Category Archives: Photograph Analysis

The Adam Brothers

When five of the six living sons of Timothée and Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam gathered in the Midwest circa 1913, it was deemed an occasion worthy of a photograph.1 From left are pictured brothers Louis (1848-1927), Peter (1852-1936), Joseph (1850-1926), Prosper (1867-1943), and Timothy Adam (1846-1919). Although the twenty-one year span in age of these brothers is impressive, in fact, twenty-seven years passed between the births of their eldest sibling and the youngest, who arrived when his mother was fifty years old. At least fourteen children were born in total, with all but the youngest born in Quebec. All got their start in life in the cotton mills of Indian Orchard, Hampden County, Massachusetts, which had lured the Adam family from rural Quebec to America.2

Brothers Louis, Peter, Joseph, Prosper, and Timothy Adam(s), ca. 1913; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Dorothy Bouchard.

Timothy, at right, likely resided in Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota at the time this picture was taken,3 not far from Peter, second from left, and Prosper, second from right, who had both settled in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.4 Joseph, at center, had apparently traveled from his home in Ponca City, Kay County, Oklahoma to reunite with his brothers, as well as, undoubtedly, his twin sister, who lived in Jefferson.5 Louis, the one brother to have remained in Hampden County, Massachusetts, traveled the greatest distance for this reunion.6 The only living Adam brother not pictured here was Euclid John (1856-1940), who spent his adult life in Southbridge, Worcester County, Massachusetts.7 Whether he lost touch with his brothers or was simply unable to make the trip to visit them at the time that this photograph was taken is not known.

The Adam brothers, some of whom adopted the surname Adams in addition to Anglicized versions of their given names, held a variety of trades between them. Census records indicate that after leaving the cotton mills, some went on to become carpenters, barbers, homesteaders, clerks, pool hall operators, and hotel-keepers, among other occupations. All married, and all but Joseph had children of their own.

This photograph is a photocopy of what was said to be a real photo postcard, a format designed to be easily sent by mail to friends or relatives. Like the only known (or suspected) photograph of the mother of the Adam brothers, the original is believed to have been lost.8 Despite the poor quality of this photocopy, it is apparent that the brothers have dressed sharply, with their hair neatly combed and several in ties, although this was apparently not such a formal occasion that they opted to wear jackets. It is also plausible that it was quite hot, if their reunion took place in the summer months, and the gentlemen may well have opted to be as comfortable as possible. Several appear to wear sleeve garters, arm bands that helped to adjust the length of one’s sleeves.9 While the men’s appearances are distinct from one another, particularly given their disparate ages, similarly prominent noses—and, when visible, even hands—help to link them convincingly as brothers.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

The Nelson Family at Home

The leaves had already fallen from the trees surrounding the modest two-story farmhouse belonging to Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson when this photograph was taken in late 1904.1 Situated near the scenic bluffs along the Missouri River west of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, the house was said to have had a creek running through the corner of the kitchen as a source of fresh water.2 Its simple, symmetric design featured a center door and four front windows on its clapboard walls, with a chimney appearing above the gable roof on one side. The house was likely painted white with a trim of a different color around the windows and door. Many trees surrounded the house, which was situated on an incline; the remote, wooded landscape seems to lend truth to family lore of the children fearing howling wolves (or coyotes?) as they walked to and from the nearest country school.3

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson and Family, Yankton County, South Dakota, 1904; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Fred and Christina, both of whom immigrated from Denmark as children, married in 1890.4 Fred, at left, was forty years old in late 1904; he wears a loose-fitting sack suit and hat and sports a mustache.5 At center stands son Ole, ten, beside Christina, thirty-five.6 She holds baby Mary, who was born in February of that year.7 While Ole is clearly dressed for the outdoors in a coat and cap, Christina, like her daughters, wears no jacket or shawl. Her simple buttoned bodice and unadorned skirt appear comfortable for a nursing mother as well as household duties.

