Mid-20th Century Jewish-American Life
The Sons of Abraham Congregation was a local Jewish community that began in La Crosse in the 1900s and continued until the 1980s. The entire collection is 2 boxes, with most of the folders filled with bank and cash flow records. This FFA, however, will explore only the Dedication Booklet section (box 2 folder 7) and the Miscellaneous Papers section (box 2 folder 1).
The Dedication booklet is filled with information about the history of La Crosse’s Jewish community, the overarching message of B’nai B’rith (Buh-NAY Buh-REETH), a national Jewish service organization, and, most importantly, the role American Jews played in World War II. The booklet is divided into sections covering topics such as blessings, the history of the local Jewish community in La Crosse, and even the building plans of the synagogue; but, all sections eventually connect back to war efforts—at home and abroad—which will be the main point of discussion throughout this FFA.
Dedication Booklet (Box 2, Folder 7)
The Dedication booklet features several separate documents within its 80 total pages. These documents include messages from local Rabbis and religious leaders, information about building the synagogue, and the history of the Jewish community in La Crosse. The pages below are out of order because the history portion gives a solid background for the rest of the booklet. The pages with advertisements from local businesses are not listed. These are fun to look at but are not important to the narrative developed below.
The first page of the “History of La Crosse Jewish Community to 1948” is an in-depth description of how Jews came to La Crosse and settled in this area beginning in 1845. Look for the names of the first Jews to come to the La Crosse area and the impact that they made on the rest of the community. Also, explore the evolution of the religion in the area—specifically how the name of the congregation changes in reaction to a different group of people coming to the region. Another interesting thing to keep an eye out for is the gender of the leaders, keep this in mind as you read the rest of the booklet. Pages 32 and 33 describe the migration of Orthodox Jews into the area and the role of Jews in WWII. Be on the lookout for the types of support provided by Jewish women and Jewish men both locally and abroad. How were they honored for their work?
“The History of B’nai B’rith” discusses the moral code that the Sons of Abraham follow. B’nai B’rith, which means “Sons of the Covenant” or “Children of the Covenant,” is the world’s oldest Jewish service organization, dedicated to the relief and empowerment of Jewish communities around the world. As you read, take note of what their code means and how it was practiced. B’nai B’rith is responsible for the creation of many different committees dedicated to combating all forms of anti-Semitism, prejudice against Jews specifically. Look for information about the Anti-Defamation League. To further understand the code mentioned previously, look for who it was created by and what they do.
The last document in the collection is “The Jewish Women’s League.” The league was formed by Jewish women in order to be active in this time of crisis. The document discusses how the league would provide “kosher goodies” to soldiers stationed at nearby Fort McCoy. After reading, think about what the author mentions in terms of post-war efforts from the women of the league.
This document is titled “We Dedicate Our Synagogue.” It was written by Rabbi Morris Gordon, who was the Rabbi for a synagogue in Minneapolis before he came to La Crosse. He discusses how the goal for the Sons of Abraham should be to create a “House of Learning.” Look for how Rabbi Gordon emphasizes what the synagogue will need to do to become a modern Jewish society. Hint: The time period is the late 1940s. What major event just happened during this time period?
The next page has another message from a Rabbi. Titled “Building a House of God for the Future of Israel” it was written by Rabbi Abraham H. Album. It tells a story of Babylonians raiding the city of Jerusalem. Look for the connection made between the Kohanim (Jewish Priests) and the current state of the European Jewish community. Also look for who the author suggests should lead the way for the world’s Jewish community.
The message on page 15 is from the Bishop of the Catholic Church in La Crosse. He is very progressive when it comes to the unification of the two churches. He praises the Jewish community by saying that the construction of their synagogue has led to not only the “brightening” of the La Crosse community, but the country as well. Look for how the Bishop criticizes the recent Supreme Court ruling dealing with public schools. Think about what this criticism means in terms of the modernization of the Jewish community in La Crosse. Think back to what you read on page 4.
Miscellaneous Papers (Box 2, Folder 1)
The miscellaneous papers section is largely a collection of receipts and membership forms to the synagogue, but hidden within is a story of political, economic, and social involvement of Jews during WWII. There is also a large amount of information about the origins of the Jewish community. Many papers are also written in Hebrew with an English translation. Despite this section containing a bunch of random receipts, there are a few documents worth noting.
The Universal Yeshivah of Jerusalem (A Central Academy for Higher Jewish Learning)
This document can be easily distinguished by its large print with the words “Universal Yeshivah of Jerusalem” across the top. It has no listed author, only that it was from the Academy of Higher Jewish Learning in New York. Like many others in the folder, the document asks for donations from the Synagogue. Half of the document is written in Hebrew script and the other half is printed in English. The Hebrew script is common in these miscellaneous papers; however, they usually are accompanied by some sort of English translation. In this document look for why the author calls for donations.
