Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Julianna Leppert Karrer Risch - Was her life deprived, discriminatory, or even desperate? - 52 Ancestors Challenge

     The 52 Ancestors Challenge is the creation of Amy Johnson Crow at  She's bringing together family history writers who share ancestral stories throughout 2014.  There’s a weekly update on Amy's blog linking to the group of stories by surname.
     Julianna Leppert immigrated to Dearborn County, Indiana, in 1836 when she was 9 years old.  She came to the United States from Bavaria with her father, stepmother, brother, three sisters and a stepbrother.  (Their journey to America is told in another post. See link at the bottom of this page.) The story of Julianna's life growing up and becoming a wife and mother often seems somewhat sad. Judging by current standards, some would conclude that circumstances of her life were deprived, discriminatory, or even desperate.   Was that really the case? 
      How do we make a judgment about occurrences over 175 years ago.  First, we think of this young girl who lost her mother before she was even ten years old.  Would it help that she quickly gained a stepmother who was 24 years younger than her father?  Thanks to Susan Lyn on for posting the daily dress from 1842-48.Her new mother may have treated her well.  But there must be an empty feeling for a nine-year-old girl whose mother is gone from her life.  Then add four additional siblings to her family in the next ten years. Followed in 1846 by the death of her father, when Julianna was 19. (See link to John Leppert's descendants at bottom of this post.)
     As far as we can determine, Julianna's family lived on and farmed land belonging to someone else when they arrived in the sparsely populated and densely forested Dearborn County of 1836.  (My photo at right is of an 1840s work dress.  Julianna might have looked similarly in her daily farm life. Thanks to Susan Lyn on Pinterest for the image.) The Catholic German community in which the family participated was St. Paul's parish of New Alsace, Indiana.  I presume there were friends and shared cultures within that community that made their new home more comfortable.  Also, some kind of school existed in the parish in the mid to late 1830s.  But it is doubtful that the Leppert family could afford to pay for the children's education.  As well, the distance and travel conditions from their farm would have made it difficult for them to go to school..  Evidence is that Julianna may not have learned to read and write because in adulthood she signed her name with an X.  Although her brother, John, who was eight years older, was able to sign his name.  What do you think was the reason?  Perhaps John received some education in Germany before they emigrated since boys were, in some cases, sent to school.  Since her family was from all indications a lower working class family, Julianna would not have been educated under the customs of the times in Europe.  And her family's situation in America most likely prevented Julianna from attending school as well.
     But how would she get along in life?  What would be her plan for her future as she grew into her teens?  Women didn't have many choices.  A book I own entitled "Everyday Life in the 1800s" explains young women's outlook in these words:  "…when a couple advanced to the engagement stage a woman was likely to feel more ambivalent than joyful.  Even though marriage was considered a woman's natural destiny - the unacceptable alternative being the shame of spinsterhood - the prevailing feminine viewpoint held that matrimony 'brought some joys, but many crosses.' It was a viewpoint based on harsh reality."
    So, for Julianna I wonder:  Could she take care of herself if she didn't marry, or heaven forbid, lost her husband?  The outlook for a woman of Julianna's economic situation in the mid-nineteenth century was what we would possibly describe today as difficult, maybe even desperate.  I would say that she had to set her mind as a teenager on finding a mate, as that was the only path for her.  Anyway, she was successful.  On 5 May 1846, at age 19, Julianna married Philip Karrer, in St. Paul Church in New Alsace, Dearborn County, Indiana.  From the 1840 census we know that they were neighbors in the farming community.  Perhaps they had been friends growing up together in the ten years since the Leppert family arrived.  Julianna and Philip's family soon included their two sons, born in 1847 and 1848.  And then it happened.  Suddenly in 1849, Julianna became a widow with two babies.  Again, could we measure her situation and imagine that she's desperate?   
Ancestry chart - Angela Rose Keedle to Julianna Leppert Risch.
     One of the first thoughts for this young mother's situation is that she could live with her parents.  But remember, Julianna's parents are both deceased.  And her stepmother is still raising children herself.  Maybe there are sisters who might have some means of helping her out.  Who knows if she has any relative to turn to.  A young woman in Julianna's circumstances in 1849 would have to simply find another husband.  Again, the surrounding community proved to be the answer.  On 3 December 1849 Juliana married widower Mathias Risch, Jr, age 37, in the same church where she married three years earlier.   Now, at age 27, Julianna Leppert Karrer Risch became the woman responsible for a household that included her new husband, her two sons and two stepsons. My 1800s book also provides this scenario of the times: "During the first half of the century, wives were largely confined to their homes, burdened with an average of five to seven children and saddled with endless sewing, mending, cooking and cleaning.  They depended on their husbands for income and were therefore subjugated by them."   We can't know Juliana and Mathias's particular marriage workings.  But it's easy to see that she chose the survivor's path and found a common need with her new partner.   
     But wait! Julianna encounters even more hurdles in the next 20-something years.   After giving birth to seven more Risch children between 1851 and 1870 (including my great grandmother, Mary Anna Risch),  she is again suddenly widowed.  Mathias Risch died in 1876, without a will.  As the times dictated legally, Juliana had to appear in court to obtain guardianship of her minor children. Could we label this discrimination?  It was merely the customs and laws of the times.  She was required to report to the court at least every two years how much of the estate she spent supporting her children.  14 years later, when her youngest was 21, her guardianship responsibilities ended.     
     By the late 1880s Julianna's activities appear to have a hint of independence.  In 1884, when she's 57 years old and still had two sons at home, she bought a house in the village of New Alsace.  She moved into "town."  One of her married sons took over the family farm. Maybe she felt free enough at this point to choose a new life path.   
Angela Keedle Perkins     So, what are you thinking? After this brief summary of Julianna Leppert's experiences, how do you think she weathered life's storms?  Would you describe her circumstances as difficult, desperate or discriminatory at any stage?
      I can never really know her personal traits or her social habits or even her maternal nature.  I can't say whether I'd enjoy having a Scotch with her or whether I'd ask her advice on a career decision, or even on a good place for a hamburger in Dearborn County.  I try to evaluate the happenings as they occurred at those particular times.  It's just not easy to remove the expectations of today completely as I think of her choices and the life she led.  I remain impressed by the challenges that she encountered and survived as a woman in the nineteenth century.   I do know that it is women like her whose strength laid a foundation for the progress we experience today.  Thanks Julianna!
     To give a quick overview of one branch of Julianna Leppert's descendancy, I am including one of my family charts above. This traces my niece, Angie's, ancestry to Juliana, her third great grandmother.  This young lady is celebrating her 40-something birthday in June --  Happy Birthday Angie!!
     Thanks for visiting Indiana Ties.  Are you a Leppert or Risch descendant?  Have a story about Julianna?  I'd love to hear it. 

You may want to read these related stories:
John Leppert, From Bavaria to Dearborn County, Indiana
Seven Generations of Leppert Descendants

Resource:  Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians, Marc McCutcheon, 1993, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio
Copyright © 2014 - Nancy Niehaus Hurley

1 comment:

Hi: Your own stories or suggestions are welcome here any time. Thanks for being a part of Indiana Ties.