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My Grandmother, Boarded and Taught by Nuns in a Convent School in the Early 1900s

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

My grandmother's first holy communion photo

My grandmother's first holy communion photo

Early Days in Kohler, Wisconsin

My maternal grandmother was born near Kohler, Wisconsin and was one of four living children in her family when her mother died at an early age. Her mother suffered from what they at the time called dropsy which today would be described as edema probably caused by congestive heart failure. Two other sisters of hers had died, at early ages of disease.

Her dad was a dairy farmer. To best manage the care of his three daughters without the help of a mother he sent them to a boarding school during the week that also happened to be a convent operated by nuns.

My grandmother and her two sisters only got to spend the weekends at home during the school year. They would generally be picked up and taken back and forth between school and home by their brother who would drive the horse and buggy.

Two of my grandma's cousins were nuns.

Two of my grandma's cousins were nuns.

Growing Up On A Dairy Farm

Their brother got to stay at home with his father because of being needed for work on the dairy farm. He would have been schooled to some extent locally, but the farm also provided his central education that he would utilize to maintain his life and livelihood as he matured.

Back in those days, the typical thing to do was to pass the farm on to the eldest son. In this case, he was the only son, and that is what happened. When he got married, he and his new wife moved into the farmhouse.

Eventually, my grandmother's father purchased a small house in town and moved his three daughters into the house with him. The four of them lived there together, and the girls at that point no longer were boarded and schooled at the convent.

As I was growing up, I heard many stories from my grandmother about those days in the convent school. She remembered it with great fondness.

Dairy Farming

Back when my great-grandfather started his dairy farm, milking the cows by hand would have been the routine.

He, and eventually, his son when old enough, would have been growing the crops to feed the cows, and moving the cows from one pasture to another as needed. They also took care of the farming equipment and buildings, and the hand milking the cows twice daily. They would then have had to store and market the milk.

It was a labor-intensive business that required not only hard work but intelligence and perseverance to best succeed in this type of endeavor.

Farming in Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin was known for growing great wheat crops and lumbering long before it became known as the Dairy State. The ground is fertile, and most of the early settlers did farming for a living.
  • Wisconsin joined the United States as its 30th state in 1848.
  • Wheat farming peaked in 1872, and at that same time, the Wisconsin Dairyman's Association was founded by William D. Hoard and others. Mr. Hoard eventually became a governor of the State of Wisconsin.
  • With the increased supply of milk, the very first cheese factory was developed by a woman by the name of Anne Picket. She got most of the quantity of the milk she needed from dairy farmers in the south-central portion of the state.
  • Lumbering was the primary industry from 1890 to 1910 when the dairy industry took over that leading position in the state.
  • In 1920 Wisconsin had become the top cheese producer in the nation and still holds that title.

Growing Up

Living in Kohler, Wisconsin, my great-grandfather and the three girls lived together until the young women each got married and moved into houses of their own.

I do not know about her sisters and what they might have done, but my grandmother worked at several jobs before getting married. She worked as a clerk in a couple of stores and was trained to work as a dental hygienist, which she enjoyed.

Back in those days with rare exceptions, once married, the young ladies no longer worked outside the home. My grandmother became a full-time wife, mother, and homemaker, and she excelled in each area. She developed other talents through the years and was quite artistic.

My grandparents as young newlyweds

My grandparents as young newlyweds

Many Talents

She was an excellent seamstress and could tailor clothes and upholstery equally well. My grandmother could look at a dress in a window or even try it on in a store and then go home and make it. She was a perfectionist with her sewing. Each inside seam was bound by hand. She could take this sleeve design and add it to that bodice or skirt design, turning the most ordinary of dresses into something extraordinary.

Her dinner parties became legendary! Besides being a great cook, her table settings were perfection! The garnishes on each plate were works of art. Even as her young grand-daughter, I never saw her serve a radish, for example, that was not made to look like a rose.

My sweet grandmother

My sweet grandmother

Gentle Soul

My grandmother was a gentle soul who shared her love equally with her husband, three children, and eventually her grandchildren as they came along. My two brothers and I, along with my parents, lived close by and got the most benefit from her sweet and caring disposition in everyday living.

She always held her Catholic religion near and dear to her heart. When we spent the night on a sleepover, we would each kneel by the bed and recite our nightly prayers together. Prayer before meals was also routine. A German prayer book of hers is a keepsake now treasured in our family.

My dear grandmother, who had the early influence of being taught by nuns in a boarding school situation, integrated that respectful way of living and being grateful for things into her daily life.

My grandmother saw the joy in the simplest of things, whether it was wild daisies gathered from the field, admiring a colorful fall leaf, or delighting in seeing a drawing done by one of her grandchildren. We were all made to feel special in her presence, and her memory lives on in each of us.

A photo that I took of my grandparents with my first Brownie camera prior to us moving to Texas in 1960.

A photo that I took of my grandparents with my first Brownie camera prior to us moving to Texas in 1960.


