The Early Women of Milwaukee Turners

By Arpita Sangani

The Milwaukee Turners are a German American organization that was established in 1853 to promote physical exercise as well as cultural and civic participation in the city. I have been lucky enough to look through their 168 years of historical archives in order to find how women participated in physical exercise through the Turners.

I am a junior at Marquette University studying history, and this semester I am working with Dr. Alison Efford on a project on women Turners. A grant from the Institute for Women’s Leadership has supported me while I work through old photographs, documents, and publications in Milwaukee’s historic Turner Hall. I have helped executive director Emilio de Torre organize accumulated historical materials. While working at Turner Hall, I have been able to tour the building and learn about decades of events and stories that have happened in the various rooms. I’ve also found non-Turners related materials such as a photograph of inflatable statues of KISS members on their 1996 tour. Other interesting finds have been a letter from the Communist party to Milwaukee worker organizations in 1931, and multiple attempts of cookbooks by the Ladies Auxiliary.

I found evidence that women’s role in the organization was endless, but there was little record of their participation in physical exercise prior to the 1930s. However, I was able to find a certificate and a photograph from 1906 and 1925 respectively that show that women’s participation. The certificate is Anna Glaettli’s and shows that she took classes in apparatus and gymnastics since 1906. The photograph is of the victorious women’s Turner team who played Faustball, or fistball, against Deutscher Athletic in 1925. It is unclear if Deutscher Athletic was a local Wisconsin team or if they were a German national team. The third picture is a collection of photographs that were taken around 1937. Fortunately, there are other records of women’s exercise that have survived in the archives of UW-Milwaukee which show that women were involved in Turner exercise beginning in the 1880s, 30 years after the start of the Milwaukee Turners.

The Catholic Church and the American West

Last spring Steven Avella was awarded Marquette’s Haggerty Award for Research Excellence, becoming one of a handful of Marquette faculty honored with both this award as well as one of the University’s awards for teaching excellence. It’s also worth bragging that he is the third Marquette historian to win this award, following Jim Marten (2010) and Athan Theoharis (2002). In this post, Steve shares some details of his current research project, which recently garnered research support from the Cushwa Center for American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.


Since my presidential address to the American Catholic Historical Association in 2010 I have been working on a history of the Catholic Church in the American West during the 20th century.  (“Catholicism in the Twentieth Century American West: The Next Frontier,” Catholic Historical Review 98 (April 2011): 219-249. The target audiences for this book are my colleagues in the field of Western History. There is a need for a greater appreciation of the role of the Catholic Church in the economic, cultural, and social development of this region. Catholic dioceses grew tremendously in the 20th century and re-mapped the west. Catholic enterprises in schools, health care and social provision provided important services for the evolving region. Catholic ministries to native peoples and Latinx peoples are important to note as is ministry to immigrant groups (Germans, French, Portuguese, and Italians.)  It is a massive project.

One important research thread I have been following has been the files on American diocese in the Vatican Archives. The Holy See carefully tracked the development of the Catholic Church in the American West. The files of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation contain reports on dioceses replete with vivid descriptions of the land, the people, and the challenges of various regions.  The office of the Apostolic Delegation to the United States has reports and correspondence on dioceses and issue related to the selection of bishops. The files of the Secretariat of State contain ample records on the US Church. I have already published one article on this topic in the US Catholic Historian. (“The Catholic Church in the Twentieth-Century American West: Spatial Realities, Demographic Growth, and Roman Observations,” 39 (2021): 113-134.)

With the opening of a new set of records by Pope Francis, I can now pursue further research. I applied for and received the Peter D’Agostino Travel Grant from the Cushwa Center for American Catholicism. I have already made a reservation at the Vatican Archives and hopefully will be off to Rome to toil away in those records from mid-May to the end of June.

I am delighted to receive this award from my alma mater. Years ago, I was present when the Cushwa Center was opened and I was one of the first Cushwa Fellows—which took care of my financial needs for all my years at Notre Dame. I also knew Dr. D’ Agostino—a fine young scholar of the relationship between the US Church and the Holy See whose life was cut short. I am honored to advance his legacy.

Savanna’s Act (2020): Stopping the Epidemic of Violence against Native American Women

November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States. To raise awareness about Indigenous pasts and present, Bryan Rindfleisch provides some current and historical context for an incredibly disturbing and invisible trend in the United States today: the epidemic of sexual violence and murder of Native American women. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanR05075226

On October 12, 2020, legislation known as Savanna’s Act (Public Law No. 116-165) became federal law. First introduced to the Senate in 2017, this bill “directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing or murdered Native Americans,” namely women.[1] Savanna’s Act is momentous for many reasons, but most importantly because it commits federal agencies and resources to naming and addressing the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in the United States today. For those that do not know, Native American women suffer the highest rates of sexual assault and violence in the United States. According to the DOJ, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Native women are 2-3 times more likely to experience sexual violence in their lifetime than the national average.[2] To be more blunt, 3 out of 5 Indigenous women will experience some form of sexual assault and/or violence in their life. Other damning statistics include the fact that the majority of male perpetrators (estimated at 66% of reported cases) are non-Native, as many as half to two-thirds of all reported cases will be declined for prosecution by state or federal agencies, and these statistics only include actual reported instances of violence. Even then, most reported cases of sexual violence against Native women are never “logged in the DOJ database” and uploaded to federal and tribal authorities, which means the majority of perpetrators remain-at-large. As the Urban Indian Health Institute found in its study of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls in 2016 – a survey of 71 U.S. cities – of the reported 5,712 cases relating to sexual assault and/or violence against Native women, only 116 were logged by the DOJ, which exacerbates the bureaucratic red-tape and miscommunication between federal and tribal enforcement agencies that allows many of these non-Native perpetrators to escape prosecution.[3] This is exactly what Savanna’s Act is meant to stop.

