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Vine and oak: wives and husbands cope with the financial panic of 1857.

As the vine which has long twined its graceful foliage about the oak, and been lifted by it into sunshine, will, when the hardy plant is rifted by the thunderbolt, cling round it with its caressing tendrils and bind up its shattered boughs; so is it beautifully ordered by providence, that woman, who is the mere dependent and ornament of man in his happier hours, should be his stay and solace when smitten with sudden calamity... (1)

In 1820, Washington Irving published the selection "The Wife" in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which included the oft-repeated metaphor of man as oak and woman as vine. This imagery pervaded nineteenth-century publications directed at the middle class. (2) The narrator in "The Wife" relates the story of a husband who feared telling his wife of his business failure because he assumed she could not cope with changed living circumstances that would result from his financial losses. In the end, the wife was relieved to know her husband's troubles, helped him secure a modest cottage outside of the city, and began arranging their new home. While the husband worried that she would now have "a home destitute of every thing elegant,--almost of every thing convenient," the wife made the cottage comfortable by playing music; placing "several pots of flowers tastefully disposed about the door"; presenting herself in a "pretty, rural dress" with a happy and bright face and flowers in her hair; and preparing a tea table outside to enjoy strawberries she had gathered. Thus, Irving's fictional wife supported her husband like the metaphorical vine by maintaining the appearance of domestic security even though he had lost his financial stability. (3)

Irving's fictional story was rooted in personal experience. His brothers' business had failed in 1818 on the eve of the first of a series of financial panics that occurred approximately every twenty years over the course of the nineteenth century. According to Irving scholar Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, Irving felt the failure keenly, both as a loss of financial support and as a humiliating personal shortcoming that left him feeling cast adrift. These feelings provided the impetus for him to compose the sketches that made up his book-to stabilize himself financially and professionally. (4) Rubin-Dorsky might have gone one step further; Irving needed to write a successful book to succeed as a man. Historians such as Toby Ditz, Scott Sandage, and Judy Hilkey have explored the experiences, language, and meanings of failure for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American men, finding that failure was indeed a challenge to individuals' as well as society's notions of masculinity. (5) Although increasing numbers of schola rs have analyzed women s economic behavior, demonstrating conclusively that American women participated actively in a wide variety of economic endeavors, few have noted women's responses to financial failure and whether this challenged femininity in the way masculinity was questioned when men failed. (6)

Irving's metaphor of the female vine and male oak provides a framework for examining husbands' and wives' strategies for responding to financial crisis. First, it suggests that husbands needed wives to cope with financial difficulties and the damage wrought by financial and gender instability on men. Second, the metaphor and the story of "The Wife" suggest in sentimental language and culturally approved ways that women were responsible for supporting men. (7) What did this mean to real women in financially straitened circumstances? Reading through the sentimental and pastoral imagery embedded in Irving's depiction, it is clear that an integral part of women's role was to keep up the appearance of comfort and security without appearing deceptive or artful about it, a role that middle-class wives repeatedly carried out. (8) For this reason, women probably did not experience the gender dislocation that men did when faced with economic failure; women's duty to keep up appearances was embedded with more cultural and social importance but was nevertheless the same whether in flush or hard times. What follows is a case study of how one town's families responded to e conomic loss following the Financial Panic of 1857. Sifting through census and court records, correspondence, and other manuscript sources from Nininger City, Minnesota, one discovers that, as Washington Irving suggests in fiction, women and men coped with the fallout of the financial panic together, but often used gendered strategies to do so. These strategies included husbands migrating to new locations to seek employment that would support their families, protecting their property, and masking their indebtedness. Wives intensified their efforts to demonstrate husbands' solvency by remaining in the community and keeping up appearances through their dress, homes, and household production. In one unique case, a wife went beyond the household to act as a business "ambassador" for her husband, even as she also endeavored to keep up appearances like other women. On occasion, these gendered strategies failed or were transgressed and so divorce resulted, symbolizing the end of the mutual dependence of the husband/ oak and wife/vine.

Nininger City offers a unique opportunity to understand the real effects of a financial panic because, like many middle-class families of the time, it was held together by appearances, by presenting a positive image in the face of trying circumstances. Nininger City, often characterized as a paper town, might be better viewed as a fun house created by land speculators, boosters, and absentee investors. A fun house projects distorted views of real objects. From the town's inception in May 1856 to its decline in May 1858, the town boosters, through the local newspaper, pamphlets, and personal correspondence, claimed a higher population, more buildings, and greater regional importance than the town possessed and downplayed the snowballing effects of the financial panic that began with the failure of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company on August 24,1857. That company's failure triggered a wave of business closures, beginning with New York City's financial firms and extending to banks and businesses in the M idwest that could no longer obtain credit or a good exchange rate on their bank notes. Although the panic spread through the nation, the upper Midwest felt the panic most severely. (9)

The reason for this intense regional economic downturn can be found in the real estate boom in the early 1 850s, especially in Minnesota Territory. Land in the southeastern portion of the territory had only been made available for purchase in 1853 after Congress ratified a treaty in which the Dakota Indians ceded their land to the United States. By the fall of 1855 nearly all of the land in what would become Nininger township had been sold to squatter farmers and absentee purchasers, both of whom bought land in sufficiently large parcels to sell to later emigrants at inflated prices. (10) A relative latecomer to this process, twenty-five year old Philadelphian, Ignatius Donnelly, participated actively in the speculative land market in 1856. He bought lots in and around the territorial capital, St. Paul, and in his own promising location, the future Nininger City, 20 miles south of St. Paul on the Mississippi River. By the spring of 1857 Donnelly had convinced several local township residents to sell land for the new town site and persuaded eastern investors in Philadelphia and New York City to invest in businesses and town lots. To further the city's interests and attract settlers, Donnelly established a newspaper, The Emigrant Aid Journal.

