Friends centennial

Stepping Back: Dorothy Bridgeman Atkinson Rood 

A look back at a dynamo WWII era Friends President

Dorothy Bridgeman Atkinson Rood was born in St. Paul in 1890. Her distinguished father was the president of Hamline University, and she herself, a graduate of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Typical of the times, she married young at age  21, to  Frederick Atkinson, 26 years her elder and a milling company executive. Together they raised three children, Mary,  Frederick,  and William. The family lived in a 40 room mansion on five acres atop Lowry Hill, overlooking downtown Minneapolis. This house, built between 1905 and 1907, was formerly known as the Dunwoody Mansion.

Dunwoody Mansion

Demolition of the property occurred in 1967.

While raising her family and married to Mr. Atkinson, Dorothy held prominent positions within the community. At one point, she was a delegate at a conference of University Women held in Poland. Unknowingly, she broke the currency law and found herself imprisoned in Poland. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, fortunately, intervened on her behalf. But previous to his assistance, she refused jailhouse food for two days, surviving on chocolate bars she had carried with her into the prison.

Dorothy Atkinson. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Her passion for righteous causes continued through most of the 1930s when she became president of the Minnesota Birth Control League that later became known as Planned Parenthood in December of 1940. Dorothy’s daughter, Mary, described her mother as “strong, outspoken, devoted to the birth control movement. She tended to speak her mind and worked to make contraception available to all mothers who desire and need it.”

Additional interests included the American Association of University Women, where she served as a national officer, president of the Minneapolis Public Library, Board of Trustees of Hamline University, and various boards representing the Minnesota Historical Society, Walker Art Center, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. When Dorothy retired from the library board, a Minneapolis Tribune editorial stated, “She will carry into retirement the gratitude of the people of this entire area for her contributions of time, effort, and money to this important institution.”

Continuing with her commitment to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Dorothy became president of Friends from 1943-1945. These were wartime years, but with Dorothy’s enthusiasm and guidance, Friends remained very relevant.

In 1943 membership stability was imperative even during difficult times. Friends members were encouraged to bring a guest to activities but not the same guest. Coffee was rationed at these gatherings due to the war. 

Dorothy Atkinson

January and February of 1944 brought large crowds from 43 states and 6 foreign countries to visit the Thorne Collection of 37 miniature rooms. Friends of the Institute sponsored this exhibition. The museum even extended its hours to accommodate the crowds. Dorothy exclaimed, “Within these walls, many have found relaxation and coveted diversion.” During those wintry days, Friends were encouraged to once again invite a non-Friend member to tea in the Fireplace Room with the fireplace glowing. This also marked the beginning of the much enjoyed and long-standing Friends lecture series.

By 1945, Friends had grown from its previous 455 members to 514 members. During this time, the by-laws were adjusted to “allow unmarried daughters of museum members to become Friends.” Dorothy was also instrumental in establishing the Louise Phelps Fund, establishing a presence of fresh flowers in the main gallery for all to enjoy.

After Dorothy finished her term as Friends president, she proceeded to become the first president and co-founder of Lowry Hill Homeowner’s Association in 1946. Post wartime found many large homes converted to rooming houses and people fleeing to the suburbs for more affordable housing. Dorothy felt it was imperative to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood with the development of the Association. She and her then-husband sculptor John Rood (Frederik Atkinson had died in 1940) designed a contemporary home at 1650 Dupont Avenue that also housed John’s art studio, becoming the center of many community cultural events for years.

In 1965, Dorothy died unexpectedly from a tragic automobile accident in Tobago, West Indies, where she and her husband had a home. John lived until 1974. The Dorothy Atkinson and John Rood collection of papers are currently housed at Syracuse University. Much of John’s art pieces may be found in Minnesota. One wonderful example is located at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church entryway which displays eight carved figures and 33 prominent carved stones donated by Dorothy and John in 1952, honoring her first husband, Frederick. 

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kirby.

Dorothy touched many during her many endeavors. Her obituary read, “She encouraged the arts and higher education. She promoted gracious living. She contributed of her means to many enterprises, but her main contribution was herself.”