Savanna’s Act is in honor and memory of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year old Native woman who was murdered by her non-Native neighbors in August 2017. The killers not only murdered Savanna, though, they abducted her unborn baby. Read that again. Abducted in this case fails to adequately reflect the horror of what happened to Savanna and her baby. And instead of recounting if not perpetuating that violence, readers can instead find details of the case on their own. But Savanna is not alone…her body was found in the Red River that runs down from Canada and along the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, the same body of water where the body of 15-year old Tina Fontaine was found a few years earlier.[4] Tina – a First Nations woman – had also been murdered by a non-Native man, and again to spare the violence of those details, readers should learn more on their own. What is even more maddening about Savanna’s case, though, is the fact that she was only one of the “5,646 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls [that were] reported missing in 2017,” according to the F.B.I.’s National Crime Information Center.[5] Read that again.

The loss of Savanna and Tina have galvanized Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada to push for legislation to curb this epidemic of violence against Indigenous women. This movement – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) – has long existed in Native communities in North America but has remained in the United States a relatively obscure issue up until now. While the invisibility of this violence is largely a product of the historical erasure and marginalization of Indigenous Peoples in the United States, public awareness and support for MMIWG is starting to build. Through the grassroots efforts of organizations like the Sovereign Bodies Institute and Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, cultural mediums like the REDress Project, state-mandated task forces including Wisconsin, along with the recent elections of Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM, Laguna Pueblo) and Sharice Davids (D-KS, Ho-Chunk) to Congress,[6] legislation like Savanna’s Act has finally became a possibility and, only a month earlier, a reality. Needless to say, this is only the start of a larger and hopefully more systematic campaign against this epidemic of violence, the protection of Indigenous women, and the wholesale prosecution of those violent offenders, many of whom remain at-large today.

Up to this point, readers might wonder what all of this has to do with a history blog, but whether we recognize it or not, this epidemic of violence against Native women has everything to do with our American past. Throughout the centuries of violence in North America, Europeans and later Americans committed untold acts (some documented, many not) of gendered and sexual violence against Indigenous communities. Centuries.[7]Particular to the United States, from the Revolutionary War, its conflicts with the Northwest Confederacy during the 1790s, the War of 1812, and the six decades-long process of “Indian Removal,” to the Dakota War of 1862, Plains Wars of 1860s-1890s, the genocide of Native Californians, and the many other conflicts related to manifest destiny, Indigenous women were often the targets of physical and sexual violence by non-Native settlers and soldiers. After the “pacification” and confinement of Indigenous Peoples to reservations in the United States by the 1890s, sexual violence toward Native American women was most visible and rampant in the 350+ boarding schools that the U.S. government – in collaboration with Protestant and Catholic missionaries – operated from the 1880s up until the 1970s. Of the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children kidnapped from their families and communities – which has produced untold generational trauma that Native communities continue to grapple with today – thousands of young boys and girls suffered sexual abuse and assault within these schools. Simultaneously, the U.S. Indian Health Service embarked on a decades-long process of forcibly sterilizing Native American women on reservations. Of the little data we have for this insidious practice carried out by non-Native doctors, we know that the doctors at four IHS clinics (Aberdeen, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix) between the years 1973 and 1976 carried out “3,406 sterilizations” of Native women.[8] 4 clinics, 4 years, and 3,406 Indigenous women.[9] This is not to mention the legion of documented and undocumented instances of sexual violence and murder committed by non-Native men against Native women in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, cases that include Savanna and Tina. This pattern of historical, gendered violence against Native American women has been encoded into the very DNA of the United States.

This is why Savanna’s Act – and its’ sister legislation the Not Invisible Act – is so important. These legislative acts mean that the federal government now acknowledges that this epidemic of violence exists, it orders federal enforcement agencies to shift their attentions and training to address that violence, and it provides layers of accountability to stop that violence. Specific to Savanna’s Act, the DOJ is compelled to “create standardized procedures to address cases of missing or murdered Native American women” and to work closely with tribal law enforcement agencies and governments, and to report the statistics of those missing or murdered women to Congress every year. Savanna’s Act also stipulates that the DOJ “provide grants to train law enforcement agencies on how to handle these cases.” Meanwhile, the Not Invisible Act institutes an “advisory committee made up of tribal leaders, law enforcement officers, families of victims, and survivors of violence” who will make recommendations to the DOJ and Department of Interior “on how best to combat violence against Native Americans” more generally.[10] Altogether, Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act is a stepstone to confronting and ultimately preventing the epidemic of violence against Indigenous American women. With all of that said, though, we should not be naïve in thinking that Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act is the end. The only reason that this federal legislation passed was because of the herculean efforts of grassroots Indigenous activists, organizations, communities, families, and survivors over decades, who the United States has only listened to now in 2020. There is so much more to do to raise awareness of this issue within American society and to stop this systematic violence from continuing, as it has for centuries. As Representative Haaland put it best in her interview with Ms. after Savanna’s Act became federal law, “All women deserve to live without fear of disappearing without a trace, but the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis persists and indigenous people continue to go missing. Today, we moved to say ‘enough is enough.’”[11]


[1] Savanna’s Act, Public Law No: 116-165, U.S. Senate, Session 227 – 116th Congress, U.S. federal government, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/227

[2] “Office on Violence Against Women (OVW),” Department of Justice Archives, https://www.justice.gov/archives/ovw/blog/protecting-native-american-and-alaska-native-women-violence-november-native-american; “Violence Against Women,” National Congress of American Indians, http://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/tribal-governance/public-safety-and-justice/violence-against-women; “Policy Insights Brief – Statistics on Violence Against Native Women,” National Congress of American Indians, www.ncai.org/resources/ncai_publications/policy-insights-brief-statistics-on-violence-against-native-women; Andre B. Rosay, “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men,” National Institute of Justice, https://www.nij.gov/journals/277/Pages/violence-against-american-indians-alaska-natives.aspx.

[3] Urban Indian Health Institute, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Report,” 2018, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf

[4] Jenni Monet, “A Native American Woman’s Brutal Murder Could Lead to a Life-Saving Law,” The Guardian, 2 May 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/01/savanna-act-native-women-missing-murdered

[5] Carrie N. Baker and Katie Fleischer, “Legislation to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Signed into Law,” Ms. (Magazine), 12 October 2020, https://msmagazine.com/2020/10/06/congress-finally-passes-legislation-to-address-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women/

[6] As a historian, I would be remiss if I did not mention the trailblazing work of Sarah Deer (Muscogee) who sheds light on the historical and present violence against Native American women, particularly in her book The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

[7] For further discussion of the historical context surrounding this insidious violence, and specific examples of such violence in the American past, see forthcoming article: “The Pattern of Violence: Muscogee (Creek Indian) Women in the Eighteenth-Century & Today’s MMIWG – the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls,” in The Historian (spring/summer 2021).

