Elsie Bartz Wittman

Honored by:Roger and Ona Lee Iverson
Brick location:A:28  map

My mother, Elsie Bartz Wittman, was born December 14, 1891, on a farm near St. Ansgar, Iowa, to Louise Bublitz Bartz and August William Bartz.

In 1894, when Elsie was three years old, her parents moved one mile east of Blue Earth, Minnesota, where her father broke virgin prairie soil for a new homestead. He built the farmhouse himself and Elsie spent her girlhood in this home, the second oldest of four daughters. The land around their farm was beautiful and unspoiled, and Elsie later told her own four daughters about walking through fields of wild flowers as a child. Their farm was typical of that day, and Elsie and her sisters worked hard helping their father in the fields (as there were no brothers to assign those chores to) and doing the typical housework of that day.

Mother attended and graduated from the Blue Earth Grammar School in 1907, and later in 1911 graduated from Blue Earth High School with a Normal Training Certificate, eligible to teach grades 1 - 8. She walked into town each day to attend high school, where she was an excellent student with a particular love of literature and reading which lasted all her life. She passed this love of learning and the printed word on to her daughters, all of whom loved reading and excelled much as she had.

Elsie was a pretty woman of medium height, light brown hair and green blue eyes. She was slim and maintained her slim, erect figure through the birth of four daughters and into her old age.

Mother taught in "country schools" for several years, staying with farm families in her district, sometimes walking three or four miles to school in all kinds of weather. Her job as a country schoolteacher included starting a fire in the pot-bellied stove on cold winter days, cleaning the schoolroom, maintaining discipline among as many as forty children from age six to young men of sixteen, and meanwhile trying to teach them all the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic (to say nothing of history, geography and spelling!)

Her teaching career eventually took her to Kiester, Minnesota, where she met my father, George Wittman. He was a popular young "man about town" known for being musical both as a singer and playing instruments, athletic, and a lover of cars and anything mechanical. They fell in love and were married Sept. 8, 1920, in Blue Earth, Minnesota. They began their married life in the town of Kiester but soon moved to George's father's farm east of Kiester.

Neither my mother nor my father particularly liked life on the farm. Mother kept a large garden and spent hours canning and preserving food, sewing clothes for her daughters, and doing housework without any of the conveniences we take for granted. Hard times hit rural areas long before the 1929 stock market collapse, and making a living on a farm was difficult. This was before the days of rural electrification and life on the farm was not easy. George and Elsie became parents to four daughters: Helen, Hazel, Lois and myself, Ona Lee, while living on that farm.

Then in 1934, our father came home with special news - he had purchased an International Harvester farm implement business in Kiester and we would soon be moving to town. I was four years old at that time, but I can still remember the excitement his announcement caused in our household. This business was one my father's talents were more suited to and he enjoyed running it until his retirement at the age of 75.

Before long, we had become a town family and mother's housewifely duties were eased somewhat by the addition of electricity and indoor plumbing. However, she still cooked on an old wood-fired range, gardened and canned, heated water for our baths and clothes washing, and spent long hours over her sewing machine keeping her four daughters garbed in attractive clothing.

It was not unusual to find her at 10 p.m. still bent over her sewing machine, finishing a dress that one of us needed for a big occasion the next day. When funds didn't allow the purchase of new material, she often ripped apart her old wool clothing from her school-teaching days to use for a "new" outfit for one of us. Often working without a pattern, she had such an innate sense of style and color that we never felt in the least deprived wearing "homemade" clothing. In fact, our friends envied us our stylish clothes.

Although we did not own large numbers of books, our home was filled with newspapers and magazines of all varieties; books were treasured and sometimes re-read. Mother's interest in the characters and plots encouraged her daughters' interest, and many family discussions were held regarding these books.

She gradually became hard of hearing from the age of 40 on, and reading provided an activity she could fully enjoy. Elsie had a love of the old classic poems, many of which she had committed to memory during her high school and teaching years, and it was not unusual for her to quote from these when the situation warranted it. Looking back on our girlhoods, I now realize that although Mother would never have considered herself a "feminist," she instilled in us many of the precepts of a need for equality for women, both in marriage and the business world. Mother's devotion to her family was complete. However, we were never made to feel guilty about her selflessness. She truly enjoyed our successes and empathized with our problems. Later, her grandchildren and their visits and activities were a never-ending source of interest, joy, and love for her. Countless family gatherings featuring "Elsie's famous fried chicken" were held at the family home on holidays and on other occasions, and the hustle and bustle of entertaining eleven grandchildren, four daughters and their spouses was something she always looked forward to and enjoyed.

Mother and Dad lived the rest of their lives in the same house in Kiester, Minnesota, which they had moved to in 1 938. When Mother died at the age of 89 in 1981 (followed by our father's death just six weeks later), it left a void in our lives that could never be filled. In her loving memory, we place her name and this brief history in the archives of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall at Iowa State University, where my husband and all three of our children have earned degrees.