September 20, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
As many of you know, I was scheduled yesterday to tell stories to children at a lantern lighting ceremony at Lakewood Cemetery. There were not a lot of people at the storytelling tent, probably because we had a little trouble getting the balance right: power was limited to one generator, which meant only the musicians had a microphone. In our effort to be far enough away from them to be heard, we were a little too far away to be noticed at all. Still, I enjoyed preparing my stories, and hope to be back in future. The piece below is an adult version of one of the stories I told yesterday. I predict an occasional series.
There are a lot of men buried in Lakewood Cemetery. A lot of women, too.
In fact, it’s probably pretty equal how many men and how many women are buried there, though I never asked anyone for a tally. But as might be expected, since cemeteries are a reflection of the values of our culture over time, you hear a lot more about the men than you hear about the women. Even now, if you go to the famous memorials page on Lakewood’s web site, although there are a number of notable women buried in Lakewood, you will only see one woman listed on this page – Clara Ueland. The self-guided walking tour brochure is a bit better: out of 49 monuments of note, I count nine that reference women.
A lot of things have changed for women since the first person was buried in Lakewood Cemetery back in 1872.
That would be nineteen year old Maggie Menzel, who by some strange irony is #19 on the brochure. For one thing, women don’t die so young – though this is true for both sexes. The average lifespan then was 47 years.
For another – and this is gender-specific – women now have the right to vote. It still is hard for me to believe that both my grandmothers did not have this right when they were born. Clara Ueland was one of the women who fought hardest for that right, in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Clara Ueland’s grave is not particularly fancy, like the monument that Louis Rocheleau built for his wife Charlotte.
Charlotte was 37 years old when she died. And that’s all I could find out about her. But if you want to find Charlotte Rocheleau’s monument, it’s not difficult to do. At 45 feet high, it is the tallest one in Lakewood Cemetery. Now that’s putting a woman on a pedestal.
I didn’t have any trouble finding Charlotte Rocheleau on her pedestal, but despite walking around last week with my self-guided tour brochure, I had a hard time finding the Ueland plot. Eventually I did, with Clara Ueland’s marker flush against the ground. They were not ostentatious people.
We know a lot more about Clara Ueland than about some of the other women who are buried at Lakewood and also did some pretty important things.
Women like Borghild Dahl, who overcame blindness and prejudice against the disabled to become a high school principal and a college professor. Or Orianna McDaniel, who was the first woman physician at the Minnesota State Health Department back in 1896. Or Millie Bronson, a freed slave who cared for the children of George Brackett, and is buried in the family plot because she wanted to be near one of those children who died very young. Millie Bronson lived to be over one hundred years old, and she loved those children, and that’s really all we know about her.
I personally know more about Clara Ueland than about these other women because I read O Clouds Unfold!, the biography written by her daughter Brenda. In fact, I came to know Clara backwards; it was her daughter whose name I recognized first. Her husband, Judge Andreas Ueland, was encouraged to write his memoirs. Clara was not. The fact that she died an untimely death – hit by a truck on an icy day, getting off the streetcar in front of her own home after a session at the State Capitol – would perhaps have prevented it if she had been.
Clara Ueland was born Clara Hampson in 1860, before the Civil War, in Akron, Ohio.
Her father was in the Union Army. It’s not clear from the biography whether he saw much fighting, but when he was discharged he was quite sick. He died when Clara was four years old, and she and her mother and brother moved out to Minnesota to be with her mother’s sister.
For awhile they lived in Faribault, and then they moved to Minneapolis. Clara was twelve years old. They ended up living in a shabby apartment over a hardware store, and the family was very poor. She went to Washington School in Minneapolis, a grade school and high school combined, which was where Hennepin County Medical Center is now.
As a young woman she was dark and slim, “almost transparent.”
A friend of hers said that even though she wore the same brown dress day after day after day, she always looked beautiful in it. She graduated from high school at seventeen, and began to teach seventh and eighth grade at Jefferson School. A seventeen year old, teaching twelve and thirteen year olds.
These days quite a few teachers are women. But when Clara became a teacher this was a relatively new thing. It used to be that all the schoolteachers were men, schoolmasters, like Icabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was during the Civil War that women started teaching – as usual, because there was a shortage of men. Clara taught herself to be a schoolteacher by reading Plato.
She met the Norwegian immigrant boy who would become her husband at the Unitarian Church. Not the Lutheran Church.
Andreas Ueland (whose own memoir was considered unpublishable because he wanted to talk too much about the effect of the German Higher Critics on his faith, an issue I can relate to) had worked his way through law school digging the Washington Avenue sewer. At the Young Peoples’ Society meetings, Clara and Andreas talked about Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley, John Stuart Mill’s essay on The Subjection of Women, and Henrik Ibsen, who had just written A Doll’s House.
They married in a quiet ceremony at her brother Fred’s house in 1885.
It was predicted she could not live for more than two years after marriage.
What kind of person would make such a prediction I don’t know. Whether it was tuberculosis they feared (“transparent” often being a euphemism for “tubercular”), or the dangers of childbirth, is also unclear. But Clara Ueland went on to have eight children, four girls followed by four boys. One little girl, Dorothy, died suddenly of an unexplained illness three months after Brenda was born. Her mother always felt guilty that this “discouraged her” from recording the minute details of each child’s development.
