Minnie Mae Smith Groves Courts

Honored by:Jan Curry-Roper
Brick location:F:3  map

Minnie Mae Smith, the eldest of ten children, was born February 8, 1901, on a farm near Britt, IA. Her father, Claus E. Smith, and her mother, Gretchen Hook Smith, were both of East Frisian German peasant stock. Her father's parents were both born in East Friesland, while her mother, who was an orphan, immigrated to the East Friesland community of Wellsburg, Iowa, where she worked as a kitchen maid for "English" families upon her arrival.

The parents of Minnie Smith moved the family to a farm near Jeffers in Cottonwood County, Minnesota, around 1912. She has spent the majority of her life in this area. One of her great regrets was that her father took her out of school before she finished the eighth grade in order to work at home. She spent her years before marriage taking care of the household, her siblings and working out as a hired girl.

Minnie Mae Smith married Samuel Clayton Groves in 1926. They had two daughters, Ruth and Maralyn. Clayton Groves died in 1939 from injuries suffered in a car accident. She was remarried in 1940 to George Courts. They also had two daughters, Susan and Nancy. Because of her husband's health problems, they spent winters in Texas. George Courts died in 1967. She presently lives in Windom, Minnesota.

Minnie Mae Smith spent her working life taking care of others. She gardened, cooked, tended to the chickens, boarded teachers, cleaned and took care of invalids. She has never been in the limelight and hasn't taken on leadership roles, yet she began a tradition of assertive women which has been maintained over several generations -- four daughters, seven granddaughters, nine great-granddaughters. Her daughters and granddaughters have obtained a total of eight B.A. degrees, seven M.A. degrees, one Ed.D and one Ph.D. Seven of her daughters or granddaughters have chosen to become teachers, with five teaching at the college level at some time or another.

The influence of Minnie Mae Smith came not from what she did, though she is famous within her large extended family for her homemade cinnamon rolls, but from who she was. She is and has always been completely transparent. She never tried to be something she was not, but never suffered from low self-esteem. She has never told anyone to stay home but has rather always been ready to go meet new people, travel and see new things. She has never missed a social event if at all possible, nor ever met a stranger. For her 90th birthday, she had a traveling birthday party that went from Iowa to Phoenix to San Diego to San Francisco to Minneapolis and home to Windom, Minnesota. She never wondered what the neighbors would think.

Minnie Smith has never had it in her to worry about social status, making an impression or worrying about fulfilling "roles." She has always been inclusive rather than exclusive, accepting other people without a thought about judging their worth or whether they were doing what was socially acceptable. As a result, her daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters have been free to be themselves. Furthermore, Minnie Smith did not tolerate immaturity in her daughters, which fostered their sense of independence.

I dedicated my Ph.D. thesis to her because she "inspired her daughters and granddaughters to take advantage of educational opportunities that she did not have" and gave them the self-confidence and freedom to do so.