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Minnie's Diary #21: "Had my future told."

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Marchaterre Girls Arrive

Thursday, May 19 - Mrs. Marchaterre arrived. Pa went for her at the train. Hilda & Estelle slept with me.

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

More than seven weeks after Joe Marchaterre left Champion to start his own farm in Hermansville, his wife and daughters had finally joined him. Minnie didn’t know who was more excited to see Marie Marchaterre — her husband, her three sons, or Minnie’s mother, Aurora Gamache.

Mrs. Marchaterre entered the Gamache kitchen followed closely by her three daughters: Hilda, 13; Estelle, 11; and Nellie Marie, almost 5.

She greeted Aurora with a warm hug and kisses.

“It’s lovely to see you,” Mrs. Marchaterre said. “I’m so happy that we’ll be neighbors again.”

“Have you seen your new home yet?” Aurora asked.

Oui. The house looks wonderful, but it’s not quite ready for us to sleep there. It needs a good cleaning. And, I want to wash all the furniture that was on the train,” she said. “The girls and I should have it all ready by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Well, you’re welcome to stay with us as long as you need,” Aurora said.

Minnie showed the girls around the Gamache farm and told them all about Hermansville and how hard their father and brothers had been working to get the house ready for them.

Camp Seven School

Friday, May 20 - Went to the school house and Emily over and slept with me.

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

After breakfast, Minnie accompanied Mrs. Marchaterre, Hilda, Estelle and Nellie Marie to the “Camp Seven School” on the corner. They found teacher Emily Gagnon in the classroom with 35 children from first to eighth grade.

“I want to introduce you to Miss Gagnon,” Minnie said. “She’s a wonderful teacher, but I’m afraid she’s leaving us. She’s taking a new position closer to her home in Marinette, Wisconsin.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Emily said, shaking Mrs. Marchaterre’s hand and nodding to the girls.

The older woman’s eyebrows raised at seeing all the children of different ages in one classroom.

“You have just one room?”

“Yes, the older children often help teach the younger children. And the younger grades get a preview of what’s to come.”

“In Champion, we had only two grades per classroom, at most,” Mrs. Marchaterre said. "Our school had three stories and six classrooms, plus a kindergarten building in back."

“Yes, the children who live in town have five rooms for 10 grades,” Emily said. “They just built a two-room addition two years ago. But out in the country schools, we just have one teacher for eight grades.”

“Some children leave school early to work on the farm or at home,” Minnie said.

“State law says children living in the country must attend school from age eight to 15," Emily said. "In the cities, they must attend from seven to 17.”

“I need Hilda and Estelle to help me with the house today, but they’ll be in school with their brother on Monday morning,” Mrs. Marchaterre said. “What time do you start?”

“The children should arrive by 7:30,” Emily said. “See you then, girls.”

-- St. Joseph Saturday Herald, St. Joseph, Mich., Nov. 9, 1901

A Soap Plan

That night after dinner, Emily asked Minnie about her plans to sell soap from the Larkin Soap Company.

“Have you heard from Larkin yet? With Lily Raiche being scalded, now is the perfect time to give women alternatives to boiling up their own soap.”

“I had that same thought,” Minnie said, thinking about her cousin's daughter, who was scalded with hot water just a week before. “I did receive a letter from Larkin the other day and wanted to ask you about it.”

Minnie handed Emily the letter she’d received. At the top in bright red was the word “Soap,” and “The Larkin Soap Mfg Co., Manufacturers of Soap of Every Kind and Description.”

Dear Friend -
One bright woman writes us - “We have a club of ten families. We buy one $10.00 case of the Larkin Soaps each month and divide Soaps and cost equally. Each one in turn (decided by lot) obtains a Larkin premium, so in ten months each will own one premium, each having received $10.00 worth of Soaps and made ten one dollar payments. I think I can keep the club operating continuously, each obtaining a valuable free premium every ten months.” If you do not feel yourself inclined to invest $10.00 in one sum you can easily operate this plan.
Or, better yet, you can quickly sell at retail prices $10.00 worth of our Soaps among neighbors and friends who would be interested in seeing you succeed in getting a premium, many have sold ten boxes and earned ten premiums. You can earn $10.00 in cash by selling Soaps worth $20.00 at retail, our price $10.00. We pack every box with your own selection of Soaps and allow you 30 days trial before you pay our bill.
Sincerely yours, The Larkin Soap Mfg. Co.


“It sounds like you have several options,” Emily said. “Which one will you choose?”

