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Minnie's Diary #10: "Why shouldn’t I share my fabulous 'Canadien' self with more than one wife?"

Monday, 29 February, 1904 - Sewed rag carpets

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

“Leap day 1904. Maybe it’s the year to make a leap,” Minnie thought.

Her fingers busied themselves with cutting and braiding long strips of fabric from discarded clothing into a single braid, then winding the braid in circles and sewing it tightly together. This carpet, she thought, will be at my front door.

Minnie had resolved to get her own place before her twenty-first birthday, with or without a husband. For decades, women had been organizing for the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to their own personhood.

“I don’t need to get married to strike off on my own,” she thought. “It’s the 20th century, after all.”

“Really and truly, when one comes to investigate, the twentieth century woman is far more inclined to take a serious view of love and matrimony than either her mother or grandmother appears to have been. … She has vindicated for her sex the right to remain single, and she has also abundantly proved to the world that the mere fact of not getting married, whether of necessity or by choice, does not constitute a woman a crank or a bore.”

When a Girl is Engaged, by Helen Oldfield, Chicago Tribune, 28 February, 1904

When she looked around at the young, marriageable men in her orbit, Minnie just couldn’t find “Mr. Right.” She didn’t want to sit alone all winter, like her cousin Minnie Raiche, waiting for her husband to come home from the woods. And she wasn't sure she wanted to work day and night on a farm, like her mother, knowing that one dry season or one wet harvest season could wipe out everything you’d worked for.

She wanted a true partner in life, not a one-way relationship. She wanted a man who not only caused her heart to flutter, but also could make her laugh, dry her tears, take her dancing and hold a conversation. Most of all, she wanted to be a modern American woman respected for thoughts and interests of her own.

“I need a plan more than I need a man,” she thought.

Tuesday, 1 March, 1904 - Went to Mrs. Paquin’s. She was sick. Per & Em and I had fun.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

— Sturgeon Bay Advocate, 27 February, 1904, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Poor Mrs. Paquin. still sick in bed with the grip. While Emily and the younger Paquin children were at school and the men were at work, Minnie took charge of the family’s cleaning and cooking. She made Mrs. Paquin a hot tea with apple cider vinegar and honey, and placed on her forehead some cloths soaked in diluted apple cider vinegar to help draw out her fever.

Merci, Minnie,” said Mrs. Paquin, weakly. “You’re such a dear one.”

Mr. Paquin and his three eldest sons were busy in the machine shed, cleaning and oiling equipment and getting ready for spring. She served them a hearty dinner of beef round steak, potatoes, carrots and pickled beets.

The weather had been above freezing since Sunday, and the snow had finally started to melt. Under the snow, she struggled to dig a few parsnips from the Paquins’ garden. They tasted so much better after spending the winter in the frozen ground.

For supper, she made a simple chowder of fish, onions, celery, parsnips, potato and cream with freshly baked bread. No matter how hard she tried to copy the recipe, Minnie’s French bread never turned out quite as good as her mother’s. But none of the Paquins complained.

After the dishes were washed and put away, Minnie and Emily played cribbage with 14-year-old Permelia while the younger Paquin children did their homework and the men napped.

Wednesday, 2 March, 1904 - Spent the day to Mrs. Paquin. Not better. Had a storm

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

“The storm last Wednesday was the worst of the season, as far as snowing and blowing is concerned. The snow piled up in all of the railroad cuts and crusted so hard that it took a great deal of ‘bucking’ to clean the tracks. The St. Paul morning passenger got as far as the cut at the Bristol and there it remained in a snow bank until noon when a gang of shovelers released it sufficiently to allow it to get to the depot and land passengers.”

— The Diamond Drill, 5 March 1904, Crystal Falls, Michigan

So much for the spring thaw. Minnie had arrived at the Paquin house before the snow began falling and wind started howling. She spent another day running the household while Mrs. Paquin rested in bed. By late afternoon, Mrs. Paquin's flu symptoms were a little better.

“Minnie, take this,” said Mrs. Paquin, still sitting in bed but holding out a dollar bill. “We want you to have something for your hard work.”

“Really, Mrs. Paquin, you don’t need to pay me.”

J'insiste. Please take it.”

Minnie took the dollar home and added it to her savings bank.

Thursday, 3 March, 1904 - Henry Willie Jack & Chas. over.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

“A resident … who recently spent a few days in Menominee, reported while in the city Wednesday on his way home, that the hospitals in the west shore town are full of sick at the present time. Many of them are ill with typhoid fever, supposed to be due to impure water, which is drawn from Green bay. The cold winter has caused a wholesale freezing of water-pipes…. This necessitated a return to the old and partly-abandoned wells….”

— Sturgeon Bay Advocate, 27 February 1904

With three brothers and a fun-loving father, Minnie often found her home filled with young lumberjacks on their way to and from Camp 20. Tonight was no exception. Henry Caron, Willie Rochon, John Massie Jr., and Minnie’s cousin Charles Arsenault had stopped to visit and talk about the news of the day, which included the weather. Trains were running late all week and the sawmill shut down briefly because of the storm.

“I heard the ground in Menominee is frozen down to seven feet,” said Jack Massie. “No wonder so many water pipes have been freezing this winter.”

Sturgeon Bay Advocate, 27 February 1904

The men, who loved to hunt, were also concerned that the winter had been hard on the county’s deer and other game animals.

“My pa said wolves and lynx are getting a lot of the deer. They get tired and trapped in the snow drifts,” Willie said.

“Yah. We’ve seen wolves in the barnyard,” Minnie said. “They are coming into the farms to find food. Pa tried to shoot one the other day, but it got away.”

Friday, 4 March, 1904 - Went to Hville. Ed over at night.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

After walking the Stations of the Cross at St. Mary’s Church,Minnie visited the library to read last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune and catch up on the news. Minnie enjoyed reading the newspapers and thinking about life in cities far away from her home in Upper Michigan.

U.S. Senators were shocked that Joseph F. Smith had admitted he and other Mormon church leaders continued to have multiple wives, even though the church had outlawed the practice in 1890 as a condition of Utah joining the Union.

Chicago Tribune, 4 March 1904

Another article predicted the end of the “little red schoolhouse,” with school consolidation and separate classrooms becoming the norm for modernizing public education.

Meanwhile, Southerners hadn't stopped criticizing Teddy Roosevelt for having lunch with Booker T. Washington, “a negro,” at the White House in October 1901. On the House floor this week, Congressman Webb of North Carolina compared President Roosevelt -- unfavorably in his mind -- with President Grover Cleveland.

“Mr. Cleveland was a friend of the negro, but not a fool friend. He never by word or act encouraged the dream of social equality in the breast of the black man. Again, he was a friend of the colored man, but he was also the friend of the southern white man and sympathized with us in our race problems and race burdens, and that, sir, is more than Mr. Roosevelt seemed ever to have done.”

-- Cleveland Nails Story as to Negro, Chicago Tribune, 4 March, 1904

“Race burdens? Race problems?” Though she'd only seen a black man in a traveling minstrel show, Minnie didn’t see why Southerners were making such a fuss. “Aren’t all men created equal?”


That evening, Minnie's eyes popped open wide when she saw Ed Paquin on her doorstep. Four years years older than Minnie, Ed had been courting 15-year-old Maud Raiche, who lived across the road from the Gamache farm.

“What’s happened, Maud not home tonight?” Minnie teased.

“I don’t know,” Ed said. “I just wanted to stop by here to see you. Ma sure appreciated all you did for her this week while she was sick.”

Minnie invited him in. He said Mrs. Paquin was feeling better, though not yet at 100 percent. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Ed said, “My little sisters can’t stop asking about you. I’m afraid they think you’re a better cook than my Ma."

“Well, that can’t be true,” Minnie protested. “But tell them I’ll see the again soon.”

Minnie saw has strong muscles rippled across Ed’s arms and chest, the result of many hours working in the woods and sawmill and helping his father on the farm. Minnie had danced with Ed a time or two at neighborhood gatherings, but he hadn’t shown much interest in her until the last few weeks.

“Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked.

“Afraid I can’t,” Minnie replied. “We’re praying the rosary this evening. Maybe another time?”

