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
University of Wisconsin- La Crosse Area Research Center (ARC)
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse
> Citations: La Crosse Business and Professional Women’s Club Records, 1916-1992. La Crosse Mss BK. Wisconsin Historical Society. Housed at Special Collections and Area Research Center, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Gerber, Inga. Interview by Corey Golla. April 10, 1992. Sound Recording. 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 is a very large collection. In fact, it contains 16 boxes and multiple folders within those boxes! But don’t worry, this FFA will primarily focus on the La Crosse Business and Professional Women’s Club’s (BPW) involvement with the Equal Rights Amendment during the mid 1950s through the mid 1970s. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was proposed in 1923, three years after the 19th Amendment which allowed women to vote. The introduction of the ERA appeared to be the next step in bringing “equal justice under law” to all citizens. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment stated that rights guaranteed by the Constitution applied equally to all persons regardless of their sex. Not until 1972, was the ERA finally passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Throughout this collection you will learn about the struggles women went through in order to get the ERA passed through Congress, especially the La Crosse BPW’s persistent actions in gaining supporters, including leading politicians.
This collection contains many handwritten and typed letters, documents from senators and politicians, and flyers about various events that took place on campus at UW-La Crosse. There are also, pamphlets about the organization and what the ERA truly entailed, and an oral history where you can listen to the voices of the Business and Professional Women’s Club members in the 1960’s! This finding aid focuses on three boxes and folders that contain the most relevant and important information in regards to BPW and their work. They are: box 2, folder 8; box 1, folder 3; and box 5, folder 10. Box 2, folder 8 is all about the history of the La Crosse Business and Professional Women’s Club, which dates back all the way to 1916. This folder will give you historical context, which is necessary for your research. That is why you will start with box 2! Box 1, folder 3, focuses on the BPW’s legislative committee. Finally, box 5, folder 10, focuses on the Equal Right’s Amendment. The documents within these boxes are typed and easy to read. If you are interested in how the La Crosse BPW was involved in getting the ERA passed by Congress and their struggles along the way, then this is the collection for you!
Box 2 Folder 8
Find the document titled, “La Crosse Business and Professional Women’s Club: La Crosse, Wisconsin. 1916-1980 History of La Crosse BPW Club.” This packet will give you a timeline of events beginning in 1916. It contains activities, achievements, and awards. Also, find the “BPW Fact Sheet,” which contains important facts about the club. You will be able to gain a sense of the history of the BPW and how it has evolved over time with just these two documents.
Box 1 Folder 3
This folder, contains a lot of documents relating to the process of turning the ERA into a bill ready for Congress. There are numerous letters between members of the BPW and various people of importance during this time, especially in politics. Some of the letters are written from the head of La Crosse BPW to the President of the National BPW, Osta Underwood. Others are letters between members of BPW and Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators, William Proxmire, and Gaylord Nelson. (Gaylord Nelson went on to be Governor of Wisconsin) There are also multiple letters written from the Staff Assistant of President Nixon, Barbara Franklin.
There are multiple important letters to read in this folder. They can be found by the date in the right hand corner. The earliest document is from 1942! Page through to find the 1970’s. There are many worth reading up through the early 1970’s. Please take the time to read not only these two letters below, but many others throughout this folder.
December 3, 1971
Printed at the top of the page is, “The White House.” This is a letter from Barbara Hackman Franklin, the Staff Assistant to President Nixon. Look for a quote within the letter portraying Nixon’s support for the ERA and acknowledgments towards the BPW’s contributions.
February 24, 1972
Printed at the top of the page is “United States Senate.” In it, Senator Gaylord Nelson writes to BPW President Eileen Kramer to express his support for the ERA and applaud the BPW for all of their hard work. Within the letter, Nelson explains the importance of women’s rights through a personal story. Read to find his mother’s battle with women’s rights.