Sometimes she felt a regret and anxiety about it as though she had owed me especially, and subsequent children, more than she had given.
When Sigurd was born, they called him “Boy” for two years, until they had to distinguish him from the next one.
Clara had been a teacher, and she was always very interested in education, and had her own ideas about how best to nurture young minds.
In their house on the south shore of Lake Calhoun they had one wall upstairs had a blackboard all across it, just like at school, where she taught her children there to draw and do arithmetic and write poems. They were home schooled until they were eight years old, because she wanted them to have the freedom to learn at their own pace and to be creative and to think for themselves. Back then kindergarten was a pretty new thing, and kindergartens in public schools were still pretty rare. Clara Ueland cared enough about how children learn to establish the Minnesota Kindergarten Association.
Clara let all her boys have long hair when they were young – her husband was starting to get bald, and she had a theory that short hair in childhood was what led to baldness in men when grew older. (Even heroines can have fanciful ideas.) She also let the girls’ wear boys pants when they went outside to play. This caused some confusion on occasion. A lady visiting the house once said, “The first time I went there the Ueland children were all girls and the next time they were all boys.”
Although she herself never went to college, all three of her daughters did, and all three of them were free spirits with their own ideas. It was Elsa, their second daughter, who persuaded Clara to attend her first woman’s suffrage meeting.
She was hesitant at first to mix with “colorful characters,” but the cause grew increasingly important to her. In 1909 she and Andreas went to Norway for a visit, when women could already vote in elections if they or their husbands paid taxes; by 1913, all women in Norway could vote. It took another seven years to win this right in the United States. Clara Ueland was one of the women who worked very hard for it.
There were women who worked against it, too, and some of them are also buried in Lakewood Cemetery. Like Harriet Walker, the wife of Thomas B. Walker, the lumber baron who founded the Walker Art Center, and Eleanor Pillsbury – Brenda calls her “witty, cultivated and a little cruel” – the wife of Alfred Fiske Pillsbury, who wasn’t that much interested in the family flour business but donated HIS huge art collection to found the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. These were very important women, and although Clara Ueland had some position as the wife of a lawyer and judge, she remembered that brown dress, and she remembered Andreas digging that sewer.
Andreas did not always like the fact that Clara was so involved with women’s suffrage.
He thought she had a lot to do at home, and didn’t like her traveling to places like Chicago and St. Louis to participate in campaigns. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in these things – as a lawyer, he often fought for the rights of women. But he wanted his home to be tranquil. And he wanted his wife at the center of it, paying attention to him, and the children. Brenda – who herself was married and divorced three times – was candid and fair:
Andreas tended more and more to be unsympathetic, at least unenthusiastic, about all the time spent on politics and so she had come to that rather sad point in married life – she had learned not to confide in him in detail or with too much interest.
Her work was not always appreciated at home OR at the Capitol.
Brenda records one conversation between her mother and Vivian Thorpe, journalist for The Woman Citizen, the official organ of the National Woman Suffrage Association, after she had been “struggling with the dogged opinions of Senator Ole Sageng.” Vivian remarked that she looked tired. Off the record, I assume, Clara replied “Well, perhaps I am a little. It is not easy to work with a Norwegian at both ends of the journey.”
I suppose Andreas expected that when the 19th Amendment was passed and women were given the right to vote, things would slow down and get back to normal. But they did not. Instead the National Woman Suffrage Association became the League of Women Voters, “a ‘mighty political experiment’ designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.” They were not a partisan organization, but they had their own platform. They were very concerned about education for both children and adults, and about fair labor laws and safe labor practices.
Clara Ueland became the first President of the Minnesota League of Women voters.
She continued to work hard on labor laws so that people would not have to work long days every day of the week – especially women and children. The League wanted a Child Labor Amendment, which was never passed, largely because the South saw this as a states’ rights issue. Clara had seen such arguments thrown up as an obstacle to woman suffrage, and in a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Journal, she made it clear in a calm and folksy way that she was not impressed:
There are many thousands of children in the United States today who are working in mills, factories, canneries, sweat-shops and mines, who should be at school, whose health is in danger, who may become delinquent and who will add, in a few years, to the army of illiterates in this country which already numbers three million native-born Americans. This is an emergency and calls for national action.
As for your belief that this work is being financed by the Soviets of Russia, I can only say ‘It is to laugh!’ That the Journal should use this overworked and outworn bogey to discredit the Amendment is surprising indeed.
I can only say “The more things change…”
With the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, many of the issues the Child Labor Amendment would have covered were addressed, and interest in it waned. Had she lived to see this, Clara Ueland would have been 78.
You won’t find a statue of Clara Ueland at Lakewood Cemetery.
There are a lot of statues of women there, but despite Charlotte Rocheleau, most of them are not of specific women. Most of them are symbolic women. Lakewood’s brochure on memorial symbolism will tell you that back in the 19th and early 20th century, “The female figure draped in robes was a common symbol of sorrow or grief.”
Thomas B. Walker’s memorial is a beautiful example of this. I suppose that is what Mrs. Thomas B. Walker would have wanted. But I don’t think I would want to be a symbolic woman, or a woman on a pedestal. I think I would rather be a real one, like Clara Ueland.
It is something to aspire to.