Je ne sais pas,” said Minnie. “I don’t know. Some of their premiums are quite nice, like the chiffonier. But, I would also like to earn some cash to help out at home.”

“Based on this letter, I think you can do both. What’s next?”

-- Larkin Soap Co. advertisement, Farm Journal, November 1904, via Google Books

“I need to send them an order for the kind of soaps I want. Will you help me?”

“Of course,” Emily said, and they began poring over the Larkin catalogue, debating which soaps would sell among the Hermansville housewives they knew. The standard Larkin combination box contained “enough to last an average family one full year,” according to the company.

  • 100 Bars of “Sweet Home” Soap, “for all laundry and household purposes.”

  • 10 Bars White Woollen Soap, “a perfect soap for flannels”

  • 12 Packages Boraxine Soap Powder, “an unequalled laundry luxury”

“Luxury?” said Minnie. “There’s no luxury on laundry day. I know that from experience.”

“Ah, but it could be a luxury if the women only had Larkin Soap,” Emily said. “No more grating soap cakes and injuring your knuckles. You just pour the soap powder from a box. Think like a saleswoman, my dear.”

They continued to review the box contents:

By freestocks via Unsplash
  • 4 Bars Honor Bright Scouring Soap

  • Three Modjeska Complexion Soaps, “a matchless beautifier”

  • Three Old English Castile Soaps

  • Three Creme Oatmeal Toilet Soaps

  • Three Elite Glycerine Toilet Soaps

  • Three Larkin’s Tar Soaps

  • Three Sulphur Soaps

  • 1 Bottle, 1 Ounce Modjeska Perfume, described as “delicate, refined, popular, lasting.”

  • 1 Jar, 2 Ounces, Modjeska Cold Cream. “Soothing. Cures Chapped skin.”

  • 1 Bottle Modjeska Tooth Powder, which “preserves the teeth, hardens the gums, sweetens the breath”

  • 1 Stick Witch Hazel Shaving Soap

“Ten dollars is a lot of money,” said Minnie. “That’s as much as Ed makes at the mill in two weeks. Do you think these soaps would sell here?”

“We should survey potential customers to find out,” Emily said. “I can help you.”

“Maybe I should order a box first. Then I could show the products to the women before I take their orders.”

“That’s a great idea,” Emily said.

A Good Time with Pie-Face

Saturday, May 21 - Emily went home to change A.M. P.M. I went to Hville with “Pie-face.” Had a good time. Went to Mr. M. in eve.

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

Minnie was a bit surprised to see Pie-face on her front porch on Saturday afternoon. She welcomed him inside, where she told him about all the work she’d been doing on the farm.

“Farmers are having a tough time finding enough workers,” Pie-face told her. “Your Pa is lucky to have Freddie and you to help him.”

“Someone has to help, with Ed and Willie working for the company,” Minnie said.

“They say farm workers are making $25 to $28 a month, and they’re still having trouble getting workers,” Pie-face said.

“Hmm. That’s more than Ed is making at the sawmill. He only gets 75 cents a day. Maybe he should look for paid farm work instead.”

-- Lanse Sentinel, Lanse, Mich., May 21, 1904

Oui. And how is the soap business?”

Minnie told him about the Larkin Soap Co. products and her plan to order a box of samples.

“I’ll have 30 days after it arrives to send them ten dollars,” she said. “I’ll send them a letter on Monday.”

Non, maintenant,” he said. “Do it now. No time like the present.”

So Minnie changed her clothes and climbed aboard Pie-face’s horse-drawn cart. She hadn’t seen him in nearly a month, but electricity still sparked between them. His hands were occupied by the reins, but he shifted over to the right and let his knee press against hers.

He drove her to the post office where she purchased a postcard and mailed her request for a $10 combination box to The Larkin Soap Company, Larkin Street, Buffalo, New York.

Afterward, she had something to celebrate. Minnie and Pie-face went to the saloon, where they ordered two beers and a plate of fried frog legs.

Image by Dulcey Lima via Unsplash

“A French chef has been writing to the papers about frogs legs. What we know about frogs legs is that if you set a dish of them properly cooked before a man he will not go very far away while they last.”

— The Menasha Record, Menasha, Wis., Oct. 19, 1904

A fiddler was playing some tunes and Pie-face asked Minnie to dance. He stole a kiss behind the General Store, when they thought no one was looking. Then they rode to the Marchaterre farm, where the whole community admired the house and welcomed Joe and Marie Marchaterre to their new home.

That night, as Minnie lay in bed, she thought she’d had a nearly perfect day.