Untitled Holiday Service Document
Find a 4-page untitled document that looks like it could have been used as a program for a holiday service at the Synagogue (basic white paper with typewriter style text). It lists the names of the members of the church in order to thank them for their support and wish them a happy New Year. It also has a few songs listed on it that were sung in both Hebrew and English. On the third page of the document, the paper discusses proper dignity within the Synagogue and how to conduct oneself while at a service. Explore the rules section to see how Jewish women were treated at the time.
United Charity Institutions of Jerusalem
This is the smallest document in the folder. It’s a little red note card from the United Charity Institutions of Jerusalem. Once again it is asking for donations, but uses some interesting rhetoric to do so. The slip mentions that if you do not donate, you will forsake your family because they donated in the past. Take note of why these organizations are desperate for donations based on the time period.
Reviewed By: Devin Fichter
> Call Number/Title: La Crosse Mss J, Benjamin Franklin Heuston Papers, 1849-1894
> Citation: Benjamin Franklin Heuston Papers, 1849-1894. Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
This collection covers the life of Benjamin Franklin Heuston (B.F. Heuston) who accomplished a great number of things in his life. He was one of the first settlers in Trempealeau County, a businessman, county official, and a soldier who fought in the Civil War. (He was in Company C in the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.) The collection contains two boxes, about half of which, deal with his time in the Civil War. It includes close to 100 hand-written letters to his wife, detailing his everyday experiences traveling and fighting. A small number of these letters also include debates about Negro soldiers. (The word Negro is an old-fashioned, and at the time polite, word for African American.) The letters follow B.F. Heuston through the many cities he marched to during the war, and how he retraced Sherman’s March to the Sea! Some of these letters also give insight on Heuston’s thoughts about abolition, such as the issues he faced when the Union started enlisting and arming African American soldiers, and his opinion when his officers refused to return slaves to southern slave owners. The letters also discuss the conditions of war hospitals, since Heuston was hospitalized twice. A good majority of the letters also deal with making sure his family is safely taken care of back home. In addition to the letters, Heuston also kept a war journal, where he would keep track of the places and distances he traveled, as well as the landscape and weather. Lastly, the collection includes a paper Heuston wrote titled “The Negro Problem.” In it he gives his experiences with African American’s before and during the war.
This Friendly Finding Aid will touch on B.F. Heuston’s life during the Civil War, but focus on the debates and issues he witnessed with African Americans. It will cover the day-to-day life of a Union soldier and issues surrounding African Americans as soldiers and eventually as free people. It will also cover how Heuston thought African Americans should be treated, and if they should be armed. Finally, it covers the viewpoint of a Northern soldier witnessing slavery.
This collection has a lot of materials in it for only being two boxes, however, only documents that pertain to B.F. Heuston’s time during the Civil War appear below. These include several dated folders of correspondence to his wife, his war journal, and several miscellaneous notes. This may not sound like a lot compared to other collections but this one is full of great information that tells many different and interesting stories.
All letters listed below feature B.F Heustons interactions and views on African American, soldiers and civilians. Find the letter by date. It is normally at the top. All letters are handwritten and in cursive, so reading them may take some time to get used to, but after a short while you’ll be able to figure out his handwriting and understand what Heuston is saying. All letters are located in box 1. They are in folders marked as correspondence, and are separated by dates.
Correspondence January 4, 1863 – December 25, 1863
January 4, 1863
This is the first of multiple letters Heuston wrote that touch on the topic of African American soldiers in the war. As you read notice what the he says in the letter about new government polices involving Negros as soldiers, and a special policy involving the newly founded state of West Virginia.
August 4, 1863
This letter is another one that shows Heuston’s views on Negro soldiers. He brings up an interesting and odd theory on why he thinks African Americans would be better at fighting in the South than White soldiers. Heuston then gives his reasoning as to why they should fight in the war and how it would be “good” for African Americans to “earn their freedom.” After reading, consider whether Heuston’s racial attitudes were unusual or in the majority at the time?
August 20 and 24, 1863
In the letter dated August 20, notice that Heuston has made a request to be promoted to officer of a new unit of men. He later goes on, in his letter from August 24, to tell his wife his reasons for requesting such an appointment. Read these letters to try to find out exactly what Heuston requested and why.
December 8, 1863
While telling his wife about life stuck at camp, Heuston wrote about a very interesting activity that he had been doing in this free time. Having been a teacher before the war, Heuston visited and taught at a Negro school. Read more of this letter to learn about his experiences there. See if you can find out what he thinks about these students.