[8] This investigation into the IHS between 1973 and 1976 was carried out by the federal government after reports of forced sterilizations and “experimental use of drugs” on reservations and in IHS clinics. The findings of that federal investigation are known today as the Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report of 1976.

[9] Jane Lawrence, “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women,” American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 24: No. 3 (Summer 2000): 406-407.

[10] Savanna’s Act & Not Invisible Act of 2019, Public Law No: 116-165, U.S. Senate, Session 227 – 116th Congress, U.S. federal government, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/227; Carrie N. Baker and Katie Fleischer, “Legislation to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Signed into Law,” Ms. (Magazine), 12 October 2020, https://msmagazine.com/2020/10/06/congress-finally-passes-legislation-to-address-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women/.

[11] Carrie N. Baker and Katie Fleischer, “Legislation to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Signed into Law,” Ms. (Magazine), 12 October 2020, https://msmagazine.com/2020/10/06/congress-finally-passes-legislation-to-address-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women/.

The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 and the Necessity of Safeguarding Black Voting Rights

With Donald Trump refusing to commit to the results of the forthcoming election, some Americans are seeking lessons in the crisis that followed the disputed presidential race of 1876.[1] As we yearn for examples of civility and compromise, however, Alison Clark Efford calls on us to remember what caused the emergency in the first place: a failure to protect Black voting rights.   

The constitutional crisis of 1876–1877 is not well known today. After an election marked by violence and intimidation, both Republicans and Democrats claimed to have won Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Wrangling and threats dragged into 1877, but days before inauguration Democrats agreed that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes could take office. In return, they secured the promise that the federal government would retreat from its efforts on behalf of African Americans and other southern Republicans.

Context, of course, is vital. The election of 1876 fell just eleven years after the end of the Civil War. By then, the Reconstruction amendments had ratified the rudiments of Black citizenship and enfranchised Black men. Overwhelmingly supporting the Republican Party (the party of Lincoln), African Americans voted and held office throughout the South.

Their political allies, white Republicans from the North, dominated national politics, but Democrats had won the House of Representatives in 1874 and President Ulysses S. Grant was increasingly unwilling to use the military to safeguard the most basic rights of Black southerners. In majority-Black areas in the South, some white Democrats were using violence to regain political control and undermine the steps African Americans had taken toward equality. Even before 1876, white northern Republicans were tiring of the work of supporting Black rights, especially in light of their own racial prejudices, the US tradition of decentralized government, and the ferocity of the opposition.

In the presidential election, Hayes, an Ohio Union army veteran, stood off against New York Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Hayes was not the strongest advocate of Black rights, and Tilden was not the greatest opponent. In accepting the Democratic nomination, Tilden publicly acknowledged that the Reconstruction amendments were the law of the land. But the two parties still represented different approaches to Black rights. Although they debated temperance, tariffs, civil service reform, and currency policy, Black rights still loomed large in US politics.

African Americans overwhelmingly still lived in the South. Since they gained the right to vote, Black men had proven themselves enthusiastic participants in electoral politics, but they had faced stiff resistance. Court records tell horrific stories of murder, rape, assault, and terrifying night-time raids that were explicitly connected to the exercise of political rights. Gerrymandering and fraud also prevented men who had been enslaved and white southern Republicans from having their votes counted. In 1876, a free and fair election probably would have resulted in Republican victories in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina, and maybe Georgia. As it was, all of those states went to Tilden the Democrat.

In the three contested states, Republican returning boards decided to invalidate results from precincts where violence against African Americans was particularly egregious. Democrats cried foul. They ignored terrorism when they maintained they had won Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

Since the official (Republican) returns were contested, Congress formed a bipartisan committee from both houses augmented by five Supreme Court justices. While they deliberated, some Democrats around the country promised more violence if the election went to Hayes. The committee did decide in Hayes’s favor, but the prospect of outright war only subsided when Hayes signaled he would allow Democrats to control the South. He asked that southern whites respect African Americans, but the compromise require him to overlook plentiful evidence that they would not.

Some looking for lessons for today hope for similar bipartisan compromise. There is solace in the fact that Democrats and Republicans refrained from reprising the bloodshed of the Civil War.

Alternatively, some emphasize that the Compromise of 1877 came at the expense of southern Blacks and warn that the cost of compromise can be too high. Bloodshed and brutal discrimination did in fact characterize Black life after 1877. The year remains a milestone in white northerners’ declining commitment to Reconstruction, even if their resolve was waning before 1877 and Black southerners kept up the fight afterwards.

Yet there is another lesson for 2020. Protecting voting rights would have prevented the problem before it began. A vigilant defense of voting rights, and especially Black voting rights, is just as important in 2020 as it was in 1876.

Political cartoon showing Hayes prevailing in disputed Election. New York Daily Graphic, February 26, 1877.

Learn more about Alison Efford’s research here and follow her on Twitter, @alison_efford


[1] See, for example, Rachel Shelden and Erik B. Alexander, “Americans Worry about 2020 Being Another 2000, but the Real Worry Is Another 1876,” Washington Post, October 20, 2020,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/10/20/americans-worry-about-2020-being-another-2000-real-worry-is-another-1876/; Richard Kreitner, “The Election from Our Past that Blares a Warning for 2020,” Washington Post, September 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/11/election-our-past-that-blares-warning-2020/; “Lessons from the Contentions Election of 1876,” On the Media, podcast available at https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/lessons-contentious-election-1876.

Indigenous People’s Day

Bryan Rindfleisch offers a timely reflection on what has traditionally been called Columbus Day and why a group of Milwaukee area K-12 students successfully advocated for a different approach to this memorial day in Wisconsin.

To honor and celebrate this day at Marquette, and to inspire change, the members of the Native American Student Association and allied faculty, staff, and students have organized a gathering, march, and Unity Fire to raise awareness and bring attention to the issues that Indigenous communities – including those at Marquette – face today. The Unity Fire will start at 7am in Parking Lot A (by the Weasler Auditorium), with a march at 11am at West Town Square and proceeding to Zilber Hall and concluding with reflection at the Unity Fire.