Ignatius Donnelly invested heavily in his town, not only financially, but also socially, politically, and culturally. Donnelly believed that his new town was his ticket to a profitable and prestigious future, something he had aspired to while growing up in Philadelphia. Raised by his widowed mother, a successful Philadelphia pawnbroker, Donnelly pursued a career in law in his early twenties, and involved himself in local politics and in real estate dealings as an officer in building and home associations, two interests that would form the bedrock of his activities in Minnesota. (11) Donnelly felt that Philadelphia would not provide him the opportunities he craved to advance himself. In his diary he wrote: "I believe a young man... will have greater opportunities of success in a new country than he could in this crowded city. My desire is to found a new city and there find occupation and fortune with the growth of the country." (12) For Donnelly, urban development was not merely an activity engaged in by men; it was a masculine activity that established a man's position and future. It was assumed that speculation, landownership, and engaging in a trade in the West increased a man's ability to provide for his wife and children, as prescribed by middle-class expectations. For many men like Donnelly, venturing "west" to build or promote a city was an ideal way to realize their individual potential during the era of the celebrated "self-made man." (13)

Ignatius Donnelly fits the classic image of Midwestern boosters as described by Timothy R. Mahoney in his work on the antebellum Midwestern middle-class. Mahoney describes this emerging group as "those who cared about and participated in public affairs advocated and articulated the booster ethos and then, through investment, running for political office, founding churches, academics, clubs, and societies, staging and attending public and civic events, turned it into a booster system." (14) Donnelly engaged in all of these activities in some form in Nininger City's brief existence. A key element of this system followed by the middle-class booster was a "genteel house," a symbolic and visual representation of success, security, and gentility, and Donnelly had not neglected this angle. In May 1857 Donnelly brought his wife, Katherine Donnelly, and infant son to live in their partially completed $10,000 home, ensconcing himself and his wife as one of the new town's leading couples.

Others, too, made the long trip by train, steamboat, and wagon to the new town of Nininger City or to other destinations in Minnesota, in search of economic opportunity. Based on estimates from the state statistician in 1860, Minnesota Territory began 1855 with a population of 40,000. The state census of 1857, conducted just before the effects of the financial panic spread westward, enumerated 150,037 residents. In the same three-year period, nearly 400 town sites were platted. (15) Of more personal and financial interest to Ignatius Donnelly, by the fall of 1857 his own Nininger City had attracted 366 residents; an additional 124 people resided in the township around Nininger City. Most of these township residents had bought land and built farms in 1855 prior to Donnelly's establishing Nininger City. The number, size, and interest on mortgages that these men contracted to purchase their land show that, like Donnelly and other western boosters, they bet heavily on the continued rise in land values. (16)

Within two years of the inception of the town, the boom went bust. Despite assurances from the Emigrant Aid Journal's editor Alexander MacDonald on January 13, 1858, that "the universal prostration of business and credit which has been felt during the last few months over our whole country, from the general government down to the humblest citizen, has failed to interfere with the growth and prosperity of our town," the newspaper foundered under increasing unpaid debts and ceased publishing in May 1858. (17) For his own part, town booster Ignatius Donnelly supplied a colorful and gendered assessment of the financial panic's effect on January 1,1859. In a lengthy letter to a former Nininger City resident Donnelly wrote, "things have so changed since you left here." Donnelly reported that the former commission merchant, despite appearing solvent, wrote a draft note from his father's account to pay a bill, but the note could not be paid. The young man then took money from a friend's account and ran away with a " servant girl." Town proprietor John Nininger "was sued for one of his debts $1200, he ran off bag and baggage in a hurry leaving a number of unpaid debts behind him." The town's architect and carpenter "has awfully degenerated. He has lost his shops and lots and is now living from hand to mouth." The former land agent left for California and is "now driving ox-team for a living." The town's surveyor bought timberland at an inflated price, faced a stiff tax, and now "is ekeing out a living by means of some political office." In Donnelly's eyes, the financial panic "laid bare the monstery and moral characters of men ... Millionaires became beggars; men as honest as Brutus put their property out of their names." While some men "degenerated," he felt the panic developed "the innate grit of my character ... I have now got myself pretty well out of debt and still retain enough property to make me rich as soon as times begin to change." (18)

Donnelly's gossip about men's financial and personal exploits confirms historians' analyses about nineteenth-century cultural meanings surrounding men s financial failures. Men's failures were explained by a lack of effort and poor character on their part, not a systemic problem with the financial system. (19) Although Donnelly included behaviors such as debauchery, dependency, degeneracy and general weakness of character as results of financial failure, his comment that the crisis "laid bare" men's true characters actually presumed that those traits were inherent in his fellow townsmen's characters. This attitude is not unlike those expressed by merchants in the eighteenth century, who tended "to represent failures or impending failures in highly charged personal and moral terms," and linked failure with deceit, running off, sexual seduction, and dependency. (20) Donnelly viewed himself as emerging from the crisis strengthened through his own character and effort. Clearly, he saw the failure through a very g endered lens--men were affected by financial problems and men chose their own paths of how to cope with those problems. Nininger City's women's responses to the financial panic do not figure into Donnelly's account of economic failure in the town or in his own financial recovery. For Donnelly there were no female vines supporting the shattered male oaks because oaks ought to stand on their own.

Hidden from Donnelly's account of these men's lives and the standard history of Nininger City's failure are the women who struggled with their husbands', and thus their own, changed circumstances. A woman's character might not have been called into question in the same way a man's was when economic misfortune struck because women were usually perceived as more economically vulnerable and dependent than men. (21) A wife's financial and social position depended on and fluctuated with her husband's economic reputation in society's eyes. Therefore, a family's outward projection of financial well being required the married couple's mutual efforts in producing and displaying financial security, which was accomplished through consumption. Joyce Appleby argues that consumption was a means to present a "respectable family life" based on comfort as "the happy mean between biting necessity and indulgent luxury." (22) By the antebellum period, consumption could be used to improve social standing. According to Karen Haltt unen, middle-class women, no longer responsible for many productive tasks associated with agricultural life, "assumed the responsibility of elevating her family's social position as her husband struggled up the ladder of economic status," often using fashion as the means to demonstrate status. (23) Even in Nininger, still an agricultural community, women were acutely aware of their role to increase, or at the very least stabilize, their family's social position, responding in ways similar to Irving's fictional wife. However, they extended this display beyond dress, furniture, houses and garden plots, to something as fundamental as remaining in the community, pairing middle-class respectability with sustained attention to subsistence, property, and other economic concerns.

The move made by Irving's fictional couple to a country cottage symbolized an attempt to reduce expenses; however, moving to make the most out of one's financial circumstances was a common strategy in the nineteenth-century. Scholars have found that men led the way in deciding to leave home, especially following economic downturns or news of lucrative opportunities elsewhere. This meant that women either accompanied their husbands or remained at home waiting for their husbands' return or for word instructing them to follow. (24) Initially, Nininger City benefited from migration when single men, married men alone, or entire families moved into the town. But between the fall of 1857 and 1860, migration proved to be one of the main reasons for Nininger City's demise. By 1860 Nininger City's population fell nearly 25%; more dramatic is the low persistence rate. Only 35% of the names that appear in the 1857 state census were also in the 1860 federal census for Nininger City. By way of contrast, consider the popula tion change in Nininger Township, which showed a net increase of 33% in population and 62% persistence rare. (25) Significant investment in farmland, early residence in the area, and the presence of kin certainly increased population persistence in the township compared to that of the town. (26) By the state census of 1865, the enumerator did not distinguish between Nininger City and the township, and the label "Nininger" was used for the area as a whole.

