Friday, May 26, 2017

A Nebraska Farm Girl in New York City: VirginiaT., 1940

After Virginia’s stressful experience with her first teaching job, she went back to Nebraska State Normal School and Teacher’s College at Wayne1 where she lived in Pile Hall2 with a good friend, Irene Dangberg.3 She needed to further her education and prepare for the next adventure.

Upon completing her teacher certification, Virginia secured a job at District 24, Wayne County, Nebraska, where she taught four years.4 During this period in the summer of 1937, she and Neville traveled to Virginia to visit their brother Verne (See “Sisters. . .”). While there, a tall, slender young man named Raymond DeBord5 caught Virginia’s eye, and she caught his.6 But they lived far apart and a summer visit was too short to make life-changing decisions. Nonetheless, they wrote letters.

In 1939, Winside schools hired Virginia to teach in the intermediate room.7 Not only had Virginia been a top student herself, but also she encouraged her students to excel.8 She taught at Winside for one year.9 

History of Winside, 1942, by Jones & Dimmel, p. 97

Then her adventurous spirit prevailed. She applied for and was hired to teach in Puerto Rico.

And off she went, first by train: the Pacemaker, New York Central’s “premier all coach service” between Chicago and New York.10 In a letter to her parents, she raved about her good nights sleep, the boy scouts in her car who entertained the passengers, and the sights of the Hudson River from Albany to New York City: West Point Academy, Sing Sing Prison, and the Palisades of the Hudson.11 She complained about having to pay $3.00 a night for a room at the Commodore Hotel, and she felt astounded by the fact that she could walk for blocks from building to building “and never be out on the sidewalk with the sky above [me].”12

Envelope mailed from Commodore Hotel, NYC.
After settling into her room, resting, and freshening up, Virginia set out to find a place to eat.  Her description of her experience is priceless:

 “I knew the food was above my style here at the hotel so I walked down to the lower level of Grand Central and spotted an air-conditioned restaurant that didn’t look so ritzy. But lo and behold when I got to the door there was the head waiter to show me to a table. I almost collapsed when he brought me a menu. The cheapest thing I could get was a sandwich for 75¢. So I ordered a tuna fish sand. Then the darn waiter asked what I’d have to drink and I ordered a glass of milk. The tuna fish sand. filled a dinner plate. I got 13 slices of bread—5  different kinds, three slices of tomato, half of a hard-boiled egg, half a head of lettuce and a whole can of tuna. When I asked for my check, would you believe it when I told you that I had to pay 20¢ extra for the glass of milk. I gave them a dollar and said Good Night!”13

 She had learned her lesson. The next day, she found a dime store lunch counter on Fifth Avenue and paid five cents for her lunch. Her favorite, though, was an innovative method of getting food that she had never before seen: the Automat. “They are cafeterias where you can get anything from soup to nuts by putting a nickel in a slot," she writes. “All food except steamed dishes are behind little glass doors all along the walls. You put in your nickel and the door flops open. What won’t they think of next?”14

That night she went to Radio City Music Hall to see “Pride and Prejudice,” which was “swell.” But what dazzled her beyond words was the “floor show . . . . presented by the R. C. A. symphony orchestra, ballet, and glee club.”15

And so after two days in New York City, the little Nebraska farm girl reported to her parents that she felt like “one of these New Yorkers who seem to like no one quite so much as themselves. I’ve learned to strut down 5th Avenue and Broadway, crowd at every corner, speak as if you were commanding an army, keep your eyes straight ahead and look at no one unless it’s a cop.”16 She had adapted.

The next leg of her journey took her by boat to Puerto Rico.