Box 5 Folder 10
Want to know what the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was all about? This is the folder you must look into. Find the booklet with the really long title, “Interpretation of the Equal Rights Amendment in Accordance with Legislative History.” Similar to a FAQ page, this booklet is filled with many questions such as, “Will the ERA affect private business or personal relationships between men and women? Will divorced women lose support rights?” Each question is followed up by answers from Congresswomen and Senators.
Also in this folder find the document, “The Directors of the INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN,” which contains information on the “International Conference on The Status of Women.” This event was sponsored by the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse and held in the La Crosse area. Look to see how women’s rights was a global issue.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Franzen
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse
> Citation: Sharon Ryan and Sally Avercamp to City of La Crosse, 1981. La Crosse County Women’s Political Caucus 1971-1982. Area Research Center, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. La Crosse, Wisconsin.
The La Crosse County Women’s Political Caucus (LCWPC) operated in the La Crosse area from 1973-1981. Their goals included encouraging women to run for elected offices, providing information about campaigns, and educating female candidates on issues on the campaign trail. They also sought to provide the public with more information about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and held a forum about Affirmative Action. The women in the Caucus offered services for feminist candidates that they had sought out to run for office. Members would babysit, help make phone calls, or provide coffee for the candidates. The Caucus put a lot of energy into recruiting women and advocating on behalf of the ERA. Along with the ERA the women would write to state congressmen to discuss various legislation that applied to women in Wisconsin. The Caucus held workshops for women interested in getting into politics, and even marched in the Maple Leaf Parade dressed as women from various eras!
This collection is made up of fifteen folders, housed in one box. This FFA, however, follows the folders that describe what the LCWPC feminists (people who believe the sexes should be treated equally) were most passionate about, how they interacted with the La Crosse community, and how they operated as a group. It follows a story about La Crosse women in a movement, known as second-wave of feminism, which was a major turning point for women across the United States. Selected below are a few folders that will help give a better understanding of what this group did to benefit the condition of women.
The LWCPC operated similarly to other branches all over Wisconsin and the US. Look at the bylaws (rules and guidelines for how the organization will be run) in this folder and notice the description of the group and what their goals as an organization were. Read this to get a sense of how women’s organizations worked.
This folder contains newspaper clippings that are about the La Crosse County Caucus. There is an article about Sharon Imes, “First Woman Alderman: ‘Not a Feminist.’” What does she say about the Caucus and her stance on feminism? Pay attention to articles about elections and ask yourself how many women there were compared to men. How are they described (mothers, teachers, wives, or other roles)? How are the men described? Pay attention to the demographics to get a better idea of who was involved in the organization. In other words, how many working, middle, or upper-class women were there in the Caucus? What about Caucasian, African American, Asian American, or Hispanic members?
This is the biggest folder in the collection and is devoted to correspondence. There are also random things like an issue about membership fees with the organization’s head in Madison, and registration to walk in the Maple Leaf Parade in 1975. It’s fun to see what the women were doing, and how they interacted and viewed their La Crosse community. It’s not necessary to read the entire folder but leaf through to find something interesting. For example, there is a flyer describing the frustration wives felt about being listed in the phonebook under their husband’s names.
This folder is completely dedicated to the Equal Rights Amendment. Look for notes about frequently asked questions and answers about the ERA, along with information the women probably used to discuss the amendment with the public. Much of the debate about the ERA was centered on how women’s traditional roles would change as wives and mothers. Pay attention to how the women in this organization felt the ERA would address this.
This folder contains correspondence with contemporary state congressmen. Most frequently they contacted local politicians, Virgil Roberts and Paul Offner. Some of the letters to Roberts and Offner are about tax reform, but others tackle real issues surrounding anti-rape laws and abortion rights. There is one letter to Governor Wallace of Alabama to advocate for the ratification of the ERA in his state. Pay attention to the language the women use, is it polite or assertive and how do the men respond?
Reviewed by: Katelyn Rigotti
No Date. No Negative. University of Wisconsin- La Crosse Photograph Collection, UWL: Activities-Music. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, WI.