Persistence and population figures do not reveal the migration strategies that families employed in the late 1850s, but letters between emigrants and those who remained in the town give a clearer sense of how migration strategies were pursued with an eye to maintaining middle-class gender divisions of production and display. David Barnitz, a Nininger City investor who had relocated his family from Pennsylvania to St. Paul against his wife's wishes in 1857, decided to move his family back to York, Pennsylvania in August 1858, while he tried to find employment. In his letters to Ignatius Donnelly from a variety of cities where he worked temporarily in the federal government, attempted to establish a coal company, acted as a business agent, and finally accepted a job as a bookkeeper in an Indian rubber company, Barnitz communicated his commitment to support his family while they remained in York. In the summer of 1859, he confided to his friend, "I have had hard struggling to live thus far, but I hope now to hav e easier times and be able to provide for my family. It is no disgrace to be poor, but it is d--d uncomfortable and inconvenient." In a middle-class society focused on upward mobility, Barnitz's migration suggested downward movement. Satisfied to work as a bookkeeper rather than run his own company or speculate in western real estate, Barnitz ended his migration odyssey content and happy because his salary "covers expenses," certainly a far cry from owning an oil company or investing in a booming real estate market. (27) Barnitz's strategy was to return his family to where they were most comfortable and then find employment that would support them wherever he could. Trying a series of different occupations was not uncommon for many nineteenth-century men; even Barnitz's optimism that he had succeeded in finding a permanent position despite his earlier failures sounds much like many other men. (28)

At least two other Nininger City families tried a different version of Barnitz's migratory path to economic stability. Mary MacDonald and Jemima Govett remained in Nininger City while their husbands sought work elsewhere in the fall of 1858. Unable to support their families in Nininger, carpenter Lewis Govett and newspaper editor Alexander MacDonald, who had proclaimed Nininger City immune from financial trouble less than a year earlier but not produced a newspaper issue since May due to lack of money, ventured to St. Louis, where several other former Nininger residents had already gone seeking employment. Both men yearned to return to Minnesota by the "first boat" in the spring. (29) How their wives spent the bulk of their time, other than in trying to economize, is not clear from the available records. As "women in waiting"--a phrase to describe wives whose husbands went West for gold but equally applicable to wives weathering a financial panic while their husbands sought jobs elsewhere--women took up the w ork of the family, juggling their own daily responsibilities with added tasks like collecting debts, paying bills, and running farms and businesses for which their husbands had formerly taken primary responsibility. (30)

By remaining in the community, the wives also symbolized the families intentions to stay and succeed in Nininger. Contemporaries interpreted this as a good sign because, as John Mack Faragher argues, out-migration often signified destabilization within communities. (31) Presumably their husbands' need for work away from home would only be temporary, and so the wives remained to show the community their families' social and economic commitment to the struggling young town and their investments there. In Lewis Govett's letters to Ignatius Donnelly, it is clear that he hoped to return as soon as possible because "there are no associations as dear as many were that I have left behind me in my northern home." He urged Donnelly's wife Katherine to visit his new bride, further solidifying the young couple's social connections in Nininger City. (32) Within the year, however, Jemima Govett visited her husband's family in Philadelphia for an extended period, perhaps an indication of the newlywed's straitened circumstan ces. The newspaper editor's wife, Mary MacDonald, did her best to take care of business in Nininger City by paying county taxes on town lots and caring for the couple's two young sons. Even with his work in St. Louis, MacDonald had not "paid all [his] indebtedness in Nininger yet," especially to Ignatius Donnelly who continued to try and collect on MacDonald's outstanding Emigrant Aid Journal debts. Just as David Barnitz, the Govetts, and her husband had before her, Mary MacDonald left Nininger City with her young sons within the year. (34)

Out-migration was, of course, only one strategy for coping with financial problems. Unlike Nininger City residents, Nininger Township families were more likely to stay through the hard times because they had extensive kin networks and a greater stake in land ownership as a means for their economic survival. With the benefit of daily diary entries of township farmer Levi Countryman, we can discern how these factors helped the Countryman family emerge from the financial panic in a stronger economic and social position. Playing a significant role was Alte Countryman, Levi's wife. She dissuaded her husband from leaving Minnesota to pursue other potential opportunities, insisting that their family remain together in Nininger. The Countryman family, composed of Levi, Alte, and their two young sons, had moved to Nininger in 1855. Levi was the last of the six Countryman siblings to buy quarter sections of land near one another in Nininger Township before the financial panic. Alte Countryman also had family in the are a; three of her younger siblings lived with the Countrymans, providing labor on the farm, and a male cousin lived with his family in an adjoining township. (35)

Countryman's diary reveals a debate between a husband and wife about how best to cope with the financial panic and their respective duties in this endeavor. Alte Countryman can only be known through her husband's diary, and thus through his own interpretations of her. Levi Countryman described her as a notable housewife, frugal and skillfull, and lack[ingj but one thing needful to make her a complete wife," religious devotion equal to her husband's. (36) Alte's frugality was even more necessary in the late summer of 1858 as her husband faced imminent foreclosure on a land debt. Clearly, Levi informed Alte of the threatened foreclosure because he commented, "My dear wife feels the blow worse than I do. I pray God that He will assist her." (37) Interestingly, when they faced a poor harvest one week later, it was Alte Countryman who was "as calm and cheerful as ever," perhaps because she hoped to reassure him that he could succeed at farming, although Levi blamed himself for "poor farming." (38)

Alte had a vested interest in encouraging her husband in farming. Even as they faced foreclosure and poor harvests, he had been trying to make arrangements to pursue theological studies in Ohio or Massachusetts, which he hoped would lead him to become a minister, a stable non-agricultural position that would support his family financially. This plan meant that Alte and their sons would stay in Nininger, a course not unlike that pursued by the MacDonald and Govett families. In an attempt to achieve his goal, Levi Countryman met with a local businessman to try to arrange for him to assume Countryman's $1000 "Home Mortgage," thus freeing Countryman from a financial burden and paving the way for him to move east. (39) The following night he tried to persuade his neighbor to lease the farm, presumably so Alte and the children could live there and the farm would remain productive under a neighboring farmer's hand. (40) Alte Countryman, however, was not disposed to Levi's plan. On August 24th, Levi vented his frustr ation about his wife's views: "Alte is pulling in a contrary direction from me, and desires me not to go away. I can make no appeal that is satisfactory to her. She love[s] property much better than education or religion, and as long as she continues with an unchanged heart, it must be so." (41) While Alte behaved as a clinging vine, supporting her husband through her frugality and wifely skills at home and reassuring him that he could farm successfully, he did not appreciate her efforts because she did not manifest the dependence and acquiescence that he expected of her. Ultimately, Alte Countryman dissuaded her husband from leaving Nininger and her, to pursue another career opportunity, even if it might provide more adequately for their family's financial needs than farming. One cannot know definitively why the Govetts and MacDonalds chose migration while the Countrymans remained in Nininger and continued to farm. However, based on the written record, Alte's contrariness, the Countrymans' extensive kinship network in the immediate vicinity, and Levi's role as both a creditor and debtor in land transactions coincided to create conditions that kept the family together in Nininger Township. (42)

