Orlando S. Jones: Pioneer Farmer Extraordinaire
>Location: Southwest Wisconsin Room, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Platteville Wisconsin.
>Citation: Platteville SC 3, Orlando S. Jones Diary and Family Clippings, 1852-1903, 1922. Southwest Wisconsin Room, University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Platteville, Wisconsin.
Orlando S. Jones was a pretty interesting guy. He was a Wisconsin farmer that lived his life on what, at the time, was the very edge of the United States border! Through his diary, we can read all about his regular tasks and his day-to-day life on the frontier. Orlando’s Diary is actually two separate diaries. The first details his life from 1852-1873, and the second one has entries from 1873-1888. Use these to explore the routine life of a pioneer farmer trying to make ends meet in the newly formed state of Wisconsin. (Wisconsin became a state in 1848, a mere 4 years before the first entry!)
Orlando’s diary can be used in tons of different ways, because it shows many different things going on in the 19th century. For example, along with being a farmer, Orlando also worked as a school teacher. Therefore, you can discover for yourself what duties and tasks a teacher performed almost two-hundred years ago! This is just one idea for ways that Orlando’s diary can be used among a variety of others only limited by your own shrewdness and eye for ideas.
This finding aid will focus on the importance of routine in order to maintain and thrive as a pioneer farmer in Southwest Wisconsin. By following it you will find examples of joy, sadness, money problems, and most commonly, the farming routine of Orlando S. Jones. Consider it an adventure into Orlando’s life from 1852-1858!
• Orlando will be referred to by his first name throughout this finding aid because it’s just way more fun to use than his last name.
• Orlando’s handwriting may be hard to read at first, but once you get used to how he writes, it gets really easy to read.
Orlando S. Jones was a farmer, school teacher, and town clerk somewhere around Grant County. Orlando kept a hand-written diary of his regular life in a bound book, from 1852 until 1888, with footnotes that go all the way up to 1903. The diary logs the various chores, work, expenditures, and trips that he would go on every single day. Orlando also gave a brief description of what the weather was like at the end of each daily entry in the diary.
The footnotes range from interesting to mundane, but they are always worth looking at! For example, in some months Orlando details the type, and amount of various crops he harvested. In other months he tallies up the total of how much money he made, compared to how much money he spent, over the course of the month. Also in the footnotes Orlando gives details on the personal things that have happened. For example, When Orlando’s father died, the daily entry merely states “Father died. 2 ½ A.M.” however, at the bottom Orlando details HOW exactly his father died (diabetes). It’s important to note that any daily entry that has a footnote at the bottom of the page associated with it was a big deal to Orlando.
You’ll start to notice a pattern as you read farther into the years of Orlando’s life and realize that certain crops were prepped, planted, harvested and cleaned on a rotating basis, depending on the month, as well as the weather. The same was true with livestock. This pattern is the key to Orlando’s survival on the frontier that is Southwest Wisconsin, and is also the reason that this diary is such a great historical tool!
Every page is headed with the year and covers one complete month from start to finish. Each month is then broken down into a line per day. There is space at the bottom of the page for footnotes.
Quite a few days or even weeks in a row have one recurring entry. For example, one day will simply say “Chores,” followed by 5 days of nothing but quotation marks indicating that those days were also just full of “chores” as well.
Important note: In the next two sections, Orlando’s life will first be broken down into a chronological list of important or interesting diary entries from January 1852 through December of 1858, followed by the routine that makes up his everyday life. Each bullet point in the FFA will have questions underneath that should be considered when looking through Orlando’s diary.
Second Important Note: The reason this portion of the FFA starts with the interesting events is because they’re just a little more… well interesting than Orlando’s daily routine. However, keep in mind that the routine IS interesting because it shows how people survived on the frontier in the mid-1800s.
Events of Note
Reminder: This section goes chronologically through the interesting events that happened in Orlando’s life from 1852 through 1858. If you’re having trouble finding the specific events, refer to the first point of the reading guide.
