Tag Archives: Nielsen

Prairie Teacher

“Oh, what a work we teachers have in the molding of the lives of those little ones,” wrote Andrea Nelson in her diary on an autumn evening in 1918.1 At the age of twenty-one, she had just begun her third term as a teacher in southeastern South Dakota.2 She took great delight in her fourteen students, who, she noted, were “in general a bright talkative set.”3 This was her first term at Prairie School District 9, located in Mission Hill, a rural community near the town of Yankton.4

Andrea Mathilda Nelson was born on 31 December 1896, the daughter of Danish immigrants Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson.5 Raised on a farm just west of Yankton, Andrea was the fourth child of nine.6 After completing her grammar school education at a one-room schoolhouse, Andrea, along with her sisters, succeeded in receiving teaching certification from the Southern State Normal School located in nearby Springfield, South Dakota.7 Andrea taught first in Turkey Valley, then at the Dewey School near Lesterville, and finally in Mission Hill, where she was conveniently able to board with her elder sister, Anna, and her husband, Jim.8

With the freedom provided by a small class size and a rural school district, Andrea enjoyed and recorded many memorable moments with her students: she took them on noontime walks to the nearby molasses mill, joined in on games at recess (“Pump Pump Pull Away” and “Ruth and Jacob”), and received invitations to visit them at their homes.9 One evening, she wrote, “Shortly before recess I excused Tim and Royal in order that they might go chase Ficke’s cows out of the nearby cornfield. They came back at recess with two watermelons which Royal brought from home and which we feasted on together.”10

Andrea Nelson at a schoolhouse with her students, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1916-1918; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

Fond of the outdoors herself, she also recognized its importance to children, even offering an early dismissal one “very fine day.”11 On another occasion, she wrote, “A very beautiful calm autumnal day. But nine at school. We had our drawing lesson outside. At recess the children earnestly requested me to permit them to recite and study outside the remaining hour and fifteen minutes. I consented after which they gleefully clapped their hands. The shade of one tree served as study room while that of another nearby took the place of recitation room. The children did not abuse their privilege. As a result we all fully enjoyed school in the fine October out of doors.”12

The next day, still taking advantage of the autumn weather, she wrote, “After school I hied me to the open. There I helped Jim pick potatoes for about half an hour. He said that I broke a schoolmam’s reputation in taking up such work after a day at school. I replied that he could count on me for doing things out of the ordinary for those in our profession.”13

In late September, Andrea wrote, “Think Spanish Influenza is going about the neighborhood. Only eleven at school.”14 Before long, the number of students in her class dwindled still further as the influenza continued to spread. In early October, just a month into the school year, Andrea recorded in her diary, “Only six at school again. […] I hardly feel that I’m earning my $4.25 per day these days.”15

Tragically, it would be only a matter of time before Andrea was struck with influenza herself, and the final pages of her diary are left blank. Exactly one month after the unexpected death of her father, Andrea died on 28 November 1918 while a patient at St. Bernard’s Hospital in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa.16 Her younger sister, Helena, a student at Springfield Normal School, took over her teaching position at Prairie School District 9 and completed the sorrow-filled school term with Andrea’s students.17

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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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:

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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.
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A Golden Anniversary Celebration

One warm afternoon during the summer of 1902, a crowd gathered at the home of local pioneers Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen. The couple, who had retired from farm life several years before, was celebrating fifty years of marriage, and all of their children and grandchildren were invited to their home located near the center of town at 605 Broadway in Yankton, South Dakota.1 The event was surely a memorable affair, and the local newspaper gave a glowing report of the afternoon’s activities:

Mr. and Mrs. Nels Olson celebrated their golden wedding yesterday afternoon at their home on Broadway. All their children, eight in number, were present with their families. Their names are as follows; Ole Nelson, Mission Hill; John Nelson, Viborg; Christ Nelson, Lakeport; Fred Nelson, Lakeport; Mrs. J. Nissen, Yankton; Mrs. C. Calleson, Yankton; and Miss Helena Nelson, Yankton. Rev. C.K. Solberg spoke a few words appropriate to the occasion and presented to the venerable couple two fine presents from the children, a gold headed cane to “father” and pair of gold glasses to “mother.” The “old folks” came from Denmark in 1874 and made their first home in America near Lakeport, S.D. Eight years ago they moved to Yankton, their present home. They are in fairly good health and enjoy comfort and happiness surrounded by kind children.2

Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Hennecke had married in Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, on 30 July 1852.3 For the first twenty-two years of their married life, they resided in Denmark; their twenty-second anniversary, however, was spent aboard ship as they ventured to America.4 Their years since had been spent in southeastern South Dakota, where they claimed a homestead and where Niels had recently served a term as a rural postmaster. All eight of their surviving children remained in the area, and to commemorate their fiftieth anniversary, an informal group photograph was arranged on the porch of their home beneath the shade of several large trees.