Levi Countryman's frustration with his wife not only illustrates a disruption in the plans he laid to try to solve his family's straitened circumstances, but also suggests multiple meanings of "property" in households, which sometimes resulted in marital tension. Alte Countryman did not literally love "property," meaning real estate, but real estate did help tie her husband to Nininger. Reassigning land titles became a useful tool for men faced with foreclosure to safeguard their property and mask their indebtedness; in some cases, they put land in their wives' names so that it could not be taken from the husband should creditors call in their debts or he declare bankruptcy. The Countrymans used just such an arrangement in the fall of 1858 once Countryman reconciled himself to remaining in Nininger. Nearly a month after Levi complained about Alte's wish that he not leave to pursue his education, Countryman negotiated to trade a mortgage he held for land that Nininger Township farmer Albert C. Poor owned. Levi obtained a deed "from A.C. Poor and wife to Alte, and [wrote] a transfer of the Hancock Mortgage to Caroline E. Poor."43 As a result, eighty acres were now in Alte Countryman's name so that if her husband needed to forfeit his own mortgage, this land would be safe. In addition, Caroline Poor, Albert's wife, now held the mortgage and would collect on it, and this capital could not be taken should her husband default on any of his loans. Thus, wives provided husbands with a way to protect property during the financially difficult period. (44) In Alte's case, the trade for the eighty acre farm, whether it was in her name or not, signified her husband's acquiescence to her wishes that he remain in Nininger Township; as Levi stated a month earlier, if he bought a farm he could not go to school. The land transaction had an added advantage because the new farm would be adjacent to that of his sister and brother-in-law. Throughout Levi's diary, he noted extended family visits, as well as shared tools and labor, both of which facilitated the stabilization of his family's social and economic circumstances within the rural community.

Levi's lament that Alte love[d] property" meant something beyond land ownership to Alte. It was not so much that she wanted to own property, but that she saw property, or a farm, as a way to remain together and then project financial security. This is most clear in Levi Countryman's diary entries in 1859. On the land he had secured in his trade with the Poors, Levi Countryman built a new home made of lumber obtained through trading his labor and farm products. Early in April, the family moved into the new, but unfinished, house. Soon after, Levi reaffirmed his determination to balance his family's financial needs with his own religious convictions: "I work very hard now-a-days but I have a laudable object in view. I want to secure a home for my family so that I may attend more exclusively to the business of the Gospel." (45) Although Levi did work hard through April and May to construct farm buildings and plant the fields, the unfinished state of the new farmhouse dismayed his wife. Although the house had a r oof, siding, glass in the windows, eaves troughs, and a new cellar, Alte was unhappy. The morning of June 8th, Levi Countryman rose late because "I was desponding, owing to a little difference between my wife and me. She is discontented because we are poor, and reflects upon me. I could be contented in a mud hovel, if all around could be contented." (46) This entry provokes several questions about the context of the "little difference," including the connection between Alte's unhappiness about their poverty, Levi's reputation, and their living conditions in the new house.

We can but speculate on Alte's perspective unfiltered by her husbands' words. Historians of rural women suggest that mid nineteenth-century farm women aspired to some of the changes already taking place for urban, middle-class women, including increased leisure time, less daily physical labor, and better designed homes that would decrease women's work. However, the reality for these women often fell short of these anticipated improvements, and instead they were held to higher standards of cleanliness and domesticity. (47) To achieve these goals, farm families needed a certain degree of prosperity or financial security, and the Countrymans clearly did not possess this in the aftermath of the financial panic. Thus, for Alte Countryman, her disagreement with her husband over their circumstances was not so much a love of property but rather a desire for a degree of physical comfort as embodied by a completed house and her husband working and living near his family. Her concern that their poverty tarnished her hus band's reputation, and his comments about living in a mud hovel have to do with the appearance of both financial security and success. After the disagreement, Levi Countryman "went or rather wandered off to Nininger, to see about getting some lumber...Saw Mr Jackson about getting some lime and lath, Saw Mr Hemphill about putting on the plastering." (48) By obtaining lumber, plastering materials, and the plasterer's services, he set out to transform the "mud hovel" for his wife, thus fulfilling his expected role--to provide adequate shelter for his family. Within five weeks of the marital quarrel over the house's incomplete state, Mr Hemphill plastered the house with Levi's assistance. Soon after, Countryman noted: "To day we finished up the last coat of mortar on the house...I did some painting in the chamber, cleaned up our sleeping room. &c, &c." And the house's evolution to a finished dwelling continued, as Levi and Alte were "busy all day cleaning the sand and mortar from the floors and scrubbing them tow ards night I did some painting in the pantry." In subsequent days he continued to paint and whitewash the farm buildings, contributing to a more prosperous appearance for the new farm as a whole and creating marital harmony in the bargain. (49)

If Levi had gone to Ohio or Massachusetts to pursue education and religion, Alte would have been left in their log cabin home on a leased farm to try to preserve a sense of familial security while her husband was away at school. She would have been like Mrs. Govett and Mrs. MacDonald, the visual symbol of a family's intention to remain part of the community but a husband's need to leave to support his family. Instead, Levi stayed, rearranged his debts, and finished the new house. Their mutual efforts extended Irving's vine and tree metaphor. Initially, Levi seemed to be coming apart under the weight of debt and Alte clung to him to prevent him from leaving. Eventually, they both acted out their respective and complementary roles--he to provide, she to insist that they present the best possible face to the world. With their financial situation in better condition two and a half years later, Levi Countryman did pursue his dream of college, leaving his wife to run the farm with their six-week old infant and thei r two sons, aided by a hired hand and Alte's teenage sister. (50) Ultimately, the Countrymans had negotiated their way through the financial panic so that in the end both Levi and Alte obtained what they wanted--an education and the satisfaction of a nice home and good reputation.

