Marian Nelson
1939 - Present

Profile By: Christopher Shavlik

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Part One Familial Influences

Marian Purrier was born April 11, 1939 in rural Mankato, Minnesota.  She has one brother named Monroe (also known as “Monty”). Marian was born into a predominantly agrarian household. Her father, David, did not support her pursuit of higher education whole-heartedly. David Purrier was an intimidating figure. He was a farmer of English and French decent, towering over most at six-foot-four with gray eyes and black hair. David simply did not understand Marian’s hunger for education. The youngest of seven, David received the most education on his side of the family, getting as far as the eighth grade, but he used to tell Marian that “school didn’t teach him anything” (Interview Nov. 30). David did not want his daughter to go into higher education because he, along with his brothers (one of whom had only made it as far as third grade), believed that it was a waste of money to “educate a girl that wouldn’t use her education” (Interview Nov. 16). The cost of tuition was a major consideration for the farmer, and he thought that Marian would end up getting married before she could earn a degree or make any money. Interestingly, his son, Monty, would later prove his point, only getting a year’s worth of education at Mankato State University before he dropped out to marry. Ironically, David later earned his GED when Marian and Monty left home.

Luckily, Marian’s mother, Erna Purrier, nurtured her daughter’s desire for education. Erna was also the seventh child in her family. However, she came from a German family that valued education. Unlike her husband David, Erna graduated from high school at Bow Bells, North Dakota as valedictorian of her 1937 class. She would honor those values by pushing her daughter to do well in school. To do this, Erna kept strict grade expectations for her daughter. Eventually, Erna convinced her husband to pay for their daughter’s tuition despite his reluctance.

The first year of college at Mankato State University (MSU) was enough to get Marian hooked on higher education. However, despite her passion for learning, her father’s side of the family did little to support her interests. Given that her father’s brothers continued to criticize him for his decision to pay Marian’s tuition, Marian knew that she had to finish her degree quickly. Due to her uncles’ criticisms, David threatened to stop paying Marian’s tuition. It was only after her business advisor sent a letter requesting she be allowed to continue that David relented (Interview Nov. 30).

In 1960, Marian graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business education, history, and social studies from MSU. Marian remembers how her mother, in response to the years of doubt, found satisfaction pointing out Marian’s utilization of her education and employment to David and his brothers, exclaiming, “See? See? See? See!?” (Interview Nov. 16). Three days after her graduation, Marian married the love her life, Jim Nelson, who she had first met in 1958 at MSU. To Erna’s delight, despite being married, Marian did not sacrifice her career or her pursuits in higher education, further disproving her father and his brothers’ cynicism about pursuing a college education.

Marian’s husband did not share her father’s agrarian mindset. Jim, like his father, had asthma, which prevented him from working on farms. These restrictions meant that Jim was more accustomed to urban life and had no problem with Marian’s pursuit of a higher education. Marian’s family, too, had no qualms with her choice to marry Jim. Luckily, she did not have to worry about her mother disowning her since Jim conveniently shared the same religion: Methodist. Even her brother, Monty, approved because at least Jim was a “man,” meaning he hunted and worked on cars, unlike Marian’s previous boyfriend. Marian remembers that when she told her father—a man of few words—about her decision to marry Jim, he said, “I don’t think you can do any better than him” (Interview Nov. 30).

Although Marian had graduated, Jim was still going to Mankato State University when they married. To help with expenses, Marian taught at Albert Lea South West Junior High while Jim carpooled to the University. Marian taught a ninth grade English course to a class of seventeen boys and five girls, who left her continually drained at the end of the day. Fortunately, Jim soon graduated and got a job in Omaha, Nebraska.

 

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Part Two Teaching and Transforming Omaha University History

Marian Purrier Nelson moved to Omaha in March 1964 and began working on her master’s degree in history at Omaha University (OU). She also was hired as a teaching assistant, the only woman in the pool of ten. In 1966, Marian was offered an adjunct position at OU to teach a night course each semester on Ancient History—history of the Near East and Greece and history of Rome. In the summer of 1967, after Marian had earned her master’s degree, a position opened when a member of the history department faculty left. Dr. Stanley Trickett, who was Chair of the Department of History, offered Marian a full-time job. Although Marian was elated with the opportunity, there was a problem. According to Marian, “If you became pregnant while working, in most cases you were not allowed to continue in your job