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
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.