Correspondence January 1, 1864 – December 31, 1864
February 1, 1864
Notice that Heuston begins this letter talking about home life. However, as you continue to read you will see that a commander in the Negro Army has sent a special request for Heuston to become an officer of Negro soldiers. Heuston is unsure if he’ll be able to fulfill this request. Read more to find out why Heuston doesn’t think he’ll be able to do it.
September 10, 1864
Notice while reading this letter that Heuston is in the hospital resting his wounds. As you read further note that he has a friend who is an officer the in the 17th Colored Regiment who offers Heuston an interesting job if he is discharged. As you keep reading try to find Heuston’s thoughts about leaving the war and where he believes he will end up.
Correspondence 1865 – 1869
January 31, 1865
As you read this letter, get a sense of all the moving that Heuston had been doing as a soldier. Be sure to read the part of the letter where Heuston brings up the question, “What shall we do with the Negros after the war?” Then read what Heuston thinks should be done and why, in his opinion, he considers his solution good for African Americans.
Misc. Articles: “The Negro Problem”
Most of the materials in this folder are miscellaneous articles and papers. It includes a series of papers on Temperance and Prohibition. At the very front of the folder is a paper written by Heuston tilted, “The Negro Problem.” In this paper, he gives a general history of African Americans, his experiences with African Americans, and what he called “the Negro problem.” This is some of the most interesting writing that Heuston does throughout the whole collection! He tells amazing prewar experiences that are very unusual for a White Midwesterner. If you want to skip Heuston’s history of African Americans start on page seven to get right to his experiences.
Transcription of War Journals
War Journals: September 2, 1862 – June 12-16, 1865
The original handwritten war journals are located in Box 2 (volumes 15, 16, 17, and 18).
Here are the typed war journals located in the folder marked Transcription of War Journals.
In B.F. Heuston’s journals he mainly writes brief sentences of where he was that day, how many miles he marched, and what the landscape looked like. He would occasionally tell details of an event that happened that day such when he visited a Negro school, or traveled on a steamboat and took on bullets from across the river. As you go through Heustons letters it would be a great idea to check with the dates in his journal to get a better understanding of what is happening with Heuston at that time.
Reviewed by: Mitchell Bechtel
University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, Murphy Library Area Research Center
> Citation: Anthony B. Stelter Papers, 1830-1899, 2000. Murphy Library Special Collection and Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
> Location: La Crosse Area Research Center
Anthony B. Stelter wrote the booklet, All Roads Lead to Hope Valley: A Look at Black and Tri-Racial Migration to the Hope Valley Located in the Forest Township of Vernon County, Wisconsin. This community, which is called by different names, was home to a mixed-race group of settlers. The families ranged from free Black farmers, former slaves, white farmers, Native Americans, and those of mixed descent. In the South during the 1800s many Blacks were enslaved but there were also free Blacks that owned their own land. Leading up to the Civil War in the 1860s, more and more restrictions were being put on the free Black community, which caused some to move north. Some eventually made their way to Wisconsin and settled here. One of these families was the Walden family, of which Anthony B. Stelter is a descendant!
This collection includes histories on the major families that populated the Hope Valley area in Vernon County. They married, worked, played, and went to church together. As the settlement grew throughout the generations these families became related to one another through kids and grandkids. There even were a handful of men from the different families that enlisted together in the Army during the Civil War and some even fought in the same units!
This finding aid will focus on a few specific families, the Revels, Roberts, Walden, and Shivers. It follows their lives through the 1800s during times of both growing racism and discrimination. Despite these issues, the families persisted and eventually settled in Wisconsin. This collection includes both primary and secondary sources and gives a many-sided view into this unique community.
Revels Family (Box 1, Folders 8 and 19)
The Revels were a free mixed-heritage family who prior to living in Wisconsin had lived in North Carolina as farmers in a community with free Blacks. The family included; Macajah Revels (father), Mourning Jane Jacobs (mother), and sixteen children! They moved to Indiana in 1845 and then eventually Wisconsin. A lot of information on this family can be found in Box 1, Folders 8 and 19. There are documents that describe their family tree, and folder 8 has a brief history of the family name, origin, and how they came to settle in Wisconsin. Look through the papers to find out where the name Macajah came from.
Roberts Family (Box 1, Folders 9, 10, and 19)
The Roberts family can be found in Box 1, Folders 9, 10, and 19. (Two of the members of the family, Isaac West Roberts and his grandson Ishmael Roberts, have folders designated to them.) This family came from the East Coast before they settled in Wisconsin. Not only did four members of this family serve in the Civil War but they also had a family member who fought in the American Revolutionary War! This information about their military history can be found throughout the three folders, but most of the information is in Folder 19. In folders 9 and 10 there are family trees and certificates of freedom for some of the Roberts members. Look for the certificates of freedom. They were needed for people of color to move around the United States to prove that they were not slaves. Also, see how the Roberts and Revels families are related and other interesting information about this family.