April 22, 1852: Orlando is married to Sarah E. Jones.
- Check out the footnote at the end of the month
March 1853 shows lots of work on Orlando’s fence.
- What work was he doing on his fence?
- Why do you think he spends so much time working on a fence?
April 5, 1853: Orlando wins an election.
- What does he get elected to?
June 6, 1853: Orlando raised a log barn
September 19, 1853: Orlando’s father passes away
- What happened before his Dad died? Check the entries before to find out.
January 15, 1854: Orlando’s Uncle Leyman passes away
- Notice how often Orlando visited Uncle Leyman before he passed, try to count the number of times went to and from Leyman’s.
May 16, 1854: A MASSIVE rainstorm
- Note the language Orlando uses to describe the storm. See if you can find anywhere else that he uses language like this.
- Consider how the weather impacts the work that Orlando does.
- Can you find other examples of the weather impacting Orlando’s livelihood?
The footnote for July is a ledger of wages paid to someone for help with the hay work
- What does this imply about Orlando and his farm?
October 7, 1854: Orlando got Daguerreotypes taken in Platteville.
- A Daguerreotype is an old style of photograph common in the 19th century
What does Orlando do in June of this year in his position as a town clerk?
September 5, 1855: Orlando and his Uncle Obed go to see “Ms. Bell’s” leg amputated.
- The diary doesn’t say, but why do you think she needed her leg amputated?
- I hope she came through it alright!
October 14 – November 23, 1855
- What’s going on every day throughout this stretch?
- What is Orlando complaining about?
February 5-7, 1856
- What neighborly act is Orlando up to?
March 11, 1856: “Went to Platteville to have Daguerreotypes taken.”
- “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth, [Orlando] called the paparazzi on himself!”
March 13, 1856: “Mary Alice born.”
- Do you think Orlando was giddy or excited? Check the footnotes and see if you can tell!
May 18, 1856: Orlando’s Uncle Obed gets married
- Ain’t that just sweet? Did they do anything to celebrate?
- Do you think Orlando and his uncle were very close?
February 20, 1857: “Went to pull teeth for Mr. Winter”
- The diary doesn’t say, but whose teeth do you think Orlando was pulling?
September 28, 1857 – October 2, 1857: Orlando takes a vacation
- Where does he go, and what is he doing?
- Did he have fun?
January 17, 1858
- Read this entry. What do you think it means? Are there any footnotes to go along with it.
- January’s footnote:
Orlando is complaining! What is he on about THIS time?
- What does Orlando spend most of his time doing this month?
- June 10: How does Orlando feel about the prospects for his crops?
- June 30: Has his opinion changed in the past 3 weeks?
July 1-14, 1858
- What does every entry start with during this stretch?
- How does it affect him?
August: What is Orlando focused on this month?
October-December 1858: Orlando is working on building a sawmill
- What type of work is he doing? How is the work going? What sort of supplies does he need to get the job done?
- Does the weather effect his work at all?
Reminder: This section is broken up into the 12 months of the year. Each month contains bullet points of the routine work done during that specific month in any given year. Read the questions under each bullet point and try to find the answers for them in Orlando’s Diary. Be sure to pay attention to the variety of work Orlando must do to survive.
- Who does Orlando do the work for?
- What type of work is he getting done?
- Where does Orlando go?
- What is he doing when he travels?
School work starting in 1853
- What type of school work is Orlando doing?
- Does the work change over time?
Looks specifically at February 1854 and 1855, where is Orlando spending a lot of his time?
- What kind of chores do you think Orlando was doing?
- Why would he be doing chores in February, instead of farming?
- Same questions as before?
- Do the day trips change with the months or are all day trips fairly standard throughout the year?
Sawmill work as well as sawing and chopping wood for personal use.
- What do you think Orlando uses his wood for, and what do you think he did at the sawmill?
- Why does Orlando do so much wood work in March as opposed to a different month?
Town Clerk duties from 1854-1858.
- How many different jobs go into being a Town Clerk?