Olsen Golden Anniversary

Olsen Golden Anniversary, Yankton, South Dakota, July 1902; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

The couple of honor is seated near the center, surrounded by those in attendance. Niels wears a wool three-piece suit and tie, as do most of the men, while Juliane wears a patterned shirtwaist with a bow at the neckline. Patterned, striped, or light-colored cotton fabrics seem to be popular choices among the women for their summertime wear. The adults, including the couple’s children, sit or stand in two rows, and three infants are perched on laps. Nine young grandchildren – including four sisters in matching dresses – cram together in the front, sitting cross-legged on the wooden plank floorboards. The group is relaxed; there are a few smiles, several women cross their arms comfortably, and a few maternal faces are turned away from the camera, intent on minding the couple’s many grandchildren.

I have to hope that this well-dressed crowd had the opportunity to partake in some refreshing lemonade in honor of the occasion!

In the back row, from left to right, are Reverend Solberg, Mrs. Solberg, Harry Nissen, Fred Nelson, Ole Nielsen, Harry Nielsen, John Nielsen, Eric Boysen, unknown, and Chris Callesen. In the middle row, from left to right, are unknown, Dora Nissen, Cleora Nielsen, Hannah Nielsen, Stena Callesen, Cecilia Boysen, J. Chris Nelson, Niels Olsen, Juliana Olsen, Helena Olsen, Jennie Nelson, Edith Nelson (child), Christine Nelson, and Helen Nelson (child). In the front row, from left to right, are Robert Nelson, Anna Nelson, Louise Nelson, Andrea Nelson, Julia Nelson, Bessie Nelson, Ole Nelson, Alvin Nielsen, and George Boysen.5

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The Three Amigos

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Peter Jorgensen, Fred Nelson, and Chris Callesen, Seven Falls, South Cheyenne Canon, Colorado; digital image 2014, privately held by [personal information withheld], 2014.

This souvenir photograph features three mustachioed men in sombreros posing astride burros in front of a rugged western landscape. In 1911, Peter Jorgensen, Fred Nelson, and Chris Callesen of Yankton County, South Dakota, pictured here from left to right, ventured west to Seven Falls in the South Cheyenne Canon near Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado. I can’t know for sure what brought them west; I do know that, decades earlier, brothers-in-law Fred and Chris had traveled at least as far as the Black Hills to sell eggs to the miners.1 It’s possible that this trip to Colorado, however, was purely an opportunity for sightseeing and adventure, rather than business.

Fred_Nelson_Seven_Falls_02The reverse side of the photograph, mounted on heavy card stock, provides printed detail about the South Cheyenne Canon, famed for its natural beauty and sites of historical interest. The Seven Falls Photo & Curio Co. was responsible for this photograph, which was “taken at the foot of the famous Seven Falls.” It was possible to order duplicates by referencing the number shown on the photograph. (The number on the mat came only recently.) Given the number 716, it seems that plenty of these souvenir photographs must exist; I spotted several on eBay and on The Henry Ford Online Collection.

Did the men ride to the Falls on the burros? As of 1911, there was, in fact, a Cheyenne Burro & Carriage Co. in operation,2 so if they weren’t part of the package when the men paid for their photograph, they may have opted to rent the burros independently to ease their exploration of the area – or just for fun. The same may go for their sombreros!

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Choose Your Own Backdrop

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Family of Niels and Juliane (Hennike) Olsen, 1893, Yankton County, South Dakota; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

When they posed with their children for this photograph in 1893, Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen of Yankton County, South Dakota had been married for just over forty years. They had raised nine children to adulthood, eight of whom were born in their native Denmark.1

Niels and Juliane had purchased a farm upon their arrival in America, but in their later years, they moved to a more comfortable life in town. The couple would go on to celebrate fifty years of marriage in 1902,2 although their youngest son, Andrew, would be missing from that gathering. He drowned in 1897 while hunting ducks on the nearby Swan Lake.3

