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Field, Minnie

by Dee Williams

Minnie Field was born on June 1, 1892, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her family belonged to the servant class. Minnie went to work in that profession at an early age. At the age of seventeen, in 1909, she migrated to Canada. Her parents were dead and her only sister, twelve years her senior, had migrated to Canada with her family several years earlier.

The Canadian railroads, which were opening up the western areas of Canada, had hotels all along the route. Along with many other Irish immigrants she found work as a maid and as a waitress.

Her adventurous spirit led her to Atlin, B.C., where an Irish beau had a gold mine. Due to religious differences, they would not wed. After spending the year 1917, working at the Royal Hotel she moved back to the southern part of the province and to Alberta to work at the railroad hotels. It is believed to be there that she learned to be an excellent cook. When her boss, R. Richardson, was assigned to represent the Canadian Steamship Co. in the Territory of Alaska’s Juneau office, she returned with his family and went on to Skagway where she worked in the Golden North Hotel from November 1, 1919 until April of 1920, when she moved to Juneau.

Minnie was hired as matron and cook at the Territorial Jail where she worked for the next 15 years. She was active in the Rebekah Lodge and Eastern Star. Some of those years she was in charge of the booths at the annual Southeast Fair. Her cooking skills were widely known.

During 1928-1929, the marshal at the jail sent small children, whose parents were jailed and the children had no other place to go, home with Minnie. When she was given children whose parents were to be incarcerated for several years, she knew that her present arrangements were not sufficient. A law was passed in 1929, to pay dependent children’s caretakers. In 1930, she used all her savings to buy a summer home along Lena Beach, had it winterized and added another building beside it. In 1932, two ladies to act as cook and matron for the children and nine children were the start of Minfield Children’s Home. Minnie kept working at the jail and paid the bills.

Minnie had very little education and was determined that her children have a teacher, to which they were entitled under the law. She was refused. Minnie paid a teacher out of her own salary, funds from bake sales, and contributions from friends for four years before the Commissioner of Education furnished a teacher.

In 1936, Minnie lost her job. With no funds to pay workers, she moved out to the home and filled the job of three other people. From then on, she was a very busy lady with as many as 42 children at a time. Most of the children were there for only a few days, while awaiting transportation back to their villages from the Native Hospital, while awaiting solutions to family problems, while parents were on the job for a few months in areas they could not take children, or for other family needs.

She tried to run her home as one big happy family rather than as an institution. She did not believe in segregation. A gutsy lady, she fought for her children’s rights on every front.

She became well known beyond the Alaska Territory through an article in the Ford Motor Co. magazine. Through a national radio program she was honored with the Golden Globe Award. The Alaska Legislature knew her well as she lobbied for more funds for the children and for the reimbursement of funds which she paid for their first four years of school at Minfield. (They reimbursed her in 1941.)

From 1936 to 1950, Minnie ran her children’s home alone. By 1950, she knew that her health was failing and that she was in debt again. In November, she sold Minfield Children’s Home to Rev. Peter Nickel. Minnie moved into town and started medical treatments. In February of 1951, she was admitted to Virginia Mason Clinic in Seattle where she died on March 19, 1951. Her funeral was held, as she had requested with the Rebekahs in charge and Dr. Walter Soboleff as speaker. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, March 28, 1951.

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