- Is there a specific job that is more common than others?
Lots of farm prep work
- What type of work does Orlando do to set his farm up for the spring?
- What does he mean when he says that he is “Harrowing” a field?
Town Clerk duties (from 1853-1858)
- What work is most common in May?
- Is he working on his own farm, or is Orlando working on other people’s farms?
- How much cheese does Orlando make on average?
- What kind of cheese do you think he makes?
- How does Orlando word his entries when he works on hay?
- How important do you think the hay work is for Orlando?
- What kinds of crops would you see if you visited Orlando’s farm?
- Why do you think he grows so many different things?
- Why do you think Orlando (a farmer) would be working on fixing a road?
- Does Orlando specify which road he is working on, or the work he is putting into them?
- Consider how and why the crops that Orlando is working on have changed since May
- What kind of fruit does Orlando grow?
- It’s harvest season! How did Orlando’s crops do every year?
- Were there good years and bad years?
Collect taxes for school
- Is he collecting the taxes as a town clerk or as a school teacher?
Vote in general elections
- Note how regularly Orlando votes
- Who does Orlando vote for?
- Can you tell Orlando’s political alignment?
Prepare crop fields for winter
- What goes into preparing his fields for winter?
- How many days does Orlando spend on this?
- The diary doesn’t say but what do you think tax work entails?
Hauling and cleaning corn and grains
- Why do you think Orlando needs to clean his grain?
- How do you think someone cleans grain?
Day trips to sell goods
- Where does Orlando go to inspect these schools?
- How do the inspections go? Are there any schools that fail?
Reviewed by: Tim Olson
Image courtesy Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
>Call Number/Title: Platteville Mss AW, Earl W. Reiger Railroad Collection.
>Citation: Reiger, Earl W. Railroad Collection. 1879. Southwest Wisconsin Room, Ullsvik Hall, Platteville, Wisconsin.
The real name of this collection is the Earl W. Reiger Railroad Collection. It is made up of 3 archival boxes and 66 folders! Do not worry however, this aid will focus on just 8 folders from the first 2 boxes. These folders deal with common railroad hazards and issues, such as: locomotive explosions, complaints, improvements, accidents, fatalities, floods, snow and ice, and wrecks. These hazards and issues are also the titles of the folders in the collection. The documents in these folders prove that corporate greed, neglect, and carelessness led to preventable incidents involving the railroad. The boxes focus on the history of the Kickapoo Valley Railroad, which was a 52-mile rail line that connected Wauzeka to La Farge, Wisconsin. The collection was put together by Earl W. Reiger Ph.D, who was born in Wauzeka in 1912.
Most of the information in the collection is from 1878-1939. It is made up of newspaper articles, official business statements, legal documents, and first-hand accounts. The cool thing about this collection is that you can read about the same incident from different points of view and compare information found in other folders. For example, there are complaints (found in the “Complaint” folder) that warn about a dangerous situation. Nothing was done about the complaint so an incident occurred (which can be found in the “Accidents” folder).
This finding aid is organized in the same order that the folders are in the archival boxes. Notice that the folders are numbered and titled for easy finding. For each folder description there is included one example to read, but there are many more exciting ones to find on your own!
Box 1 Folder 9: This folder contains specific information on locomotive explosions. Find the document dated May 28, 1896. It tells about an explosion and why it happened. Read to see if corporate greed or neglect was a factor.
Box 2 Folder 14: This folder includes complaints about a wide variety of issues. It is a collection of published newspaper articles put together by Dr. Reiger (the man who created this collection). Keep in mind that these complaints were not written by the company. Do you think that this made the complaints unbiased?
The complaints folder is where most of the content against the railroad companies is located, so remember to always compare the information here with what you read in other folders. Find the document dated September 26, 1901. It involves kids and shows neglect by the company. Read to see what happened.