Walden Family (Box 1, Folders 14, 15, and 19)
The Walden family also has two members with folders created specifically about them, Mike Walden and Samuel Walden. These folders are in Box 1 and are numbered 14, 15, and 19. This family group also came from North Carolina before settling in Wisconsin. They were a “mulatto” family. (This is an old-fashioned term that is not used anymore. It means mixed race. Although, this collection uses the term “mulatto”, please do not use it in your own work, use mixed-race instead.) The Walden family also has familial ties to the Revels and Roberts families! Look in the folder 15 for marriage certificates for both Elizabeth Walden and Samuel Walden.
Shivers Family (Box 1, Folders 11, 12, and 29)
The Shivers family information can be found in Box 1 in folders 11, 12 and 29. This family originally worked as slaves in Tennessee. They kept the last name from their slave owner. Folders 11 and 12 focus on brothers Ashley and Thomas. In the folders there are documents about births, and the family trees of both Ashley and Thomas. Folder 29 contains many postcards sent between family members from around 1920-1930. They were sent from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Kansas, and even California. It is interesting to see with your own eyes the handwriting of the people included in this collection.
Reviewed by: Mariah Roetzel
St. Elias Church 716 Copeland Avenue, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Oral histories referenced in this collection:
Addis, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. July 24, 2002. Audio Recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Asfoor, James R. Interview by Rick Brown. July 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Buschmann, Helen (Markos). Interview by Rick Brown. July 17, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Ferris, Louis. Interview by Rick Brown. February 4, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Harris, Lucy (Joseph). Interview by Rick Brown. August 8, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Markos, Richard E. Interview by Rick Brown. February 6, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Monsoor, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. March 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
This collection is the stories of children of immigrants from Greater Syria. The stories of these individuals didn’t end at a certain point. Their stories are intertwined with the larger La Crosse community to the extent that, even now, it’s not difficult to see their stories still alive. These individuals try to remember their experiences in the La Crosse community and those of their parents and grandparents as well. Religion, and especially church, plays an important role in these Syrian/Lebanese peoples’ lives. Many of the individuals speak about their past experiences in relation to their religion, Orthodoxy (Melkites) or Roman Catholicism (Maronites). They speak a lot about which churches they are associated with. As one listens to this collection, they will notice the different sects and how they relate to each church. The families that arrive are quick to assimilate as they join organizations and become heavily involved with many of the local churches in the city. In an environment where these immigrant families were not in their own community, the church was a way for them to build a community within an already existing community. Schools like St. James still teach the youth as they did almost a hundred years ago. Schools and churches aren’t the only things still standing, many of the interviewees still have shops and businesses open in the community. Richard Markos, one of the children whose families immigrated to La Crosse, owns the Markos Clothing Store on Pearl St. in downtown La Crosse!
The collection includes 7 CDs that detail the lives of both the immigrants and their children. On these CDs are two important pieces of information. First and foremost, the CDs contain the actual interview of the Syrian/Lebanese child of the immigrant but they also contain an index so one can see what is being talked about. The interviews are conducted by Rick Brown and the interviewees are 1st generation, US-born, family members, meaning they are not the immigrants themselves, rather they are the children of immigrants. Each child, who at the time of the recording is an adult, is attempting to use his/her memory to talk about people and events. This is something that is both exciting and concerning. Something that this collection offers that many others do not, is an actual voice behind the information. At the same time, however, the individuals can have a hard time remembering some things which can sometimes leave holes in the narrative. There has been much criticism over the authenticity of these kinds of sources, “At the core of criticisms of oral history in the early 1970s was the assertion that memory was distorted by physical deterioration and nostalgia in old age, by the personal bias of both interviewer and interviewee, and by the influence of collective and retrospective.”
Each interview is approximately one hour long, but with each question, one can hear the sadness, the appreciation, the happiness, and the laughter of each answer given by the interviewees. They talk extensively about church and religion and the roles that both played in the lives of the community members. The church seemed to be the best form of community-building that the Syrian/Lebanese had, and many of them will affirm this. As one listens to all of the interviews, it’s noticeable that they mention each other a lot. Richard Markos, another child of an immigrant represented in this collection, even appears in an interview with Helen Markos. This shows you how close-knit the community was.