The open door behind Christina suggests that perhaps she and the girls had just stepped outside for the photograph. In a cluster at right stand Anna, thirteen; Helena, nearly or barely four; Louise, five; Julia, twelve; and Andrea, nearly eight.8 All of the girls wear their hair neatly parted and plaited down the back; it was said that the sisters would line up each morning, oldest to youngest, to braid each other’s hair.9 They wear dresses that, with the exception of the youngest’s, fall below the knees, and all wear dark stockings. Their dresses have high necks and full bishop sleeves; a few additional details can be distinguished, such as the plaid fabric of Andrea’s dress and the belt at Anna’s waist.10

The occasion for this photograph is not known, although perhaps it was taken by an itinerant photographer who made stops at rural homes throughout the Midwest. Unlike formal studio portraits of the era, this photograph is as much about the place as the people, allowing a glimpse into the lives of the Nelson family that would otherwise be missed.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

Farm Girls

Sisters Helena, Louise, and Andrea Nelson donned overalls and posed on their family’s farm near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota in this candid photograph dated circa 1916. Andrea, nineteen in the summer of 1916, had recently completed her studies at the Southern State Normal School in Springfield.1 Both Helena, fifteen, and Louise, sixteen, would be students there in the fall, while Andrea would go on to her first term as a teacher at a one-room country school.2

Helena, Louise, and Andrea Nelson, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1916-1918; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Pitching in to help out on the farm would have been the norm for the Nelson girls, the three middle children in a family of nine. Helena’s daughter later recalled her mother’s stories of working in the fields in the summertime,3 and in a letter dated 1918, in response to a question from her cousin about taking summer courses, Andrea replied, “Oh, how I’d love to, but guess it’s chickens to tend etc. and overalls to wear. Suppose that too will be sport, but after all, is there anything like being a schoolgirl?”4 The Nelson girls would have been especially needed on the farm that summer, as their older brother, Ole, was in the service.

While many decades had yet to pass before women wearing pants would become truly mainstream, I can’t imagine that it would have been unusual at this time for young women to wear the clothing most suitable for farm labor while at home among family. The overalls and loose collared shirts worn by the Nelson girls might have been hand-me-downs from their father and brother (even Levi Strauss & Co. didn’t begin to make jeans especially for women until the 1930s!), and, positioned side-by-side in a field with wide-brimmed straw hats atop their heads, the sisters—or the photographer—clearly recognized that this was a photo op not to be missed.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

The Danish Pioneers

Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen were in their sixties when they left their native Denmark to settle with their adult children in Dakota Territory.1 They had married on 1 September 1832 at Skrydstrup Kirke in Skrydstrup, Gram, Haderslev, Denmark, when Erik was twenty-eight and Inger Marie twenty-four.2 It was four decades later when they bade a final farewell to their farm, Hørløkkegaard, and their homeland.3

Erik Bramsen (1803-188–), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen (1808-1885), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

These undated photographs, circa 1870-1880, may have been taken before or after the couple made their ocean voyage; as I have not seen the originals, only photocopies, I am unsure of their format or any other identifying information. Erik wears an unbuttoned double-breasted wool overcoat; while seated, it reaches his knees. Little detail can be discerned about the shirt he wears underneath, which has no visible buttons, but his trousers are of a straight, loose cut. He is clean-shaven, his hair is trimmed and combed to the side, and his eyes appear light in color. Seated in a chair with an arched back, Erik rests his left arm on a small table covered with an embroidered cloth. Tassels from a curtain are visible in the background.

Inger Marie sits before the same background, with the chair situated to the right of the table instead of the left and her right elbow resting on the table. It seems possible that she has suffered a stroke, as her mouth appears uneven and one eye droops. A bonnet with a white frilled trim frames her face and ties below her chin with a large bow. Her dress has fitted sleeves with ruched cuffs, and the bodice is of a darker color than the full skirt. The fabric has a sheen to it, and, while simple, the dress appears well-made and carefully fitted. Several elements of her attire support a date sometime in the 1870s, including the frilled trim on her bonnet and its substantial bow.4

The couple arrived in New York aboard the Cimbria on 14 August 1872, within weeks of their fortieth wedding anniversary.5 They appear in the 1880 U.S. census for Yankton County, Dakota Territory,6 and both passed away in the years thereafter, Erik circa 1880 and Inger Marie in the spring of 1885 when she succumbed to tuberculosis.7 Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen are said to be buried in unmarked graves at Elm Grove Cemetery (formerly Maple Grove Cemetery) near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota, alongside many of their children and grandchildren who, like them, were pioneers.8

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

A Baby Carriage in Dakota Territory

A new arrival in the family has meant that blogging my research findings has taken a backseat in recent months, but with babies on the mind, here is a peek at a sweet little one posed with his mother in the nineteenth century:

nielson_harry_andresen_hannah_1888

Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen with Harry Niels Nielsen, Yankton, Dakota Territory, 1888-89; digital image 2014, privately held by [personal information withheld].