***

This Monday – October 12, 2020 – is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin, and in select parts of the United States. But for most other cities and states, not to mention the nation writ large, the second Monday in October is still Columbus Day, in remembrance of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas in 1492. This federal holiday has been celebrated for decades bordering on a century and is a particular source of pride for Italian-American communities throughout the United States who historically venerated Columbus’s story as a means of assimilating into American society in times of great xenophobia. But for the Indigenous communities of North America, Columbus is not a source of pride or celebration; his story is the beginning of Indigenous pain, suffering, and erasure that began more than five hundred years ago and continues today. Yet in spite of Columbus’s legacy, Indigenous communities are increasingly reclaiming the second Monday in October as their own, and in the process can start to heal from the wounds of the past while articulating a more authentic narrative of U.S. history.

If anyone knows anything about Columbus, it is likely the old ditty taught in elementary school: “In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and thus begins the story of America. What gets erased in this textbook version of U.S. history is the millennia-long presence of Indigenous civilizations like the Mississippian peoples whose capital of Cahokia (located at today’s border between southwestern Illinois and northeastern Missouri) rivaled medieval London in terms of population and urban structure, not to mention the Mississippian civilization extended throughout much of eastern North America. What is also problematic about beginning the American narrative with Columbus is the fact that he murdered and enslaved an untold number of the Taino and other Indigenous peoples that he encountered in his several voyages to the Americas. As Columbus recounted in his diary about one such encounter with the Taino, “I caused [many] to be taken…to be kept as captives” while confiding to the King and Queen of Spain that the rest of the Taino will “be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”[1] And while beginning the American story with such wanton acts of violence and enslavement may be fitting for some – given the inherent imperial nature of U.S. history – or rather shocking (or not) to others, the violence itself was inscribed upon Indigenous bodies and lands and initiated a five hundred-year history of such pain and dispossession. This is what Columbus represents to the Indigenous Peoples of North America today, the beginning of something terrible and a reminder – in 2020 – of that violence and pain.

Columbus and the celebration of Columbus Day also represents something even more insidious to the Indigenous Peoples of North America: it embodies their complete erasure from the American past and present. While Columbus achieved notoriety by “subjugating” entire Indigenous communities in the name of the Spanish Crown, what came after Columbus was even more comprehensive and systematic. The English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Russian colonizations of the Americas in the 1500s-1700s was predicated upon intentional violence and the taking of lands from Native communities such as the Pueblo, Wampanoag, Yamasee, Aleut, Powhatan, Pequot, Apalachee, Huron, Tlingit, and many more. Meanwhile, the early history of the United States from 1775 to 1890 revolved around its wars, treaties, and removals of entire Indigenous groups from their homelands which included the Oneida, Cherokee, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Muscogee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Arapaho, Ute, Pomo, Mohawk, Onondaga, Seminole, Cayuga, Catawba, Apache, and an endless list of other communities. This violence and dispossession became even more sinister (if that was possible in the first place) with the introduction of boarding schools in the 1880s that continued up into the 1970s. In the name of “assimilation,” U.S. commissioners, Indian agents, and Christian missionaries kidnapped hundreds of thousands of Native American children and placed them in schools designed to – in the words of Richard Henry Pratt, the architect of the boarding schools – “kill the Indian, and save the Man.”[2] In addition to the scale and systematic theft of Native youth, Indigenous communities lost entire generations who were forcibly stripped of their languages, cultural traditions, and ceremonies, not to mention the rampant physical abuse and sexual violence that plagued many of these schools. In my experiences in working with Indigenous communities here in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, I have never met an Indigenous individual today who does not have a relative or relatives who went to a boarding school and suffered a lifelong trauma on account of that experience. Or consider the fact that so many Indigenous communities today are struggling to retain, or even piece together, the languages that were taken from them by these schools.

Photograph of the hundreds of Indigenous children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, c. 1900

Meanwhile, at the same time boarding schools produced cultural genocide, the United States continued to whittle away at what little land Indigenous communities could call their own, with the Dawes Severalty Act in 1887 (also known as the Allotment Act), the Burke Act of 1906 and Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, the several Termination acts of the 1950s and 1960s, and more. I would also be negligent if I did not include the forced sterilization of Native American women by the U.S. Indian Health Service during the 1960s and 1970s, which itself is symptomatic of a greater violence that non-Native people have and continue to commit against Indigenous women throughout American history.[3] Unfortunately, this is only scratching the surface of the violence, dispossession, and pain that has been inflicted upon the Indigenous Peoples of North America. All of this is what Columbus and the celebration of Columbus Day means to Indigenous communities throughout the United States today.

This is why Indigenous Peoples’ Day is so important. It not only changes the narrative from one of erasure to presence and visibility, but it affirms to the many Indigenous communities of North America that we see them, honor them, and – just maybe – dare to ask forgiveness for everything that has come before. Indigenous Peoples’ Day can become a commitment to healing and reconciliation, and a repudiation of historical apathy and ignorance. But we as a nation have a long way to go before that ever happens. The only reason that Milwaukee County and the state of Wisconsin celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day is because of the efforts of K-8 students (ages 5-13) from the Indian Community School (ICS) in Franklin, Wis. Beginning in 2016, fourth-graders at ICS mobilized, educated non-Natives, and “helped get a resolution celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to the Milwaukee County Board, which passed that resolution in 2017. Building upon such momentum, ICS students and staff traveled the next year to the State Capitol in hopes of implementing a state-wide mandate to change Columbus Day. And in 2019, in response to such student activism, Governor Tony Evers declared the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, although it should be noted that Evers’ order “doesn’t change federal or state observances of Columbus Day in Wisconsin” but nonetheless “honors and recognizes Indigenous people and Native Nations.” It is only because of those children that such change was made.