© 2009 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 20, 2019:

Hi Rebecca,

We were all blessed to have my maternal grandmother, as well as my grandfather, in our lives. We also had my paternal grandmother in our lives. My paternal grandfather died long before I was born, so I never got to meet him. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning about my grandmother and the times in which she grew up.

Rebecca Kemp on October 20, 2019:

I enjoyed reading about your grandmother life story. It was so touching and seeet, I gazed in the photos you posted how much they must've been in loved with other. How lucky you were to have a sweet grandmother that made such a big influence in your life. Thank you for sharing. ♡

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 07, 2014:

Hi Virginia,

Hope your husband's cousin had a good experience. My grandmother loved her experience being taught by nuns and I also loved my early elementary school days being taught by them in parochial school.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on December 07, 2014:

My husband had a cousin who was in an orphanage in Maine that was run by the nuns. Although she had a father, it was WWII and he was in the service.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2011:

Hi Billy,

My grandmother had nothing but fond memories of her days spent in the convent school and loved the nuns. She turned out to be such a wonderful person. I loved her dearly! Since we always lived close to her, she was like a second mother to me.

billyaustindillon on July 20, 2011:

Peggy enjoyed your story - the world has certainly changed from the days of the nuns - particularly discipline etc. Always nice to reflect on our family line and what they went through.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 11, 2011:

Hi JamaGenee,

For sure the Internet has made sharing stories like this one from the early 1900s about my grandmother so much easier to read for those who might be interested. Even for those who have no relation to our family, it does tell a bit about the times back then.

So many generations of families in the early days earned their living by farming. Small farmers are slowly but surely being phased out by the larger agricultural businesses and can hardly compete. So these family histories (yours, mine and others) are important.

The convent school did give my grandmother and her sisters a good education.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on July 11, 2011:

What a lovely story! Without their mother to teach them the basics of homemaking, Catholic boarding school was perhaps the best thing that could've happened to your grandmother and her sisters.

My own grandfather helped run and eventually inherited his father's dairy farm. My mother and her siblings (four sisters and a brother) were expected to milk a few cows and do other chores before going off to school each morning, and then do it all over again after school. My uncle let it be known early on that dairying was not his "thing" and never would be, so when Grandpa got too old to run it, that was the end of the family dairy.

I, too, have been putting family history stories on HP and on my blog. Makes them much more accessible to cousins scattered around the country, who can print them out to share with their own children (or not). So much easier than BTI (before the internet) when we compiled such stories into books and had too many or too few copies printed, and then did it all over again when enough new information warranted a revised, updated edition!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 10, 2010:

Hi Trish_M,

Happy to hear that you enjoyed this story about my grandmother being boarded and taught by nuns in a convent school in the early 1900's. I was fascinated as a child listening to her stories.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on June 10, 2010:

I love these old family tales :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 17, 2010:

Will look forward to your hub about it if you decide to make the trip. It does sound interesting!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 17, 2010:

I wouldn't mind going there again but it is a bit further from Wisconsin Rapids than it was from Moline, IL. It is an interesting historical area and I recal some interesting archetecture in the area--Federalist style I think.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 17, 2010:

That would be interesting to learn about that area and the impact religion has had on it. Go for it!!! :-)

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 17, 2010:

I don't really know. Most of the Mormons I knew from Utah were like most of the Catholics I knew--no longer practicing the religion. I might write about Nauvoo sometime.. It has been many years since we were there. Much of the Mormon community has been restored,

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 16, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

Ahh...that rings a bell! I think that Joseph Smith is still honored even in Salt Lake City however, if I remember what I learned from our travels correctly. Are the followers of the Mormon religion greatly divided between the two leaders? Guess we should be asking this of Mormons!

Might make for a good hub!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 16, 2010:

If I have the history right Joseph Smith founded the original Mormon Church which he brought to Illinois where he was killed. Brigham Young Was the new leader who led a group of Mormons to Utah and founded Salt Lake City. Some followers of Smith remained in Illinois a town called Nauvoo. So there are Mormons of the original religion in Illinois. Who I believe chose not to follow Young.

salt Lake City

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 16, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

First of all, I am not Mormon although we have visited Utah and loved what we saw there. I think that Joseph Smith started that religion if I am not mistaken.

The nuns that I knew as teachers, I loved! Even thought about becoming one when I was young. Not that my parents encouraged it! They rather liked the idea of me becoming a nurse which is what I did.

Am sure that the convent boarding school my grandmother and great aunts attended was probably quite different from the one your co-worker attended. And it was probably just for girls who were taught sewing, cooking, etc. Since their mother had died, it was probably the only good option left to their father back then. He was obviously enough of a good farmer to be able to afford to send them there.

As to what is more meaningful than teaching children? Not much, if the teaching is good!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 16, 2010:

Peggy W

I've lived in Wisconsin for a few years now, but you know more about the state than I do. More than half my life has been in it's neighbor--Minnesota.