Pictured is Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen, wife of Ole Nielsen of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, with her infant son Harry Niels Nielsen.1 Harry was to be the couple’s only surviving child; a daughter died in infancy.2 He was born 25 May 1888 in the town of Yankton,3 only a few months after the infamous Children’s Blizzard; his parents, both Danish immigrants, had married in 1880.4 At the time of Harry’s birth, Ole managed a dray line in Yankton, transporting heavy loads in a specially built wagon.5 Later, he would take up farming east of the nearby community of Mission Hill.6

In this photograph, Hannah, forty years of age, wears a dress with a full skirt, fitted sleeves, and a bodice fastened with no less than a dozen buttons.7 A brooch is pinned at her high collar and a flat-brimmed hat atop her head is adorned with feathers, adding an elegant statement to her otherwise relatively simple attire. What appears to be a strip of fabric is wrapped around the palm of her visible hand.

Harry, who looks to be less than a year old, dating this picture to South Dakota’s pre-statehood days of 1888-89, is dressed in a light-colored gown and a snug bonnet. He looks directly at the camera and a belt around his middle secures him to the seat of a baby carriage. The slatted basket is long enough that a smaller baby could lay flat until, like Harry, sitting upright against the fringed backboard would be possible.

I love that a baby carriage is featured here, unlike in any of the other nineteenth century baby photographs in my collection. However, I do have to wonder how practical it would have been at this time and place. While a bustling prairie town in its own right, Yankton was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a particularly urban environment, where a baby carriage might have proven more useful. Was it a prop at the Janousek studio, then, or did it belong to the Nielson familyperhaps a special luxury for a woman who had waited out eight years of marriage for a healthy child?

Whatever the case, this is a charming look at a proud mother and her well-behaved infant striking an elegant pose on the frontier. And, I have to say, the picturesque baby carriages of the nineteenth century were certainly more worthy of studio portraits than those of today!

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

Fun on the Farm

Farm kids have long learned to make their own fun, and Frances Marie Noehl of Deerfield, Chickasaw County, Iowa was no exception. Pictured here circa 1920, Frances is grinning as she sits on a wooden cart pulled by her dog, Shep. If his expression can be interpreted, he appears to have been game to take part in the shenanigans of Frances and her siblings: Leo, Helen, Kathryn, Elinor, John, Al, Frank, and Joe. Frances, born in the spring of 1911, fell between Frank and Joe in age as the second-to-youngest of the nine children of German immigrants Mathias and Elizabeth (Hoffman) Noehl.

Noehl_Frances_Shep_c1920_Iowa

Frances Marie Noehl with Shep, Chickasaw County, Iowa, circa 1920; digital image 2015, privately held by Valene Petersen, 2016.

Although the Noehls were not prosperous and bounced around from farm to farm while their children were young, the available recollections of their children indicate that plenty of fun was to be found in the country—after chores, of course. Following brief, unsuccessful stints in Canada and Minnesota around the turn of the century, the Noehls returned to Chickasaw County where they rented a farm near New Hampton.1 As a small child, Frances’s brother John, who was seven years her senior, could apparently often be found in the maple grove, contentedly sipping sweet sap from a tin cup under the watchful eye of another beloved dog, Sultan.2

Next, the family moved to an acreage in the town of North Washington, where the older children attended Catholic school and learned English for the first time.3 After three years there, the man who owned their property offered them a chance to rent out his farm in Deerfield, near the community of Alta Vista.4 John recalled his mother’s happiness as they prepared to resume farm life, teaching him to sing, “For to plow / For to mow / For to reap / For to sow / For to be a farmer’s boy.”5 It was now around 1910, and the family would remain on this farm for years to come. Aside from playtime with the family dog, rumor has it that Frances and her siblings also liked to have spitting contests while perched in the hayloft.6

With her bobbed haircut and loose-fitting, short-sleeved cotton dress, complete with a tie about the neck à la a sailor suit, Frances looks every bit an energetic 1920s tween.7 Her worn leather shoes appear to be barely staying on her feet and she sits relaxed with one bare (or stockinged) leg folded underneath. A massive barn with a stone foundation is visible behind her. This informal snapshot was likely taken by a family member, although since I have seen very few photographs of the Noehl family in general, I wonder if photography may have been only a passing hobby. In any case, it’s a pleasure to have a rare glimpse into a long-ago childhood.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
Continue reading