Not all marital tensions between couples were solved as amicably as the Countrymans'. A few couples divorced, which was not so much a strategy to survive financial hardship but a division or clarification of husbands' and wives' property. In effect, divorce represented the complete sundering of the vine and oak metaphor for marriage because the strategy of mutual support failed. When considering the Dakota County court records, it is curious that in the first five years of the court's existence from 1853 to 1857, the records list no divorce cases, but in 1858 the court heard three cases and between 1859 and 1861 couples registered six more with the court. (51) While no cases explicitly refer to financial problems as the cause for divorce, it is suggestive that they occurred in the years when the effects of the financial panic were felt most. Even more suggestive are the few cases that concerned husbands, wives, and property directly. On March 29, 1862, Mary Richmond filed against her husband a "motion to file supplemental complaint ... asking Relief to protect the property of Plaintiff, Mary Richmond," which was subsequently dismissed. (52) Why Mary Richmond felt the need to protect her property from her husband remains a mystery, but another wife's case, which was also filed against her own husband, perhaps hints at what occurred between the Richmonds. On June 21, 1864, Mary E. Tapley gave a deposition in her case against her husband and a group of prominent men in Dakota County. Her deposition reveals that she owned property independent of her husband and that on November 28, 1858, her husband tried to obtain her property through "fraud" and "duress" by forcing her to sign a deed involuntarily. The jury found in Mary Tapley's favor. (53) While neither case provides details confirming the financial panic's impact on the couples directly, together they suggest that husbands and wives faced troubling financial prospects. Additionally, husbands might have attempted to use wives' financial resources to alleviate the ir own economic problems, with the end result being recourse to the courts to solve marital disagreements.

One final set of records demonstrates the variety of strategies a single family employed to respond to financial duress. The correspondence between Ignatius and Katherine Donnelly in 1859 reveals these responses: family members helping one another, women's household production, middle- class frugality, pursuing a practical career path, and visits to counteract gossip. While many men attempted to solve their financial problems single-handedly, few succeeded in doing so, and occasionally extended family members stepped in to help relieve financial burdens. Women were crucial to financial connections within extended families. In her research on Yankee immigrants to Ohio, Tamara Miller found that "[m]en relied upon both their own relatives and those of their wives ... who worked to integrate men into their kin networks." (54) In Nininger, Katherine Donnelly worked particularly hard to encourage her husband to come to the assistance of her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Louis Faiver. As the Faivers teetered o n the edge of bankruptcy in Ohio and became mired in debt in Nininger City, Ignatius Donnelly wrote frequent letters filled with advice and suggestions that Louis Faiver adopt "coercive measures" in his business transactions to preserve his interests. (55) But in his own correspondence with his wife, Donnelly clearly disliked his brother-in-law and resented helping him, especially when the Faivers moved to Minnesota and into the Donnelly house to conserve their meager resources. Katherine worried about her sister, who suffered from a consumptive cough. She hoped that her husband would help Mary despite his relationship with Louis Faiver: "dear hubby no matter how Louis has treated you--there is a mean drop in him--do be kind to her & help them along for her sake mine & mothers for whatever is Louis ill luck is hers & I think worries her more than it does him." (56) Katherine's comment that a husband's "ill luck" was also a wife's speaks to married women's position in nineteenth-century economic life. If a hus band failed financially, so did his wife; relatives' duty required them to see that the pair recover financially. Donnelly honored her wishes, at least in this matter, and even acted on the Faivers' behalf by writing to one of their creditors who threatened to begin legal proceedings against the Faivers to recover his money. (57)

Although Ignatius Donnelly assisted his in-law's in financial matters, Katherine found him wanting because he failed to value the work Mary Faiver did at the Donnellys' house when Katherine was not at home, and even Katherine's own household work. Ignatius' lack of appreciation for the domestic and garden work women carried out to support the household economy was not unique among men of the time. (58) Ignatius styled himself as a gentleman farmer after his plans for Nininger City collapsed. He hired out planting and harvesting to local farmers on shares, while the burden of supplying the family with vegetables, poultry, and eggs fell to Katherine. In a June 15, 1859 letter to her husband, Katherine revealed her own duties through a set of instructions to him because he would have to carry them out in her absence: "How is everything about the house coming on. tend the garden--have the potatoes hoed at the right time & give meal to young chickens & turkeys. & find out if the cow is milked regularly morning & e vening or it will be spoiled--transplant & thin out the lettus bed & cabbages & have some sweet corn planted so as to have a constant supply of fresh boiling ears." (59) By mid-July. Katherine discerned from her husband's letters that he had not followed her instructions: "What do you mean by telling me of one hen hatching forth--I left four hens on nests when I left & what has become of my gentleman turkey--I am afraid you did not attend to anything about the house--really the turkey business almost broke my heart--to think of 17 eggs & but 3 turkeys." (60) When Katherine received word that Ignatius complained of her sister Mary eating potatoes at their home, Katherine gave him a scolding: "I implored you for my sake--to treat her kindly & yet you now begrudge her the potatoes she puts in her mouth ... those vegetables &c would not have been worth anything to you or me had it not been for her care--for I was foolish to imagine that any thing of that nature left behind me under your care would receive any att ention." Not only had her husband treated her sister in an uncharitable fashion, but he had also ignored the vegetable garden and poultry that supplied the family with food. Katherine scathingly remarked, "you did not write to me of the destruction of my cabbages & other vegetables by the worms-& my turkey eggs & the death of my hens from starvation... as to the potatoes-what are ripening now-would you rather see them eaten by some friend or dry up rotten out of the ground." (61) Perhaps reminiscent of Donnelly's narrow gender lens when looking at men's responses to the financial panic, he was unable to see his sister-in-law's, or his wife's, contributions to his own physical well-being.

Beyond the state of her garden and worries over her husband's disregard for the vegetables and poultry, essential winter food supplies, Katherine Donnelly expressed concern over the unfinished state of their home and the approaching cold weather. She insisted on winterizing it with plaster, making sure that the work would be completed before another sister came to visit in the winter on her wedding tour; it would not do for the house to remain so unfinished. From her description of the state of the house in August 1859, it is clear that the magnificent, $10,000 mansion had provided only minimal shelter for the past two years.

We have to do something to the house to make it habitable--I think if you would have the front office plastered--& the three rooms on that side of the house ditto--up stairs--I think it would be better to do that side of the house than the parlor side for the library being ceiled already will keep the floor warm & the front office will do for a parlor & furnish a warm down stairs to the bedroom--whereas if we plaster the bedrooms on the parlor side it is necessary to plaster the parlor also for the cold air rushes through the floor--and it would be too much expense to paper the parlor & furnish its many windows with curtains--if we had the entry plastered & the library side of the house finished it would do till we got rich--five or six years--but as it is I do not want to Live another winter in it--it is too uncomfortable & by doing that side of the house I can furnish it without any expense with what I have already--excepting bedsteads.--write me in your next what you think you can do. (62)

Beyond Katherine's concerns about her home, her letter also resonates with middle-class frugality. She attempted to reconcile her straitened financial circumstances with her desire to equip and decorate the house in a class appropriate manner-with wallpaper, curtains, and proper furnishings. Her proposal was a stop-gap measure to make the house "habitable" so that in five or six years when they "got rich" they could fully outfit the house. In doing so they would project an economic security commensurate with their social status in the community because, as Timothy Mahoney argues, a house "became something of a stage for the display of gentility" for the aspiring Midwestern middle-class. (63) Although Irving's fictional wife aided her husband with music, a sweetly-arranged cottage, and strawberries out of doors and Katherine focused on poultry, produce, and plastering the house for warmth and respectability, fundamentally both wives took responsibility for maintaining and projecting a comfortable standard of l iving in financially difficult times.

During the summer, as Katherine worried from afar about her garden, turkeys, and winterizing the house, Ignatius Donnelly turned his attention to his nomination as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. As he prepared stump speeches and traveled, his wife urged him to think practically. Her first comment on learning of his nomination was, "[d]oes that office 'pay'. I wish it would as it that is my great anxiety ... give me particulars concerning the salary-if there is any-Money is my weak point." (64) Katherine Donnelly's "weakness" for money derived from an impulse similar to Alte Countryman's love of "property." Both women concerned themselves with the financial well being of their families and worried when their husbands' aspirations veered too far from a practical and secure course. Although Alte Countryman was a farm woman, her desire for her husband to provide shelter and marshal resources to support the family resembles urban, middle-class Katherine Donnelly's expectations for her own husband. This suggests that although the women might vary in the degree of how they would assert their family's security through their homes, they held similar understandings of husbands' and wives' respective responsibilities in conveying that sense of security and carrying out those duties. Both women had a clear vision of what it took to keep their respective families provided for and respectable. For Katherine, this vision extended to wrapping up financial matters in Philadelphia on her husband's behalf, which meant a strategy of temporary separation. But in this case, Ignatius would stay home and Katherine would leave to seek economic relief for her family.

Since January 1859 the Donnellys had planned for Katherine and their two young children to travel back to Philadelphia. The visit's stated purpose was to bring the grandchildren to visit aunts, uncles, and grandparents; it was to have nothing to do with money matters. However, travel served as an important way for the rural, Midwestern elite to exhibit their economic and social status not only in their everyday local world but also in more "genteel" places. (65) From Minnesota, Ignatius Donnelly cultivated the appearance of financial stability through letters to his wife's parents and to his creditors in Philadelphia; while traveling, Katherine's job entailed giving the impression of that stability and also negotiating business transactions on her husband's behalf that would improve their financial position. Both were breaking tacit rules of polite, middleclass society, acting like the "confidence men and painted women" that Karen Halttunen describes. Ignatius Donnelly purposefully cultivated false impression s about their financial circumstances to create a good reputation. Katherine Donnelly, for her part, undermined cultural expectations of women's "transparency" because a "true woman was believed incapable of... disguise. " (66)

After establishing herself in her parent's house "living on the fat of the land," Katherine began gathering information about her friends' and family's business affairs, as well as the financial climate in Philadelphia more generally. She did this carefully, however, because "I do not want any one to think I had any purpose in coming on, but to see my friends." (67) The purpose of her five month visit to Philadelphia was to borrow money from anyone who appeared to have come through the crash well, to pay for a large mortgage that would come due in October; as she described it, she was her husband's "ambassador." How many wives acted in this capacity for their husbands is not clear. Certainly women assumed financial roles that were typically male during times of crisis like war; in colonial America women often served as "deputy husbands," carrying out financial transactions on behalf of absent husbands. (68) Katherine's use of the word "ambassador" implies that she acted on her husband's behalf to improve her family's economic health and to support her husband's reputation, thus functioning as a deputy husband behind the scenes. All the while, she must make it appear as if her only motivation was a long overdue social visit. (69)

Acting as an ambassador did not come easily to Katherine Donnelly, and she delayed asking a family friend, Miss Mary O'Bryan, for money for over a month. While she was supportive of her husband, and saw her position in life tied to that of her husband (just as she explained that her sister's was linked to her husband's ill luck), Katherine struggled with her pride: "I am too proud. I could not bear to think I must borrow money & maybe be refused--it is that that delayed my asking for it day after day--it became almost a nightmare to me ... I feel as if I have a secret that as soon as M. OB's eye rested on me she could see it & that every one knew my business in coming or by simply looking at me." (70) That secret prevented Katherine from being "transparent" and made her very uncomfortable in her interactions with Mary O'Bryan. However, Katherine was not uncomfortable with business matters in other situations. Already during her visit she had talked over deeds with one of her husband's creditors; she yearned t o know everything that occurred in her husband's affairs back in Nininger: "do not hide from me one movement of your business or politics." But to ask a family friend for money, which contradicted the image of financial success that her husband had so carefully created six months earlier and broke expected rules of middle-class etiquette for women, "became almost a nightmare" for her. Having admitted her resistance to the task, Katherine reaffirmed her commitment to assisting her husband's interests, which was "[to] do all that a woman can do." (71)

The Donnellys did obtain money they needed through Katherine's efforts--not only as an "ambassador" but also as a strategist. She advised her husband to draft a letter to Mary O'Bryan; Ignatius took her advice and sent the letter. Another month passed before Katherine met with Mary O'Bryan. When she did, the meeting went poorly, not through a loss of pride for Katherine, but because Mary O'Bryan distrusted the business transaction. The two women quarreled. There are two explanations for this. The first, Katherine had already hinted at- she felt deceptive in their previous interactions, and Mary O'Bryan must have felt deceived when the truth did come out. Katherine had not been transparent in her interactions, and Mary resented the breach in middle-class norms for female etiquette. A second, and the one that Katherine uses in her letter that described the quarrel, was that Mary "does not understand business & 'papers & signatures that smell of land' set her crazy.--I told her about the deed--explained the 'Qui t Claim'--&c &c ... she has magnified that simple transaction into something that will take all the lawyers in the U.S. to unravel." As the wife of a man frequently involved in real estate transactions in the West, Katherine Donnelly possessed knowledge of "'papers & signatures that smell of land."' When her husband sold a parcel of land, she had to sign the deed as well. To her this was a "simple transaction;" to other women not as familiar with the more masculine world of land transactions, it was not. There might have been some truth to her second explanation; however, from Katherine's letter it is clear that Mary asserted that she had been betrayed by the Donnellys: "She positively refused to sin--she did not know anything about it--you had not asked her leave to place property in her name & ... she couldn't permit herself to sign any thing which her conscience did not approve--she would not be the instrument to defraud any one &c &c." It was Mary who felt defrauded in a confidence game carried out by Ign atius, who put land in her name without her permission to relieve his debt, and by Katherine, who had masked her true purpose and facilitated the scheme. In the end, Katherine went to their Catholic priest, who then persuaded Mary O'Bryan of the legality of the transaction and she signed the deed. (72)