— Sturgeon Bay Advocate, 5 March 1904

Saturday, 5 March, 1904 - Ma went to the camp. Em over at night. Slept with the cat

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

With temperatures rising above freezing during the day and dipping below at night, maple syrup time had arrived. Aurora Gamache went to camp to help the Menards with the job. Although most of the large maples had been cut down for the sawmill, enough 10-to-12-inch diameter trees survived to make syrup.

Each spring, they turned the camp blacksmith shop into a sugarhouse, building a wood fire to boil sap down to its dark, delicious essence. Forty gallons of sap produced about one gallon of maple syrup. The cooks would take turns skimming off foam and closely tending the fire to make sure the sap didn’t burn.

Minnie invited Emily over on Saturday evening to catch up. Minnie told her about Ed Paquin’s visit the night before, wondering what thoughts Ed carried in his heart and mind.

“What’s in your heart and mind?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know! I guess I like him, and I think about him all the time,” Minnie said. "But I don't know if I want to get attached to a farmer."

“That's a problem around here,” Emily said.

Minnie noticed the barn cat on the porch and brought her in. Cats weren’t allowed in the house, but Minnie felt sorry for the old, pregnant momma cat. She produced a new litter of kittens every year to help control mice in the barn and granary. Minnie, Emily and the cat had a quiet night, dreaming of spring and the "tomcats" in their lives.

Sunday, 6 March, 1904 - Rolled over. Chas., John, Del, Permelia & Emily. Entertained “Pie-face” and “Stick in the Mud.”

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

Sundays at the Gamache house during Lent had become an event. Minnie and her friends played cards, told stories and laughed all afternoon, with the help of Pa’s beer and the latest news from the big city.

“Listen to this from the Chicago Tribune last Sunday,” Minnie told her friends, holding up the editorial page of the paper. “It’s called 'The Wife a Workingman Needs.' ”

Pointing her right finger in the air and using her best animated voice, she read:

“A workingman’s wife should possess health, energy, frugality, amiability, adaptability, sympathy, and, last but not least, patience…”

"Yah, we sure need patience to live with a workingman,” said Emily.

“Amiability is the true sunlight of a pure woman’s soul,” Minnie read, spreading her fingers next to her her face, imitating rays of sunshine. “By it she sheds the reflected rays of her own optimism over all with whom she comes in contact, encouraging, elevating and ennobling them.”

“Ha! You should see Ma ‘encouraging and ennobling’ my stepdad right out the door every morning,” said Charlie Arsenault.

Minnie continue, “Sympathy is what even a workingman desires and needs from his wife at times…. Many a good man has gone into the scrap heap for the want of a timely and judicious word of sympathy.”

“Oh yah,” Charlie piped in again. “My sister shows a lot of sympathy when Henry comes home from the woods, complaining about the crew chief. ‘Quit yer bitchin’ and chop some wood for our stove!’ ”

“Adaptability… Whether it be good wages and ‘steady time’ or reduced wages and ‘broken time,’ lockouts or strikes for her husband, she is expected to be prepared for and meet them with a smile.”

“Youse should have seen the smile on Ma’s face in the sixth week of the mine strike in Champion,” Charlie said, curling his face into a snarl.

“And if the ‘bug of ambition’ is lodged in her husband’s brain? ‘Almost the entire task of ‘bringing up’ the children devolves upon her. His evenings, that were formerly passed at home, are now devoted to agitating (he calls it speaking) in his chosen line, whatever it may be.”

“Workers of the world unite!” Charlie shouted.

“And what will be their reward? For him if he ‘is on the square,’ a big funeral and possibly, some day, a monument; for her, she has the option of making her own livelihood or marrying the second time, which, if she does, it is to be hoped that she marry a ‘common workingman,’ with no ambitions and consequently a contented and happy model husband.”

The Wife a Workingman Needs, by Dan W. Richmond, President, International Association of Railway Clerks, from Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 28 February, 1904.’’

By the end of the essay, everyone had laughed so hard they were rolling on the floor.

“I’d sure like to find that wife, but I don’t think she’s Canadienne,” said John St. Onge, and Emily punched his arm playfully but forcefully. "See what I mean?" he said.