Richard Markos’ paternal grandparents came from Syria and his maternal grandparents came from Lebanon. He explains what churches meant to the community and how Syrian/Lebanese immigrants were quick to assimilate into the community because of the church. Richard talks about how influential churches were, specifically St. Elias. He explains that the churches and priests not only offered religious services, but also a Syrian school, as he referred to it. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Family history, emigration 00:00:47.397
2. Arne, Syria 00:02:30.054
3. Zaleh, Lebanon 00:02:43.979
4. Father’s family occupation, peddler 00:03:29.684
5. Settlement, La Crosse 00:05:07.626
6. Father’s store, wholesale and retail 00:06:40.111
7. Real estate, downtown ownership 00:07:44.883
8. Mill street, history 00:10:44.730
9. Syrian Diaspora 00:11:39.047
10. Syrian federation 00:12:19.906
11. Childhood 00:13:10.856
12. Syrian perceptions 00:15:00.138
13. St. Elias Orthodox Church 00:16:39.432
14. Arabic language 00:19:00.113
15. Syrian culture, assimilation 00:20:34.791
16. Sahrah, social gathering 00:23:07.745
17. Race riot, 1902 00:24:49.984
Elaine Monsoor’s family came from Blat and Ibbil, Syria and she, like many of the other people in this collection, went to school at the St. James School. Elaine’s interview is especially great because she also knows a lot about about Our Lady of Lourdes church because her family lived right next door. She talks about how the priest at this church not only gave mass to the Catholic community, but also to other denominations. So, the church wasn’t only important in the Syrian community, but it seems that other communities also revolved around the church. Interestingly, she remembers both attending, and helping to eventually tear down the building. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:18.085
2. Monsoor name 00:00:50.302
3. Copeland Avenue 00:04:45.663
4. Lumber mills 00:07:36.263
5. Copeland Avenue 00:09:14.326
6. Syrian community in La Crosse, 1930s 00:10:27.589
7. Education 00:17:58.242
8. Marriage 00:31:22.517
9. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:39:39.630
Helen (Markos) Buschmann
Helen Buschmann’s parents came from Syria and have an interesting immigration story. Their route to the United States had them stop in South America, and in the process of moving from South America to the United States, Helen’s father was forced to change his name from Shaheen to Charles. Helen also speaks about her experience with religion and church, specifically with St. Elias Church. She explains the cultural norms of church going and what activities, outside of religion, St. Elias offered the community, like writing and reading Arabic. These activities were offered because they helped to keep the Syrian/Lebanese culture alive. Also, many people needed Arabic and English lessons because they had difficulties with the languages. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:33.459
2. Markos surname 00:05:05.985
3. Immigration 00:06:32.752
4. Coming to La Crosse 00:10:24.566
5. Peddling 00:11:03.034
6. Siblings 00:13:18.997
7. Religion 00:20:07.476
8. Marriage 00:21:39.066
9. Property 00:23:53.141
10. St. Elias church 00:26:30.835
11. South side of La Crosse 00:34:24.021
12. St. Elias 00:37:54.136
13. Interfaith marriage 00:48:40.596
Lucy (Joseph) Harris
Lucy Harris’ parents came from Lebanon, most specifically an area outside of Beirut, the current capital. She speaks specifically of her time at the St. James School and church, and she shares which churches the community liked the most. Her father would always go to St. James, so that’s the only church that she really knows about. She also talks about the difficulties that the immigrant community had to face, like prejudice. She bravely recalls the name calling and racism that she had to endure from other kids, some even going so far as saying “go back to where you come from.” Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Parents 00:00:31.506
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:14:06.692
3. Childhood 00:16:18.934
4. Syrian cooking 00:23:00.665
5. Arabic 00:23:46.235
6. Prejudice 00:23:53.592
7. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:25:15.263
8. Dating 00:29:47.709
9. Parents 00:31:26.738
10. Working 00:31:41.921
11. Marriage 00:33:52.926
12. Opinions, Syrian community 00:48:10.775
Louis Ferris’ family also came from Syria but his interview is special in the sense that it has the most information. Among also being a child of a Syrian/Lebanese immigrant, he is also a WWII veteran of the United States. He’s able to talk on how interfaith marriages played a role in the community and how the different sects and religions interacted with each other. Louis speaks about how he wasn’t personally invested in the church, but that he helped out a lot, especially by providing the church with donations and food during big events. Even though Louis wasn’t directly involved in the church, he still felt a commitment to the greater community through it. Louis actually has two interviews and the index for interview one is listed below:
1. Personal history 00:00:28.878
2. Monsoor surname 00:02:27.051
3. Technology 00:07:20.239
4. Arabic 00:08:16.120
5. Marriage 00:11:53.107
6. Religion 00:16:41.025
7. Parents’ employment 00:21:40.953