Photo Credit: Teran Powell https://www.wuwm.com/post/indigenous-peoples-day-officially-recognized-wisconsin#stream/0

And while many people might frame the battle between Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day to be one of political correctness, it is simply about the hearts and souls of the 574 (and growing) federally-recognized Indigenous nations that call the United States home today – in addition to the many more state-recognized and non-recognized nations – all of whom experienced a five hundred year history of pain, violence, and erasure. Because Columbus and Columbus Day have served so long as the narrative origins for U.S. history, and with it the aforementioned consequences, Indigenous Peoples’ Day can offer a richer, more authentic, and restorative narrative. This Monday, then, go and educate yourself and others; celebrate the vibrancy and visibility of the Indigenous communities who continue to shape and teach the rest of us here in Milwaukee, throughout Wisconsin, and all over the United States. And moving forward after October 12, 2020, listen to those Indigenous voices and histories instead of talking over them, walk in step with Indigenous communities rather than presuming you know what is best for them, and finally, empower Indigenous histories as much as we exalt the American past.


[1] Journal of Christopher Columbus, 1492, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os/chapter/primary-source-journal-of-christopher-columbus-1492/

[2] Richard Henry Pratt, “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man,” History Matters, George Mason University, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4929/

[3] Brianna Theobald, “The Native American Women Who Fought Mass Sterilization,” TIME, https://time.com/5737080/native-american-sterilization-history/. See also U.S. government admits to forced sterilization of Indigenous women: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/543.html

The American Women’s Suffrage Movement: Confluence of Dreams

Covid-19 induced a hiatus for this blog, but Marquette historians have still been at work on their research and public engagements. With this first post for the 2020-2021 academic year, Kristen Foster shares some ideas about how we should rethink the history of the women’s suffrage movement and recognize its more diverse advocates who were excluded from the successes of 1920. Her work is part of an exciting virtual conference organized under the auspices of Marquette’s Institute for Women’s Leadership, “Suffrage & Innovation 2020” Virtual Conference

A Centennial Reassessment

On August 26, 1920 American women secured their right to the elective franchise with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This year, we celebrate the centennial of this long-overdue correction for a right that had been denied women in the United States.  During this centennial we recognize and celebrate the contributions of familiar names such as Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Ida B. Wells, Carrie Chapman Catt, Mary Church Terrell, and Alice Paul.  Many of these women began their activism in the nineteenth-century abolition movement and moved quickly into the struggle for women’s rights.  We now know the narrative of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and their fight for woman suffrage, in part because they told their story along with Matilda Joslyn Gage and Ida Husted Harper in a six-volume study entitled History of Woman Suffrage.  The familiar chronicle starts at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, and it ends in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. (See the interactive Timeline.)

Yet as we move through our suffrage narrative, the story of the Nineteenth Amendment might be thought of as a river with many tributaries that flowed with their own energy from unfamiliar places toward the mighty rush that re-imagined the face of American citizenship in 1920 and beyond. Historians are using this centennial moment to highlight the many less-familiar tributaries, the infrequently told stories of the women who also marked the landscape of the suffrage movement.  Some of these women, all women of color, found themselves and their communities disenfranchised both before and after the Nineteenth Amendment, and each woman worked to change the terms of her citizenship.  Women including Jovita Idár, Mable Ping-Hua Lee, Zitkala-Ša, and Fannie Lou Hamer are now finding their way into the more complex story of American women’s suffrage. 

While the Nineteenth Amendment helped protect some women from disenfranchisement, it did not grant all women the right to vote. The Constitution made clear that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” but as had been the case for all but white men in the nineteenth century, one guarantee does not eliminate other forms of discrimination.  While the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 forbid disenfranchisement on the basis of sex, and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 prohibited disenfranchisement “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the state and federal governments found other ways to disenfranchise people. 

Jovita Idár was born in Laredo, Texas in 1885 and spent her life fighting the Jim Crow laws that included Mexican Americans in South Texas.  Trained as a teacher, she joined her father’s newspaper, La Crónica, and worked on behalf of education and rights for Mexicans and Latinos in South Texas.  She also used the powers of her pen and economic privilege to focus on female uplift arguing that women needed both education and independence to realize their potential.  In 1911, Idár openly advocated women’s suffrage, urging Texas to follow California and enfranchise women.  That same year she served as the first president of La Liga Feminil Mexicaista (the League of Mexican Women).  The state enfranchised women in 1918, but Jim Crow laws remained in place and continued to disenfranchise many African American, Mexican American, and Latino American women and men.

Idár’s contemporary Mable Ping-Hua Lee, born in Guangzhou China in 1896, moved to New York City’s Chinatown in 1905.  At 16, Lee had joined the city’s suffrage movement and, like Idár, wrote on behalf of women’s rights.  Lee argued for both women’s rights generally and for the rights of Chinese American women more specifically.  In a 1914 essay entitled “the Meaning of Woman Suffrage,” she argued that democracies could only be successful if women were enfranchised.  She also addressed her Chinatown community arguing that girls’ education was a crucial step for their civic engagement. When New York enfranchised women in 1917 and the Nineteenth Amendment did so nationally in 1920, Lee could not vote because the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 not only limited Chinese immigration, but it also prevented these same immigrants and their children from becoming citizens.  Not until 1952 did the McCarran-Walter Act eliminate laws that kept Asians from becoming naturalized American citizens.

As Lee learned in 1920, the right to vote could be circumscribed by legal prejudices that barred whole ethnic groups from citizenship in the United States. Zitkala-Ša, a Yankton Dakota Sioux woman born in 1876, had spent time moving between Native reservation life and schooling outside the reservation system.  She reconciled her two experiences when she joined the Society of American Indians in 1911. The Society worked to preserve indigenous cultures while simultaneously agitating for full Native American citizenship.  As editor of the Society’s American Indian Magazine in 1919, Zitkala-Ša wrote that the U.S. government must enfranchise indigenous people because they had occupied the land first and thus should have representation.  She also worked with white suffrage groups and joined the General Federation of Clubs to help promote diverse voices in the suffrage movement.  In 1924, the Snyder Act, or the Indian Citizenship Act, granted citizenship to Native people, but it did not guarantee them the right to vote.  As had been the experience of other American women and men of color, states continued to pass discriminatory voting laws.