1 The name of State Normal School and Teacher’s College was changed in 1949 to Nebraska State Teacher’s College at Wayne and then in 1963 to Wayne State College.
2 Mary Troutman, Winside, Nebraska, to Virginia Troutman, letter, 26 March 1935; relates information about a teaching job opportunity and cousin news; Troutman Letters, CD compiled by Leo W. Nelsen, Jr., copy privately held by Z. T. Noble, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Anderson, Indiana.
3 “The Bride’s History: To be Opened on Their Silver Wedding Anniversary,” not dated, but the bride married 27 Oct. 1946; Troutman Letters, CD.
4 Ibid.
5 Raymond DeBord and Virginia Troutman were actually third cousins, but they probably didn’t know it. Their common ancestors were their great-great-grandparents, Oliver Pratt and Mary Fulks Pratt. Their grandmothers, America Ann Pratt and Susan Marion Elizabeth Pratt were first cousins.
6 “The Bride’s History . . . “
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 F. M. Jones and F. J. Dimmel, The History of Winside, Nebraska (no place: no publisher, 1942), 97.
10 “The Pacemaker,” ( : accessed 24 May 2017).
11 Virginia Troutman, New York City, New York, to Clint Troutman, letter, 14 August 1940; relates details about train ride to New York City and her impressions of the big city; Troutman Letters, CD.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.

© 2017, Z. T. Noble

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Letter: Stories of Homesteading

Letters. For many years after I married, I used to spend Sunday afternoons writing letter to my parents 500 miles away and to my siblings scattered here and there. Regularly, for years, my aunts and my mother penned letters to each other. My mother kept all the letters and now I have some of them. Many of those letters have helped me piece together the family history. Being a genealogist, family history is my passion and letters are crucial. It pains me that people no longer write letters. Yes, they communicate other ways, but the beauty and intimacy of letters are gone.

Once in a while, the impact of letters takes my breath away. This past week it happened again when I received an e-mail message from my cousin, Jill. She had found a letter among her mother’s papers that she found fascinating. The writer, Edith Hillier, had been a close friend of Jill’s and my grandmother, Mary Troutman. Gracefully worded and filled with stories of the Hillier family’s adventures homesteading in Montana, the letter is a treasure. Jill wondered if we could locate Edith’s descendants to see if they would like to have the letter.

Well, you know I took the challenge.

Since Edith had been my grandmother’s friend, I figured, I ought to be able to find her living in Wayne County Nebraska at some point in time. And, I did. She lived in Brenna Precinct in 1920, same precinct where my grandparents lived. She was age 37 (about four years older than Grandma Mary), married to W. R. Hillier; they had two children, Anabel, age 11, and Ralph, age 9. Mr. Hillier was working as a hired man for W. K. Dobeneker.1

I found that Edith Irene Hall had married William R. Hillier on 20 June 1907 in Hennepin County, Minnesota,2and that’s where they lived in 1910. They had a one-year-old daughter Laura A. (for Anabel?). William worked as a carpenter.3

When William registered for the World War I draft, the family lived in Hennepin County, Minnesota, his next of kin: Edith Irene Hillier.4 Doesn’t that appear as if they have lived in Minnesota for at least eleven years, then moved to Nebraska between 1918 and 1920?

But no. In telling the homesteading stories, Edith says children are three and four years old.5 That sets this homesteading tale at about 1913-14.

Without this letter, would the family know Edith and William had homesteaded? Maybe there were stories. Maybe Edith entertained her grandchildren with homesteading tales. But, maybe, not. What a treasure the letter could be for the family!

So I built a Hillier family tree on Ancestry and posted a scanned copy of the letter for the Hillier descendants to find. I hope they enjoy it.

