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Minnies Diary #16: "Heard About the Wedding"



Monday, April 11 - Emily arrived from home.
Tuesday, April 12 - Went to Hville. Stopped at school to see Emily.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904


For the past week, Emily had been in Marinette, Wisconsin, with her parents and siblings, enjoying Easter break. Her first year teaching grades 1 through 6 in the one-room schoolhouse hadn’t been easy. She’d heard complaints from anonymous parents and the school board.

On her way home, Minnie found Emily cleaning up her empty classroom at the end of the day. She told Emily what she'd missed. The barn-raising bee. The quilting bee. The dancing. The flirting. When the stories had come to an end, Emily reached out to hold Minnie’s hand.

“I have some news,” Emily said, giving Minnie a hesitant look.

Minnie knew didn’t want to hear what Em would say next.

“I’m moving away,” Emily said.

“Emily. No.”

“I’ve been offered a job at the Fox School in Cedarville Township. It’s closer to home.”

“When?” Minnie said.

“Not until the school year ends. I’ll start teaching there in the fall.”

“Oh, Emily. I’ll miss you so much. You’re my dearest friend.”

“I'll miss you, too, Minnie. But I also miss my family. I have to do what is best for me.”


Unwelcome News



Wednesday, April 13 - Heard about the wedding.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

“We’ll have to get your suit out and clean it before the wedding."


Minnie overheard her parents’ conversation as she walked into the kitchen.

“Wedding? What wedding?”


“Ed and Maud. They're getting married on May third,” said Ma, with a broad smile that created wrinkles around her eyes. Ma enjoyed any chance to put on nice clothes and get off the farm for a few hours, but weddings especially.

Minnie felt a dark pit growing in her stomach, pushing up into her lungs and making it hard to breathe. She feared she might burst.

She wanted to ask, “Why does a 28-year-old man choose a 15-year-old girl for his bride? Why? What does he see in her?”


Instead, she said, “A wedding. How wonderful for them both.”

And then she slipped upstairs to her room, where she sprawled on her bed and cried.

It wasn’t a surprise. She’d known for some time.


But still, it hurt to hear that Ed had chosen Maud to be his bride.

“Don’t be jealous of the beauty, youth and success of others. Jealousy plants ugly lines in the face.”

— The Diamond Drill (Crystal Falls, Michigan), April 2, 1904, page 2.

Ironing the Hard Way



Thursday, April 14 - Ironed my clothes.

Minnie still felt listless on Thursday. Her best friend moving away. The man she loved marrying someone else. She didn’t want to see or talk to anyone.

She added wood to the kitchen stove and set the flatirons on top to heat up. Then she dampened yesterday’s wash by wrapping it in a wet sheet. With a heavy heart, she set to work ironing her skirts, shirtwaists, aprons and handkerchiefs.

“To keep handkerchiefs a good color instead of dampening them before ironing proceed as follows: Put two quarts of tepid water, with five drops of blue and a small piece of lump starch, into a basin, and into this mixture dip each handkerchief separately, thoroughly wetting it, and then squeezing it as dry as possible. … Spread them out smoothly on a clean cloth or towel until they can be ironed.”

— The Diamond Drill (Crystal Falls, Michigan), April 2, 1904, page 2.


Although the electric iron had been invented in the 1880s, the Gamache farm didn’t have electricity. They were still ironing with Ma’s 1880s-era flatirons, heated on the wood stove.


As one iron cooled, Minnie would replace it with a hot iron from the stove top. Keeping two irons in rotation meant she always had one ready for the job.


Her hands busy, Minnie’s mind drifted away.


“She bends over the ironing board with a little song on her lips, and keeps half an eye on the street door for a passing flirtation. In the window there is always a bouquet of flowers, and frequently a sleek cat curled up. One the wall hangs some very gay little illustrated calendar. Sometimes a plaster Punchinello sits upon the shelf. Very often a canary hangs in the front shop window and chirps while the little washerwoman sings to the brisk movement of her iron.”

