for alignment to Euro-American traditions in regard to gender, sexuality, and intimacy. Marriages à la façon du pays, nonnormative gender expressions, and interracial relationships were targets of social pressure as leaders and reformers sought to mold Minnesota in the cultural image of eastern states. With Minnesota achieving territorial status and later statehood in 1858, leading figures pushed for greater state intervention in individual’s lives to bring about greater alignment with traditional Euro-American morality. Successive territorial and state statutes attempted to define the construction of proper intimate relationships, and individual citizens organized campaigns to ban prostitution. This research utilizes firsthand accounts of fur traders, politicians, and missionaries to document interpretations of gender, sexuality, and intimacy in Minnesota. These accounts are supported by contemporary newspaper articles and statutes, as well as close readings of a number of secondary sources, including Mary Lethert Wingerd, Sylvia van Kirk, and Catherine J. Denial. Analyzing the changes to cultural understandings of gender, sexuality, and intimacy in Minnesota before 1900 grants greater clarity on how the region was colonized by Euro-Americans.



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