Box 2 Folder 15: This folder contains information regarding improvements to the line, stations, and the locomotives. It is really a list of statements made by the railroad, such as: “the R.R. company has started regular repair work on the Kickapoo Branch….”. However, the cool thing about this folder is that many of the statements contrast with ones made in the “Complaints” folder. For example, find the document dated April 6, 1916. Compare that document with the same topic from the complaints folder and see if they tell the same story.
Box 2 Folder 19: This folder includes information on all types of accidents that occurred on company property. There were a significant number, and a few them could have been prevented. For instance, the company reported that a child lost his leg because he was run over by a train on September 26, 1912. Compare this to a document dated July 19, 1901, that is in the “Complaints” folder.
Box 2 Folder 20: Folder 20 tells about people that died and how they died. Moving heavy transportation vehicles is a dangerous business, so every precaution should be taken to prevent injuries and fatalities. A document within this folder dated November 12, 1903, suggests that maybe not every precaution was taken.
Box 2 Folder 21: This folder gives the reader a good understanding of the weather patterns in this area and how they influenced the line. The company should consider that flooding can pose serious risk to the line and to the employees. But, in a document dated September 23, 1915, the company seems to have ignored this. Read to find out what happened.
Snow and Ice
Box 2 Folder 23: This folder tells how winter weather influenced the railway. Snow and Ice can cause serious damage and should not be taken lightly, especially when passengers are aboard. But, on the morning of February 4, 1915, the company seems to have ignored the dangers posed by the weather. Look at his document to find out what happened.
Box 2 Folder 25: This folder is a list of facts about wrecks, what caused them, and the date and time. Wrecks are extremely dangerous and expensive to clean up, so they should be prevented at all costs. When wrecks do happen, they should be cleaned up right away to prevent further damage. But the company doesn’t seem to care about these things! Read the document dated December 2, 1915, to see what happened when they didn’t do a good job.
Reviewed by: Alex Schrampfer
Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> CITATION: see within summary
This collection was put together for the FFA. It is actually ten different manuscript collections, each with their own title and call number. Together all these different sources tell a story about the LaX Rubber Mills . . . and a lot more!
This collection contains two vertical files on the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., six oral history transcripts of people who worked for the La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. and LaCrosse Footwear, Inc., and two booklets published by the Rubber Mills Co. that explain the manufacture of rubber. The two booklets have very unusual names: “Caoutchouc,” published in 1915 (31-pages), and “Caoutchouc II” published in 1925 (39-pages). Don’t be turned off by the name. These booklets are very interesting and informative. They are also filled with pictures of the factory and the production process.
The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. opened in 1896 in La Crosse and moved to Portland, Oregon in 2001. They imported rubber from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America for making rubber products, mostly footwear. Though they were a small company, they were unique and grew to be one of the largest employers in La Crosse. This collection not only tells the story of a factory, but brings to light ways La Crosse was connected to other areas in the world because of manufacturing. It also tells the story of unions, strikes, and the exploitation of workers in La Crosse.
All the parts in this collection work very well together. For example, many of the people interviewed in the oral histories talk about the same subject, thus providing a number of viewpoints on the same topic. Likewise, the booklets give background and images to some of the things discussed in the oral histories. Lastly, the vertical files have a wide range of information about everything covered in both the oral histories and the booklets. Each part of this collection is strong, but together it’s even stronger!
PLEASE NOTE: The La Crosse Rubber Mills Co. changed its name to LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. in 1986.
CITATION FOR LACROSSE FOOTWEAR: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. (1896- present). Special Collections, Murphy Library,University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
CITATION FOR RUBBER MILLS: La Crosse Businesses Vertical File: La Crosse Rubber Mills (1896-present). Special Collections, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
PLEASE NOTE: The citation for documents in the vertical files changes depending on what is used. For example, a newspaper article would be cited differently than a pamphlet. Look at a Chicago Style citation guide or ask a librarian or teacher how to cite your specific source.
The two vertical files are very similar. They have many newspaper articles, pamphlets, programs, newsletters, and advertisements that explain the history and the people working for the Rubber Mills and/or LaCrosse Footwear. Most articles date back to the 1970s, but there are some from before that as well.