— The Parisian Washerwoman, Wood County Reporter, Grand Rapids, Wis., March 8, 1904


Unlike the romantic Parisian washerwoman described in the newspaper, Minnie wouldn’t find any passing flirtations outside her window. She might see a cow ambling through the mud toward the water tank. She could hear the chickens cackling as they searched the yard for insects. Perhaps she’d hear a horse trotting by, pulling a wagon filled with cans of milk and cream or stacked with ice for her neighbors’ iceboxes.

But no Parisian gentleman would glance through the window, catching her eye and causing her to blush and smile.

No one would mistake Minnie for a “blanchiesseuse Parisienne” — a Parisian laundress.


Melancholy songs filled her head. She wished for things that had never been and that never would be.

“Juste ciel, est-il possible

D’avoir aimé un faux berger?

Oh! comment être insensible

A une pareille cruauté!

Je voudrais pour tout au monde

Ne l’avoir jamais revu.

Que ma joie serait profonde

Si tu m’etais inconnu!”

“O just Heaven, say, how can it be

That my love’s proven false to me?

Would that I could be insensible

To this his greatest cruelty!

I wish to God and heav’n above

That I’d ne’er bestowed my love.

Joy profound would be my very own

If his love I had never known!”


Kercie, from Folk Songs of Old Vincennes, H.T. FitSimons Company, Inc., 1973, compiled by Anna C. O’Flynn and translated by Frederic Burget and Libushka Bartusek.


“Minnie, whatever is wrong?” Aurora Gamache asked, watching Minnie wipe a tear from her eye.


“Nothing, Mama. I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”


“Is it the wedding? Are you sad about Ed and Maud getting married?”


Je ne sais pas. I don’t know.”


Aurora said nothing. She looked deep in Minnie’s eyes, holding her hand. Waiting.


Minnie sniffed.


“I thought Ed cared about me. But he stopped coming here after Maud lied about me.”


“Whatever she did or said, it can’t be undone now,” Ma said. “You need to forget.”


“I don’t think I can.”


“One day, you will. You’ll find the right man. He’ll look in your eyes and you’ll be crazy with love. Ed will be just a faded memory.”


“Bye and bye, you will forget me

When my face is far from thee,

And the day when first you met me

Only lives in memory.

For, ’mid other scenes and pleasures

Nearer joys thy heart shall sway,

And my love, like childish treasure,

Will be tossed and thrown away.”


— “Bye and Bye You Will Forget Me,” words by Arthur W. French,

music by William A. Huntley, hear a 1904 recording by Harry Macdonough

& John Bieling accessed on Youtube via Tim Gracyk.

Emily to the Rescue



Friday, April 15 - Emily came over and had a fine time

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904


By Friday, Minnie felt better. Emily came for dinner and slept overnight, sharing Minnie’s bed. Minnie decided she wouldn't let her sad heart ruin the few weeks she had left with her best friend.

They played cards, drank some homemade beer, and made plans for the time they had remaining together. They would start tomorrow with a trip to visit Emily’s friend, Anna Gander Hayes.

A Visit with Mrs. Hayes in Hermansville



Saturday, April 16 - Em went home and came to H’ville with us. Went to Mrs. Hayes.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904


Anna Hayes opened the door, holding a baby girl on her hip.


“Come in! I’m just putting Marion down for her nap. I’ll join you in a minute.”


A former schoolteacher, Anna had a 1-year-old daughter and another child on the way. When she returned from upstairs, she hugged Emily and shook Minnie’s hand.


“Glad to meet you, Mrs. Hayes,” Minnie said.


“Oh, please call me Anna!”


Minnie felt a little intimidated. She didn’t have a high school diploma, while both Emily and Anna had graduated from the Normal School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to become teachers. Minnie wished she’d had a chance to finish high school.


Their conversation soon turned to the news in Escanaba, a Lake Michigan port city not far from Hermansville on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.


“The company warned the men not to go to Escanaba this weekend,” Anna told them.


“Why?”


“Typhoid fever. People are dying every day and many more are sick.”


