RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Kansas

The Personal History of a Household Apron

Posted on
Apron - Dancing-girl-Levitsky-Dmitry-G.-1735-1822

Dancing Girl, Levitsky Dmitry, 1735-1822

Aprons have probably been around since the dawn of clothing; up until the Industrial Revolution, most people only had the clothes on their backs, or at most one change of clothing – in which case they were considered either very well off or thieves; a large number of the thefts reported in the 17th and 18th centuries had to do with clothing articles; the clothes made the man or woman, and if they could upgrade their wardrobe through “five-finger discounting” they might have a better chance at finding a good job with better wages.  The style of aprons has changed through the years, and while sometimes their function was little more than a fashion statement such as the photo to the left, their main purpose has never been lost:  To carry out every imaginable chore in and around the homestead.

My paternal grandparents, the Herrings, were a generation older than my maternal grandparents, the Kuhns, though my parents were born in the same year; the former grandparents had lost several children before my father came along when they were in their 40s.  They were Kansas pioneer farmers, my grandmother (nee Higbee) heading west in a covered wagon with her parents as a baby; she grew up on the prairies of Kansas, met my grandfather, and the rest is history.

Great-Grandmother Christine Aaroe-Higbee's Parents, from Denmark, ca 1890

The Aaroes, immigrants from Denmark, taken ca 1890.

Grandma Herring's Apron Quilt, Hand-Sewn between 1920 & 1970s

The Apron Quilt

Most of my childhood memories are of their farm; we spent many weekends there helping out, and I spent a week or two every summer with them.  My grandmother was always in an apron, except for Sunday mornings and holiday events – and those are the times when photographs were taken, so unfortunately I don’t have a photo of her in aprons.  But I have something much better:  A hand-sewn quilt, made lovingly by her from around 1920 to the early 80s.  The materials used for that quilt are her old aprons, Sunday dress scraps, and other spare cloths; and I remember seeing her in several of them.  The old photograph above is of my great-great grandparents, the Aaroes, immigrants from Denmark; the photo was taken around 1890, and shows my great-great grandmother in her daily apron at the spinning wheel.

1950s Housewife Chic vintage aprons

1950s Vintage Fashionable Aprons

Being a farmer’s wife, my grandmother’s aprons weren’t as fancy as these vintage patterns; they were plain, simple and hand-made; they did what they were needed for, and no more, no less.  But as simple as they might have been, those aprons were worth their weight in gold on a farm:  They protected her scanty wardrobe – she didn’t need much, didn’t want much, and was satisfied to take care of what she’d been blessed with.  They carried chicks, chicken eggs, kittens, flowers, herbs, apples, firewood and wood chips, baby birds fallen from nests in a wind storm, and the occasional sugar cube for the horses.  They wiped away tears, cleaned dirty faces, dusted furniture if guests were walking up the path, took delicious things from the oven, cold things from the freezer, and helped open canning jars.  They shaded a cold pie on her lap in the old Chevy truck while we bounced across the fields to bring my grandfather a picnic for lunch break in the summer heat (she could have used an old quilt for that, but it was being used to cradle a large mason jar of ice cold water, the best thirst-quencher I know). Those aprons helped gather grains, and stones to move from the garden or to the flower bed.  They carried chicken feed, broken eggs shells, potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, sweet peas, strawberries and squash.  They warmed her hands on a cold day as she dug for the last of the potatoes before winter’s freeze, and hid her dirty hands when guests arrived unannounced.  They polished cutlery, fanned her face to cool her down on a sweltering hot day, and were the perfect place to hide for shy children.  One never knew what that apron would do next.

I can’t imagine any other piece of cloth carrying so much history, authority, importance, humility, common sense and love.

Wild Women of the Old West

Posted on

Often unsung heroines, the women who trailblazed (alongside their husbands, or on their own through the loss of said man along the trail, or who headed west to forge a new way of living) were the backbone of settlements.  Without the women, there would have been no way for a man to survive for long.  I grew up in Kansas, and my father’s ancestors were immigrants from Denmark who travelled west to Kansas in covered wagons in the 1880s; the farm which my great-great grandfather built was eventually inherited by my grandfather, and many of my happy childhood memories are associated with that farmstead.  Looking back through family photos, there’s not a photo of a weak woman among them; weak women (or men, for that matter) simply didn’t survive.  They became the strength that built the West.

For a 46-minute documentary on the importance of the pioneer woman, and the legends that grew up around the likes of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, please click on the image below.  It’s well worth the time to watch, when you have a moment!

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley

Family History: A Moment of Profound Change, 1899

Posted on

Family histories are fascinating, and each one is unique:  They mirror the changing times, the cultures in which they form, and here in Switzerland they often represent the international, innovative and traditional yet open mindset of the Swiss.  I was born and raised in America, immigrated to Scotland at the age of 20, and eventually met my Swiss husband there.  So “my” family history spans from the frontier plains of Kansas to the Highlands of Scotland to the Swiss Alps.  A few years ago I put together a Swiss family history and photo album, digitalizing faded, torn, close-to-extinction photographs.  Here’s one of the family stories.

1899 - Tochter Elisabeth, Vater Josef German, Tochter Josephina Steinauer

1899 – Tochter Elisabeth, Vater Josef German, Tochter Josephina Steinauer

The photograph above was taken in 1899, on the occasion of the imminent emigration of Elisabeth Steinauer from Einsiedeln, Switzerland to America.  Her widowed father Josef and sister Josephina would never see her again; emigration was a permanent change back then, with only the extremely wealthy ever making a return voyage back to Europe to visit relations.  Elisabeth met a Mr. Schönbächler in Sacramento, California; they were married and settled down on the far side of the new frontier; up until at least 1960 she was still alive and well, writing letters home from America.  She was not without family, however; her elder sister Meinrada had emigrated to Sacramento 4 years earlier; incredibly she had done so as a single woman of 30 years old!  There she met a Swiss man by the name of Birchler, with whom she had actually gone to school with as children in Switzerland, and they were married.

By the time this photo was taken, Josephina had married Franz Xaver Hüsler of Einsiedeln, Switzerland,  and had had six of their eight children (only two of which preceded her in death).  One of her surviving children, Josef Hüsler, became my husband’s grandfather.

Though this will likely only be of interest to family members, below is the Hüsler Family Tree, from 1600 to present; I put it here so that it can be accessible to those who would like to see it.  It is incomplete, so if anyone has more information to add, please contact me in the comments below!  Click on the images to enlarge.Hüsler Stammbaum 1, 1600-1770sHüsler Stammbaum 2, 1780s-1930sHüsler Stammbaum 3, 1940s-Gegenwart

%d bloggers like this: