#52ancestors Week 13 – Nearly Forgotten
With the COVID-19 virus touching just about every facet of our life, I wondered how they managed back in 1917-1918 when another pandemic raged called the Spanish Flu. More importantly, I think of the Pawlak family in Milwaukee at that time, Stephen and Blanche (Bronislawa) Pawlak and their seven children including Charles Pawlak who was the youngest. They had a lot more going on in the family than just trying to avoid the epidemic.
In early 1917, Blanche fell ill and it may have been tuberculosis as she had to leave the family for an extended period of time for treatment. Or perhaps she was in a postpartum depression after the birth of her last child or she had the flu and pneumonia. We really don’t know why she had to seek treatment but do know that it must have put the family in turmoil. Stephen and the oldest son, Stanley had to work to continue supporting the family but who would care for the other six children?
The solution was the Milwaukee County Home for Dependent Children in nearby town of Wauwatosa, WI – an institution nearly forgotten today!
This old postcard show a pretty peaceful and pleasant setting for the Home for Dependent Children. Children of families that couldn’t afford to care for them were housed here after the complex was built in 1898. This institution cared for children of poor families, abandoned children, delinquent children and orphans as well as children of parents incarcerated, insane, neglectful, immoral, ill, deceased among other reasons. The Children’s Home was intended to be a temporary home and children were returned to parents as soon as it was possible. This 160 acres multi-building complex was interconnected by artery-like tunnels to the Administration building which had a laundry, children’s dining room, kitchen and washrooms – all the necessary rooms for a functioning children’s home. The children stayed in one of four “cottages” and attended the school on the property.
The Children’s Home was an answer to the Pawlak family dilemma when Blanche fell ill. Edward, Joseph, Clara, Sigmund, Sophie and Charles went to the Home on 10 April 1917. Sophie was just two years old and Charles just turned one year old. Clara, who was seven at the time, remembered her dad bringing them to the home. The girls went one way and the boys another when they arrived. She remembered her dad visiting them as they were in the Home for some time. On 4th of July, she recalled getting all dressed up in stars and stripes and being picked to lead the girls in a parade. Clara recalled she learned how to swim while at the home and learned English in the school. (The Pawlak family spoke Polish at home.)
Although Clara enjoyed her time at the home, things did not go well for her younger sister, Sophie, who was two years old. Five months after entering the Home, Sophie becomes gravely ill and died on September 22, 1917, just five months after arriving. Little Sophie was about 2 years and 9 months old. The cause of death was double migrative lobar pneumonia and convulsions due to toxemia. Could her death have been connected to the flu epidemic? Many times the flu victims contracted pneumonia and that was listed as the cause of death rather than the flu. We will never know. Clara remembered little about Sophie’s funeral except the little white coffin. However, Stephen and Blanche must have been devastated to lose their child under these circumstances.
Sophie’s funeral was at St. Adalbert’s Church and she was buried in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery in Milwaukee. Although the family made wooden crosses for her grave throughout the years, a permanent marker was never purchased for some reason until last year. Charles’s son, Daniel, and two cousins decided Sophie must never be forgotten and purchased a marble grave stone. After 102 years, Sophie finally has a marker that will last long after those who remember her are gone!
On this 160 acre complex on Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa, WI with the Children’s Home were also other public welfare institutions such as the Milwaukee County Hospital, School of Agriculture, Muirdale and Blue Mound Sanitoriums, and the Asylum for Mentally Diseased. All the buildings associated with the County Children’s Home have been razed and just the Administration Building is left and designated as a Historic Site.
In a way, the Milwaukee County Home for Dependent Children is a nearly forgotten institution. But it still has a place in the Pawlak family history – a sad chapter with the loss of Sophie Pawlak. The Children’s Home has a heavy history as a place surely of sorrow for countless children but perhaps also a place of comfort for others. My final image is that of a group of orphans being tended by a young nurse at the Children’s Home. I find it a touching photo.