“Oh, how dreadful.”

“Yes, take a look at today’s paper.”


-- The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., April 16, 1904


Typhoid deaths filled the front page of Escanaba’s weekly newspaper, The Iron Port.

Mrs. Elizabeth Vassaw, age 60, who’d lived in Escanaba for 18 years.


Fred Lavigne, a popular young drug clerk at W.C. Ammerman.

Mrs. Henry Valentine, a prominent church goer with a 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.

Sara B. Wells, age 80, who had moved to Escanaba last November to live with her son.


Mamie Kelly, 18, who had been hospitalized for two weeks.


Marcus L. Johnson, 53, an old time sailor.


Axel Jacobson, 57, manager of the Green Ribbon saloon.


All were dead due to typhoid fever.


Outgoing Mayor Sourwine called for all Escanaba residents to boil city water before using it. Doctors warned it was the only way to relieve the calamity’s spread. They also recommended washing hands, especially after going to the bathroom or before cooking.


“The death rate in Escanaba is assuming a most alarming aspect. Since March 1st, over sixty have passed away and scarcely a day passes without one or more deaths. It is of the utmost importance that every precaution be taken to prevent the disease and the advice of the city physicians and health officers should be taken.”

— The Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., April 16, 1904


A Soapy Business Idea


After they’d taken in the sober news from Escanaba, Minnie handed Emily and Anna an ad she’d torn from a magazine earlier in the week.

1905 ad, Good Housekeeping magazine

“Speaking of washing... have either of you heard of Larkin soap?”


“Oh, yes,” said Anna. “Women in Marinette love Larkin.”


“Do you think women in Hermansville would buy it?”


“Why not?” Anna said. “I certainly would. I don’t care for the poor quality soap at the company store, and heaven knows I’m not going to make my own.”

“That’s just it,” said Minnie. “My mother and her neighbors still make their own soap. Would they spend money on soap when they can make it at home?”

“How much time does it take to make their soap? Two days or more?” asked Anna.


“Yes,” Minnie said. “It’s a hard job, and dangerous if there are children around.”


“That's how you sell the idea," Emily said. "What woman doesn't want more time in her day or safety for her children? Are you thinking of starting a Larkin Soap Club here?”


“Perhaps.”


“You should write to the company,” Anna said. “They have wonderful premiums for the women who sell their soap. You could furnish a whole house with them.”


“This might be just what you need, Minnie,” Emily said. “You’ve been talking about becoming a businesswoman. Here’s a way to get started.”

“I think I will send them a letter,” Minnie said, smiling and sitting up a bit straighter, grateful for their support.

“What does a woman need more than anything else? Sympathy. Having sympathy, a woman is strong for all the battles of life; without it she is easily vanquished.”

— The Diamond Drill (Crystal Falls, Michigan), April 2, 1904, page 2.

Alone with Her Thoughts



Sunday, April 17 - Had Mass. Em rode back with us. All alone in afternoon. Entertained Del in evening.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Mich., 1904

It had been a hard week. Minnie said a prayer at St. Mary’s Church for strength and acceptance. In the afternoon, she reflected on the week’s news. Maud and Ed getting married. Emily moving away. A deadly typhoid outbreak in Escanaba. Yet, perhaps a new business opportunity for her. A different kind of future.


“I’ll just take it one step at a time,” she thought. “One step at a time.”


Ed's younger brother, Del, came by to see Minnie in the evening. She put on a brave face and hoped he wouldn't bring up the wedding. She wasn't ready to talk about it.

Notes and Further Reading


Disclaimer: Minnie's Diary is part history, part fiction. It's based on my own research into the history of the time and the people who lived in Hermansville in 1904. Anything not in the diary or documented from original sources comes from my imagination. I welcome your corrections and alternate interpretations.

-- Jodi Perras, Minnie's Great-Granddaughter


Subscribe to Minnie's Diary: If you don't want to miss an episode of Minnie’s Diary, subscribe to my blog in the form below. You'll receive an email every time I post a new blog entry, typically once a week. I promise I won't sell or give your information to anyone else.