James Asfoor’s parents came from Syria and his father, like many other immigrants, was a peddler. He speaks of Our Lady of Lourdes, a church that was so poor that it eventually closed, leading many people to St. Elias. He explains that a lot of Syrian/Lebanese children were forced to attend St. James because St. Elias and Our Lady of Lourdes didn’t have official schools attached to them. James provides good information about what education meant to the Lebanese/Syrian community. Many people chose their church based on the activities that the church offered to the community, and since education was so valued, St. James was a practical choice for many. Below is a full index of the interview:
1. Personal history 00:00:19.108
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:06:26.182
3. Syrian and Irish conflict 00:07:11.893
4. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:10:04.716
5. St. Elias orthodox church 00:11:27.856
6. Gender roles 00:15:44.643
7. Syrian immigration 00:21:45.476
8. Religion 00:22:26.525
9. Marriage 00:35:33.584
Elaine Addis’ parents immigrated to the US from Greater Syria, but she actually identifies as Lebanese. They came from a village known as Rashaya al Fakkar and became heavily involved in the church. She talks a lot about Our Lady of Lourdes because her family was one of the first in the area and Addis’ dad actually was the one to help find a priest for Our Lady of Lourdes. She speaks about how the different religious sects related to each church because she also later attended St. Elias Church. An interesting part of her interview is that she can actually recall Elaine Monsoor helping to tear down Our Lady of Lourdes! Below is an index of interview one:
1. Syrian vs. Lebanese nationality 00:00:30
2. Addis surname 00:03:20
3. Parents’ immigration 00:03:50
4. Attraction to La Crosse, job opportunities 00:09:00
5. Establishing property and rental spaces 00:16:50
6. Gender roles 00:19:00
7. Syrian and Lebanese community leadership 00:26:15
8. Our Lady of Lourdes Church 00:26:50
9. Roman Catholic conversion from Maronite 00:30:30
10. Our Lady of Lourdes church structure 00:34:30
11. Father Salomone, Our Lady of Lourdes 00:38:25
12. St. James schooling, 1930s 00:42:25
13. Ethnic prejudice, 1930s 00:48:45
Reviewed by: Aaron Bhatoya
Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse
> CITATION: William Koch, interviewed by Howard Fredricks, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, September 1971 – February 1972.
William Koch was born in 1882 in La Crosse to a family that lived on the North Side. He left school at the age of fourteen to begin working and help support his family. Throughout his life, Koch worked many jobs in La Crosse, including at the lumber mills, the railroad, and the Pearl Button Factory. He was married in 1910 and had two children. This interview was done in 1971-1972, when Koch was about 90 years old, however, Koch speaks very clearly about his whole life and is never shy to give his opinion!
This interview touches on many many subjects, however, this finding aid focuses on two major topics discussed by Koch:
- Life in La Crosse during the late 1800s and early 1900s (relationships, working class family life, child labor, sickness, adventuring in La Crosse, industry, ethnic and racial groups)
- Being a factory worker for the Pearl Button Company in La Crosse
The whole transcript is typed and a total of 348-pages long! But never fear, this finding aid lists just the pages needed for the two topics above.
Life in La Crosse
Pages 2-14: In this opening section of the interview, Koch describes his German immigrant grandparents and other family background. He tells what his childhood was like growing up on the North Side of La Crosse in the late 1800s, including information on his education, all of the jobs he and his family members had—including his young sisters—and interactions he had with some nearby Ho-Chunk children. Koch started working when he was 14-years-old, and his early jobs included the Milwaukee Coal Chutes, the railroad, La Crosse Rubber Mills, Pearl Button Factory, Coleman Lumber Co., and even picking potatoes in South Dakota. Koch also remembered hunting with his Dad and seeing passenger pigeons (now extinct)!
On pages 75-82 Koch talks about lumber production at the sawmills. Never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, Koch also shares is view on harvesting logs in Wisconsin, the building of a road through the La Crosse marsh, and the effect logging had on Native Americans in Wisconsin.
Pages 84-94 cover “river pirates”. These are people who stole logs right off the river from the lumber companies. In addition, Koch also brings up log jams, logging accidents, and his memories of the rowdy lumbermen in La Crosse. In this section Koch also discusses La Crosse’s Redlight district and other memories of downtown in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
On pages 95-100 Koch describes the rivalry between the North and South sides of La Crosse. He discusses other La Crosse memories as well, including farm animals and community pastureland right in town! He gives his opinion about the Ho-Chunk in the area, and why many lived on “Indian Hill.” Koch eagerly shares his opinion on the sale of liquor to local Native Americans, and the role whites played in bringing liquor and disease to Native Americans. It is important to note that during this part of the interview, he makes anti-Native American racist remarks. In your notes, make sure to put all his questionable language in quotation marks. That way, people won’t think his language is your language.
Page 122-142: In this section, Koch talks a lot about helping fight fires with the firemen as a kid—not unusual at the time. He had fond childhood memories of horses being used in town, which he describes, but he also recalled common diseases and dangers faced by La Crosse youth. (Just a hint, some of the diseases and dangers were connected to the river.)
