Saturday, January 28, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

I'm afraid this is going to turn out to be a long post, but I'll keep it as short as I can. If you're only interested in my brilliant insights into the political issues of the day, you can skip it entirely and miss nothing. It's a rabbit hole.

I have a useless interest in portrait photography at the end of the 19th century, particularly in "cabinet cards," which are what you got if you took the family down to the local photographer. So I roam eBay, looking for interesting cabinet cards. Recently I came across this attractive portrait:

This is fairly typical of a studio pose by a good photographer of the time.  I liked the photo, but even more interesting was what was written on the back on the cabinet card:

The seller on eBay identified her as "Victoria Sentwein," and indeed that was my first reading of it. But when I could find no record of a Sentwein of any sort in the census records, I went back for a second look. That's when I noticed that the S in Sentwein did not match the S in Schools. Was that an L? Could her name be Lentwein?

No, not exactly: it was Leutwein; that first N is actually a U. The 1930 Census of Chicago lists Victoria, still a public school teacher, staying at the Hayes – a 500 room residence hotel:

End of story? Not quite, because Victoria came from a very interesting family. A 1904 newspaper article tells us about her father:

For the love of an Indiana girl, Prof. Carl Leutwein, ... brother of Col Theodor Leutwein, governor of German South [West] Africa, gave up friends in his native land, a lucrative position in the German army, and his only chance of again returning to his country.

Prof. Leutwein is residing at 801 North Rose street, and a few chapters in his varied career are interesting and romantic. He is well known about Michigan, having taught French and German in the University of Michigan for 10 years, and been instructor of German in Kalamazoo college for several terms.

Prof. Leutwein was born in Germany 50 years ago and is a graduate of Heidelberg university. Later he entered the German army and served several years. In consequence of his many advantages and good family his promotion was rapid. At the age of 25 years he ranked as major and was allowed three year's leave of absence.

Met a Yankee Girl

Prof. Leutwein came to this country. He traveled for a time and a year later wandered into the little city of Laporte, Ind. There he met Miss Jennie Hammond, pretty, sweet and buxom. An ardent cour[t]ship followed and Miss Hammond became the wife of Major Carl Leutwein. Wishing to remain in Laporte Major Leutwein secured a position as pastor of the German Lutheran church, of that city. Unmindful of his leave of absence the days sped rapidly by. Then one morning the major awoke to the realization that he had overstayed his time and that according to the rules and regulations of the German army he could never again return to his country. [Or he would be arrested for desertion?] He secured positions as instructor of German and French in several of the large universities about the middle west, but later went to Ann Arbor, where he was engaged as instructor for 10 years.

Pro. Leutwein has not seen his brother or any member of his family whom he left in Germany since he came to this country 25 years ago.

Col. Leutwein is governor of over 2,000,999 square miles of territory in South [West] Africa and diamond fields have recently been discovered in his territory which are said to be larger and finer than those in Kimberley.

..."My brother, Col. Theodor Leutwein was the next oldest son in my father's family and he was chosen to take my place in the army. Now he is governor of German South [West] Africa. We have always been very different, however, and I believe he is much better fitted to be a soldier than I am. ... He has always loved fighting; I do not. I love books, not fighting. I have my children, my books and am happy. I would not change."
Col. Theodor Leutwein
About Victoria's uncle, Col. Theodor Leutwein, I won't say much, though we'll come back to him soon. If you're interested, you can read his Wikipedia entry, or just google the name. He spent a good part of his career in German South West Africa, now called Namibia, where he was responsible for "pacifying" the native population. He was not brutal enough for his superiors in Germany, and command was transferred to Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha.  What ensued is now known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.

All that happened in 1904.

Victoria had several siblings, including a younger sister, Isabel or Isabella. We have three frames of Isabel's life, starting in July 1897, when the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News ran a short piece about her:

Interesting girl. Isabel was probably born in 1874, which would have made her about 25 years old at the time, but both Victoria and Isabel gave different ages or years of birth in every census, always making themselves younger than you would predict from the last, and we can't be sure the first record was correct.

It's easy to imagine Professor Leutwein's concerns about Isabel. I can almost hear the nuns in The Sound of Music singing, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Isabella?" Letters were no doubt exchanged with his brother in German South West Africa. Until, in February 1903, the Kalamazoo Gazette ran this story ...

Don't miss that last paragraph.

Whether Isabel made it to Africa, or was still in Germany when her uncle Theodor returned there in 1904, I've been unable to determine. The third frame from her life to be presented here was taken in 1910. At that time, the U.S. Census finds her in Redfield, South Dakota, married 5 years to Emmett C. Ryan. She has a daughter, Maurine; another child died in infancy. In 1922 Emmett Ryan would be the (unsuccessful) Democratic candidate for Congress from South Dakota.

Isabel died in April 1958 in Washington, D.C., where she had been living with her daughter since Emmett C. Ryan died.

Finally, there was poor Carl Leutwein Jr., younger brother to Victoria and Isabel.

The "sister who saw the Kalamazoo woman in Chicago" was undoubtedly our Victoria.

That's as far down the rabbit hole as I've gone. There are more tunnels and chambers to be followed and explored.

Beautiful Victoria, with the ornate handwriting, never married. How did Victoria's picture wind up on eBay?

I suspect I'm the only living person who cares.


PineTar2 said...

Dear Mr. Miller,
Here's another living person who cares. I'm a professor of German and European history at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, and also Executive Director of the German Studies Association, the world's largest association of professors and other scholars who work on the German-speaking world.
Leutwein's brother was, as you noted, a rather notorious character, and indeed figures very prominently and controversially in the history of Namibia, the former German South West Africa. (Forgive the pedantic historian here: It's German South WEST Africa, rendered in English as "South West" and not as "Southwest," for some reason.)
There is a substantial and growing interest in the history of pre-1914 German colonialism.
The story you tell here is fascinating, with all its varied connections to the German diaspora. Should you wish to correspond further, I'm at director[at]

David E. Barclay, PhD
Executive Director
German Studies Association

Bob Miller said...

Professor Barclay,

Thanks for the comment. I'd have been more careful with this if I thought somebody was going to read it! :-)

I'm old enough to remember when Namibia was South West Africa. Many of the newspaper articles referred to it as some variant of German South Africa, though, so I got sloppy.

I'll be in touch with you by email.

Bob Miller

Virginia Ted said...

Why are such photos called cabinet cards?

Bob Miller said...

The only explanation I've ever seen is that they were pasted to hard cardboard, and were intended to be displayed in the parlor in or on a cabinet. That sounds reasonable to me.