Jane Freeman Biography

Jane Charlotte Shields was born on May 25, 1921, in Statesville, North Carolina, the second of five children. A child of the Depression, she was filled early on with a passion for education and equal opportunity. The Shields family moved to Minnesota in the summer of 1936. In the fall of 1937, at age 16, Jane enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where she studied political science. She became treasurer of her sorority, was elected secretary of the All-University Council, and served as president of the Women's Self-Government Association her junior year. It was on the All-University Council that she met future governor Orville Freeman.

Jane graduated from the University of Minnesota in the spring of 1941. She won the Clara Ueland Fellowship to attend graduate school in public administration the following fall, but when the U.S. entered World War II, and Orville Freeman enlisted in the Marines, she left school to follow him to the east coast. Jane and Orville were married in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 1942. Following her husband's deployment from Camp Pendleton in California Jane returned to Washington and took a job in the office of the Secretary of War. The Freemans' daughter Constance was born in 1943, and their son Michael in 1948.

After the war the family returned to Minneapolis, where Orville resumed his law education and worked for Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey. Jane joined the League of Women Voters and organized for the DFL. As her husband's political career developed, Jane's political participation increased. She attended Farmers' Union picnics and labor gatherings, as well as coffee parties throughout the state. In 1952 Jane actively campaigned for Adlai Stevenson for president, and for her husband's first gubernatorial race.

Orville Freeman was elected governor in 1954 and served through 1960. During this time, the Freemans promoted Minnesota through goodwill tours to Scandinavia, Turkey, Asia, and South America. Jane also undertook a number of initiatives of her own. She transformed the Dome Club from a traditional luncheon group for wives of legislators to a force for change, organizing monthly visits to state institutions, especially mental institutions and those caring for children. She hosted her own weekly television program, "Mrs. Freeman Reads Her Mail", which featured the governor's wife reading letters from constituents on a variety of topics, particularly children's issues, mental health, food safety, and conservation. The Freemans also hosted international dignitaries as part of Minnesota's Centennial celebration activities in 1958, including Prince Birtil of Sweden, Princess Astrid of Norway, State Minister Hans Christian Hansen of Denmark, Prime Minister Eino Kuuskoski of Finland, and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

The Freemans returned to Washington in 1960 when Orville Freeman was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Jane served as president of the National Girl Scout Council from 1978-1984. The Freemans later returned to Minnesota where Orville died in 2003; Jane has continued to be engaged in public affairs.