While African American women had participated in the women’s suffrage movement from its inception (see the interactive Timeline), neither the Fifteenth nor the Nineteenth Amendments protected their voting rights from Jim Crow laws and voter intimidation commonly practiced in the American South.  As late as 1961, Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper, attended a civil rights meeting hosted by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and became a voting rights activist shortly thereafter.  In 1964 Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party when the state’s Democratic Party tried to block Black voting, and she attended the Democratic Convention that year as a delegate hoping to integrate the Democratic Party delegation from her state.  She helped organize Freedom Summer that year, and in 1965 her vision for federally protected voting rights for all Americans came to fruition in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This act would help protect not only African American voters, but also Zitkala-Ša’s Native voters and Jovita Idár’s Mexican American and Latino voters.  The 1975 extension of these protections to “language minorities” made the promise of inclusive voting more secure for all citizens.

The struggle for American women’s suffrage is comprised of a powerful collection of stories that triumphed in 1920 only for white women.  The Nineteenth Amendment is certainly worth a mighty celebration this year, but it has also given us all an opportunity to look more closely at our collective history and see the many tributaries, the many dedicated women, who fought for voting rights when others had forgotten them. 

Please join me and my colleagues on Friday, October 16th for a conversation about how we might re-write the story of women’s suffrage and why this revision matters (sign up here).  If you miss the live conversation, you can still watch a recorded version at a later date using the following link:

IWL’s “Suffrage & Innovation 2020” Virtual Conference

Website Free and Open to All with Speakers, an Interactive Timeline, and Resources for Learning More!

Resources for Further Reading:

Cahill, Cathleen.  Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement.  University of North Carolina Press, November 2020.

Catt, Carrie Chapman and Nettie Rogers Shuler.  Woman Suffrage & Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement.  Dover, 2020.

Dubois, Ellen Carol.  Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2020. 

Jones, Martha.  Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.  Basic Books, 2020. 

Lewandowski, Tadeusz.  Red Bird, Red Power: The Life and Legacy of Zitkala-Ša.  University of   Oklahoma Press, 2019.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida H. Harper.  A History of Woman Suffrage in Six Volumes.  Rochester, New York: Susan B. Anthony and Charles          Mann Press, 1881–1922.

Ware, Susan.  Why They Marched:  The Untold Stories of Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote.  Belknap Press, 2019. 

_____.   American Women’s Suffrage: Voice from the Long Struggle for the Vote 1776-1965. Library of America, 2020.

Teachable Moments from the 2020 Pandemic

Spring break came as it always did this year, but there had been rumblings for a few months that a major interruption was headed our way. Indeed, while students relaxed with family, took long-awaited spring break trips, worked on class projects, or put in extra hours at their jobs, the COVID-19 crisis washed over the United States, and one university after another closed their doors and transitioned to “remote” teaching. On March 12, Marquette did the same.  Students were allowed to come to campus to get their belongings out of the residence halls, but by March 16, when classes were scheduled to start up again, the students were gone.  And by the end of the week, virtually all faculty, staff, and administrators were working from home. A week or two later, we learned that classes would be held remotely for the rest of the semester and for both summer sessions. Visitors to Marquette’s website are now greeted by the following somewhat forbidding image:

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 9.51.53 AM

This caused enormous upheaval in the lives of students and faculty alike, as they had to deal with fussy wi-fi systems, transmitting and receiving huge amounts of information, record and listen to lectures, and change almost every element of how we normally teach and learn.

And many faculty integrated the crisis into their classes. For instance, Lezlie Knox’s HIST 4210: The Black Death, although focused on the devastating 14th century bubonic plague, has always included student projects on epidemics and pandemics from other eras.  But the current crisis provided a chance to bring many of the moral, scientific, and other issues addressed in the class up to the 21st century.  For example, she asked her students to read and to participate in an online discussion about this Oxford University blog about climate change and COVID-19.

Dan Meissner’s HIST 1701: Understanding China Today turned quickly to the crisis as a way of coming to understand social and cultural differences between China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, and the US.  He uploaded readings, videos, and powerpoints contrasting the two countries’ responses.  The focal point of this course is the comparison of the Chinese and American models for social/political/economic development, and discussions revolving around the COVID19 crisis challenged students to consider the possibility that this virus outbreak, containment, and recovery will prove to be the turning point in global hegemony for China. Dan also posted emails he’d received from colleagues in China, and other information that, “way back in January” it would not have occurred to him to provide.

In discussion posts, Dan’s class also explored the figures released by the Chinese government about the number of reported COVID-19cases and deaths.  Dan posted a chilling PBS Frontline investigation that just aired Wednesday that highlights all of these issues.  (You can watch it here.)

 

The students in Jim Marten’s HIST 4101: Applied History were in the middle of a project about the “lost neighborhood” that flourished on what is now Marquette’s campus before the 1960s.  Yet that required students to have access to the university archives, but the closing of campus meant that the eleven students in Applied History would be locked out of the resources they needed to complete their class project. With many hunkering down in other cities and states, Jim decided that the class should chronicle and reflect on the ways that COVID-19 had and would continue to affect the MU community—the students and their families, of course, but also the towns and cities in which they lived.  This project is not a complete history of the pandemic’s effects on Marquette, of course—there will be additional months of disruption and discomfort—but it does provide a time capsule that preserves for future historians some of the experiences of members of our community as crisis approached and then washed over us.

The project addresses such questions as, “When do current events become ‘history?’” “When can we feel like we have the perspective and hindsight to be able to make sense of what is or has just happened to us?” “How do we know—or is there even a way of knowing—what sources of information will be important to the future?”

The project will include a timeline of international, national, and MU events and actions; a “Storymap” featuring images and descriptions of how the crisis affected students hometowns from around the United States; and an archive of reflections by students in the class as well as answers to questionnaires from scores of other MU students.

Although it is only a skeleton site for now, check back in a few weeks to find out more about how MU students experienced the crisis. The images below are samples of pictures taken around the East Side of Milwaukee reflecting the current state of the city:

David McDaniel’s CORE 1929: Methods of Inquiry course (part of the Marquette Core Curriculum, taught with two other faculty members) on “Modernity” swiftly turned to the crisis to explore meanings of “modern.” Dave referred his students to the website of the Center for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html and asked them to research the modern world’s deadliest pandemic: the so-called Spanish Flu. Then he asked them to go to a website on the pandemic in America and to select one of the fifty cities listed. The articles helped students answer a series of questions related to “modernity” and the world’s response to the devastating crisis that killed perhaps 50 million people worldwide. Later, the class held a “virtual discussion”—students posted answers to a question asked by Dave on the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 and its relationship to the notions of modernity and then followed up with responses to what other students wrote.

