University of Minnesota

International Institute of Minnesota, Records

Finding Aid

IHRC Archives

Immigration History Research Center Archives, University of Minnesota

Descriptive summary

Creator: International Institute of Minnesota.
Dates: 1920-2004
Abstract: Records (ca. 1920-2004) of the International Institute of Minnesota include music, travel literature, case files, correspondence, photographs, minutes of the membership Council and Board of Directors (also available on microfilm), administrative records, educational program information, department records, group services and activities, special programs, projects, and publications, community and national contacts, publicity, and miscellany.
Quantity: 110 linear ft.
Language: In English
Collection ID: IHRC3257 (includes a 1975 accession with old ID number IHRC 64 [42 linear feet] and a 2005 accession [68 linear feet])


The initial collection of records of the International Institute of Minnesota was deposited in the Immigration History Research Center in June 1975. They were secured through the efforts of Rudolph J. Vecoli, director of the Center, and Robert Hoyle, executive director of the Institute. The inventory for this accession (IHRC 64, 42 linear feet) was prepared by Mary Erickson in 1982, and formatted for the Internet by Student Assistant Paul Bowman and Assistant Curator Daniel Necas in 2002. It is accessible from the link below. In 2005, the International Institute donated another set of its archival records (68 linear feet) to the IHRC. These were secured through the efforts of Joel Wurl, Curator of IHRC and Board Member of the II of MN. In close collaboration with Assistant Curator Daniel Necas and under the supervision of Joel Wurl, Her Vang, graduate student in History, and Chia Youyee Vang, Ph.D candidate in American Studies, processed the additional materials from June to August 2005. A preliminary inventory for this accession is available to on-site researchers.



The International Institute of Minnesota had its beginnings in 1919, under the auspices of the YWCA. During the 1920s, it offered English and citizenship classes, casework, services, and activities for St. Paul ethnic communities. The first executive director, Alice J. Sickels, came in 1931. Under her direction, the Institute expanded, and also began the St. Paul Festival of Nations. In 1938, the Institute broke from the YWCA, the result of expanding programs in casework and folk art, inclusion of men in programs, and increased service to non-Protestants. During the years prior to World War II, casework emphasized naturalization and resolution of immigrant legal problems. Both during and after World War II, casework services centered on resettlement of displaced persons. The Institute has continued, in various ways, to help the foreign born adjust to American life while retaining their cultural heritage.

In the 1960s, IIM helped to resettle a significant number of Cuban refugees. During the Civil Rights Movement, the International Institute worked to promote interracial understanding and cooperation. It continued its services of helping to reunite families, obtaining visas and citizenship papers, teaching English, counseling those who had run into conflict with the law, supplying interpreters and finding jobs for immigrants. While these direct services are fundamental, the International Institute played a key role in influencing public opinion and national policy on immigration to affirm the value of immigrant cultures and to speed the integration of immigrant groups into their local communities.

Prior to the 1965 immigration law, International Institute clients were primarily European immigrants. Beginning with the amendments to the 1965 immigration law, as with what occurred nationally, European immigration slowed considerably while there was a sharp increase in the ratio of Asian immigration. While Cuban refugees were the principal clients of the International Institute of Minnesota throughout the 1970s, the 1965 law opened the door to increased immigration of Asians to Minnesota. More specifically, the increase in Asian migration to Minnesota was a direct result of the Vietnam War. The ending of the Vietnam War and the mass arrival of refugees from Southeast Asia in the mid 1970s changed the cultural mix of those who would pass through the International Institute’s doors. The Institute played a significant role in sponsoring refugees by holding orientation seminars for sponsoring families and refugees. It continued to resettle Southeast Asian refugees through the 1980s, 90s, and into the early 2000s. With changes in global politics, refugees and immigrants from Europe, Africa and Latin America also joined the thousands of Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese refugees in Minnesota.

Throughout the late 1970s, International Institute continued and newly initiated many interethnic and intercultural programs such as the Festival of Nations, Nationality Spotlight, foreign food luncheons, World Pen Pals, and World Travel Adventure Series that acquainted area residents with the history geography, customs and people from nations around the world. In 1979, the groundbreaking for the Nationality Cultural Center took place. Major casework activities included counseling, interpreting in court hearings, translating and verifying documents, assisting in applications for changes in status, visa extensions, and permanent residency and naturalization petitions. One central tenet of IIM’s philosophy is that immigrants are served by those who are from similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Accordingly, IIM has committed to hiring caseworkers from the various immigrant and refugee groups to ease peoples’ transition to life in Minnesota.

In 1983, significant changes in immigration counseling emerged. Political upheavals around the world led to an increase in political asylum requests to the Institute. Consequently, it collaborated with William MitchellSchool of Law to represent the Institute’s clients before the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This service continued until the mid 1990s.

Beginning in 1990, IIM expanded its casework services by developing new programs to meet the increasingly diverse client needs. For example, it implemented the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNAT) project to train qualified immigrants and refugees. It also held job-site English classes to ensure that immigrants and refugees had access to meaningful language training.

