Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Piecing together Edna's life

Edna's calling card
Probably because she was the one compiling all of the research from which I've been basing this blog, I feel like I have a fairly clear window into Edna's life. I have her Elkhorn High School diploma; she graduated June 10, 1896 and got her highest marks in Latin (with a 97) and algebra (with a 94.) Her lowest marks were in composition, natural philosophy and civil government (all 80s.) She also took courses in grammar, U.S. history, German, English history, arithmetic, geometry, book-keeping, political geography, physical geography, physiology and botany.

She appears in the newspaper clippings in the great scrapbook a few times.

From an undated clipping: "Miss Edna Vaughn is at present assisting Miss Rispah Harriman in the Kindergarten at Elkhorn." (Rispah Harriman was a first cousin of the Vaughn sisters. Her mother Phebe and their father Otis were siblings, and sadly Rispah's story is a tragic one (more on that later.) This clipping most likely dates from the late 1890s or early 1900s, after Edna graduated from high school and before she got married.)

Thomas A. Clark

From April 19, 1905: "Miss Edna Vaughn of Burlington and Thomas A. Clark of this city (Elkhorn) were married at Burlington yesterday. Owing to the continuous and dangerous health of the bride's sister, Mrs. Cheeseman, the invitations which had been issued to a few friends outside the immediate family were recalled. The young couple, so well known in this city, have the cordial wishes of a great number of friends who wish them all the joy in the world and who anticipate their coming to this city with much pleasure. Mr. and Mrs. Clark will reside in the Ellsworth house recently vacated by Fred Schmidt on south Wisconsin Street."

I notice on the modern map that there is a short, one-block long street that runs between Highway 67 and S. Wisconsin St. in Elkhorn that is called Clark St. I wonder if it was named for Thomas Clark's family? Or possibly because that is the part of Wisconsin street where Thomas and Edna's house was located?  Also, it's interesting to note that despite her "continuous and dangerous health" (possibly related to complications from giving birth to her first daughter in January), Edna's sister Hattie (more on her later) would survive for several more decades.

And then of course, there are the many plays she appeared in at school, indicating that she had a flair for the dramatic, at least in her youth.

Edna. This photo is blurry because it is so large that it doesn't lay flat on my scanner. A dramatic pose and a dramatic ensemble for a dramatic girl.

So from all of these clues, I feel I can safely piece together Edna's life story: she was born on the family farm in 1877. She grew up the middle of three sisters; Hattie was four years older and Ora was 7 years younger. She likely went to a one-room schoolhouse through 8th grade, after which she attended Elkhorn High School. She was a good student, getting all As and Bs in school. She aspired to be an actress, at least on a local level.  After graduating from high school in 1896, she took a job assisting her cousin in an Elkhorn kindergarten classroom; in the 1900 census, she was living with Rispah's parents (Edna's Aunt Phebe and Uncle Rufus) in Elkhorn. She married Thomas Clark, a druggist in Elkhorn, when she was 28 years old, and they moved into a house, which may have been on the corner of what is now Wisconsin St. and Clark St. Seven years later, they had their only child, a daughter they named Corinne, after her husband sponsored a naming contest in his drugstore. When Edna was about 41 or 42 years old, they moved to Manitowoc, WI, where she lived the rest of her life, though she came back every summer to visit her parents and her sisters and families.

Think about that for a moment: In an age when communities were small and close-knit and your neighbors were more like your family, at a time when communication was slow and difficult, Edna and Thomas uprooted their whole life moved far away to a town where she knew no one. They were both in their 40s and had a young daughter. How hard must it have been for them to say goodbye to their family and friends? They packed up all of their belongings, including several pieces of furniture Edna's father had made, and arranged for it all to be delivered to the small house they rented in Manitowoc when they first moved there. Edna didn't like the rented house, however. She had arthritis in her legs and had trouble with the stairs.

Thomas Clark opened a filling station and garage in Manitowoc, and in order to build these, he first had to take down a building on the site. He used the reclaimed lumber to build a house at 857 N. 9th St., for the family of three to move into. The house wasn't finished on time, so they spent a winter living in the filling station/garage. Imagine Edna, 40-something, far from her family for the first time in her life, living in a filling station garage for the winter while her house (with a bedroom on the first floor) was being built for her. This story reminds me that she was only two generations removed from the ambitious pioneers who settled what was then the Northwest Territory.

Corinne, date unknown. Possibly high school graduation?

Perhaps because of the isolation of being so far from other family members, Edna and Corinne were obviously very close. I believe Thomas Clark passed away before Corinne married Earl Tetzlaff, because the two women remained in the house that Thomas Clark had built; Edna simply moved upstairs and gave the newlyweds the run of the main floor. She lived there with Corinne and Earl until she died, which I believe was in the late 1950s or early 1960s. My dad remembers "Aunt Edna" vividly from her annual trips to Walworth County in the summer.

Earl Tetzlaff, who moved in with Edna after he and Corinne were married after World War II.
 Whenever Corinne would talk about how she and her new husband moved back in with her mother, she said it as if it was the most natural thing in the world. But whenever my mother hears that story, she says, "Earl must have been a saint to agree to live with his mother-in-law until the day she died." But it was a different time. People expected less, appreciated more. And they valued their family connections in a way that is hard to fully understand today. Maybe it was the most natural thing in the world then. Corinne and Earl were married over 50 years. Living with his mother-in-law for 15 of those years seemed only to strengthen their relationship.

Corinne, circa 1940s

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