> Location: University of Wisconsin- La Crosse Area Research Center
> Citation: Leaping La Crosse News, 1979-2007. Murphy Library Digital Collections. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
This Friendly Finding Aid is on Leaping La Crosse News, a monthly newsletter for the lesbian community in La Crosse that ran from 1980-2007. Although the focus of this newsletter is the lesbian community, it also addresses issues important to the whole LGBTQ community in La Crosse as well. One of the great things about this collection is that it is all accessible online! (Directions to find the online collection are listed below.)
Jill Davey was the original founder of the newsletter which was initially called NLFO News, which stood for “National Lesbian Feminist Organization.” Out of the total 317 monthly newsletters in this collection, 15 are called NLFO News. Beginning in September 1981, the newsletter was renamed Leaping La Crosse News.
La Crosse’s lesbian community used Leaping La Crosse News to learn about all kinds of news and social events not only in the La Crosse area but throughout the United States as well. The newsletters’ articles were designed to strengthen the lesbian community by making previously unknown or hard-to-find information accessible. It was safe, positive, and encouraging during a time when many gay people were afraid to be honest about their sexuality.
This finding aid will focus on women’s music and the importance it had in helping the lesbian community comfortably be themselves and bond. If music isn’t your thing, there are a number of different narratives available. Simply pick a topic that interests you.
Newsletters containing the phrase “music festivals” appear below. They include descriptions of specific music festivals, interviews with women’s music artists, first hand experiences attending music festivals, and more! The following are sorted into four categories: 1) Local Music Events; 2) National Music Events; 3) Individual artist Insights; and 4) Impact on the Gay and Lesbian Community. Online the issues are organized by year, month, and date. The year is always listed first, the month second, and the date last. For example, 1982-11-01 would be November 1st, 1982.
Local Music Events
See how local places in La Crosse, like UW-L, held women’s music performances, which allowed for the local lesbian community to come together. Also, see the bottom of page one to read a potluck advertisement. This was another way that the gay community bonded and came together in a safe and fun fashion.
There is an entire page on Gayle Marie, who played at an event at UW-L. Notice how big of a deal it was having a women’s music performance come to La Crosse to promote the lesbian community.
National Music Events
This addition of the newsletter describes what the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is about and where it takes place. (Notice that the word men is removed from the spelling of womyn.) In the third paragraph see how the directions show a genuine care and concern for each other. This all promotes a sense of togetherness in the lesbian community.
1991-05-01 (Volume: 11 Issue: 5)
Take a look at how the newsletter is promoting the National Women’s Music Festival by listing events other than just live stage performances. The newsletter recognized music festivals as a way for lesbians to connect with other lesbians in the community in a safe and social setting.
1992-09-01 (Volume: 12 Issue: 9)
This is a two-page review of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival from a woman who was actually in attendance! Notice the intimate and emotional connections the women have while at the music festival. The sense of community and togetherness really comes out in this newsletter.
1993-05-01 (Volume: 13 Issue: 5)
In the right column, see how large the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is and its range of events. The whole goal of music festivals is to promote togetherness within the lesbian community and they are showing just that in this section of the newsletter.
1996-06-01 (Volume: 16 Issue: 6)
Notice in the third paragraph the attendance and the size of the music grounds for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. This goes to show how large the music festivals were and the impact music festivals had on the lesbian community.
Individual artist Insights
Here is an article on “Musica Femina” a women’s music duo of Kristen Aspen and Janna MacAuslan. Read the whole page to get a peek at who they are and their role in women’s music. Here you get a bit more depth into the importance of women’s music.
Read the whole page to get a glimpse of how two musicians think they impact the lesbian community.
Impact on the Gay and Lesbian Community
Take a look at the first three paragraphs. See how they mention what the early newsletter was like and how the new newsletter, “I Know You Know: Lesbian Views and News”, is put together. This newsletter is sharing a new magazine with its followers to hopefully further grow the gay community.
Read the first four paragraphs to discover a problem with the women’s music industry. Artists don’t know how to spread their music broadly while keeping their message to the lesbian community alive. The lesbian community wants to reach as many people as possible, but at the same time want to keep their message their own.
This newsletter shows the struggles women’s music artists had to go through during this time in history. Most of the newsletters touch on the positives, but this newsletter is a reminder of the difficulties gay communities faced in the 1980s.
1991-01-01 (Volume: 11 Issue: 1)
Read the short paragraph and notice how cool it was having an almanac on gay and lesbian events. We are seeing the gay community become more comfortable.
1999-06-01 (Volume: 19 Issue: 6)
The promotion of “After Stonewall” on PBS is being talked about. Notice the significance Stonewall still had in the gay community nearly 30 some years later. What happened at the Stonewall Bar in New York City in 1969 was one turning point in gay rights.
Reviewed by: Jack Smalley
> Location: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Area Research Center
> Oral histories referenced in this collection:
Women’s sewing group. Interviewed Ge Vang. 2001. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
Koua Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
Romain Lor Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.
This collection is made up of three interviews: 1) a women’s sewing group, 2) Koua Vang, and 3) Romain Lor Vang. It’s part of a larger collection of Hmong oral history interviews by Ge Vang. The Hmong are an ethnic group that can be found in Southeast Asia. Today many Hmong live in the United States because of the Vietnam War. During the 1960s, the Hmong were recruited by United States military to fight secretly for us. We lost the war, and the Hmong had to flee. Between 1975 and 1980, over 42,000 Hmong political refugees resettled in the United States. Today, Wisconsin has a significant Hmong population, some of whom can be found right here in La Crosse! These interviews discuss the daily lives and struggles of Hmong Americans, especially the differences between the old ways and the new. Ge asks a lot of questions about the survival of Hmong culture in the United States.
The collection consists of three folders that each contain a separate typed and easy-to-read transcript for each interview. There are also audio recording CDs that are included with each transcript that you can listen to and follow along with the transcript!
NOTE: Ge Vang conducts all of the interviews. He is not closely related to Koua and Romain Vang.
Women’s Sewing Group
In the interview with the women’s sewing group, Ge Vang talked with a group of Hmong women some related as sister-in-laws, aunts, and mother-in-laws. The group discussed their family and lives in Wisconsin, living in the U.S. as members of the Hmong community. Children are a topic throughout the interview. They are becoming Americanized and what many of the women consider rebellious. The women are very concerned because they want to preserve the Hmong culture and identity. Their children however seem uninterested. The children’s rebellious behavior and their disinterest in traditional culture shows the growing differences between the Hmong parents and their Americanized children. Ge Vang’s interview with the women’s sewing group is 15 pages long. Also, the transcript of the women’s sewing club abruptly ends mid-interview for unknown reasons!
Pages 1-7: The group of women introduce themselves and discuss the future as they see it. They talk a lot about raising children in America, and their kids’ assimilation to U.S. culture.
Pages 7-11: The women address dating and marriage in the community, and how it is different in America. They also talk about their children’s education.
Pages 12-14: The women discuss how they discipline their children and household rules.
The second transcript is an interview with Koua Vang. Ge and Koua discuss Koua’s early memories of life in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States, and his adjustment to life in La Crosse. Koua and Ge talk a lot about living in the Hmong community, and how Koua faced challenges balancing life as a Hmong man and living in the United States. Toward the end of the interview Koua confesses he believes that eventually the Hmong language and culture will disappear in the United States because the younger generations will not learn traditional practices and language, and because of the clash between the U.S. and Hmong culture. The transcript of Koua Vang’s interview with Ge Vang is 22 pages long. This transcript’s questions and answers have been translated into English from Hmong!
Pages 1-7: Koua introduces himself and discusses his early childhood, including a few memories of escaping into Thailand! Ge and Koua also discuss the difficulties of coming to the U.S.
Pages 7-10: Koua talks about his wife and son, and his marriage. He also talks about college and his career goals.
Pages 11-15: Koua and Ge discuss traditional Hmong practices and modernity, as well as his own self-identity as a Hmong person. He also brings up his thoughts on his clan and family.
Pages 15-22: Ge and Koua address gender roles and equality in the Hmong community, as well as the future of the Hmong culture.
Romain Lor Vang
The final transcript of this collection is an interview with Romain Vang. Romain, who was a college student at the time of the interview, recounts memories of his childhood in the United States and Southeast Asia. Throughout much of the interview, Ge and Romain talk about Romain and his family moving to the United States. They also discuss some the conflicts that resulted from the differences between the U.S. and the Hmong community. Romain confesses that he doesn’t think that the Hmong culture will last in America, and that it will eventually disappear in the coming generations. Romain Lor Vang’s transcript is 28 pages long.
Pages 1-4: Romain Vang introduces himself and talks about being born in Laos. He also talks a little bit about life in Thailand in the refugee camps, and moving to the United States when he was eleven. (Take Note: This means that Romain could remember life in Southeast Asia and what it was like to adjust to life in the U.S.)
Pages 4-10: Romain tells about school and dating in America, and problems such as racism. He also discusses getting a job while in high school.
Pages 10-14: Romain compares Hmong culture to American culture, and how these differences can sometimes cause trouble! He also talks about his family’s clan in Eau Claire.
Pages 14-20: These pages cover Romain’s college and career goals. Ge and Romain also examine the future of Hmong culture in the United States, including religion.
Pages 21-28: Romain examines the generation gap in Hmong culture and his relationship with his parents. The two also discuss family relationships and marriage.
Reviewed by: Ashley Schwartz
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
Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Citation: Wisconsin Extension Homemakers Council Oral History Project: The Impact of Her Spirit. Manuscripts. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
The real title of this collection is the Wisconsin Extension Homemakers Council (WEHC). From 1920-1960 the WEHC was a volunteer organization for women that organized social, educational, and community development activities. The homemakers held frequent meetings, cooking lessons, and a range of other volunteer activities. They greatly valued volunteerism and education. These women worked with other organizations, such as the YMCA and the Children’s Home in La Crosse, and supported each other during the Great Depression and World War II by learning how to ration items and create budgets. This collection tells the stories of thirteen women – members of the WEHC – who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the changing roles of women in society. This box includes women from places such as Onalaska, Holmen, and Sparta.
This is a primary source collection of oral history interviews of local women who were members of the WEHC. They are separated into fourteen folders. Each folder includes one interview of a Wisconsin woman. All of the interviews are typed, double spaced, and have very wide margins. Easy reading! The interviews vary in length, but none are very long. The collection also includes two small books that contain pictures and recipes.
Folder 1 is the only folder that does not include an interview. This folder has five documents, including a pamphlet with pictures of the councils, a description of the WEHC, a guide that lists questions used in the interviews, an advertisement for the WEHC, and a project from one of the homemakers. This project is a mini-drama written by Betty Epstein, whose interview is found in Folder 5.
Folder 2 is the account of Helen Basset, a farmer’s wife. Basset described her community work with the council. For example, Basset was part of the Indian Mission. The mission worked to dress Native American children in “clean and suitable” clothing. This interview is 14 pages.
Folder 3 describes the life of Joanne Dach from Viroqua, Wisconsin. Dach described charities that her chapter of the WEHC took part in. For example, she discussed food pantry donations and raising money for Haiti. Dach also described the challenges faced by women who attended college and worked full time jobs. This interview is 12 pages.
Folder 4 includes the story of Dott Dobbs, from Ontario, Wisconsin. Alongside her farm duties, Dobbs described the volunteer work and roles of the WEHC. The council assisted with the local 4-H club and supported community members in need. For example, her council provided aid to families that were impacted by house fires and unexpected deaths. This interview is 12 pages.