The photograph is a large print, roughly 8×10 inches, pasted onto cardboard with the date marked on the back. Do you notice anything strange about the backdrop? The family poses in front of a backdrop of painted trees that is slightly too small for a group of that size. To one side, the edge of the backdrop of a wallpapered room is visible, and the backdrop cuts off altogether on the other. All seem to be dressed in their best, the men in dark suits and the women in good black dresses. In 1896, Godey’s wrote, “All of us who are wise, possess a black gown.”4

The women’s dresses are distinct, although the two sisters seated on opposite ends, Stena and Cecilie, could easily have made their dresses from the same pattern. Their sisters’ dresses also bear similarities, though all have their own touches – pleats, contrasting material, or, in Dora’s case, large decorative buttons. Their mother’s dress, however, has no unnecessary frills. Notably, all of the women’s sleeves are of the fitted fashion of the previous decade; as the 1890s went on, puffed sleeves gained popularity. Perhaps this fashion had not yet become popular in Yankton County, or maybe these women simply didn’t care for the new style enough to want to rework dresses that were still perfectly serviceable.

Standing, left to right, are Helena (Neilsen) Larsen, John Neilsen, Andrew Neilsen, Fred Neilsen, Ole Neilsen, and Chris Neilsen. Seated, left to right, are Stena (Neilsen) Callesen, Dora (Neilsen) Nissen, Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen, Niels Olsen, and Cecilie (Neilsen) Boysen. Variations of the surname, including Nelson, were also used by some members of the family.



SOURCES
1 Harold W. Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” in Ben Van Osdel and Don Binder, editors, History of Yankton County, South Dakota (Yankton, South Dakota: Curtis Media Corporation and the Yankton County Historical Society, 1987), 53.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
3 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
4 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 460.

The Nelson Family

The nine children of Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson of Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota pose together here circa 1915. These six sisters and three brothers span nineteen years in age; from eldest to youngest, they are Anna, Julia, Ole, Andrea, Louise, Helena, Mary, Fred, and Myron Nelson. [Update: Since writing this piece, I have located another copy of this photograph with a date of December 1917 handwritten on the back.]

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Family of Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson, ca. 1915, Yankton County, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by [personal information withheld], 2013.

A strong family resemblance can be seen in the nine Nelson siblings. Anna and Julia stand at center; they are wearing plain buttoned blouses and skirts, as is Andrea, seated left. Louise and Helena, standing at left and right, wear almost identical dresses with wide collars, pleated bodices, and belted waists. Their dresses were almost certainly sewn by hand from the same pattern.

Mary, the youngest sister, seated at right, is dressed in the most striking manner in a plaid dress with a ring of beautiful braids coiled atop her head. As the story goes, while they were growing up, the Nelson sisters would line up each morning to braid the hair of the sister standing before them.1 Someone clearly spent extra time on Mary’s hair on the morning that this photograph was taken!

The brothers, regardless of age, wear sturdy wool jackets. Ole’s jacket is open over a dark shirt or sweater that seems to be in the style of a turtleneck, while young (and very blond) Fred and Myron wear their jackets buttoned over shirts and ties. They lean towards Ole, their arms propped beside his on the arms of his chair.

In 1915, not all of the Nelson children remained at home, although all continued to live in the area. Anna, the eldest, was married, and had started a family.2 Julia was a schoolteacher,3 the profession pursued by her younger sisters, Andrea and Louise, who were students at the nearby Springfield Normal School.4 They would soon be followed by Helena and Mary, who at this point likely still attended the local school with Fred and Myron. Ole, the eldest brother, was a carpenter, and worked on the family farm.5

Was there an occasion for this photograph? In March of 1915, Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson would have celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.6 Perhaps a photograph of their progeny was in order, either by their request or as a gift from their children. Regardless, this is the last known photograph of all of the Nelson children together, and it’s a lovely one.



SOURCES
1 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversations with the author, 2012; notes in author’s files.
2 1920 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Mission Hill, Enumeration District (ED) 251, p. 6151 (penned), sheet 1-B, dwelling 10, family 10, Anna Jorgensen; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 1726.
3 “South Dakota, State Census, 1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 04 Nov 2013), Julia Nelson, Tabor, Yankton, South Dakota, United States.
4 The Echo, Vol. 1 (Springfield, South Dakota: Springfield Normal School, 1916); private collection of Brian Adam [personal information withheld].
5“South Dakota, State Census, 1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 04 Nov 2013), Ole Nelson, Tabor, Yankton, South Dakota, United States.
6“In Memoriam: Christine M. Nelson,” undated clipping, ca. January 1961, from unidentified newspaper.