Lena & the Men at Work

Sunday, May 22 - Entertained Del. Went for a walk. Went to Lena. Came back early. It was raining.

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

Del came by just in time for Sunday dinner and stayed until his stomach settled. Minnie grew tired of him and made an excuse to send him home. Then she went for a walk to Lena Brumsted’s home.

“Lena, how’s your job?”

Since January, Lena Brumsted had been working as a billing clerk in the bookkeeping department at the General Store. Minnie admired her friend’s intelligence and her new career, and couldn’t wait to learn more about what her days were like.

“Well, I like working for Mr. Rodgers. He’s a good and fair boss,” said Lena. “But…”

“But what?”

“Some of the men who come in the store say I’m taking a job that should go to a man. They say women should be at home or working as housemaids.”

“That’s nonsense,” said Minnie. “Who are these old-fashioned coots?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t pay them any attention.”

“Good,” said Minnie. “You shouldn’t give them a minute’s thought.”

Minnie looked outside and saw it was starting to rain, with dark clouds in the west. She hated to leave, but told Lena she needed to get home before the storm. They hugged and promised to see each other again soon.

-- Farm Journal, Vol. 28-29, May 1904, p. 195, via Google Books

Sick All Day

Monday, May 23 - Sick all day. Couldn’t work.

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

Minnie didn’t know where she picked up the bug, but it lingered all day. Her head throbbed and her throat was sore. She didn’t have the strength to do anything but rest.

"I have been looking about a good deal of late in search of a healthy woman. Not one who is well part of the time, or most of the time, but one who is simply well; has health in her appearance, and no indication that she might get to be otherwise."

-- "Hunting a Healthy Woman," by Mary Sidney, Farm Journal, May 1904, via Google Books

Mrs. Duby Needs a Break

Tuesday, May 24 - Mr. L. Duby brought his kids over. I a little better. Rained all P.M.

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

Although she still felt ill, Minnie always enjoyed taking care of Clara, 6; Flora, 3; and 18-month-old Merilda Duby. Aldia Duby needed the extra help, with a new colicky baby at home.

Having the little girls in the Gamache house kept everyone busy, bemused and joyful.

“Has your baby sister got any teeth?” Minnie asked Clara.

“I guess she’s got ‘em, but they’re not hatched yet,” Clara replied. "Ma says the baby never sleeps."

Minnie helped the girls learn a few English greetings and words for things around the house, since they only spoke French at home.

“It will be easier for their teacher when they get to school if they know some English,” she told her mother, who though French was good enough for babies.

"There is no doubt that many of our farmers' wives are sadly overworked, especially the mothers of young children. The old brood mare in the pasture, and the cow leisurely chewing her cud by the side of her calf, have a picnic of it compared with the mother of the farm boys and girls. There seems to be no time, night or day, that she can call her very own for rest and recuperation. While the men snore and cattle lie down in green pastures, she is subject to the wakefulness of restless children, kicking with colic or moaning with earache."

-- "Hunting a Healthy Woman," by Mary Sidney, Farm Journal, May 1904, via Google Books

Sent for Ed's Wheel

Wednesday, May 25 - Rained all day. Went to Hville. Send down for Ed’s wheel.

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

“Look, Pa,” Minnie said. “The Farm Journal has an ad for bicycles. 1904 models cost eight-seventy-five to seventeen dollars and 1903 models are seven to twelve dollars. Didn’t you say Ed deserved a wheel to get to work?”

Oui,” Pa said, looking at the picture in the ad. “What does it say?”

Pa couldn’t read or speak much English, so Minnie translated into French the advertisement from Mead Cycle Company in Chicago, as well as one from Sears Roebuck & Company.

“I can help you write a letter and send money to order a bicycle,” she said.

Pa agreed, so Minnie left the girls in her mother’s care for an hour and accompanied her father on the trip to Hermansville. At the bank, they purchased a money order, then visited the post office to mail a letter with payment for a 1903 model to the Mead Cycle Company.

“Ed will be so surprised,” she said, giving her Pa a hug.

-- Farm Journal, May 1904, p. 194, via Google Books

Duby Kids Go Home

Thursday, May 26 - Mr. Duby came after the kids.

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

“I hope Mrs. Duby is feeling better,” Minnie said as Louis picked up the children.

“She is, merci,” he said. “And the baby, too. Thank you for giving her some rest.”

"I should like to see President Roosevelt have to go through six months or a year, what some wives of farmers have to undergo all the time. I should like to see him do the entire work of some large farm household, washing, ironing, cooking, baking, making butter, nursing the sick, and walking the floor at nights with teething infants, and he would be willing to let the race go where the woodbine twines, and say a little more about the tenderness to overworked mothers in isolated homes."

-- "Hunting a Healthy Woman," by Mary Sidney, Farm Journal, May 1904, via Google Books

Minnie's Future Foretold

Friday, May 27 - Worked in the garden. Mrs. Alore over. Had my future told.

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

“Come here, dear.”

Jessie Elizabeth (Boivin) Alore beckoned to Minnie with both hands, their skin rough and callused from the work of raising 12 children on a farm. Mrs. Alore could see the troubles in Minnie’s eyes, and invited her to sit across from her at the kitchen table.

“Would you like me to do a reading for you?”

Minnie had never had her fortune told. Mrs. Alore had a special gift of looking deep into your soul and finding your painful past, your joy-filled longings, and your deepest, most secret desire. But Minnie had never been on the receiving end of her talents.

“What do I need to do?”

“Sit down and hold my hands,” Mrs. Alore said. "What day were you born?"

"February 8, 1884."

D'accord. Close your eyes, and breathe.”

Minnie followed Mrs. Alore’s instructions, breathing deeply and trying to calm her fast-beating heart.

"You were born under the sign of Aquarius. You are free-spirited, an independent thinker. You are kind, compassionate and creative. You are always working toward some goal."

"Oui," said Minnie.

“Is there anyone in heaven you would like to connect with?”

“I never knew my grandparents. I wish I knew my Grandma Dubé, my mother’s mother,” Minnie said.

“What was her first name?”

“Geneviève. Geneviève Chretien.”

Closing her eyes, Mrs. Alore called on Geneviève to visit them, if she was willing and able.

Image: Zoltan Tasi via Unsplash

“She’s here,” Mrs. Alore said, after a few moments. “She says she has been keeping watch over you. She’s your guardian angel.”

Minnie’s breath caught in her throat and tears came to her eyes. She had always known she had a special connection to this grandmother.

“She supports you," Mrs. Alore said. "You are able to do things in life that she could only dream of. There’s something about soap? Does that make sense to you?”

“Yes,” whispered Minnie. She had told only a few close friends about the Larkin Soap Co. How did Mrs. Alore know about it?

“Whatever it is, she approves. She supports your goals. Don’t settle for second-best.”

“I won’t,” Minnie said.

Grand-mère Geneviève says you will find a loving husband and have many wonderful children. Your home will overflow with love.”

Then Mrs. Alore became very quiet. The silence continued for what seemed like an hour, but was only a few minutes.

“In the future, another Geneviève will come into your life. A time of great joy will turn to deep sadness,” Mrs. Alore said.

She paused again.

“I’m sorry. I cannot say any more.”

Mrs. Alore squeezed Minnie’s hands and then let go.

“You may open your eyes now.”

A small tear fell from Mrs. Alore’s left eye as she gave Minnie a long, deep hug.

Dance at Mr. Desjardin's

Saturday, May 28 - Worked in the garden. Went and dance to Mr. Desjardin.

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

At Mr. Desjardin's dance, Minnie told Emily about Mrs. Alore's prophecy.

"What do you think it means?"

"I think you should find comfort knowing that your Grand-mère Geneviève is your guardian angel, and that she supports you," Emily said. "As for the rest, only God knows."

Notes & Further Reading

Note to Readers: As always, Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in this Upper Peninsula lumber town in 1904. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send you an email each time I publish a new post, about once per week. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.

Characters: New characters this week include Marie, Hilda, Estelle and Nellie Marie Marchaterre; as well as Jessie Alore.

Marie Arthemise "Mary" Pineault was born in 1856 and married Joseph H. Marchaterre in 1885. They had six children who lived to adulthood: Joseph Jr., Archibald (Archie), Hilda, Estelle (Stella), Frederick and Nellie Marie. Mrs. Marchaterre died in 1916 in Hermansville of a blood clot in the brain. She was 59. Her oldest daughter, Hilda, married Henry Ehrlich, a tinsmith, and died in 1941 of a blood clot in her heart. Daughter Stella married Alex Leonard, who worked for oil companies in Ironwood, Mich., and Duluth, Minn. She lived to age 79, dying in 1971 in Iron Mountain, Michigan. Daughter Nellie Marie married Charles J. Rochon, who worked in the Hermansville lumber yard. She lived to age 84, dying in 183 in Olmsted, Minnesota. According to the 1940 census, only Joe Marchaterre Jr. and Stella completed four years of high school. Archie stopped attending school after his sophomore year, when the family moved to Hermansville. Hilda, Fred and Nellie Marchaterre ended their schooling in 7th or 8th grade.

Minnie's fortune-teller, "Jessie" Boivin Alore, was born about 1862 to Joseph Francois Boivin and Elisabeth Gaudin Priscotte in Maskinongé, a region near Trois-Rivières along the Saint Lawrence River in French Canada. She married Louis Alore in 1877 and they immigrated to Michigan with four children in 1889. They had at least 14 more children, 11 of whom were still living at the time of the 1910 census. Mrs. Alore passed away in 1938 in Hermansville. She was 75.

Jessie Alore (seated in center). Photo Credit: Kayla Cottrell. Used with permission.

Louis and Aldia Duby have appeared previously in Minnie's diary. They had 11 children in all, four boys and seven girls. Son Alphonse died as an infant in 1900. By 1920, oldest daughter Clara had married Leonard Joseph Champagne, but nine children were still living on their farm north of Hermansville. Sometime in the 1920s, the Duby family moved to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where both Louis and Aldia are buried. I've learned that two of their four sons (Ervin and Stuart) served in WWII.

-- Louis and Aldia Duby family, 1920 U.S. Census, Meyer Township, Michigan

Frog Legs: I used to enjoy frog legs when I was growing up in Menominee County. They taste quite a bit like chicken and could be found at some fish fry buffets. The French know them as "cuisses de grenouille," which sounds much more elegant. In 1904, the bitter winter created a frog leg shortage, raising prices on the market. Have you ever eaten frog legs?

-- The Belmont Success (Belmont, Wisconsin) June 9, 1904 , via

Larkin Soap Co.: As I've noted before, Larkin was one of the first companies to sell directly from the factory to the consumer. Here's a link to a Larkin letter to a prospective housewife salesperson, which I copied for the letter above to Minnie. To read more about "The Larkin Idea" of direct sales, check out this Google book on Vintage Marketing Differentiation. Magazines and newspapers from those days frequently carried Larkin advertising, showing the items in a Larkin box as well as the kinds of "premiums" a woman could earn by selling or buying $10 worth of soap.

Ed's Wheel: I wondered what Minnie meant by "send down for Ed's wheel," and then a search of 1904 newspapers revealed that "wheel" was slang for bicycle. With a bike, Ed will find it much easier to traverse the three miles to and from the Hermansville sawmill. Since Willie is paid more than older brother Ed, I'm assuming he already has a bike he earned the year before.

Compulsory Education and Child Labor: I spent quite a bit of time this week researching Michigan's compulsory education laws and trying to determine when the school year ended in 1904. Based on Minnie's Diary, I think school finished during the first week of June. Starting in 1887, Michigan -- like many other states -- passed compulsory education laws to keep children in school and off the streets or out of factories. But the laws were rarely enforced.

In 1904, Minnie's 16-year-old brother Ed and 15-year-old brother Willie were working 60-hour weeks in the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. sawmill. Youngest brother Freddie turned 14 in July, meaning he would no longer be required to attend school that fall. It was common for immigrant families, like the Gamaches, to send children off to work by the time they were 14 or 15. Starting in 1905, Michigan required all children between seven and fifteen to attend school (with some exceptions noted below). The 1905 law also required teachers to report absent students and created truant officers, as well as fines and jail penalties for parents and children who did not comply.

-- The Sebewaing Blade (Sebewaing, Michigan), Sept. 15, 1905, via

Compulsory education laws helped end what was essentially child slavery, called the "shame of the nation" in 1903 by regular Detroit Free Press contributor Lizzie York Case.

"The successful operation of a large portion of the world's working capital depends upon the labor of children, in factories and mines and shops and street; children who have no school life -- no free, happy childhood. ... We find that the laws against the employment of children in factories and shops in most states are in such an unsatisfactory condition that it is almost impossible to enforce them; that compulsory education laws and child labor laws, instead of working together, are generally conflicting. We find that laws were made for the protection of property, rather than for the protection of human life."

-- Child Slavery, The Shame of the Nation, By Lizzie York Case,

Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich., Oct. 18, 1903

According to UNICEF, nearly 1 in 10 children around the world (about 152 million) are subjected to child labor today, almost half of whom are working in hazardous conditions. Some of these children are the victims of human trafficking.

Thank you for reading to the end of a long post. By next week, we'll be into June and it will be time for Minnie to plant potatoes.

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