Folder 5 presents the story of Elisabeth (Betty) Epstein, from Jackson County. Unlike the other women in this collection, Epstein had a college degree. She described her work in the offices of army camps during World War II, and like Joanne Dach (folder 3), Epstein discussed gender roles. At one point Epstein described her community as a “man’s world” based on the opposition her council faced over railroad crossings. This interview is 12 pages.
Folder 6 is the narrative of Marion Fauska from Onalaska, Wisconsin. Fauska described her educational experiences attending a six week course in order to become a teacher. This folder also includes discussion about the Great Depression and World War II. Fauska provides the perspective of a young bride who could not afford a honeymoon and how she was encouraged to work due to a shortage of teachers during the war. This interview is 35 pages.
Folder 7 describes the life of Mae Flaig from Sparta, Wisconsin. She was part of the WEHC, a Leadership Development Committee, and the 4-H Club. Flaig experienced the economic challenges and the shifting gender roles of women during the Great Depression and World War II. For example, Flaig noted that women became increasingly interested in political activity. This interview is 59 pages.
Folder 8 contains the interview of Leila Halverson, a farmer from Holmen, Wisconsin. She discussed lessons given by the Homemakers Association. These lessons included dressmaking and food preservation. Halverson also described food substitutes and how even in birthday cakes sugar had to be rationed during World War II. This interview is 5 pages.
Folder 9 holds the account of Dolores Kenyon, from Sparta, Wisconsin. After her marriage in 1943, Kenyon’s husband left to fight in World War II. She described women’s shifting roles, such as non-domestic work and financial planning. Kenyon was a volunteer with 4-H and the “Association for Retarded Citizens” (people with cognitive needs) in 1958. Small portions of this interview are hand written. This interview is 16 pages.
Folder 10 holds the interview of Effie Knudson, from West Salem, Wisconsin. Knudson was involved with the YMCA and the Children’s Home in La Crosse. Knudson described the Great Depression in an account about rationing sugar. She also discussed World War II and Victory Gardens. This interview is 16 pages.
Folder 11 contains the story of Josephine Sullivan Nixon. Nixon’s father served in the Civil War between 1863 and 1865, being discharged after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The interview also gives an account of what life was like during the Great Depression, including meat rationing and flour substitutes. This interview is 31 pages.
Folder 12 belongs to Alice Nuttleman from Onalaska, Wisconsin. Nuttleman described the lessons that the council taught, such as bread making and sewing. She also described growing gardens, picking berries, and rationing sugar during the Great Depression. This interview is 12 pages.
Folder 13 describes the life of Margaret O’Rourke, a mother of twelve from Monroe, Wisconsin. She discussed sugar stamps, gas stamps and the difficulty of getting new tires during World War II. O’Rourke also described the Women’s Movement and gender roles during the war. For example, O’Rourke stated that men took part in more domestic duties in comparison to previous years. This interview is 39 pages.
Folder 14 contains an interview from Elsie Roberts, who discussed the Great Depression. Roberts described a shortage of money and food stamps. This interview is 14 pages.
Reviewed by: Krystle Thomas
Scrapbook photo taken by Jennifer DeRocher
Monroe County’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Movement,
> Location: Monroe County Local History Room and Museum, Sparta, Wisconsin
> Citation: Monroe County Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Box (M95-1). Monroe County’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union Movement, 1879-1954 Collection. Monroe County Local History Room and Museum, Sparta, Wisconsin.
This collection is all contained in one cardboard box with the call number (M95-1). However, not everything in this box may be useful for your research. For this reason, this finding aid focuses on the newspaper articles collected and kept in the scrapbooks, and the manual for teaching temperance to children.
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) was a national organization that formed to protest the use of alcohol in U.S. society. To do this they educated children about the negative effects of alcohol and also held street protests to make their voices heard. Also, it was the W.C.T.U. that led the movement for Women’s suffrage – voting rights – in an effort to strengthen their platform.