“Maybe if we had more than one wife, like the Mormons, as a group they would have it all.”

Minnie looked askance at the man who'd just spoken, an acquaintance they called "Pie-face" because of the dumb, vacant look in his droopy eyes. Unlike the others, he was a relatively recent immigrant. While Minnie and her friends had either been born in Michigan or moved here as young children, Pie-face had come to the U.P. from a farm near Montreal in 1899, at age 24. He looked around the room with a stupid-looking grin on his long face, but received little encouragement.

“Hey, Pie-face. You cannot be serious,” said Minnie, glaring at him.

“Think about it,” he said in his still-thick Quebecois accent, stretching out his arms wide with a grin on his face. “Why shouldn’t I share my fabulous Canadien self with more than one wife?”

“Because one of them would surely kill you,” Minnie responded, without blinking an eyelash.

“Oops. I think it’s time to go,” said Pie-face’s brother. "I have to work in the morning."

"Aren't you a Stick in the Mud?" Minnie said, and his nickname stuck after that.

“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams, and blazes in the dark hour of adversity. No man knows what the wife of his bosom is — no man knows what a ministering angel she is — until he has gone with her through the fiery trials of this world.”

— Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1843

Notes and Further Reading

Disclaimer: These diary entries above are real, but the stories I've created to illustrate Minnie's life are fictional. While I've tried to research the history of the time and the characters, any account of actions or dialogue comes from my imagination. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

Subscribe to Minnie's Diary: Receive an email every time I post a new blog entry by subscribing on the form at the bottom of the page. If you’re a subscriber and not receiving my emails, you might check your spam folder and mark any emails as “not spam.” You can also become a "member" of the Leaves of Menominee online community. My website at has a forum in which members can post questions, photos and your own family histories. Thanks to member Rick Hidde who last week posted a photo of his great great grandparents Gedeon and Alvina LaBelle, who lived near Nadeau in the early 1900s.

New Characters: New characters this week are Willie Rochon, Pie-face and Stick in the Mud. The son of Joseph and Angel Rochon, Willie, 21, lived on a farm near the Gamaches (according to the 1900 census).

“Pie-face” and “Stick in the Mud” remain a mystery. I certainly can't research them through census records, so I have to create a story based on what's in the diary. While “Stick in the Mud” only appears on March 6, “Pie-face” is a recurring and important character. His identity is the diary's biggest mystery and the source of much speculation on the part of me and my cousins. While researching, I did find this fun story in a Minnesota newspaper in which both those "terms of endearment" appear. Do you agree that "rude words often are used to muffle the throbbing of a tender heart," especially in the backwoods?

The Pioneer (Bemidji, Minnesota) · 22 May 1903

Chicago Tribune Opinions on Woman's Role: These two opinion pieces in the February 28, 1904, Chicago Tribune provided great fodder for this week’s blog and the role of women in family and society in 1904. The piece by Dan W. Richmond is kind of insulting, until you get to the punch line at the end. Helen Oldfield's essay describes her more modern ideas of femininity at the turn of the 20th century.

Chicago Tribune, 28 February, 1904

Chicago Tribune, 28 February, 1904

The Grip: "Grip" or "Grippe" was a common name for influenza in 1904. Newspapers were filled with flu remedies, such as "Peruna."

Ironwood Times, Ironwood, Michigan, 20 February, 1904

Booker T. Washington Has Dinner in the White House: Teddy Roosevelt invited his friend Booker T. Washington to dinner in the White House in 1901, but the controversy still raged in 1904, an election year. (Surprise, surprise.) Roosevelt — leader of the party of Lincoln — didn’t win a single Southern state that year. This on-line account seems to be a pretty balanced version of the event and the controversy:

Theodore Roosevelt (Library of Congress)
Booker T. Washington (Library of Congress)

Mormon Polygamy: Beginning in 1904, the U.S. Senate held a trial of Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah, whose right to a Senate seat was challenged because of his position as a leader of the Mormon church and its continued practice of polygamy: They didn't vote until 1907, when Smoot was allowed to keep his seat.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, (1904 March 17), p. 245. (Public domain)

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