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