The W.C.T.U. had many state, county, and local groups. One prominent W.C.T.U. group in Wisconsin was in Sparta in Monroe County. This group collected local, state, and national articles about the W.C.T.U., which they kept in scrapbooks from 1909 through the 1920s. (These scrapbooks cover an important time for the W.C.T.U. because that was when they temporarily won their fight for temperance in the U.S. with the start of Prohibition in 1920.) The local group in Sparta also kept treasurer’s books, monthly meeting minutes, notebooks, and a few other random items like a manual for teaching temperance to children.
The newspaper articles collected are interesting because they connect a national organization’s larger movement for temperance to what a small rural community in Wisconsin was doing at the same time. Most of the local articles are editorials written by a local doctor – Spencer (Pen) Beebe – who worked with Sparta’s W.C.T.U. to help curb alcohol consumption, gambling, and violence in the community. His articles are usually aimed at the local police, the mayor of Sparta, or the community as a whole. He often quotes the harm of drunk driving accidents, violence, and death due to alcohol consumption.
Each item in this collection has its own number, ranging from 1 to 24. This is both wonderful, and until you see it for yourself, possibly confusing. But never fear, the numbers are written on each item. These numbers are written as (M95-1-1) to (M95-1-24). They are often written on the inside of the materials, on either front or back covers. Below you can see that the finding aid is organized by these call numbers. All of them start with “M95-1” because that is the box! Be aware that each item you use must be cited with its own item number.
It is important to note that the notebooks and “Records” books that contain meeting minutes and other notes could be useful for research if, for instance, you are looking at the rules and regulations local groups passed to make their movement successful. Beware, however, that these books are dense and written in cursive. This finding aid focuses on the newspaper articles collected and kept in the scrapbooks and the manual for teaching temperance to children.
(M95-1-1) – (M95-1-2), (M95-1-4): Scrapbooks, 1909-1940
This scrapbook began in 1909. The newspaper articles inside are not organized very well – they jump around by years. There are mostly national and state-level articles published about the temperance movement. There are, however, some articles about Sparta, Monroe County, and La Crosse. This scrapbook has articles about W.C.T.U. and its movement before Prohibition began in 1920.
Notice that this scrapbook began in the midst of Prohibition. It contains many local articles and tells the story of how prohibition affected a small rural Wisconsin community. This scrapbook goes through the 1930s, which means that the articles inside reflect the tensions at the national, state, and local levels over ending Prohibition. The language is often different than we see it today. For instance, people that are for temperance are often called “Drys,” and people that are for the legalization of alcohol are called “Wets.”
This scrapbook has a lot of Dr. Spencer’s articles. He used a “pen name” Beebe in them. Many of the articles argue that the police need to take their job prohibiting alcohol more seriously. There are also articles about liquor raids in and near Sparta, the local ordinances passed after Prohibition ended in 1933, and many articles written about why women specifically should not consume alcohol. These articles about women often reflect the sexism in society at that time. One national-level article critiqued controversial comments Eleanor Roosevelt made about women and drinking.
This scrapbook was collected at the same time as (M95-1-2), but it has more national articles than the other. These articles focus more on the W.C.T.U. organization than the controversy of Prohibition.
Towards the end, there are clippings of pamphlets, poems, songs, and prayers that they collected.
(M95-1-5) – (M95-1-6): Treasurer’s Books, 1897-1954
These books narrate expenses made by the Sparta W.C.T.U group from 1897-1954. It lists member’s names, dues paid, money made by fundraisers, money spent by the group, and money the group donated to the national W.C.T.U organization.
Secretary’s Books and Notebooks
(M95-1-7) – (M95-1-18): Secretary’s Books and Notebooks, 1879-1942
Each of these books contain notes made by secretaries throughout the years 1879-1942. They include: the group’s Constitution and By-Laws, lists of current members, lists of trustees, notes from state and national conferences that the group attended, and notes from their monthly meetings in Sparta.
These books are written in cursive and are frail with age.
(M95-1-19) – (M95-1-23): “Temperance Lesson Manual: For the Band of Hope and Loyal Temperance Lesson” booklets, 1896
There are four of these booklets, three of which are lesson manuals for children and the fourth is the teacher’s edition.