Friends History Publication Committee
Pamela Friedland
Linda Goldenberg
Mary Merrick
Suzanne Payne
Connie Sommers


Stepping Back: The first Friends President

First in a series previewing the 2022 Friends Centennial

In just one year, Friends will be celebrating its centennial.  My committee and I have been busy for well over a year producing a book due out at the beginning of January 2022, documenting our extensive history. In our research, we continue to discover stories about the selfless, intelligent, accomplished, and entertaining women leading the way for Friends. Not all of this amazing information can fit into our book so we thought instead, we’d bring you the tales of these legendary people in this column. Smile, laugh, be astonished, and be proud of women strongly connected to our history. 

Carolyn McKnight Christian

 Carolyn McKnight Christian, 1875-1964

 When the much-admired Ethel Morrison Van Derlip died at an early age in 1921, 45 of her fellow community art supporters and friends felt Van Derlip’s legacy needed recognition. On January 20th, 1922, these women officially formed Friends of the Institute in her honor. With Carolyn McKnight Christian herself being a strong patron in the neighborhood and art supporter within Minneapolis, she was selected to become the first president of this cherished organization.

2200 Park Avenue. Photo courtesy of CARLOS GONZALEZ – STAR TRIBUNE

Carolyn was born in Colorado in 1875 to Sumner T. McKnight and Eugenie Manville. Mr. McKnight was in the real estate business as well as the lumber business. His vocation took the family across the Midwest and the West Coast, moving Carolyn 11 times as a child. Eventually, the family settled at 2200 Park Avenue in Minneapolis. 

In 1897, Carolyn wed George Chase Christian. Mr. Christian was the son of Leonora Hall and George H. Christian. George H. and Leonora had lost their oldest son Henry to tuberculosis at the age of 27. Perhaps because of this, Leonora devoted much of her time to supporting the fight against this devasting disease. In fact, they funded treatment camps and hospitals for patients with tuberculosis, engaging in a special interest for afflicted children. George H. Christian, himself involved in the Minneapolis flour milling industry, founded the Citizen’s Aid Society with a $1 million endowment in 1916, soon after his wife Leonora passed away. It was included in the articles of incorporation that patients with TB be treated. Later this Citizen Aid Society developed into the United Way.

2303 Third Ave

In 1917, Carolyn along with her husband George began construction of a three-story mansion at  2303 Third Avenue. The architect, Edwin Hewitt, already famously known in the Twin Cities, designed a home with a mixture of late English Gothic and Renaissance design. In 1919, before the house was completed, George passed away and this left Carolyn with the task of putting the finishing touches on the grand home.

Carolyn lived in the home, with her foster children who she met while traveling with her husband in Paris, until 1957. They had no children of their own but Carolyn also spent a great deal of time with her seven nieces and nephews. She maintained the role of the family matriarch and was often called, “Nana.” Often the home was filled with music, and many concerts were hosted in the fireplace room designed for this purpose. Carolyn’s golden retriever named Dennis would “dance” with Carolyn around the living and dining rooms, adding to the festivities. One of Carolyn’s foster daughters recalled perching at the top of the grand staircase, hearing the doorman announcing the guests for the evenings’ social gatherings. Aside from enjoying entertaining, Carolyn continued to demonstrate her passion for the welfare of the community in countless ways.

Before Carolyn’s death in 1964 at the age of 89, it was her wish to donate her home to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1957. Shortly afterward, the home was purchased by the Hennepin History Museum to house an increasing collection of the county’s artifacts. Jack Kabrud, museum curator has mentioned a lingering presence exists in the museum. It is unknown whether or not this is from the historic museum collection or previous inhabitants of the home. Past volunteers and staff of the museum have “experienced pockets of strong, unexplainable scents, and many people—especially women—have gotten a strange, unsettling sensation at the top of the main staircase.”

No doubt, Friends feel the presence of Carolyn Christian when continuing its passion for serving the community and the mission of the museum. Her legacy as Friends’ first leader has set an extraordinary example of generosity and the spirit of giving.

Friends Centennial History Publication Authors

Pamela Friedland
Linda Goldenberg
Mary Merrick
Suzanne Payne
Connie Sommers