Because my mother was French Canadian I was brought up Catholic and have been taught by nuns. They are not like they used to be. That's a mixed blessing. Theuy seemed in the 1960's to give up teaching to do something "meaningful".

what is more meaningful than teaching children?

I don't know much about boarding schools but a coworker I had was brought up in one and had some rather funny stories about it.

I believe you mentioned being Mormon in one comment, or am I confusing you with someone else? I knew one former Catholic at work who was Mormon-- it would be the Joseph Smith ones I think rather than the Utah ones.

Sorry if I am rambling but I find these things interesting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 08, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

Photography in the "old days" was not like it is today. Took so long to actually get the photos taken that few people wore smiles back then. Or...maybe the nuns just wanted to look serious. Who knows? Glad that you are enjoying these old photos of mine and sorry that you never got to know your own grandparents.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 08, 2009:

Those nuns look a little fierce. I guess it is the habit. I love old photos and yours are so interesting. Never knew any of my grandparents so I am very jealous:)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Thanks for the generous comment, LondonGirl.

LondonGirl from London on June 01, 2009:

fantastic hub - so well written, and the photos add an awful lot. Nice one!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi bingskee, I was blessed with wonderful grandmas on both sides of my family and learned much from both of them. My maternal grandmother was like my second mother as we lived so close to that set of grandparents most of my / their lives.

Thanks for your comment.

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on June 01, 2009:

not everybody can love their grandmothers because not all grandmas are as wonderful as your grandma.

what a nice tribute..

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2009:

Hi Zollstock, That is wonderful that you had a similar experience with knowing a loving grandma like I had. Sorry to hear that she had the equivalent of dropsy. We can both cherish their memories.

Zollstock from Germany originally, now loving the Pacific NW on May 31, 2009:

What a wonderful way to celebrate her life and your own roots while sharing a bit of history with fellow hubbers! You made me miss my own grandma who nourished similar values and loving dedication to family … and who died of the modern equivalent of dropsy in Germany seven years ago. Thanks for stirring up those memories!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2009:

Hello dawei888, So glad that you liked this story. Are you somehow connected to the dairy farming industry or had relatives doing it? Thanks for commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2009:

Hi Mardi, You are welcome. Glad you liked it and thanks for leaving a comment.

dawei888 on May 31, 2009:

Dear Peggy W, I have long been fascinated by learning about my own family history and the family history of others. Thank you so much for posting this hub. I really enjoyed seeing the pics of your grandmother when she was young. These pics are such treasures and I thank you for sharing. Through your hub you took us all back in time to dairy farming in Wisconsin so many years ago! Thanks again!

Mardi Winder-Adams from Western Canada and Texas on May 31, 2009:


Another great hub, both personal but also an insight into the not too distant past. Thanks for this.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2009:

Greetings Cailin, Thanks for reading this and leaving your nice comment. I've got more coming about her...

Cailin Gallagher from New England on May 31, 2009:

Beautiful photographs of your lovely Grandmother. Lovely story of her childhood and life.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2009:

Hi Melody, She was as saintly as they come! Thanks for the comment.

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on May 30, 2009:

Nice photos. Your grandma's very pretty. She sounds like a very nice person too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hi kiran, I agree and I also loved the sepia toned pictures. Enjoy your comments as always.

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on May 30, 2009:

Wonderful details, so nostalgic ! I have always loved Black and white pics , there is a sense of mystery in them, one can always debate over the color of the dress and so on LOL..

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hi Rochelle, My grandmother was definitely a lovely and special person not only to us but everyone that knew her thought the same about her. Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hello chicamom85, I also came from Wisconsin and have now spent the majority of my life in Texas. Glad that you enjoyed this bit of family history. Thanks for the comment.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on May 30, 2009:

She sounds like a lovely and special person. I enjoyed this very much.

chicamom85 on May 30, 2009:

What a nice story. I am from Wisconsin living in Michigan, very nice history and info

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hi Dolores, My grandmother could do the exact same thing with replicating clothes that she saw. She did the sewing for much of her family and she even did some sewing for me, her granddaughter. Nice to be so talented! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hi Pete, This is one way of preserving the history from this point forward. I have some cousins that are excited to be receiving these hubs. Isn't the Internet great! Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2009:

Hi Teresa, Am sure it helped being with her sisters at the convent school. They were obviously treated well for her to have had such fond memories. Thanks for the comment.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on May 30, 2009:

Peggy, thanks for sharing the story and the pictures of your beautiful grandmother. I remember my great aunt used to tell me how they would go into the best stores and try on the clothes. Then my Tonte Dot would turn them inside out and just stare at them for a while. Then, they'd go home and make fabuous replicas of these fine outfits.

Pete Maida on May 30, 2009:

Your family has an amazing link in history. I hope all of the stories and pictures a preserved.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on May 30, 2009:

Lovely photographs. Glad she had a good experience with the nuns. Perhaps having her sisters with her stopped them from being lonely?

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