(M95-1-24): Envelope with various materials, 1937-1938
This envelope contains a booklet published by the national W.C.T.U. organization thanking local groups for their donations. Wisconsin towns with W.C.T.U. chapters are listed on pages 18 and 19. The envelope also contains an award made out to the local Sparta group from the national W.C.T.U. organization congratulating them for their large donation. There is a letter-sized envelope addressed to Sparta’s W.C.T.U. president at the time, Miss Etta Tompkins, that has multiple things in it. Most notable, there is a newsletter and news release about a man scheduled to speak about the W.C.T.U. on a national radio station.
Reviewed by: Jennifer DeRocher
La Crosse Public Library Archives
> Location: La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, Wisconsin
> Citation: La Crosse Home for Children. Boxes 8-9. MSS 011, Micro 5 Family & Children’s Center Records, 1881-1994. La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Information about the La Crosse Home For Children is in the Family & Children’s Center Records. It spans from 1888-1983, and includes several neat and old documents, such as a hand written “log of inmates” that dates from 1888-1915, and a hundreds of photographs that show daily life in the earlier days of the Home. This is a very large collection, but this finding aid focuses just on the materials found in boxes 8, 9, and 10. These boxes have the most primary source materials on how the home functioned and the children who lived there. The sources paint a great picture of the home’s organization and the day-to-day life of the children who lived in it.
The La Crosse Home for Children was just that, a home for children. (It was on 11th Street.) Meaning it was run as a regular home for a limited number of children. It is important to understand that these children were not up for adoption and the Home was not a treatment center for naughty or sick kids. It was simply a place where children could go when their parents were unable to care for them properly. A good number of the children eventually went back to their parents when they were able to care for them again. The children that were lucky enough to live at the Home went to school and church, and had chores just like any child. There was a matron of the house. (This is just a fancy title for the woman that lived in the house and made sure everyone was fed, clothed, and cared for. She managed the household, much like a mom.) The purpose of the Home was not just to give these children the things they needed to live, but to give them a happy childhood and to make sure they became good citizens.
Many of the articles in this finding aid talk about Miss Josephine Fletcher the home’s matron from 1929 to 1953. Fletcher was remembered by many of the children as their only mother-figure in life. She was renowned in the community and respected by many. She was a strong female role model and community member.
Folder 1 contains background information on the La Crosse Home for Children. These are mostly reports, programs, donation requests, and papers written about the La Crosse Home for Friendless Women and Children (the Home’s first name) and the La Crosse Home for Children. They are a good way to get a better understanding of the Home and its history.
Folder 2 contains many newspaper clippings from 1888-1977. There are many articles with photographs, but they are in no specific order. The articles cover information on events and people associated with the Home. For example, there’s a 1932 article, “La Crosse Children’s Home Provides Comfort For Many Unfortunates” that does a great job explaining how the Home functioned and all the work that went into maintaining it. There are a lot of articles about Miss Fletcher and her impact on the kids at the Home and in the community.
Folder 3 contains a handwritten ledger book of guests’ comings and goings. The back few pages list the matrons or housekeeper hired from 1888-1904. The book was amended in 1969 and lists the children admitted and discharged though 1977.
Folders 3-6 hold hundreds of photographs. There are pictures of the Home and the staff and the children that lived there. There are photos of the children’s everyday life such as playing outdoors in the summer and winter, playing inside together, doing chores, and celebrating holidays. The photos really paint a picture of what it was like for these children: what their relationship with one another was like and what their relationship with Miss Fletcher and other staff members was like too. These four folders illustrate all of the information gathered in the other folders.
Folder 3 This is a small folder of correspondence with board members in the 1950s. The highlight however, is a few letters and notes between a girl that lived in the home and a board member. This includes her 1954 graduation announcement, a thank you letter for a graduation present, an update letter a few years later, and a birth announcement for her daughter. (Miss Fletcher had to have been so proud!)
Reviewed by: Danyelle Springer and 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