Characters: The only new character in Minnie’s Diary this week is Anna Gander Hayes, who was 23 in 1904. Like Emily Gagnon, Anna grew up in Marinette, Wisconsin. Menominee and Marinette are twin cities at the mouth of the Menominee River, which forms the border between Michigan and Wisconsin. Anna’s father, Louis Gander, immigrated to the United States from England in 1871 and married his wife, Louisa, in 1875. Louis worked as both a lumber scaler and a surveyor. The Ganders also made sure their six children had a good education.


Anna taught school in Marinette before marrying Justin D. Hayes. They moved to Hermansville, where Justin earned $60 a month as a bookkeeper for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. Sixty dollars was good money in those days, when a laborer might make $1 to $1.40 per day, working six days a week. J.D. Hayes earned one of the best salaries offered by the company. You can see a portion of the company payroll showing some of the salaried employees below. Dr. G.W. Earle earned $416 per month as CEO and Edwin P. Radford earned $145 as chief engineer and general superintendent.


Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. Payroll, January 1904. Bookkeeper J.D. Hayes' monthly salary was $60.

The company deducted $10 for Justin and Anna's rent each month. Justin operated the general store in the 1920s and ‘30s. After their children were grown, Anna also worked in the store and later as the town postmaster. Both are buried in the Meyer Township cemetery.


Also this week, Minnie finds out that Ed Paquin Jr. and Maud Raiche are getting married. Her entry on April 13 caught my attention the first time I read it. “Heard about the wedding.” At some point, we all feel the pain of unrequited love. It can hurt to the core, can’t it? I felt sad for Minnie, but glad that she waited a few years to marry my great-grandfather. I don’t know exactly when Emily told Minnie she was moving away, but this seemed like the week for bad news. Things will get better for our heroine.


Typhoid Outbreak: Single working men loved to slip away to Escanaba, with its saloons, gambling dens and houses of “ill repute.” During the typhoid epidemic, the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company might have warned employees not to travel there. Typhoid fever can spread quickly when its Salmonella-type bacteria contaminates local water and food. Victims suffer from high fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Thanks to modern water treatment and disinfection, we don’t worry much about typhoid today in the United States, but it still kills thousands each year. According to the World Health Organization, 11 to 20 million people still get sick from typhoid annually in developing countries and 128,000 to 160,000 people die. The bacteria is also becoming resistant to antibiotics used to treat it.


— St. Joseph Evening Herald Press, St. Joseph, Mich., March 29, 1904


Washing and Ironing: As I’m editing this week’s blog, I’ve also been doing our weekly laundry. We have it so easy compared to Minnie’s day. In the early 1900s, Minnie likely had no electricity and no running water. She would have had to pump water from the well outside, carry it in and set it on the stove to boil. She would have shaved homemade soap into the hot water, and washed and scrubbed the clothing by hand in a washtub. From Minnie’s diary, it appears the washing would take up an entire day and the ironing a second day. The story of the Parisian washerwoman makes it all sound so romantic, but it was a lot of hard work. If you’re interested in learning more about laundry in the old days, check out the laundry-related posts at homethingspast.com.



-- Advertisement from Iron Port, Escanaba, Mich., January 24, 1903:


Larkin Soap: The Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, NY, was founded in 1875 as a small soap company, but it became a huge mail order conglomerate. It’s “factory-to-family” direct sales strategy became known as the “Larkin Idea.” Larkin operated similar to Avon, Longaberger baskets and other direct marketing strategies, cutting out the middlemen and retailers and selling directly to customers. Larkin also recruited “Larkin Secretaries,” women who would form Larkin clubs to purchase the company’s products. From 1892 to 1904, the company’s sales grew from around $500,000 per year (equivalent to $14.5 million today) to over $13 million (equivalent to $387 million today). We’ll hear more about Larkin soap in upcoming blog posts.




 

Thank you for reading, friends. I hope your week is filled with the sights and sounds of spring.

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