A Sioux City Streetcar

One might not expect that a community in Iowa was the first in the world to have an electric-powered elevated streetcar system, but in the early 1890s, Sioux City blazed that trail.1 It was already the third city in the United States—after New York and Kansas City—to host a non-electric elevated streetcar system, and for years to come, streetcars served to connect its far-flung neighborhoods, offering a convenient and affordable transportation option to its citizens.2

Henry_Adam_Streetcar

Henry Joseph Adam, center, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1903-07; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

As a newlywed in his mid-twenties, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa worked as a conductor for the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, also known as the Sioux City Service Company.3 This photograph, dated circa 1903-07, shows him in uniform, his suit rather baggy on his slight frame and a cap atop his head. Half a dozen men and women pictured behind him are in the process of boarding the streetcar, while three men at the front seem to be investigating an issue with either the tracks or the car itself. As this seems an unlikely place for passengers to board the car, suspended as they were over the Floyd River, I suspect there was a problem with the streetcar and the passengers had temporarily disembarked, an inconvenience on such a chilly day. That might also explain the occasion for the photograph; the original, mounted on a large piece of cardboard, looks as though it could be a copy of a local press photograph.

Just a few years before, Henry’s parents had had an unfortunate encounter with Sioux City’s elevated streetcars. In the summer of 1896, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Yesterday afternoon Timothy Adams and wife, of Moville, were about to cross the track of the elevated railway at Hedges station, Morning Side, when they met with a severe accident. They were driving a team to a light wagon, and as the electric car approached the horses became frightened. The tongue of the wagon broke and stuck into the ground, throwing Mrs. Adams violently over the dash board. The wheels passed over her, but when Dr. Brown was called it was found she was not much hurt and that no bones were broken.4

Seriously injured or not, Henry’s mother filed a suit against the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company and received one hundred and twenty-five dollars.5 Little could she have known that her son would soon become their employee, and, fortunately for Henry, if this incident was recalled, it must not have been held against him! He was employed there for only a few years, between approximately 1903-07, and spent the rest of his life as a carpenter. In the above photograph, he is working the route from East 4th and College to Greenville, which necessitated crossing the Floyd River on an elevated track.6

As for the streetcars of Sioux City, they peaked in 1933 with around forty-five miles of track that traversed multiple neighborhoods and even crossed the state line into South Sioux City, Nebraska.7 By the 1940s, however, with the introduction of a more-flexible bus system, streetcars quickly became obsolete, and after sixty years of service to the community, operations ceased in 1948.8

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

The Best (Early) Christmas Surprise

Christmas came early for me this year in the form of a long-lost antique photograph – thanks to the efforts of a state historical society and a random act of kindness by a fellow genealogist. It was early on a Saturday morning when I sleepily picked up my phone to check the time, only to see a notification that someone had sent me a message via this blog. The first line read, “I thought you might be interested to know that there is a photograph in the online archives of the Kansas Historical Society that I believe shows members of your Fenton family.”1

Interested? INTERESTED? I was up in an instant. The message included a link to a photograph digitized and made available online courtesy of Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society, and while the description has since been updated, on that Saturday morning it was simply titled “Family in Gypsum, Kansas.”

Well, I did have family in Gypsum, Kansas, a small community in rural Saline County. Pioneers George W. Fenton and his wife Sarah Ellen Hall married there in 1873 and had three daughters – Minnie Belle, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota – before George was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law in 1880.2 Sarah later had a son, Charles Alfred, with her second husband, John Hoffman, whom she married in 1883.3 According to the original caption, based on a handwritten notation on the back of the photograph, the individuals were identified as Charlie, Belle, Alpha, and Ota, but their last name was unknown. Could it be…?

Hoffman_Charles_Fenton_Belle_Alpha_Leota_c_1890

Charles Alfred Hoffman with half-sisters, from left to right, Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton, Gypsum, Saline County, Kansas, ca. 1890-1892; digital image 2015, courtesy of KansasMemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society. Used with permission.