Around 1993, IIM joined with local Voluntary Agencies and the Islamic Center in MN to plan for the arrival of Bosnian refugees. It also saw an increase in its photography and fingerprinting services due to the Chinese Student Protection Act. In the following year, it continued to reach out to other emerging refugee groups such as Somalis and Sudanese.

Because of the federal immigration and welfare regulations in 1996, permanent resident hearings and citizenship applications increased. While the Immigration Clinic continued, IIM’s immigration services downsized due to funding cuts. During the following year, the program for Southeast Asian refugees ended, and caseworkers were hired based on the needs of refugee populations. For the first time since 1975, no Southeast Asian refugees arrived. It was in 1998 that President Clinton announced that 18 African nations (increase from six) would open up for U.S. resettlement. During the following year, IIM saw an increase in sponsorship of refugees from East Africa. The diversity of the new immigrant and refugee populations encouraged IIM’s publication of Finding Common Understanding: An Employer’s Guide to a Cross-Cultural Workplace in 2000. IIM also updated and made available on-line its Minnesota Ethnic Resource Directory (MERD) in 2001. The entrepreneurial spirit of manage immigrant and refugees propelled IIM’s partnership with Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) to start a micro-enterprise program.

In 2004 when the U.S. Department of State announced the approval of Hmong refugees remaining in Thailand to resettle in the U.S., IIM once again played a leading role in the planning and implementation of resettlement services to this population in collaboration with the many Hmonng organizations in the Twin Cities, the two principal of which were Hmong American Partnership and Lao Family Community of Minnesota, Inc.

Executive Directors of the International Institute of Minnesota:

Alice L. Sickels 1931-1944
Eloise Tanner 1944-1947
Winfred Flannagan 1947-1953
Martha Steinmetz 1953-1955
Walter Frontczak 1956-1960
Grace Collins 1960-1967
Edith Rock 1967-1970
Robert Hoyle 1970- 2005
James Borden 2005-2010
Jane Graupman 2010-

PARTIAL DESCRIPTION OF THE COLLECTION (1975 accession - IHRC 64, Boxes 1-23)


PRELIMINARY DESCRIPTION OF 2005 Accession (Boxes 24-118, and Oversize 1-61)


Series 1:          Board of Directors  (Boxes 24-32)
This series contains the Board’s monthly and annual meeting minutes from 1931-2004; annual and statistical reports from 1935-1944; financial reports from 1970-2004; attendance records from 1935-2003; correspondences to one another as well as to other individuals at other agencies and organizations from 1970-2004; certificate of incorporations from 1946-1969; bylaws from 1970-2001; personnel policies and resolutions from 1970-2001; financial audit reports from 1939-1944; and, finally, some newspaper articles on and about the International Institute of Minnesota  from 1985-2003.

Series 2:          Membership Council Correspondence  (Boxes 33)
This series contains the Council’s meeting minutes from 1942-1960; applications to the Membership Council; activities of the Council from 1958-1960; and monthly and reports of the Council’s activities, finance, and others from 1958-1967.

Series 3:          Activities Committees  (Boxes 33-34)
This series contains this committee’s meeting minutes from 1955-1960, reports on their activities from 1941-1960, and other miscellaneous materials. 

Series 4:          New Citizens  (Box 34)
This series contains data on individuals who were naturalized as American citizens and their naturalization hearings from 1945 to 1971.

Series 5:          Casework Committees  (Box 35)
This series contains this committee’s meeting minutes and correspondences from 1951-1955; dead cases prior to 1962; records of IIM’s clients from 1972-1974.  The records of the IIM’s clients are arranged aphetically according to their country of origin.

Series 6:          Personnel Committees (Box 35)
This series contains this committee’s meeting minutes and memos from 1938 to 1944.  These memos are addressed to members within the committee as well as members of other committees.

Series 7:          Finance Committees (Box 35)
This series contains this committee’s memos and budget reports from 1956 to 1960.  These memos are addressed to members within the committee as well as members of other committees.

Series 8:          Pink Perusal Files  (Boxes 36-49)
These files contain records of most, if not all, correspondence by staff of the International Institute of Minnesota to their clients, staff at other agencies and organizations, donors, and so on from 1970 to 2002.  

Series 9:          Mimeo Perusal Files  (Boxes 50-53)
These files contain materials produced at the IIM, such as newsletters, brochures, calendars, flyers, press releases, and advertisings, from 1972-1979.

Series 10:        Self-Study Files  (Boxes 54-58)
These files contain materials used to help improve the functioning of the Institute and its staffs as well as to enhance the skills of the Institute’s clients.  These materials include nationality surveys and studies, progress evaluation and reports, ACNS studies, agency evaluations, orientation handbooks, language study handbooks and materials, and information on specialized services to the foreign born.  These self-study files contain materials dating from 1964 to 1976, but most are concentrated in the 1960s.

Series 11:        American Federation of International Institutes (AFII)  (Boxes 59-60)
This series contains information on AFII in New York City from 1925 to 1957.  Some are information on developments over the years at AFII while others are correspondences from and to AFII.  In this series are also newsletters, memos, and meeting minutes from AFII as well as information on AFII’s national conventions.