Katherine Donnelly came to Philadelphia on additional business. During the summer she sold furniture she and Ignatius had left in Philadelphia when they moved to Minnesota. (73) She also collected small sums from people who owed her husband, including another female friend, whom she dunned for $20. (74) One of Katherine's chief business concerns, however, was to "keep up appearances," as she put it. In this effort she spent rather than collected money, but she felt that their future both in Philadelphia and in Minnesota warranted her unbalanced cash flow. (75) This idea of keeping up appearances permeates her five month correspondence with her husband-not only regarding her own appearance, but also that of him and their home in Nininger City. Her concern echoes Alte Countryman's worry about how their poverty would reflect upon her husband.

Katherine Donnelly worried about her physical appearance, especially when she first arrived in Philadelphia after two years in frontier Minnesota. The crash had left its mark on Philadelphia fashion; Katherine remarked, "people along the street do not dress with one fourth elegance they used to--everything has a broken down appearance." But even if Philadelphia's standard of style had lowered, Katherine still felt out of fashion in her Minnesota wardrobe. This was a sensitive point with her, and when she received a letter "warning about money from her husband, she responded with her characteristic frankness: "I was right angry at you for sending me such a warning about money--indeed hubby money goes very fast & I really had 'nothing to wear' my clothes were all too short--& I had to get new hoopes & look like my neighbors & not be a scarecrow for people to stare at--& I have bought only such things as I could nor go our of doors without". (76) Katherine Donnelly understood intuitively the "social and economi c importance of surface impressions" in antebellum cities. (77) While she tried to conserve money by walking rather than riding on trolley cars, she worried about people's perceptions of her frugality. She gave Ignatius an account of her financial transactions, emphasizing her pennywise behavior but also communicating how she felt others interpreted her actions: "I have paid what I borrowed back and owe nothing ... I wish you might know what I have deprived myself of--in the way of all temptation to spend money & keep up appearances I have submitted to be thought mean--I have bought nothing but what was a great necessity & am indebted to the kindness of my folks for a very great deal that otherwise would have been an expense." (78) The "temptations" of a wide variety of fabrics and dress goods that could not be obtained in frontier Minnesota frustrated Katherine, but to "be thought mean" or miserly hurt her even more. Finally, whatever fiction Ignatius and Katherine created about their financial stability in Minnesota was exposed by her need to rely on "the kindness" of her parents. Fortunately, they agreed to help their daughter continue a semblance of economic vitality to others beyond the family circle.

Katherine also paid attention to how her husband represented their financial position in Minnesota. Her experiences in Philadelphia taught her that their unfinished house and failing rural hamlet were a far cry from conditions in an urban center and that others, too, would not be blind to these differences. While she worked in Philadelphia to present her husband in the best light to one of his creditors, who was preparing for a trip to Minnesota to see Ignatius, she urged her husband to "make as good a display as possible & spend money to have a good table and all delicacies that are possible ... They live splendidly & hubby contrasting the way we lived & the way I live here--it seems very poor--so make every exertion...treat him well--it is your interest to keep up appearances for the tale that he will bring back." She entreated him to rent a "good horse" while the creditor visited, and she instructed her husband on what vegetables and meat to serve, where the guest should sleep, and whom he should meet. If he would present himself, and their home, in the best light, she hoped that they could borrow even more money from the visitor. (79) Katherine knew from personal experience that tales about their unfinished house and lack of delicacies in rural Minnesota would come back to Philadelphia. She spent part of her time in Philadelphia rebuilding her husband's tarnished reputation, and by association her own, after several business associates and even family members had earlier spread rumors about his financial dealings-either that he had made money through fleecing or stealing or that they were completely destitute. (80)

Katherine Donnelly's trip could be best characterized as one of damage control. While it is not clear how successful her mission as her husband's ambassador ultimately was, she did sell excess furniture, collect small debts, and negotiate some land transactions. In addition, she quieted fears that her husband was facing financial ruin by speaking directly with people and by appearing on the streets of Philadelphia and in the homes of friends and acquaintances in new dresses. Lois Banner supplies a telling analysis of women like Katherine Donnelly in the antebellum years: "Through fashion, even women of moderate means signaled their participation in American prosperity and fulfilled the fantasy of being wealthy." (81) Katherine Donnelly attempted to carry this off during an economic downturn. Under these circumstances, she could exhibit little more than a "fantasy" regarding the Donnellys' finances, but not their social status and Ignatius Donnelly's emerging political position back in Minnesota. In October, I gnatius Donnelly and the Republican Party won in the state elections, but Katherine s hopes that the position would "pay" were dashed. Donnelly's allowance was so meager that he boarded in St. Paul alone while Katherine and the children remained in Nininger in the drafty house. In the meantime, he continued to juggle his numerous mortgages and borrow money. (82) Katherine Donnelly supported her husband's efforts, especially offering practical advice. However, the Donnellys would never achieve the wealth that had seemed within reach when they first arrived in Nininger City before the panic, even though Ignatius Donnelly gained notoriety later in the century as a Populist and eccentric author.