Here is an excerpt:
Excerpt from Edith Hillier letter to Neville Troutman, 1957.
Edith also tells about a horse falling through the roof of her dugout henhouse where she kept “a lovely bunch of Buff Orpingtons” she had “raised by hand.” The roof of the dugout was covered with boards and straw. Foraging for food on a snowy winter night when temperatures dipped below zero, the horse found the straw and his hind legs fell through the roof. Edith tried to free it, but it was too frightened.6

She hitched her horse to a buggy, wrapped her children in blankets, loaded them into the buggy and set out to get help. She tells about driving her horse through snow up to its belly and taking hours to go four miles. She was terrified her children would freeze, but she made it to a neighbor’s homestead, and the man set off to town two miles away to get Edith’s husband.7

When the family returned to the homestead the horse was dead. They couldn’t get it out of the henhouse, so they just buried it there in the hillside. She moved her prize chickens into the family’s shanty (temporarily, I hope). She added, “That was one of the many things that made me tough.”8

Buff Orpington, photo by Rebekah Noble, used with permission.
The letter also revealed tidbits about my Aunt Neville’s family, but I’ll save that for later.

1 1920 U. S. census, Brenna precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 218, p. 4-B, dwelling 288, family 300, William R. Riley family; digital image ( : accessed 15 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1003.
2 “Minnesota/u002C Marriages Index/u002C, 1849-1950,” database, ( : accessed 15 May 2017), entry for William R Hillier and Edith I Hall, 20 June 1907; citing Hennepin County. 
3 1910 U. S. census, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 205, p. 13-B, dwelling 70, family n/a, W. K. Dobenecker, see W. R. Hillier and Edith Hillier; digital image ( : accessed 15 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 706.
4 “U. S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” images (, accessed 15 May 2017), card for William Riley Hillier, serial number 3481, Local Draft Board, Hennepin County, Minnesota. 
5 Edith Hillier, Atkinson, Michigan, to Neville Lamson, letter, 17 October 1957; relates information about homesteading in Montana and other news about her family; privately held by Jill Gran [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] Pierce, Nebraska.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Aunt Virginia Versus the School Board

My Aunt Virginia was no less adventurous than her sister, Neville—maybe a bit more so.

Fall, 1934. After only one year at Nebraska State Teacher’s College, Wayne, Virginia took a teaching position at a small country school in Wayne County—District 63, a school that was already embroiled in controversy.1 She was only eighteen. 

Virginia's high school graduation photo, 1933.
During the 1933-34 school year at District 63, the teacher and two board members had expelled ten-year-old boy Bobbie Johnson,2 the youngest son of Swedish immigrants Nels J. and Hilma V. Johnson.3 As young teenagers Nels Johnson and Hilma Vennerberg4 had immigrated to America with their respective parents about 1888-1890. They likely met in the U. S.; they married about 1900, probably in Nebraska.5 Their children were all born in that state starting in 1901 with Russell.6 By the time the trouble started at the school, Nels had been farming in Wayne County since before 1910.7 Most likely, all the Johnson children had attended District 63.

For many years, one-room schoolhouses were the norm for children of farm families in Nebraska. Children in grades one through eight were taught in the same room. By the 1930s teachers had at least a year of teacher training, and some more. With better roads and transportation, some families sent their children to high school in town, but the formal education of many farm children ended with eighth grade, which was typical of most of the Johnson children.8 By this time, the one-room school was being questioned, but still in 1930, Nebraska ranked number two in the nation for one-room schools.9

Bobbie was the youngest of the Johnson children. Eight years younger than the next sibling, he was born about 1923 when his mother was 47 years old. As a small child, Bobbie experienced a serious ear and gland infection (possibly measles) and ran a high fever, which left him mentally disabled.10 In those days, children with disabilities were not  welcome in public schools. They slowed down the classroom for other students, people said. Bobbie was accused of being unruly in other ways, as well, so the teacher and board members expelled him.

Bobbie’s father sued, and the issue went to court. Mr. Johnson claimed that Bobbie had been expelled without due process, that the only reason the teacher expelled him was that he had asked her about gossip he had heard about her at home. The Johnsons won the first round when the court ordered that Bobbie be allowed to attend school.11 The teacher resigned.

