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Calling This Place Home

Women on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1850-1925

Joan M. Jensen

Publication Year: 2006

Swedish domestic worker Emina Johnson witnessed the great Peshtigo fire in 1871; Cherokee nurse Isabella Wolfe served the Lac du Flambeau reservation for decades; the author’s own grandmother, Matilda Schopp, was one of numerous immigrants who eked out a living on the Wisconsin cutover. Calling This Place Home tells the stories of these and many other Native and settler women during Wisconsin’s frontier era. Noted historian Joan M. Jensen spent more than a decade delving into the lives of a remarkable range of women who lived during the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. These individuals shared many struggles as economies evolved from logging to dairying to tourism. Facing many challenges, they cared for their sick, educated their children, maintained their cultural identity, and preserved their own means of worship. Entwining the experiences of Native and settler communities, Jensen uses photographs and documents to examine and illustrate the recovered stories of representative but often overlooked women. These stories of individuals together form a substantial history of Wisconsin’s well-known industries, its caregiver networks and schooling practices, and matters of faith and politics. This comprehensive volume brings a deeper understanding of the state’s history through the stories of individual women and the broader developments that shaped their lives.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press


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Table of Contents

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p. vii


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p. viii


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pp. ix-xiv

Map of Wisconsin

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p. xvi

I. Building Economies

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1. Moving In, Staying Put

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pp. 5-38

Matilda Rauscher, my maternal grandmother, arrived in northern Wisconsin in 1892. She brought few possessions with her as she traveled from her small Bohemian village of Christianburg north to Hamburg, then by boat to New York and by train to Wisconsin. Although...

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2. Woodlands

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pp. 39-89

My grandmother Matilda Rauscher went straight to Phillips, a lumbering town, when she arrived in the United States from Bohemia in 1892. With her she brought a small document about the size of today’s passport, her Dienstbuch, or Domestic Servant Book. She must have felt for this document often as she traveled to Hamburg, then to New York by ship, then to Wisconsin by train, and on north to Phillips...

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3. Farmlands

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pp. 90-143

When Matilda arrived at her new log house in 1893 she was leaving the woodlands economy and entering farmlands. Her land did not look much like a farm: a log house surrounded by a small clearing, a small log shed with a cow and a horse. During the next twenty years...

II. Protecting Families and Communities

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4. Healing

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pp. 147-197

On an August afternoon in 1901, my grandmother Matilda watched her husband Karl playfully grab the back legs of a colt in the barnyard. When the colt kicked him in the stomach, he crumpled in pain. She helped him...

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5. Caring

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pp. 198-249

My grandmother Matilda raised eight children virtually alone after her first husband died and her second husband turned out to be a poor provider. An accident; a wrong choice in time of crisis. Her own family was of little help: her grandparents and mother had died in Bohemia....

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6. Learning

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pp. 250-307

My uncle took me up in the loft of the old log house where my mother grew up. He had used the downstairs as a blacksmith shop since the family moved into their new house in 1919, but he continued to store old stuff in the loft. He...

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7. Matters of the Spirit

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pp. 308-346

Women seldom wrote or talked about spiritual matters to outsiders, and when they did so, it was with hesitation, unless it was their special profession, as it was for Catholic nuns or Native spiritual leaders. Nor did others write often about such matters. Thus, as historian I can only recreate a small part of this life of the spirit, awkwardly...

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8. Political Landscapes

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pp. 347-398

I remember that Matilda was living with us in the late 1940s when the question of her citizenship came up. It was shortly after World War II, my father was recently home from overseas, and he asked whether or not she had registered as an “enemy alien.” That...

III. Making a New Home

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9. Migration Stories

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pp. 401-442

Matilda’s experience during the years she scrimped to raise her children convinced her that there was no future for most of them in farming. The farm would go to the oldest son, Frank. The forty-acre farm was too small to divide; nearby farmland too expensive to buy. Even...

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Epilogue: Remembering

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pp. 443-449

In 1982 I drove my red Mazda subcompact with its New Mexico license plates into the yard of my uncle’s Wisconsin farm. I had lost contact with my mother’s family after she died in 1959. I was in graduate school then, and the loss seemed purely private. There was my dissertation to finish at UCLA, teaching in San Diego, a separation...


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pp. 451-493

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Note on Sources

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pp. 495-497

The women who populated north - central Wisconsin mostly did not leave their own accounts. By using a variety of research sources and methods, I have tried to give them a collective part in telling their stories. For a few, enough...


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pp. 499-516

Illustration Credits

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pp. 517-520

E-ISBN-13: 9780873517287
E-ISBN-10: 0873517288
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873515634
Print-ISBN-10: 0873515633

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 100 b&w illus., maps, notes
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 794700972
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Calling This Place Home

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Wisconsin -- History.
  • Women -- Wisconsin -- Social conditions.
  • Wisconsin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Wisconsin -- History -- 20th century.
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