It was. Pictured circa 1890-92, half-siblings Belle, Alpha, and Ota Fenton and Charlie Hoffman posed for this cabinet card photograph at Kassebaum’s in Gypsum City, Kansas. I have found little information about the photographer, but local newspapers place him in the county at the appropriate time. A J.A. Kassebaum was a resident of Saline County, Kansas as early as 1890 when a newspaper announced his marriage; in 1893, it was reported in the column “Gypsum City News” that “Kassebaum is kept busy taking pictures of our citizens and residences.”4

Apparently, these four siblings were some of the very citizens he photographed. Minnie Belle Fenton, likely between sixteen and eighteen at the time, is dressed fashionably, and, as the eldest, is the central subject of the photograph. The bodice of her dress is very finely detailed, featuring a high collar and a double row of large, decorative buttons. Her sleeves, as commonly seen between 1890-92, are fitted, but looser at the upper arm and with a modest puff at the top of the shoulder, and she wears a bracelet on her right wrist.5 There are two decorative velvet bands at the cuffs of her sleeves and three at the bottom of her skirt. Belle would marry Joseph Anthony Hoffman, the younger brother of her stepfather, in 1893, at the age of eighteen.6

Alpha Doretta Fenton, reclining against her older sister, was likely between fourteen and sixteen in this photograph. The dark-eyed teenager wears a fitted dress of a much more simple design than Belle, but it is still flattering with attention to detail. There is a bunch of ruffled lace pinned at the bodice and a brooch at her throat, adorning the folded collar. Her hands are curled in her lap, and like Belle she appears to hide her fingertips; perhaps these country girls did not want to call attention to unmanicured nails. Alpha would marry Clare Eugene Gibson in 1895, at the age of nineteen.7

Anna Leota Fenton, standing behind her sisters, was perhaps ten or twelve at the oldest when this photograph was taken, and she stands straight with a direct gaze. Small and slim, she was not yet corseted like her older sisters, although like them her bangs were frizzled in the latest fashion.8 Her dark dress – which features a row of buttons and a lace collar – is almost surely a hand-me-down, perhaps made over to be suitable for her. Ota would marry George Hiram Thoma in 1902 at the age of twenty-two.9

Charles Alfred Hoffman, the little blond half-brother of the Fenton sisters, was likely around six or eight in this photograph. His resigned expression seems to bear evidence of the burden of having three older sisters; his mouth is clamped shut, his eyes fixed purposefully on the photographer, and his small hand is a blur as he was unable to keep completely still. He wears a jacket and his buttoned shoes are polished to shine. Charlie would marry late in life, and unlike his sisters, had no children of his own.10

All of the children bear a strong resemblance to photographs in my collection that picture them as adults, but this is by far the oldest photograph I have seen of any member of this family. In fact, I had previously seen no photographs whatsoever from their years in Kansas, so this window into their lives is priceless. Gypsum was a rural community of just over 500 residents in 1890; for a photographer to be numbered among its businessmen must have been somewhat significant.11 Kassebaum’s studio featured a somewhat amateur painted backdrop of a parlor setting, a carpeted floor, and animal skin rugs, which created a rather rustic yet elegant setting for the Fenton and Hoffman siblings. It seems possible that this might have been the first studio the children had ever visited.

I am grateful to Kansas Memory and the Kansas Historical Society for preserving and sharing this image in their digital repository and for generously allowing me to display it here. If you have Kansas ancestors, this database is well worth a thorough look. Beyond numerous photographs of people and places, I spotted transcribed nineteenth-century journals (how fun would it be to find a mention of your ancestor?), correspondence, advertisements, and a host of other primary source material fascinating to the historian and genealogist. And if an unidentified photograph happens to pique your interest, consider running a search on the information available as a fellow genealogist did for me – you never know when you might run into a descendant seeking those very ancestors!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

Suiting Up at the Turn of the Century

I’ll admit I feel rather proud of my namesake for marrying such a debonaire young man. Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, pictured at right, married Melanie Veronica Lutz in 1905 at the age of twenty-four, which allows this photograph to be dated to approximately 1900-1905.1

Henry_Adam_1900

Henry Joseph Adam, at right, with an unknown individual, Akron, Iowa, ca. 1900; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Census records confirm that the photographer who made this cabinet card, Gene Frank of Akron, Plymouth County, Iowa, did indeed operate a photography studio in the early twentieth century.2 However, I’m not entirely sure what Henry was doing in Akron himself. He lived in Sioux City, thirty miles south, where there were certainly a number of photographers; however, Akron was a bit closer to the French Canadian communities of southeastern South Dakota where Henry had a number of relatives. It’s also possible that he had hired out to work in the area or that he had simply gone there for a visit – or, as the case may be, for a shopping expedition.