Kristen Foster took a similar approach in her HIST 1601: Difference and Democracy class.  This class is also part of the Marquette Core Curriculum and is designed to “engage students with other social systems and values.” Kristen asked her students to read the brief section on the flu pandemic from an open source, online textbook.

Her students were also directed to the University of Michigan histories of US cities and the pandemic, after which they were to choose a city and find (in databases available on Raynor Library’s webpage) a newspaper article or account from 1918 or 1919 that discussed some aspect of the influenza epidemic in that city.  Once they identified an appropriate article, they uploaded it to the course website, along with answers to questions like: “How did the city you read about deal with the contagion?”  “How effective was the city in dealing with the disease?  (Remember to place this in the historical context when you think about what was and wasn’t effective/possible in 1918-1919?)” “What did Americans know and not know at the time?” “What 3 or 4 things strike you most about what happened in 1918?” And “How might understanding the influenza pandemic help us confront COVID-19?” This was followed by an online discussion of their findings.

These are just a few examples of the ways that MU faculty have scrambled to offer a meaningful educational experience despite the challenges thrust upon our community by COVID-19.

FYI: A graduate public history class at UWM has also launched a pandemic project called “COVID-19 MKE,” while the Wisconsin Historical Society is collecting journals on the crisis kept by Wisconsin Residents; see “COVID-19 Journal Project.”

The ‘20s Roaring (Again)

Vote TotalBy Timothy G. McMahon

Tim McMahon ponders the results of this week’s election in Ireland, in the wake of Brexit and in the context of nationalist politics in Europe.

For what it’s worth, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Republic of Ireland on the heels of the 2020 General Election. But I know what has happened. The ‘20s have happened, or they’ve started to at least.

On Saturday, nearly 63% of the electorate in the Republic cast their ballots, producing a nearly three-way tie in the popular vote, with Sinn Féin receiving 24.5% of the vote, Fianna Fáil 22.2%, and Fine Gael, 20.9%. It would be tempting—and it’s a temptation that has already enticed some wayward pundits in for instance, The Atlantic, to grab for the shiny bauble—to see the results of the election as an Irish version of the populist/nationalist wave that has hit countries across the globe, including The Philippines, India, Hungary, Poland, Austria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. After all, a nationalist party, Sinn Féin, has shocked the system, outperforming the two traditional power parties (Fianna Fáil and Fina Gael) and attaining the second highest total of seats in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament. Sinn Féin’s 37 seats are a revelation, given that the party did not perform well in recent local or European parliamentary elections. Amazingly, Sinn Féin candidates won 37 of the 42 races they contested, suggesting that just ten more candidates performing at the same breakneck pace would have produced as many as 45 TDs in the coming Dáil, surely enough to guarantee a Sinn Féin-led coalition. What has happened, though, is itself unprecedented in the last century, a virtual three-way tie between a left-of-center upstart and the two disappointed center-right parties. How they determine to work in the days ahead will determine the shape of Irish politics at the crucial time the country will deal with the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

Still, there are signs within the material produced since the election to undercut the concerns that this was a populist/nationalist wave election and to leave us scratching our heads about what is to come. For example, although a few individuals who are known to be rather right of Attila have won seats as Independents, those organized (a word I’m applying loosely) in far-right parties, such as the Irish Freedom Party, failed even to secure the 2 percent of first-preference votes needed to receive state election funding. Moreover, Sinn Féin seemed to tap into the broadly felt sentiment among those frustrated with the neoliberal domestic program of the Fine Gael government, particularly those who believed that the Cabinet largely ignored (or failed adequately to meet) the burgeoning housing and homelessness problem or to address the numerous faults in the health and social services provided by the HSE. In this Fianna Fáil deserved its own share of the blame because party leader Micheál Martin agreed to support the governments of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar in the name of stability. Exit polls indicated that voters held both parties to account, virtually ignoring the foreign policy achievements (significant though they have been) during the Brexit imbroglio and focusing on domestic issues at the polls. Younger voters especially went in this direction– that is, those who reached adulthood during or after the crash that Martin’s predecessors’ policies did so much to unleash and from which Varadkar’s party worked to claw out through policies that cemented rather than alleviated income and social inequities.

Photos from the Irish Times: Top left: Fianna Fail’s Micheál Martin. Top right: Mary Lou McDonald at the Royal Dublin Society vote counting centre on Sunday. Bottom: sitting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with two colleagues looking at vote count yesterday. 

The pure electoral math suggests we’re likely to see either a hung parliament, followed by a fairly quick election, OR a cobbled coalition that may be difficult to hold together. As I see it, three scenarios seem broadly possible. A “grand coalition” of the center-right may make sense if enough in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are determined to keep Sinn Féin from power (this go-round), but even that pairing would need help: these once-safe leading parties can only must 73 votes together, eight shy of the 50%+1 needed to govern. Were they able to negotiate such a deal, Mary Lou McDonald and her colleagues would have ample opportunity to challenge their policies from the Opposition bench. But, as the Irish Times reports, Sinn Féin’s McDonald is herself reportedly seeking coalition partners from among the numerous smaller parties of the left and the newly elected independents. Tempting though that prospect may be to some, it would also entail coordinating policy among six parties and a host of independents, never an easy situation for a lead coalition partner, much less one new to governing. A further possibility is that Fianna Fáil backbenchers may convince—or attempt to unseat—Martin in a bid to achieve agreement with Sinn Féin rather than remaining alongside their longtime rival Fine Gael. Such a link would undoubtedly be preceded by hard bargaining, including over holds claim to lead the government, the leader of the highest vote getting party or the leader of the party with one more seat in the Dáil.