Series 12:        Festival of Nations  (Boxes 61-74)
This series contain materials on the Festival of Nations in 1949, 1973 to 1988, and 1993-1995.  Information on the festival from the years 1950 to 1972 and from 1989-1992 are missing.  In each of these Festival of Nations files, one for each year, are all sorts of materials on that particular year’s Festival of Nation.  The details of these materials can be seen in the files dating from 1993 to 1995.  Over the years, more activities and different facets of the festival are added.  Accordingly, more files and folders are needed to keep the records of the festival together.  In the files dating from 1993 to 1995 are tickets and sales; correspondences with different participants, performers, stores, and venders; brochures, postcards, passes, and programs; information of traffic control; and other miscellaneous materials.  

Series 13:        II of MN General Files  (Boxes 75-118)
This series contains a mixture of correspondence, reports, speeches, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous materials dating from the early 1930s to the mid 1990s even though most materials are concentrated in the 1930s to the 1960s.  In these general files are materials such as ACNS annual reports; ACNS national conventions; alien registration and information of what constitutes alien enemies; folk arts fairs; correspondences to different foundations (e.g., Minneapolis United Way, St. Paul Foundations), schools and colleges (e.g., St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools, St. Thomas College, McAllister College, University of Minnesota Art), community organizations (Martin Luther King Center, Urban Coalition, Lao Family of Minnesota, Midwest China Center, Volunteer Action Center, St. Paul League of Women Voters), state, national and international organizations (Lutheran Social Services, MN Department of Public Welfare, State of MN Refugee Resettlement Office, U.S. Committee to Children, United Nations, World Health Organizations); grant proposals; census reports; historical sketches of IIM; writings of Alice Sickels and others; auditor’s reports; information about and correspondence with different branches of International Institute around the country; newsletters; different programs implemented at the IIM (e.g. World Pen Pals, Nationality Spotlight, World Travel Series); and handbooks on training caseworkers to work with refugees and immigrants.

Series 14:        Annual Reports  (Oversize Box 1)      
This series contains II of MN annual reports from 1975 to 2002.  Reports include messages from the President, financial information (revenues and expenses), program descriptions, significant events, and names of staff and board of directors. 

Series 15:        Immigrant Clinic Cases  (Oversize Boxes 2-9)
This series contains cases from the partnership between the International Institute of Minnesota and William Mitchell School of Law. Senior law students under the supervision of law school faculty members represented the Institute’s clients.
Series 16:        Refugee Case Files  (Oversize Boxes 10-32) and (Oversize Boxes 51-52)
This series contains files of refugees from Southeast Asia, namely Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Hmong, from the mid-1970s to early 1990s.  These files are arranged by ethnicity. The majority are Hmong refugees.

Series 17:        Miscellaneous Case Files  (Oversize Boxes 33-36)
These are case files of immigrants and refugees resettled in the state of Minnesota from 1982 to 1994.  These case files are not identified by ethnicity as those in Series 16. They  are mostly immigrants and refugees from Europe and Africa.  The cases are arranged alphabetically by last name. 

Series 18:        Casework Files  (Oversize Boxes 36-50)
This series contains case files of three caseworkers, namely Janice, Tom, and Olga.  Janice’s case files are dated from 1982-1988 while both Tom’s and Olga’s are in the 1980s.  Within this series are also some case files labeled as major cases, dating from 1948-1993.  These major cases are not identified with any particular caseworker, but the files are arranged aphetically by the last name of the immigrant or refugee client.               

Series 19:        General Case Files (Oversize Boxes 53-61)
This series contains two different sets of files, namely those labeled “Not Made Cases” and “Open Cases.”  The former set is dated as prior to 1964 and 1971-1980 while the latter from 1970 to 1980.  These are case files of those whose names are registered at the IIM but who never arrived in Minnesota.  Many of the “Not Made Cases” are Hmong refugees. For unknown reasons, they never arrived even though they applied for resettlement and found sponsors in Minnesota.        

Note: Series 1-14 are open to research.  However, series 15-19 are now closed to research, unless and until proper permission is secured.



The International Institute of Minnesota collection is available for public research with the exception of case files which are restricted. Please contact the IHRC Archives for more information.


The International Institute of Minnesota collection is the physical property of the Immigration History Research Center Archives, University of Minnesota.

For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRC Archives.


The International Institute of Minnesota Records, General/Multiethnic Collection, Immigration History Research Center Archives, University of Minnesota


Related collections at the IHRC are Records of the American Council for Nationalities Services as well as records of individual International Institutes in Biddleford-Saco (Maine); Boston (Mass.); Buffalo (N.Y.); Lewiston (Maine); Mckeesport (Penn.); New Castle (Penn.); New Haven (Conn.); Niagara Falls (New York); St. Louis (Missouri); Baltimore, Md.; Jersey City (N.J.)

Index Terms

Folk festivals--Minnesota--Saint Paul.
Social settlements--Minnesota--Saint Paul.
Social work with immigrants--Minnesota--Saint Paul.
Refugees--Services for--Minnesota--Saint Paul.
Children of immigrants--Education.

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