One of the oldest newspaper articles is from 1887. It describes the factory when it was quite small and also tells about the imported rubber the factory used. Other articles talk about workers’ strikes, the company’s name change, and the company’s move to Oregon. There is also an issue from a newsletter called “LRM Footwear Footnotes” with an interview of a woman who started working in the Rubber Mills in 1907!
Oral History Transcripts
CITATIONS FOR ORAL HISTORIES
Bill Larkin, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 8 April 1997.
Jerry Larkin, interviewed by Herbert Tancil, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 22 April 1997.
Donna Lemke, interviewed by Margaret Larson, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 17 November 1994.
Richard Morkwed, interviewed by Sandra Molzhon, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 1 April 1997.
George Schneider, interviewed by Dan Freudenburg, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 19 March 1997.
Herman Tietz, interviewed by Howard Fredericks, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 20 June and 25 July 1972.
The oral histories are interviews with people who worked at the Rubber Mills. Some people worked at the Mills for only a few years, while others worked there their entire life. These interviews cover topics like: unions, working conditions in the factory, pay, child labor, women in the workplace, family relationships, the Depression, the economy, and war. Some interviews focus on the Rubber Mills for only a few pages, while others talk about it for the entire interview.
Bill Larkin worked as a supervisor for various departments in the Rubber Mills. He worked for the company from 1961 to 1996. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Pages 1-10 Mr. Larkin talks a lot about work and his work experience. In particular, he discusses how he got his job at the mill, and his family and co-workers. (Some of his co-workers are also family.) On pages 8-9 he mentions women in the factory.
Pages 10-13 cover Larkin’s first day on the job and the smell of rubber. Amazing!
Pages 13-21 Larkin addresses wages and the Mill owners. The Funk family was one of the Mill’s founders and also one of the wealthiest families in La Crosse. On pages 14-15, he describes working with rubber.
Pages 21-22 discuss unions.
Pages 22-25 Larkin talks about how World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm affected the Rubber Mills.
Pages 25-31 Larkin reviews the relationship between the company and the community, the company’s name change, and he gives his opinion on why La Crosse Footwear had the success it did.
Jerry Larkin worked as a chief engineer at the plant. He worked there from 1933 to 1976. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Pages 2-10 hit a wide range of topics, from politics and the Great Depression, to fellow mill workers, wages, and Tuberculosis! These are just a few of the subjects, therefore, for anyone interested in an overview of mill-related topics, these pages may be just the ticket. Also in this section, it is interesting to note that Jerry Larkin talks about his first day on the job. Bill Larkin’s oral history discusses the same topic, which may make for some enlightening comparisons or connections.
Pages 10-15 talk more about what his job was like, including having to take work home. In addition, Mr. Larkin discusses what he enjoyed about the job, unions, and how wars affected the company.
Pages 15-20 largely cover the mill’s relationship with La Crosse, the company’s growth, and his brothers’ jobs. However, on a completely unrelated topic, Larkin also provides insight into college sports!
Pages 20-29 also cover a lot of topics, including Larkin’s boss, Prohibition, changes made at the factory, and the Great Depression.
Donna Lemke worked on the assembly line and talks about what work was like as a woman. She worked there in the winter of 1947-1948 after graduating high school. Pages 9-16 cover the Rubber Mills.
Pages 9-13 Lemke talks about getting hired and what it was like to work at the mill, including how she dressed. In particular she discusses some of the dangers related to mill work and her memory of the factory’s smell. (She specifically notes the smell of the rubber cement.) Two other topics of note from this section are lay offs and the mill’s production during the wars.
Pages 14-16 discuss workers’ wages and more about getting laid off.
Richard Morkwed did not work on the factory floor. He worked in the billing department, the purchasing department, and later became the Vice President of Distribution. He worked at the company from 1948 to 1992. The entire interview is about the Rubber Mills.
Page 2-11 cover his history with the factory, including his first day on the job. Mr. Morkwed explains some of the different work duties related to the factory, and just like in Jerry Larkin’s interview, he talks about taking work home.
