Preserving Women in History

With her grandchildren being the seventh generation of her family to live in the Rochester area,
Virginia Wright-Peterson is one local woman invested in preserving local history. Author and
vice chancellor for finance and campus resources at University of Minnesota–Rochester, Wright-
Peterson is the author of three nonfiction books—all of which have been considered for
Minnesota Book Awards.

Her first “Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation” (2016) traces the fascinating
stories of more than 40 women—mothers, sisters, physicians and others—who were instrumental
in establishing the medical center despite disease, war and the hardships of pioneer life
encountered in the remote Midwest from the 1850s to 1943. Wright-Peterson asserts, “Mayo
Clinic would not be the internationally-renowned medical center that it is today without the
contributions of these women.” She goes on to add, “‘Women of Mayo Clinic’ changed how
Mayo as an institution has viewed and portrayed its history. I see women included much more
now than in the past in history exhibits and websites. I’d like to think my research and this book
contributed to changing perceptions.”

In 2020, she published “A Woman’s War, Too: Women’s Work During WWII,” also to acclaim.
In this historical research, readers will learn how the women of Minnesota contributed to the
fight for peace and freedom during WWII, such as serving as cryptologists, journalists, pilots,
riveters, mechanics, nurses, entertainers, peace activists, and spies. Wright-Peterson says of her
second book, “Perhaps most surprising is that in addition to significant contributions on the
home front, women from Minnesota were present in every branch of the military and involved in
nearly every milestone of the war. This book came out during the COVID lockdown of April
2020 so it has been somewhat overlooked. It will change how most people see WWII. Too many
movies, documentaries and books have focused on what was happening on the front lines. So
much more was happening and women made vital contributions.” Wright-Peterson’s wish is to
get copies of this book in schools throughout Minnesota so students may have a more balanced
perspective of WWII.

Following in 2022, Wright-Peterson published her third book: “Rochester: An Urban
Biography.” Wright-Peterson will be the first to admit that locals appreciate having a chance to
learn “unflattering bits” about Rochester’s history along with the interesting. The book focuses
on events of the past to assemble a view of current culture. Wright-Peterson also includes
personal experiences and reactions to the information she found as she was researching. She
adds, “Rochester is so well known for the story of the Mayo Clinic, but the city is made up of so
much more. It had a surprising role in the Dakota–U.S. War, and the ups and downs of business
development can be traced from the first mills on the Zumbro River, continuing through the
arrival of a camera factory and later IBM up to the current challenges created by the COVID
pandemic. How the community has come together and sometimes dealt with conflict has made
all the difference.”

In support of local establishments, you can find these books at the History Center of Olmsted
County, Garden Party Books, Peacock Books and the University of Minnesota Gear Store. They
are also available through the Rochester Public Library. Wright-Peterson adds, “I am humbled to
be a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award three times, and yet, being a bit of an introvert, I may
not do enough to promote these books. I really, really want these amazing stories shared.”

Virginia Wright-Peterson, PhD, is committed to researching and sharing powerful untold stories
that have the potential to enlighten our understanding of society today and inform the choices we
make that influence the future. All her titles have been published by Minnesota Historical
Society Press.

About Author

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Gina is a writer and author living in Rochester with her husband, two entertaining children and whoodle pup.

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