That’s when Virginia accepted a teaching position at District 63 with the stipulation that she accept Bobbie as a student.12

Nonetheless, the controversy continued. Some parents didn’t want Bobbie in the school. One of the board members took his four children out of District 63 and insisted they be allowed to attend at another district.  The board pressured Virginia to expel Bobbie, but she stood up to them. She apparently had more confidence in the boy’s ability to learn than did others. When she refused, they fired her and hired another teacher who agreed to expel the boy.13

The controversy continued for years. In 1943, Bobbie’s father sued the two school board members for slandering Bobbie, for causing him great distress, depression and other problems. He asked for $10,000.00 in damages. Virginia and her father, my grandpa Clint Troutman, were subpoenaed along with several others. Eventually, Mr. Johnson dropped his suit and had to pay court costs. The court record does not offer an explanation. Virginia was paid $4.90 witness fee in the case.14

Wondering about the fate of Bobbie Johnson, I contacted a family member through I learned that he had been killed when hit by a car in August of 1950 while riding his bicycle. He was 27 years old.15 I’m sure this was a sad day not only for Bobbie’s family but also for Virginia.

1 Wayne County, Nebraska, District Court Files, Case number 4526, Bobbie Johnson, a minor by his father and next friend Nels J. Johnson vs. Iver Prince, et al., 20 Jan. 1934, County Clerk’s Office, Wayne.
2 Wayne Co., NE, District Court Files, Case no. 4526, Bobbie Johnson, a minor by his father Nels J. Johnson vs. Iver Prince, et al., 20 Jan. 1934, County Clerk’s Office, Wayne.
3 1930 U. S. census, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, Chapin township, p. 598 (penned), enumeration district [ED] 90-02, sheet 5-B, dwelling 105, family 106, Nels J. Johnson family, see Bobby G. ; digital image ( : accessed 10 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1295.
4 For Hilma’s maiden name, see “U. S. Social Security and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database ( : accessed 10 May 2017); citing Helen R. Johnson. This index includes mother’s maiden name. Also, U. S. Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Employment Records, 1935-1970, database ( : accessed 10 May 2017); citing Clarence Dale Johnson. This record also includes maiden name of mother.
5 1910 U. S. census, Chapin township, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 209, p. 4-B, dwelling 77, family 78, Nels Johnson family; digital image ( : accessed 10 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 767.
6 1930 U. S. census, Wayne Co., NE, population schedule, Chapin tnshp, p. 598, ED 90-02, sheet 5-B, dwell. 105, fam. 106, Nels J. Johnson.
7 1910 U. S. census, Chapin twnshp, Wayne Co., Ne, pop. sched., ED 209, p. 4-B, dwell. 77, fam. 78, Nels Johnson.
8 1940 U. S. census, Chapin precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district 90-2, sheet 1-B, visit no. 19, Nels J. Johnson family; digital image ( ; accessed 11 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2268. Also, 1940 U. S. census, Allen precinct, Pierce County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district 70-1, sheet 1-B, visit no. 19, Russell A. Johnson; digital image ( ; accessed 11 May 2017); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2260.
9 Jim McKee, “The One-room Schoolhouse in Nebraska,” Lincoln Journal Star, 5 May 2013 ( : accessed 11 May 2017).
10 “Parashont” to “ztnoble,” private message, 4 May 2017, “Johnson Family”; “Messages,” Ancestry,com ( : accessed 11 May 2017), private use only.
11 Wayne County, Nebraska, District Court Files, Case number 4615, Bobbie Johnson, a minor by his father and next friend Nels J. Johnson vs. Iver Prince and Artie Fisher, 29 Oct. 1934, County Clerk’s Office, Wayne.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid. Letter from Clerk of the District Court, Wayne, NE, to Clint Troutman, 23 Feb. 1943,  included in case file, asks Clint to forward the check to Virginia who is in Washington, D.C.
15 “Parashont” to “ztnoble,” private message, 4 May 2017, “Johnson Family”; “Messages,” Ancestry,com ( : accessed 11 May 2017), private use only.

© 2017, Z. T. Noble