As with all photographs, an important question comes to mind: “What was the occasion?” While I don’t note a strong family resemblance between the other young man and Henry’s male relatives, one possibility is that he could have been a cousin. He could not have been a classmate, as Henry attended school only through eighth grade, but it is possible that he and Henry worked together in some capacity. If nothing else, he was a friend, and I wonder if he and Henry purchased these suits together. The textured suit jackets are nearly identical in terms of cut and fabric, but not quite, while the stiff-collared shirts seem to be the same; the young men expressed their individuality by way of their accessories. The friend, with wet hair slicked in a part, wears a vest with a knotted striped necktie and a watch chain, while Henry omits the vest in favor of a fleur-de-lis-printed necktie tied in a bow. It wouldn’t have been unusual in this era for two young men to have a photograph taken together to document their friendship.

What strikes me about this photograph is that from what I know of Henry, he wasn’t typically quite so refined! He spent his teenage years as a dairy farmer and his adult years as a carpenter, so such dapper attire was in all likelihood limited to his early adulthood and might have been worn to church or while courting. The high detachable collar fully encased his neck, and I particularly like that he wore the fleur-de-lis as an apparent nod to his French Canadian heritage; Henry in fact spoke both French and English.

There are a number of photographs of Henry in my collection, but this may be the most dapper of them all. For more photographs of the family of Henry Joseph Adam (1881-1944) and Melanie Veronica Lutz (1884-1973), stay tuned for the new Adam Family Album. 

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading

Wedding Wednesday: Puffed Sleeves

On a late September day in 1896, Elizabeth Hoffman of North Washington, Chickasaw County, Iowa affixed a gauzy, floor-length veil to her hair. It may have been crowned with flowers, although the faded photograph does not make this clear. Flowers or foliage of some kind – perhaps even autumn leaves? – were indeed attached to the front of her dress, although she wore no white gown. Her best dress was likely black or another dark color and fashionably made with a gathered bodice, narrow waist, and sleeves generously puffed to the elbow. (Anne Shirley would have been envious.)

Elizabeth’s attire is evidence that, at this time, even recent immigrants living in rural areas of the United States were aware of the latest fashion trends. Corsets were not worn by all women in the 1890s, and Elizabeth, already slim, was not dramatically corseted if she was at all.1 The gathered bodice was of a style worn throughout the decade, and while the care of these full leg o’ mutton sleeves was time-consuming, they were at the height of popularity in the middle of the decade.2

MathiasElizabethWedding

Mathias Noehl and Elizabeth Hoffman, wedding, North Washington, Iowa, 1896; digital image 2001, original held by J.H., 2015.

At the age of twenty-seven – her birthday had been just the week before – Elizabeth was to marry a fellow immigrant, Mathias Noehl.3 As it so happened, he hailed from the village of Holsthum, Bitburg-Prum, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, which neighbored her own home village of Prümzurlay.4 By all accounts, however, their first meeting took place in northeastern Iowa, where Mathias encountered Elizabeth, whom he called Lizzie, at the Immaculate Conception Church in North Washington. She lived there as the housekeeper of Father Probst and the Sisters of Charity.5 The couple was married there on 22 September 1896 and may have celebrated with Elizabeth’s mother and siblings, who had also made Chickasaw County their home.6

A copy of Mathias and Elizabeth’s wedding portrait was shared with me by a relative; I suspect the original is a cabinet card photograph, popular at the turn of the century. I can’t make out much of the setting (is it grass or a rug at their feet?), but Mathias sits in a wicker chair while Elizabeth stands to the side, her right hand on his shoulder. In her left hand is clutched a small book, perhaps a prayerbook. As was typical of the time, neither of the newlyweds smile, and their faces are so faded in the copy that it’s difficult to see the direction of their gazes. Mathias has short hair; in his memoirs, he wrote that that, upon meeting Elizabeth, his blond hair was “unkempt like dried up flowers of the cemetery,” so a haircut may have been in order!7 He has a tidy mustache and wears a wool suit and white shirt. At twenty-eight, having recovered from an earlier heartbreak during his first years in America, he was prepared to settle down and start a family.8 Mathias and Elizabeth would go on to raise nine children on their farm.

This wedding portrait is one of several photographs that I have in my digital collection of the family of Mathias and Elizabeth (Hoffman) Noehl, both immigrants who came to Iowa from Germany in the late nineteenth century. For more photographs of the family of Mathias Noehl (1868-1950) and Elizabeth Hoffman (1869-1957), check out my new Noehl Family Album

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

Continue reading