The idea that tidiness sparks joy can apply to a community as well as a closet. Back in 1905, a Victorian-era version of Marie Kondo lived here in Fergus Falls. Her name was Phoebe Welch and she shared her ideas for the village in a speech entitled, “Fergus Falls. As It Might Be.” Wheelock’s Weekly newspaper reprinted the text of the speech.
Phoebe Welch and she shared her ideas for the village in a speech entitled, “Fergus Falls. As It Might Be.” Wheelock’s Weekly newspaper reprinted the text of the speech.
Phoebe Welch’s opinion actually carried some weight in town. She was married to Dr. George Welch, the administrator at the Fergus Falls State Hospital, and is credited with implementing the first occupational therapy programs in Minnesota. She also founded the Fergus Falls chapter of the Federation of Women’s Clubs and served as an officer at the state and national levels.
Phoebe advocated for women’s suffrage but her death in 1918 meant that she never voted. Despite lacking the ballot, Phoebe took a leading role in civic affairs. At a meeting of the Civic Improvement League, she made the following remarks that still strike a chord 100 years later.
Fergus Falls is a city of great possibilities, possessing great charm, many natural advantages and inhabited by a discriminating and intelligent set of people who usually get what they want if they only know what they want.
The question for us to discuss is what is needed to enhance these natural advantages which we know are ours and make our little city the beautiful place it ought to be.
Topographically we have an almost ideal location. The river running through the town is one of our best features that only needs a little discriminating treatment to be very beautiful where it is now only useful. The work that has been done to improve its banks suggests possibilities of further attractiveness and the making of a pleasant and convenient recreation ground.
BEAUTY OF LAKE ALICE
Then we have our gem, our little Lake Alice, set in the heart of the city, a feature that is the surprise and envy of all our visitors. Its luster is a little dimmed and the setting tarnished, but it is the real thing and ought to be cherished and made beautiful, as it can be with little trouble and expense.
Cleanliness is next to godliness in municipal affairs as well as personal. There’s a self-respect that comes with a tidy, clean, well-ordered city as with a home or an individual and so the first thing that should be done before any great ornamental features are established is to make our streets clean and respectable, to remove and keep them free from rubbish and to induce people not to make a dumping ground of the public way, but to find some other place in which to dispose of their old tin cans, stove pipe, carpet rags, worn cooking utensils and all that sort of thing for which there is no longer any use.
The using of vacant lots as a dumping ground for worn out machinery, old wagons, buggies and their kindred is one of the most deplorable practices possible and some way ought to be devised to remedy this very bad habit. If we could only set the fashion of … we’d hardly know ourselves we should be so clean.
Phoebe Welch’s speech is too lengthy to entirely reprint but interested persons can find it and many other community treasures in the archives at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.