Although much depends on the specific interactions among the three major parties, none of those scenarios produces a settled situation; instead, each offers only the beginning of a new era in Irish politics. That may sound grandiose—”a new era”—but think about that phrase “among the three major parties.” The reality is that the Irish state is not the two-party state it has been for most of the last century, and it is unlikely to return to that place in the foreseeable future. Mind, I’ve not even mentioned Northern Ireland or the reality that Sinn Féin is the only party with the potential to sit in government in both jurisdictions on the island yet that too is the new reality. In short, domestic issues in the Republic have transformed the dynamic of north-south and British-Irish relations in a way that few anticipated and that even fewer can anticipate.

What all of that suggests to me, however, is that Irish politics have merely entered the decade of the 1920s. From the Swiftian catalyst of the Patriot Movement in the 1720s, to the heyday of Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Association in the 1820s, to the partition and rocky establishment of two governments on the island in the 1920s, the third decade of the past three centuries have been the consequential ones that shaped the politics of Ireland for the coming generations. The Twenty-first century stands at that moment now. We are witnessing a reshuffling, but what it portends remains open to conjecture.

Timothy G. McMahon is associate professor of History at Marquette University, author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (2008), and co-editor of Ireland in an Imperial World: Citizenship, Opportunism, and Subversion (2017).

Affectionately Yours: Captain Brown’s First Christmas in the Army

By James Marten

Civil War-era newspapers and magazines liked to suggest that soldiers celebrated Christmas with gusto, as shown in this famous cover illustration from Harper’s Weekly. The men may be far from home, but certain traditions continued. Even Santa, as shown in this Thomas Nast illustration, found his way to army camps, lightening the burden of men separated from families. Ever since, Christmas separations have been staples of Santaholiday-themed pop culture, from the song ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to more recent heart-tugging videos of mother and fathers returning form long deployments just in time for the holidays and the recorded messages played during NFL and college football games from soldiers, sailors, and marines wishing their families Merry Christmas.

But Santa did not come to every Civil War-era camp, however, and the letters of Capt. Edwin Brown of the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry indicate how little time soldiers had for Christmas. Yet they also reveal fleeting thoughts of the happiness they attached to remembered Christmases.  The thirty-year-old had written often since leaving his young wife and three small children in Fond du Lac in the summer of 1861. The Sixth would later be famous as one of the best and most bloodied units in the Union army—the Iron Brigade—but by the time the first Christmas of the war rolled around the regiment had spent most of their time drilling.  They’d settled into winter quarters outside Washington, DC,  earlier in the month. Brown was captain of Company E, commanding roughly 100 men in the regiment of just over 1000, but he was also one of the best singers in the regiment, and a founding member of a musical society that entertained their comrades occasionally.

December 20 had been a busy day, and late that night Edwin settled down in front of a fire in the rough little cabin he shared with other officers \ to write a letter. It was filled with gossip about fellow soldiers who Ruth might have known and the sad news that one of his sergeant’s had recently died of a vague ailment.

Out of the blue, Brown mentions that “Next Wednesday is Christmas.”  He had no idea what he’d be doing, “unless it be to drill. ‘No peace for the wicked,’ you know.” He wistfully remarked that “I should like to sit with my little family around the paternal hearthstone with a good blazing fire in front, friends by my side, and the usual delicacies on the table.” The thought passes, and he begins to wind down the letter by apologizing Picture1for failing to get a promised photograph taken of him. His months in the army, he feared, had “altered [his] looks and I fear the change is not for the better.” As his fire went out and he reluctantly brought “this ‘talk’ to a close,” he asked Ruth to greet friends and family, “take good care of the ‘babies’ [and] tell them good things of their pa.”

Edwin’s brief mention of Christmas shows that some the traditions we appreciate about the holiday were well-established (but only just) by the mid-nineteenth century. But this short, rather grumpy passage also suggests that it was simply too painful for Edwin to reflect on his absence from his wife and little ones. The same was true few days later, when he found a few moments between writing year-end reports to write a hasty note. Like the other letter, it was mainly about practical matters—comings and goings in the regiment, the kinds of shirts and mittens that Ruth should send if she had time—but he responded briefly to her letter of a few days past, when she described her “appearance as ‘Santa Claus’” on Christmas. “You must have looked comical, and I hope you all enjoyed yourselves.” Edwin doesn’t say it, but he must have felt a twinge of heartbreak to know that his absence had forced Ruth to fill the role that he no doubt had played before the war. Of course, Ruth had to fill many other unfamiliar roles while Edwin was away, but for at least a few moments, and despite his surface amusement, this one probably hit hard. The brief glimpse of happier times cheered him only for a moment. “I did not enjoy myself much on Christmas,” he wrote pointedly.” The boys had no drill, but it was busy, without . . . sport.” War would bring much worse to Edwin and his “boys,” but in his first Christmas away from home he can be forgive for being a little self-pitying.

There is much we don’t know about nineteenth-century families—in and out of the army—but we do get glimpses of those relationships in the letters that have survived between Civil War soldiers and their wives.  Christmas 1861 might not have been a happy one for Edwin Brown, but in his gloomy reports about the Civil War’s first Christmas, we capture nuggets of the yuletide past.

Sources:

Edwin Brown to Ruth Brown, December 20 and December 31, 1861, Edwin Brown Letters, Kenosha Civil War Museum.

Lance J. Herdegen and William J. K. Beaudot, In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg: The 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade and its Famous Charge (1990, 2015).

Image sources: 

Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863 

 CAPTAIN EDWIN BROWN, Lawyer, Patriot, Soldier,

James Marten is chair of the history department and author, most recently, of America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (2015).  His current project is Becoming the Sixth Wisconsin: A Civil War Regiment in War and Peace.

Michael Wert on His New Book on Samurai

Michael Wert recently posted a piece to the Asian Books Blog about his latest book, Samurai: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).  

It begins, “Samurai are everywhere. From company names to soldier training programs, and of course gaming, manga, and anime. Not that I’m one to bemoan this situation, students take Japanese history courses not because they’re interested in business, as they Unknowndid during the 1980s, China-related courses have picked up that audience, but for the immense influence Japanese popular culture has on the West. Manga is now a genre section in Barnes & Noble, and young people know better than to pronounce it like the Italian word mangia as many in my parent’s generation did. . . . ”

For the complete post click here.

Michael Wert is Associate Professor of History and the author of Meiji Restoration Losers: Memory and Tokugawa Supporters in Modern Japan.


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