Pages 11-15 cover a number of different topics, but most notably, workplace atmosphere, layoffs, and the mill’s transfer to a new owner.
Pages 15-20 cover some very interesting topics, including, unions, the Korean War, buying rubber and cotton, the U.S.’s dependence on synthetic rubber during WWII, and company innovation. This part of the interview pairs nicely with the “Cauotchouc” booklets because they talk about the history of the La Crosse Rubber Mills where the factory got the rubber for making its shoes. Just a hint, it didn’t come from Wisconsin!
George Schneider bought the company in 1982 and became Chairman of the Board. The entire interview is about the company.
Pages 2-6 discuss how Schneider became involved with the company, product changes that happened during his watch, and his philosophy about the the mill.
Pages 6-11 comment on other factories that competed with the La Crosse factory, and innovative changes made.
On pages 11-15 Mr. Schneider talks about hist relationship with workers. These pages also discuss strikes. Remember Schneider was the mill’s owner, so his perspective is important to keep in mind.
Pages 15-20 cover the mill’s role in the community, places Schneider traveled on business trips, and his vision for the company.
Herman Tietz worked in the factory from 1906 to 1908 making shoes. Only pages 31-38 cover the Rubber Mills. The rest of the interview is about other topics.
On pages 31-33 Mr. Tietz describes what the Rubber Mills looked like way back in 1903. He talks about what his job was like, and also his wages.
Pages 33-36 covers how shoes were made, and again, the smell of the rubber is brought up. (See also Donna Lemke and Bill Larkin.) Mr. Tietz goes further on this subject and describes the lack of ventilation in the factory.
Pages 36-38 discuss unions, working conditions,and his brother’s fallout with management.
CITATION FOR BOOKLETS
La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1915.
La Crosse Rubber Mills Company. “Caoutchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear: An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its Growth to the Finished Product.” La Crosse, WI: La Crosse Rubber Mills Company, 1925.
The two booklets “Caoutchouc” (1915) and “Caoutchouc II” (1925) are very similar. Indeed, the second one is just an updated version of the first. Both explain where the factory’s rubber came from, how it was produced, and the products manufactured. Also, both have pictures to go with the text. Reading these booklets will help establish the context needed to better understand the La Crosse Rubber Mills.
PLEASE NOTE: The Rubber Mills published these booklets for their own purposes, and can be considered corporate propaganda. Think about this while reading the words and looking at the pictures too.
“Caoutchouc: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1915) is 31-pages long.
Pages 3-10 go through the history of rubber, where it came from, and how rubber manufacturing was invented. These pages are very interesting because they show that over 100 years ago La Crosse had connections with places you may have never thought possible.
Pages 11-26 discuss rubber manufacturing. These pages also have many photographs of workers in the factory, which along with the text, provides a kind of virtual tour of the rubber mills!
Pages 27-29 tour the administrative offices and give a conclusion to the booklet.
Pages 30-31 has pictures of different shoe styles made by the company.
“Cauotchouc II: The Manufacture of Rubber Footwear, An Illustrated Story of Rubber from its growth to the finished Product,” (1925) is 39-pages long. It is longer than the first one because it has more information and a more complete tour of the factory buildings with additional pictures. Inside the front cover is also a flyer stating the purpose of the publication of this booklet.
Pages 3-5 give a history of rubber and where rubber came from. (Remember that this booklet is very similar to the first!)
Pages 6-7 explains the “vulcanization” of rubber.
Pages 8-10 discuss where rubber comes from. In particular, this book looks at rubber from wild rubber trees vs. plantations.
Pages 11-26 covers rubber manufacturing and footwear production. There are many photos and it feels like a tour through the factory.
Pages 27-30 give a brief history of the Rubber Mills, its founders, and company growth. There are also pictures of the founders and illustrations showing factory changes over the years.
Pages 31-34 give a description of the administrative offices with photos.
Page 35 shows product distribution throughout the world.