Pearl Button Factory Work
On pages 15-41 William Koch begins to talk about his job at the Pearl Button Factory. (Most of this 348-page interview is about the Pearl Button Factory!) He describes exactly how the button factory worked: first how cutting buttons worked, then what the clam shell industry was like, then clamming along Wisconsin rivers and the Mississippi River. He also uses great detail describing how pay worked at the factory for the various jobs. He remembers workers rioting because of their pay.
Pages 42-74 cover why Koch eventually left the Pearl Button Factory. He shares information about the people he worked with, including many female factory workers. He also describes the social life of the factory, like the breaks the workers were allowed to take, and other changes that made the workday more enjoyable. In this section Koch also describes further how the factory ran, including the machinery they used. Eventually, the topic turns to how the invention of plastic helped lead to the factory’s closure.
Pages A-Z: These pages are different. They are lettered, not numbered, and are inserted right between pages 74 and 75 of the transcript. (Weird) This section is a kind of “grab bag” of a whole bunch of topics, some new, and others touched on previously. Here is a highlights list: Koch talks about how river pollution made it hard to find clams for the factory. He further describes some of the people he worked with, including his fellow female factory workers. In particular, he discuses their work roles and wages at the factory. He vividly remembers innovations made at the La Crosse factory and how these helped the button industry nation-wide. Finally, Koch also mentions attitudes towards Germans during WWI.
On pages 176-190 Koch remembers how the Pearl Button Factory ground up extra shells and sold them to be used as chicken feed. He again describes the machine he designed, his career at the factory, and manufacturing at the factory.
Pages 209-214 give more information about the making of buttons.
Pages 237b-242 address Koch’s memory about unions, strikes, and labor organizers at the Pearl Button Factory.
Pages 302-304 return to the subject of the Ho-Chunk. This time Koch mentions their role digging shells for the Pearl Button Factory.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher
Created by Kaley Brown
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Citation: Thai Vue, interview by Charles Lee, 1994, transcript, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
Thai Vue was born around 1953 near the Vietnam border in Laos. He grew up during the Vietnam War era and the American funded “Secret War” in Laos. The Hmong supported the Americans fighting against the communists during the war, but because it was secret, few Americans knew about what the Hmong did. America lost the Vietnam War, and so Thai Vue and the rest of the Hmong population had to go into hiding to avoid being killed by the new government. As a result, thousands of Hmong risked their lives to escape Laos, and many, like Thai Vue, immigrated to the United States.
UWL professor Charles Lee interviewed Vue during the summer of 1994. The interview covers all of Vue’s life until that point. He discusses everything from his childhood in Laos, to hiding from the Communists and escaping to Thailand, to his experiences in America after immigrating in 1978. The recorded interview lasts for over six hours! This finding aid concentrates on the interview’s written transcription and digital version, and covers just the sections that relate to Thai Vue’s life during the war, escaping Laos, the refugee camps, and the cultural differences between America and Laos.
The collection consists of a 160 page typed transcript, several tapes, and a digital audio recording.
Reading vs. Listening
Listening to oral histories allows the researcher to become more familiar with the subject. Thai Vue shows a lot of emotion and laughs a lot during the interview, and the transcript does not capture that. He also repeats words or phrases that are important to him, and the transcriber cut a lot of those out. However, listening to the tapes can be difficult since they are frequently recordings of earlier recordings. The tape numbers do not match up with the ones written in the transcript and they can be very fuzzy at times. Tape players are also difficult to use if you are not familiar with them. The digital recording might be easier to use since it is on the computer and allows the user to jump to a specific spot in the interview.
If you decide to listen to the interview, the numbers below will help you locate topics on the digital version. Use the numbers to pick sections for listening – listed below – and quickly jump from subject to subject.
Life during War
1. Personal Background (pgs. 1-5)
3, 10. Vietnam War (pgs. 5-8 and 26-28)
5. Education (pgs. 8-12)
6, 7. Parents (pgs. 12-17)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
11. Communist Soldiers
12. American Evacuation (Fighting Communists) (pgs. 32-53)
13, 14. Hiding in the Jungle and Deaths (pgs. 53-57)
15. Marriage (pgs. 57-65)
24. Hmong People and the Government of Laos (pgs. 95-96)
Escape to Laos and the Refugee Camps
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
9. Experiences, Prison Camps (pgs. 24-26)
16, 17, 18. Leaving for Thailand, Prison and Refugee Camps (pgs. 65-86)
21. Resettlement Interview (pgs. 86-92)
23. Refugee Camps and Thai People (pgs. 92-94)
25. Finances, Family separation (pgs. 97-98)
Immigration and Cultural Differences between Laos and America
4. American Impressions (pg. 8)
25. Finances, Family Separation (pgs. 97-98)
26. United States (pgs. 98-101)
27. Cultural Differences (pgs. 101-105)
30. Employment/ English/ Winter (pgs. 105-109)
35. Opinions, La Crosse (pgs. 115-122)
36. Parenting (pgs. 122-131)
37. Shamanism (pgs. 131-132)
38. School Board Membership/Hmong in Public Schools (pgs. 133-153)
39. Social Issues, La Crosse (pgs. 153-159)
Reviewed by: Kaley Brown
Family of Robbie Moss
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Citation: Robbie Moss, interviewed by Dr. Gretchen Lockett, UW-L Oral History Program, UW-L Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 1982, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Robbie Moss was an African American woman that lived in La Crosse from the 1930s through to her death in 2004. She was born in Mississippi in 1912 and moved to La Crosse when she married Orby Moss, the grandson of Zacharias Louis Moss, one of the first Black American settlers in La Crosse. He settled here in 1852 and opened a barbershop. (This was just two years after La Crosse became established as a town, making the Moss family one of La Crosse’s pioneer families.)
Robbie was interviewed by Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a professor at UW- La Crosse, who is also African American. In the interview, Moss and Lockett talk about their experiences being African American in La Crosse between the early 1940s and 1982. They also cover major national and local events, such as WWII, workers’ strikes, and the Muriel Boatlift. Prejudice – theirs and others – and segregation is addressed throughout. There is also a fair amount of discussion about the relationship between La Crosse’s African American and Native American communities. Overall, this interview is a great window into what life was like as a minority in a small Midwestern city during the middle part of the 20th century. Although Moss and Lockett are the main “voices” in this oral history, there are others who speak as well, and everyone in the room has different experiences and different opinions about the racism they faced.
This oral history interview was recorded in 1982. It consists of two cassette tapes, each an hour long, but there is also a written transcript of the interview, which is 68 pages long.
There are many people talking in this interview. The interviewers are Dr. Gretchen Lockett, a professor at UWL, and an unidentified student. Robbie Moss is the primary person being interviewed, however her granddaughter and at least three other people are in the room as well, and they all talk. Because of this, the transcript can get confusing. Many times it lists people as, “GUEST,” “GUEST 2,” or “?????.” The person who typed the transcript often mixed up who was speaking. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you listen to the interview while you read the transcript. As you listen, you will begin to recognize the voices, making the whole interview much clearer.
Pages 1-7 are the part of the interview where Lockett and Moss talk about the Moss family and Robbie’s childhood. In addition, she talks about her experience being one of the few African Americans in La Crosse. In particular she remembers being refused service at places of business, segregation signs during World War II, Black soldiers at Fort McCoy (previously named Camp McCoy), and a La Crosse woman that was involved with in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Especially interesting is the part where Moss reflects upon her own prejudices against Native Americans.
On pages 10-22 the other people in the room begin to talk more. They share common experiences of racial discrimination. In particular, Moss remembers Black American soldiers being refused service in downtown La Crosse, which she compares with her own experience being turned away at a La Crosse drugstore. In addition, this section covers a number of very important local and national events. For example, Moss remembers the time during the 1980s when there were Cubans (many who were Black) in La Crosse due to the Mariel Boatlift. She remembers community backlash against Black Americans and Native Americans, and the La Crosse Telephone Company Strike of 1977. When the workers went on strike, the company responded by finding replacements – Black and white – from the South willing to come up and work. Robbie shares her theories of La Crosse’s prejudices at this time.
A very interesting part of this interview is the conversation about Black organizations in La Crosse, like the NAACP, the Black church in La Crosse, and Black settlements around the region, such as the one near Hillsboro. Nathan Smith is mentioned. He was a prominent Black American in La Crosse in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Pages 23-37 are all about racial attitudes and behavior in La Crosse and the Midwest. The group discusses their personal experiences and theories about race in La Crosse, but also the difference between racism in the Midwest and racism in the South. (This subject is especially interesting because for many white Midwesterners, northern racism is a subject they may have never considered. Here you get to learn about it by someone who directly experienced it.) They also talk some more about the racism Cubans faced in La Crosse in 1982, why they could not find jobs, and how the media reported about them.
On pages 37-50 Robbie Moss’s granddaughter shares her views and experiences as a Black American college students in La Crosse (mostly Viterbo, where she went to school). This turns into a discussion about religion and racism in the community. Moss weighs in as well, telling what it was like for her children in terms of school, dating, going to events like prom, and all the other typical things children do in general. This section also returns to the subject of the hardships for women of color, and what it was like to live in such a prominently white community. Robbie Moss’s memories of what it was like when famous Black musicians came to La Crosse is really interesting! (By the way, Duke Ellington, Peaches & Herb, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Louie Armstrong – whom Robbie and her son met – all came to La Crosse during Moss’s lifetime.)
Pages 50-66 return to the subject of Black churches in La Crosse and employment challenges. Moss remembered not being able to get a job at Trane Company and the National Gauge and Register Company. They voice their different theories on the subject of jobs.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher