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Minnie's Diary #29: Women Swimming and Playing Baseball? For the Birds.

Alone But Not Lonely

Sunday, July 24 - Alone all day. In evening, Mr. & Mrs. Alore called and so did Hilda.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

The day after she broke up with Del Paquin, Minnie had plenty of time to think. She was alone at home while her parents went out socializing and her brothers were playing baseball with their friends.

“I don’t care to go along, Mama,” Minnie said. “I’ll just stay home and rest.”

Minnie had no regrets about Del. She knew that they had no future together. But the loneliness crept in during the afternoon, when normally Del would have been keeping her company. She remembered the fun they used to have playing cribbage or going to dances, before Del’s jealousy and old-fashioned attitude complicated their relationship.

She took a walk toward the barn. The calf born in March had doubled in weight. In a month, Pa would start to wean her away from her mother’s milk. Minnie reached over the fence to scratch the calf between its ears. The calf’s mother stood a few feet away, pulling grass and swallowing it quickly. Later, when she was lying down to rest, she’d bring the grass up from her stomach in small cuds to chew.

The piglets born in the spring were healthy and growing fast. Already, Pa had received fall pig orders from Gust Hammerberg, Mr. Chuck (2 pigs), George Chenard, J.B. Benson, Peter Sorenson (2 pigs), Hubert Perras (2 pigs), Joe Derry (4 pigs), and Rasmus Olson (2 pigs). Minnie kept a record of the orders in her diary, since Pa didn’t read or write.

Minnie enjoyed the warm summer air and the sound of robins in the apple trees that Pa had planted in their yard. The red-winged blackbirds chortled in the fields. A solitary black-capped chickadee flew from branch to branch in the yard, looking for food.

"Not Getting Any Younger"

That evening, neighbors Louis and Jessie Alore came to call on Minnie’s parents. Talk soon turned to the dance they’d hosted the night before.

Quelle belle soirée. What a lovely evening,” Aurora Gamache said. “Everyone had so much fun.”

“I don’t think Minnie and Del enjoyed themselves,” Mrs. Alore said, with a glance toward Minnie.

“Nothing escapes that woman’s notice,” Minnie thought to herself, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Minnie, what was going on between you and Del?” Mrs. Alore asked.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Minnie said.

Mrs. Alore’s silence told Minnie that wouldn’t be enough for curious minds.

“Anyway, nothing’s going on between us now. I quit going out with Del last night.”

Aurora Gamache raised her eyebrows. Now she knew why Minnie had been quiet and kept to herself most of the day.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Nothing in particular,” Minnie said. “We were never meant to be. He wants a different kind of girl. An old-fashioned girl who will wait on him and has no thoughts of her own. You know that’s not me, Mamma.”

“Oh, Minnie. You are not getting any younger. You need to find a husband and start a family, before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what, Mamma? I’m just 20 years old. Weren’t you 25 when you married Papa?”

Mrs. Alore, the community fortune-teller, watched this mother-daughter conversation with interest, then gently interrupted.

“Neither of you need worry,” she said. “Minnie will find her husband. And she will bring you many grandchildren.”

Also listening quietly to this conversation was Hilda Marchaterre, who had stopped by to pay Minnie a visit. She said nothing, but took the news home to her family and especially to her brother, Joseph Marchaterre Jr.

Birds and Berries

Monday, July 25 - Picked berries.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“A large number of our people were out blueberrying this week.”

-- "Daggett News," Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., July 30, 1904

“The Swamp Blueberry, or High-bush Huckleberry, has black fruit, covered with bloom, sweet. Bush four to ten feet high, common in low, wet places. This is considered the best variety. … The berries are generally gathered by hand, and the picker often travels quite a number of miles, through swamps and brush land, to fill his buckets, returning home at night footsore, but laden with the choice fruit. A good night’s rest and he is ready for another trip.”

— “Money in Berries,” by Michal K. Boyer, Farm Journal, September 1904, p. 292.

Minnie walked along the potato field and through cutover stump lands to the westward edge of her family’s property, toward the Little Cedar River. Wild blueberries grew in the low, wet places in the pine barrens left by the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company. Pa owned 80 acres, but had his eye on the property to the west. It was vacant, cutover land left by the company. Pa hoped to purchase that forty and add it to his farm.

Minnie crossed the property line, carrying two large buckets. Her low-heeled black boots squished their way through the marshy land and toward the wild blueberry bushes. Perm Paquin and Aldia Dubey were already here, pulling ripe, juicy blueberries and placing them in their pails.

Small flocks of robins had also arrived and were helping themselves to the blueberry buffet. Some fruit tree owners in Lower Michigan wanted to have an open season to kill robins, but Minnie hoped that would never happen. She loved listening to their song in the morning. She felt sad to see the robins disappear as fall arrived and happy to see them again each spring.

She worried that the robin would go the way of the passenger pigeon, now thought to be extinct in the wild. Fifty years ago, millions of passenger pigeons lived in large nesting flocks all over North America, migrating to find their preferred food. Today, only a few of the birds remained. All were in captivity.

The Audubon Society, founded in 1896 in Massachusetts, had since expanded to many other states, including a group formed in Michigan earlier this year. State Secretary Jefferson Butler had spoken up for the robin, saying that robins ate more insects than fruit and if wild berries were allowed to flourish, they wouldn’t decimate the cultivated fruit.

“If we hunt and destroy all the birds, where will we be?” Minnie wondered.

-- Boys Kill Robins, The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wis., April 9, 1902, p. 3

“In this state, we used to have wild pigeons, there being at Petoskey at one time a line of wild pigeons’ nests twenty-eight miles in length and four wide. Now, we have none. The same will soon be true of blackbirds and the bobolink. We still have them but they are being killed rapidly.”

— Jefferson Butler, Michigan Audubon Society, as quoted in “Do Good Rather Than Injury,” Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich. March 4, 1904

“The hunter has exterminated the beautiful passenger pigeon that used to swarm by the millions, often darkening the sun, and there is not a single bird left to tell the tale. The buffalo is practically gone, so is the black squirrel; the quail and partridge are scarce. They should be unmolested. The wild turkey is exterminated from the northern states; the beautiful wood duck also. The deer and elk are rapidly passing away, and because game is getting scarce it would be a shame and a great mistake to allow hunters to exterminate the song and insect-destroying birds.”

- “Don’t Destroy Robins,” by Henry Clay Ward, Pontiac, Mich., April 22, 1904,

published in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich., April 25, 1904

Sales in Hermansville

Tuesday, July 26 - Went to Hville with mamma.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

With Freddie’s help, Minnie hitched Clem to a cart and drove with her mother three miles into Hermansville to do some shopping. The stores had clearance sales on summer clothing and goods, and Aurora Gamache knew how to shop for a bargain.

“Your Pa could use a new straw hat and the boys need shoes,” she said. “Thank God that Edmond can go back to work next week.”

Minnie’s brother Ed had lost most of his left forefinger in late June at the lumber mill. He’d been moping about the farm since, waiting for his finger to heal. The family had missed his income for the past month, but they were getting by.

Minnie helped her mother read the advertising posted outside the general store, so she would know which items were on sale inside. When their shopping was done, they paid a visit to the Mrs. LaVigne and Cousin Minnie Raiche before driving back home to make supper.

Perrizo & Sons Advertising, Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., July 30, 1904

Why Don't Girls Learn to Swim?

Wednesday, July 27 - Went to Mrs. Duby. Had a fine time.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“Have you heard about this Irish girl in New York? What was her name, Louis?”

“Mary McGann.”

“Yes,” said Aldia Duby. “She’s the girl who saved six people from drowning in the General Slocum disaster.”

Everyone had heard of the General Slocum, a steam-powered passenger ship that had set off into New York City’s East River on June 15. It was carrying 1,400 to 1,500 people — mostly women and children — on an excursion chartered by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. The children had cheered as the steamship left the docks. They were headed for a day on Long Island when fire broke out below decks. Soon the ship became a fiery death trap. Women jumped into the water holding babies and young children. Others strapped their children into life preservers and tossed them into the water, only to watch their children sink when the life preservers fell apart or failed to hold them afloat.

“Such a horrible tragedy,” Minnie said. “But who is Mary McGann?”

“An Irish immigrant. She was working as an assistant in the hospital on North Brother Island, where the ship landed, just offshore. Mary went into the water four times and saved six people from drowning.”

“What a brave girl.”

“Yes, and now she’s received more than 1,000 letters from men offering to marry her.”

“Well, that’s one way to get a husband,” said Louis Duby. “Just save a few lives and they’ll come flocking to your door. Maybe you should try that, Minnie.”

Minnie ignored her mother’s cousin.

“I wonder how she learned to swim,” Minnie said. “Why don’t we teach both boys and girls to swim so they can survive when a boat sinks like that?”

The other women in the room nodded. None of them had learned to swim.

— “Every Woman Should Swim,” New York Tribune, New York, New York, June 25, 1904

Immigrants Taxed Upon Return

Thursday, July 28 - Went to Mrs. Paquin with Alice

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“Immigration to the United States in the fiscal year just ended fell off slightly from the record breaking total of 1903. Although the official figures for the twelve months have not yet been completed, commissioner Sargent has enough data to warrant the statement that about 834,000 immigrants arrived here in the year ending June 30 last, as against 857,046 [in] 1903.

-- Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich. July 3, 1904

Minnie’s friend Alice LaCrosse had come to visit from Champion. Alice’s father, Frank, was laid off when the Champion mine shut down. They were living temporarily in Hermansville, where he had found odd jobs to support the family. Minnie was a little nervous about seeing Del at the Paquin house, but she knew he and Mr. Paquin — like her father and Freddie — were probably busy getting in the hay crop before it rained.

“The Finns and other immigrants from Europe are pretty upset these days,” Alice said.

“Why is that?”

“There’s a new law that requires them to pay a tax if they leave the country and try to get back in, even if they’re a permanent resident.”

“You don’t say.”

“Some Finns and Swedes went up to Port Arthur to visit family and friends. It’s just across Lake Superior from the Copper Country. When they returned, they all had to pay a tax.”

“All of them?”

“Well, not the ones who are from Canada. The law doesn’t apply to citizens of Canada, Mexico, Cuba or Newfoundland. If you’re a citizen of another country and you leave, you have to pay the tax to return home.”

“I bet that will speed up naturalization,” said Mrs. Paquin. “I'm glad we can visit family in Canada, but maybe we should become citizens before they try to apply the tax to us, too.”

“Alien residents of the United States who go outside the country to visit must pay to get in again. This is the new ruling of the department of commerce and labor. The law applies to all residents of the United States, not citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba or Newfoundland, who seek admission after having once left the borders of this country.”

-- Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich. July 30, page 8

Friday, July 29 - Pick berries. Joe Marchaterre came over. Mary R. & Mary M. came over. Had a circus.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Not surprisingly, word had traveled quickly that Minnie and Del were no longer seeing each other. Joe Marchaterre Jr. knocked on the door and poked his head through the screen door.

Bonjour, mademoiselle.”

Minnie welcomed Joe into the kitchen and invited him to sit down. He didn’t say anything about Del, but she could tell he carried a little less tension now that she was a “free woman.”

“Say, Minnie, how’d you like to go for a walk? It’s a beautiful afternoon.”

They walked outside and down the driveway. To the left was Joe’s home, to the right was Del’s. Joe steered Minnie to the right, taking the road south toward the homes of Henry Zimmerman, George Chenard and Edward Paquin, Del’s father. Joe asked about Minnie’s soap sales and showed interest in her relationship with Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, New York. He even had some ideas for expanding her sales territory. He asked if she’d read any good books lately, something that Del would never have asked.

He talked about his dreams. With a high school diploma, he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life working on his father’s farm. He was helping his Pa clear the stumps and start a farm in this new place, but he had dreams of his own. He’d like to be a bookkeeper, he said, maybe have his own business some day.

“I’m good at accounting and math,” he said. “I think I can make a pretty good living. I’ve worked in the mines in Champion and I don’t want to do that ever again. I’m not cut out for working in the lumber camps all winter. And I don’t want to be a farmer and lose sleep over the weather and what the creamery will pay for sweet cream. I’d like to get a job at the mill and work my way up.”

All this was music to Minnie’s ears.

“Well, Joe Marchaterre,” she said. “You sound like a young man who’s going places.”

“I hope so,” he said. “With God’s blessing and a little luck, it will be so.”

After they returned from their walk, Mary Raiche her her cousin Mary Mauchaud soon arrived. Joined by Minnie's brothers, they played cards and told stories into the night. Minnie couldn't remember having so much fun in a long time.

Blueberry Picking

Saturday, July 30 - Scrubbed & picked berries.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“Berry picking is now in order. Raspberries are quite plentiful in the market now and blueberries are also numerous, in fact, all kinds of fruits are plenty this year.”

-- "Talbot News," Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich. July 30, page 5

Minnie whistled and hummed a tune as she scrubbed the floors. She found a break in the rain showers to go out and pick some more berries. All day long, she thought about her conversation with Joe and what fine fellow he’d grown up to be.

“And he showed an interest in me and my dreams,” she thought. “He even invited me to come to the baseball game tomorrow. Del never did that.”

A Family Photo

Sunday, July 31 - Went to mass and had our picture taken. Perm came over in P.M. Went and played ball with boys.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

They’d shined their shoes. Starched and whitened their shirts. Put on their Sunday best. Washed and combed their hair. Freddie and Pa’s short hair looked under control, but Minnie, Edmond and Willie couldn't entirely tame their dark curls. Minnie wore her best white shirtwaist with a small bow tie and black skirt, just like the working girls in the city. With everyone else dressed in black, she shone brightly, like a dark-haired, blue-eyed guardian angel of the family.

The photographer arranged Aurora in the middle front row. He must have known her importance in the family order. Her husband, Pierre, sat to her left and Freddie, the youngest, to her right. Minnie stood behind her mother, with Willie to her left and Edmond to her right, where he could hide his chopped-off left forefinger, still in a light bandage. They stayed very still while the photographer opened the aperture and captured the image. Minnie didn't realize the photograph would remain in the family for many years, capturing this moment forever.

Peter and Aurora Gamache family, 1904. Perras family photo collection.

Baseball with the Boys

After Sunday dinner, Permelia Paquin came to see Minnie. Soon Joe arrived from his house up the road, out of breath.

“We’re short this week. Can you play?”

“Me?” Minnie said. “Play baseball? I haven’t played since I was a young girl.”

“I’ve seen you play. You’re strong. You’re a good player. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten how to throw and hit.”

Borrowing Freddie’s glove, Minnie, Joe and Perm walked into town where the French were lining up against the Swedes.

“What’s this? A Bloomer girl?” asked one of the blond-haired Swedish young men. Minnie didn’t know his name, but she’d seen him in town.

“That’s right, Ole. And you’d better watch out,” Minnie said, using the universal term for a Swede of unknown origins.

“The Boston Bloomer girls travel in an elegant hotel car designed especially for them. They also carry a baggage car full of canvas and a portable grand stand.”

— Fennimore Times, Fennimore, Wisconsin, 11 May 1904, p. 8

Bloomer Girls Base Ball Club. Source: Library of Congress, public domain

She wasn’t wearing bloomers, like the famous girls’ baseball team that was touring the country. She had to play in a cotton dress while the boys wore trousers. Despite the precedent set by the “Bloomer Girls,” she wasn’t going to wear bloomers to play. There were some things a girl in Hermansville just didn’t do.

Minnie held her own as the game progressed, stopping a few balls hit into right field. She even got a hit, a line drive that just got past “Ole” at third base.

“Not bad, Bloomer Girl. Not bad,” he said. “Maybe you should try out for that team from Chicago.”

Minnie laughed and thought, "Wouldn't Ma have a fit if I did that?"

-- The Times Herald, Port Huron, Mich., May 26, 1902, p. 5

“Chief of Police Marx has notified John J. Hobin that the Bloomer Girls will not be allowed to play base ball here on Sunday next. The pressure from church people that the Bloomer Girls should not be allowed to disport themselves here was more than the mayor and chief could stand.”'

— The Daily Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, 20 June, 1904, p. 3

Notes and Further Reading

Note to Readers: 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 1904 Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introductory page elsewhere on this website.

Remember to subscribe to my blog at the bottom of the page 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. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter

Characters: New characters this week include "Mary M." and "Alice." Mary M. was likely Mary Michaud, whose mother was Joe and Frank Raiche's sister. Marie Anne Michaud was born in February 1885 in Le Bic, the same town near Rimouski, Canada, where Minnie and her parents were born. Canadian census records from 1901 indicate she may have been sent to a Catholic boarding school in Rimouski. About 50 nuns worked at the school, which had at least 100 girls age 9 to 18. Marie married James Daniel "Dan" Bonneau in Champion in 1905 and spent the rest of her life in the Hermansville area. Her parents apparently also moved to Hermansville about 1909.