Pages 36-39 has pictures of different styles of shoes made by the company and gives a conclusion to the booklet.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Citation: Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock, interviewed by Clement C. GrawOzburn, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, January 19, 2004.
Ruth (Ries) Zillmer, interviewed by Charles Lee, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, January 8, 2004.
From 1943-1954 America had its first women’s professional baseball league, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley – yes, the chewing gum guy – created the league to keep the American pastime alive throughout WWII when a majority of the top male baseball players joined the war effort to serve their country. The first four teams formed in 1943 with 64 women, but eventually that number would grow to many more teams and over 550 female players!
This collection includes oral history interviews of two women who played in the AAGPBL, Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock and Ruth (Ries) Zillmer. Oral histories are recorded interviews with people who have personal knowledge of past events. In these interviews the former players cover topics related to their personal life as well as what life was like as a player in the league. Both women answer questions about subjects like uniforms, social expectations, tryouts, practice, and life on the road. They also address issues related to WWII such as the role of women in the workforce, gender roles, and public opinion of women’s sports during this time.
The histories are .wav format on a CD and can be listened to with any audio program such as iTunes or Windows Media Player. The quality is good so you can understand everything being said, but there is not a transcript so you must take your own notes for direct quotes. Also, the interviews are not very long so they are easy to listen to in their entirety, but if you’d like, you can use the times provided below to easily jump to a section you’re most interested in.
Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock
Ellen (Ahrndt) Proefrock played second base for the South Bend Blue Sox in 1944. This interview talks about her experience in the league.
Personal History (1:13-9:34) – In this section learn about Ellen’s life on the family farm and her early years playing baseball. At one point she recalls how her dad built a baseball field on their farm and all the community kids would come there to play.
Life playing in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (9:34-29:55) – During this part of the interview Ellen talks about her daily life while a part of the league. She discusses the players’ uniforms – they wore skirts – and attending “Charm School” as a part of her baseball training. Ellen also talks about practice, player salaries, bus trips, and having to live with another family during the baseball season.
Opinions (29:55-27:15) – Near the end of WWII the men started to come back and so many of the “girl” teams were disbanded. In this section Ellen gives her opinions of the legacy and the end of the AAGPBL.
WWII (37:15-44:51) – During the war women took on many new gender roles, including playing baseball. In this part of the interview Ellen talks about women in the workforce, why the AAGPBL was formed and women’s liberation after the war.
Life after the AAGPBL (44:51-58:00) – In this section Ellen talks about being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. Ellen talks about how both these events really put the AAGPBL on the map.
Total Time = 58 minutes
Ruth (Ries) Zillmer
Ruth (Ries) Zillmer was a pitcher for the Rockford Peaches from 1951-1952. In this interview she recalls what life was like playing in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Personal History (00:40-8:47) – Ruth was born in Illinois before moving to a farm in Wearworth, Wisconsin, when she was 12 years old. In this section Ruth talks about growing up playing catch with her brother, and on various country school teams. Ruth played on a traveling team organized by the girls at her high school!
Life playing in the AAGPBL (8:47-22:31) – Ruth was a pitcher for the Rockford Peaches. In this section she talks about the team manager, William Allington, and learning how to properly slide into base while wearing a skirt. Ruth also discusses social expectations, uniforms, and tryouts.
WWII (22:31-31:27) – The 1940s was the time that “Rosie the Riveter” was telling women that they were needed in factories but after the war women were expected to return to their traditional gender roles in the home. In this section of the interview Ruth talks about the difference between the early years of the war and league and the later years when she played. She also talks about what girl’s athletics were like during this time including basketball, which was played only half court and with no dribbling.
Life after the AAGPBL (31:27-48:18) – The league officially ended in 1954 after only 6 teams remained. In this part Ruth talks about returning to school, getting married, and her continued interest and involvement in baseball. During this last section Ruth also talks about the Hall of Fame Induction, player reunions, and the legacy of the league.
Reviewed by: Megan Hackbarth