My Grandmother, Boarded and Taught by Nuns in a Convent School in the Early 1900s
Early Days in Kohler, Wisconsin
My maternal grandmother was born near Kohler, Wisconsin and was one of four living children in her family when her mother died at an early age. Her mother suffered from what they at the time called dropsy which today would be described as edema probably caused by congestive heart failure. Two other sisters of hers had died, at early ages of disease.
Her dad was a dairy farmer. To best manage the care of his three daughters without the help of a mother he sent them to a boarding school during the week that also happened to be a convent operated by nuns.
My grandmother and her two sisters only got to spend the weekends at home during the school year. They would generally be picked up and taken back and forth between school and home by their brother who would drive the horse and buggy.
Growing Up On A Dairy Farm
Their brother got to stay at home with his father because of being needed for work on the dairy farm. He would have been schooled to some extent locally, but the farm also provided his central education that he would utilize to maintain his life and livelihood as he matured.
Back in those days, the typical thing to do was to pass the farm on to the eldest son. In this case, he was the only son, and that is what happened. When he got married, he and his new wife moved into the farmhouse.
Eventually, my grandmother's father purchased a small house in town and moved his three daughters into the house with him. The four of them lived there together, and the girls at that point no longer were boarded and schooled at the convent.
As I was growing up, I heard many stories from my grandmother about those days in the convent school. She remembered it with great fondness.
Back when my great-grandfather started his dairy farm, milking the cows by hand would have been the routine.
He, and eventually, his son when old enough, would have been growing the crops to feed the cows, and moving the cows from one pasture to another as needed. They also took care of the farming equipment and buildings, and the hand milking the cows twice daily. They would then have had to store and market the milk.
It was a labor-intensive business that required not only hard work but intelligence and perseverance to best succeed in this type of endeavor.
Farming in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin was known for growing great wheat crops and lumbering long before it became known as the Dairy State. The ground is fertile, and most of the early settlers did farming for a living.
- Wisconsin joined the United States as its 30th state in 1848.
- Wheat farming peaked in 1872, and at that same time, the Wisconsin Dairyman's Association was founded by William D. Hoard and others. Mr. Hoard eventually became a governor of the State of Wisconsin.
- With the increased supply of milk, the very first cheese factory was developed by a woman by the name of Anne Picket. She got most of the quantity of the milk she needed from dairy farmers in the south-central portion of the state.
- Lumbering was the primary industry from 1890 to 1910 when the dairy industry took over that leading position in the state.
- In 1920 Wisconsin had become the top cheese producer in the nation and still holds that title.
Living in Kohler, Wisconsin, my great-grandfather and the three girls lived together until the young women each got married and moved into houses of their own.
I do not know about her sisters and what they might have done, but my grandmother worked at several jobs before getting married. She worked as a clerk in a couple of stores and was trained to work as a dental hygienist, which she enjoyed.
Back in those days with rare exceptions, once married, the young ladies no longer worked outside the home. My grandmother became a full-time wife, mother, and homemaker, and she excelled in each area. She developed other talents through the years and was quite artistic.
She was an excellent seamstress and could tailor clothes and upholstery equally well. My grandmother could look at a dress in a window or even try it on in a store and then go home and make it. She was a perfectionist with her sewing. Each inside seam was bound by hand. She could take this sleeve design and add it to that bodice or skirt design, turning the most ordinary of dresses into something extraordinary.
Her dinner parties became legendary! Besides being a great cook, her table settings were perfection! The garnishes on each plate were works of art. Even as her young grand-daughter, I never saw her serve a radish, for example, that was not made to look like a rose.
My grandmother was a gentle soul who shared her love equally with her husband, three children, and eventually her grandchildren as they came along. My two brothers and I, along with my parents, lived close by and got the most benefit from her sweet and caring disposition in everyday living.
She always held her Catholic religion near and dear to her heart. When we spent the night on a sleepover, we would each kneel by the bed and recite our nightly prayers together. Prayer before meals was also routine. A German prayer book of hers is a keepsake now treasured in our family.
My dear grandmother, who had the early influence of being taught by nuns in a boarding school situation, integrated that respectful way of living and being grateful for things into her daily life.
My grandmother saw the joy in the simplest of things, whether it was wild daisies gathered from the field, admiring a colorful fall leaf, or delighting in seeing a drawing done by one of her grandchildren. We were all made to feel special in her presence, and her memory lives on in each of us.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Peggy Woods