I couldn't find a young woman named "Alice" in Hermansville in the 1900 or 1910 census. I did find an “Alice LaCrosse, Green Bay, WI" in the address section of Minnie's diary. Alice Lecroix (Lacross) was born in April 1887 in Champion to Frank and Alena Lecroix, so she would likely have been a childhood friend of Minnie's. In 1910, she was a school teacher in Champion, still living with her parents. Alice appears several times in Minnie's diary in July and August before returning home to Champion on Sept. 1.

I've also pulled some names from the back of the diary, where Minnie apparently kept track of her father's farm transactions. Among the men listed for "Fall Pig Orders" were "J.B. Benson," my grandfather's brother (James B. Benson) on my mother's side, and Hubert Perras, Minnie's future husband. Hmmmm.

Blueberry Picking: For a lovely account of blueberry picking in the Upper Peninsula around the turn of the century, read this entry from A Taste of the North Country blog.

Audubon Society: Harriet Hemenway and Minna B. Hall founded the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1896, starting a movement too protect millions of waterbirds threatened by the millinery trade. One of their champions in Massachusetts was Senator Hoar, who wrote this famous bird petition:

-- Boston Evening Transcript, Boston, Massachusetts, June 24, 1897

Migrating birds were first protected under state laws, then finally by federal law with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. For more about the Audubon Society’s history, visit their web page. We sometimes take for granted the conservation and wildlife protection laws that have protected wildlife from extinction. Today, the Audubon Society estimates that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change. You can use their Birds and Climate Visualizer to see how climate change is expected to impact the birds in your community.

Slocum Disaster: The General Slocum disaster exemplified the lack of safety standards in place in the early 1900s. Life preservers on board were made of cork crumbles to save money, with weights added to meet weight specifications. Imagine jumping into the water with a life preserver that weighed you down instead of holding you to the surface. The lack of swimming skills also played a role, with some women and children drowning within feet of shore. The Slocum’s sinking was the second worst maritime disaster on U.S. waterways and the New York area’s worst disaster-related loss of life until the September 11, 2001, attacks. Learn more at this New York Public Library link.

The great catastrophe of the General Slocum. By Angelo Agostini - O Malho, n.º 98, 30/07/1904, Public Domain,

Girls Playing Baseball: Today we don’t think twice about signing girls up for sports, but in Minnie’s day it was quite controversial for a girl to play baseball. You can read about the “Bloomer Girls” traveling baseball team in the book Women Baseball Pioneers by Debra A. Shattuck. For a look back at chauvinistic attitudes about female athletes, see the clips below. Today, women gymnasts and beach volleyball players seek the right to wear less revealing clothing. The fight for women's equality and respect on the playing field continues.

-- Boston Sacred Heart Review, Boston, Mass., August 6, 1904, p. 5

-- The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Ill., June 11, 1903, p. 2


Dec 02, 2021

I love reading your articles regarding Minnie's diary. Was James Benson related to Kenneth Benson? Kenneth's parents were Andrew Benson and Hannah O Christensen. Kenneth married Olive LeBeau. Olive is my mother, Lorraine LeBeau, sister. Thank you, Deborah Gunville Kattelman


Dec 02, 2021

I can see you in Minnie’s face in the family picture.

Dec 02, 2021
Replying to

Thank you! I see myself even more so in her wedding photo. There's a family resemblance in a lot of the grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters. :-)


Dec 02, 2021

Very interesting! Why didn't girls learn to swim?? Berry picking was such a part of fall, like harvesting the grain we harvested the berries. I wonder if there are any good patches left. And the women playing baseball was a surprise: in 1904??? Seems that Minnie who was so independent would have gladly worn bloomers to play baseball. Too ahead of the times. We still had to wear dresses, no slacks, to school until I was in high school. Good story, Jodi.

Dec 02, 2021
Replying to

I bet Minnie would have wanted to wear bloomers, too. But, I doubt that she did. I did wonder what she was wearing when she played ball with the boys. Thanks for reading!


Dec 02, 2021

Nice picture of Minnie and her family!

Dec 02, 2021
Replying to

Thanks! It's amazing to match up the only photo we have of the family with the entries in her diary, the only written records we have from her.

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