In the nineteenth century there were significant upheavals in middle-class family life, such as westward migration during the gold rushes and the American Civil War, which often meant that wives acted as "women in waiting." (83) In addition to the lure of gold or the adventure of war, some men left their families because of economic duress. (84) Financial panics, then, were another of the upheavals of the nineteenth century that required husbands and wives to marshal their resources and test the elasticity of public and private, market and home, independence and dependence, and masculinity and femininity as cultural symbols of the middle class and financial success. Clearly, the experiences of Katherine Donnelly, Alte Countryman and other Nininger women call into question the dichotomous positioning of these culturally-prescribed pairs, confirming historians' arguments that the separate spheres were never wholly separate and that women occupied a crucial place in the constantly changing, roller coaster-like n ineteenth-century economy. (85)

That women in the newly settled Midwest positioned themselves as players in the market and home reflected their aspirations to live by eastern standards of domestic life and appearance. (86) In an ideal world, this meant that husbands supplied the means through market activities and wives used those means to project an image of family economic well-being, metaphorically represented by Washington Irving's sturdy oak and decorative vine. For most Midwestern families during the financial panic, the reality meant that families tested the intertwined relationship between vine and oak with migration and declining status, disagreements about money and property, and intensified efforts to keep up appearances. Neither Alte Countryman nor Katherine Donnelly would have perceived themselves as a dependent clinging vine because they actively influenced their husbands' financial decisions; however, they responded to financial crisis in ways similar to Irving's fictional wife by being attentive to the home and family and ho w they contributed to their husbands' reputations. They too understood that external appearances displayed through clothing and houses served as a barometer of a household's financial health. Although this study focuses on one township and town, and the few families that left documentary material, undeniably women assisted their families in other locations following the repeated economic depressions throughout the nineteenth century. Historians regularly acknowledge the recurrence of economic downturns but have not yet adequately examined how various people--single, married, young, old, rural, urban, working class, middle class, elite--experienced and responded to these panics. As we compile more evidence and analysis of these groups' circumstances, we will continue to broaden our understanding of nineteenth-century gender roles within families and perceptions of those roles beyond families.


(1.) Washington Irving, History, Tales and Sketches (New York, 1983), 739.

(2.) In many of the poems, cartoons, and stories that used the language of the oak and vine, the oak held up the vine until their death, maintaining woman's position as dependent on man throughout their lives. For example, see "Love's Tendency," 23 June 1860, Harper's Weekly; "Belle-Life at Nahant," 28 August 1858, Harper's Weekly; "Oh! Dinna Ye Remember, Jean?" Appleton's Journal 14,4 (1878): 305; "Divorce and Divorce Laws," Catholic World 25, 147 (June, 1877): 352; "Dissertation On the Characteristic Differences between the Sexes, and on the Position and Influence of Woman in Society," Southern Literary Messenger (August 1835): 672-674; Frank Bellow, Cartoon: "She twines herself around the strong, resolute man as the tender vine clings to the mighty oak for protection and support," Life, 16 February 1888. However, Irving's "The Wife" made woman the supporter of man during crises.

(3.) Irving, "The Wife," 762-765.

(4.) Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, "Washington Irving: Sketches of Anxiety," American Literature 58, 4 (December 1986): 500-501.

(5.) Toby Ditz, "Shipwrecked; or, Masculinity Imperiled: Mercantile Representations of Failure and the Gendered Self in Eighteenth-Century Philadelophia," Journal of American History 81,1 (June 1994): 51-80; Scott A. Sandage, "Gender and the Economics of the Sentimental Market in Nineteenth-Century America," Social Politics (Summer 1999): 105-130; Judy Hilkey, Character is Capital: Success Manuals and Manhood in Gilded Age America (Chapel Hill, 1997), especially chapter 7; Edward J. Balleisen, Navigating Failure: Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill, 2001), chapter 3. See also E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993).

(6.) For just a few studies that analyze women's economic activities see, Suzanne Lebsock, The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 (New York, 1984); Angel Kwolek-Folland, "Customers and Neighbors: Women in the Economy of Lawrence, Kansas, 1870-1885," Business and Economic History 27,1 (Fall 1998): 129- 139; Jean Boydston, Home and Work (New York, 1990); Susan I. Lewis, "Unexceptional Women: Female Proprietors in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Albany," paper presented at the "Researching New York" State Conference, 16 November 2001, Albany, NY; Joan Jensen, "Butter Making and Economic Development in Mid-Atlantic America, 17501850," in Promise to the Land: Essays on Rural Women (Albuquerque, 1996); Women of the Commonwealth: Work, Family, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts, edited by Susan L. Porter (Amherst, 1996). Scott Sandage discusses wives writing on their husbands' behalf in begging letters during financially troubled circumstances. See Sandage, "Gender a nd the Economics of the Sentimental Market," 112-113.

(7.) For example, "Nothing can be more touching than to behold a soft and tender female, who had been all weakness and dependence ... suddenly rising in mental force, to be the comforter and supporter of her husband under misfortune, and abiding, with unshrinking firmness, the bitterest blasts of adversity." Irving, "The Wife," 759.

(8.) See Brian Roberts, American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture (Chapel Hill, 2000), 190. See also Hilkey, Character is Capital, 134 and Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven, 1982). Both argue that deception was a great fear and keeping up appearances was often seen negatively, even though it was expected.

(9.) James L. Huston, The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War (Baton Rouge, 1987), 262. For a narrative of the Financial Panic of 1857, see George W. VanVleck, The Panic of 1857: An Analytical Study (1943, Colombia University Press; reprinted, New York, AMS Press, Inc., 1967). For the effect of the panic on Minnesota, see Merrill E. Jarchow, The Earth Brought Forth: A History of Minnesota Agriculture to 1885 (St. Paul, 1949), 940, 58-60. For the financial panic's effects on another young Minnesota town, see Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, The Gold Rush Widows of Little Falls (St. Paul, 1990), 26-34.

(10.) For land alienation and migration, see Andrea R. Foroughi, "Ephemeral Town, Enduring Community: Space, Gender, and Power in Nininger, Minnesota, 1851-1870" (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1999), chapter 1. For an overview of Nininger City and Nininger Township, see Leslie Guelcher, The History of Nininger... More than Just a Dream. (Stillwater, MN, 1982).

(11.) For Ignatius Donnelly's early years, see Martin Ridge, Ignatius Donnelly: Portrait of a Politician (St. Paul, 1962; reprinted, 1991), chapter 1. For Donnelly's involvement in the building and home associations, see Ignatius Donnelly Papers, M 138, Roll 139, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN.

(12.) Ignatius Donnelly Diary, Roll 139, Vol. 6, entry April 26, 1856, Ignatius Donnelly Papers, MHS. The details of Ignatius and Kate Donnelly's trip to Minnesota in May 1856 are sketchy at best. Donnelly recorded only brief notes at the time of his trip. In 1871 he began revising his diary, possibly for publication. In this version, his descriptions contain more detail, but they also reflect the perspective of 15 years after the fact. See "The Diary of Ignatius Donnelly, 1859-1884," ed. Theodore L. Nydauhl, Vol. 1 (Ph.D. diss, University of Minnesota, 1941).

(13.) Donnelly's view of his future certainly subscribes to the nineteenth-century concept of the "self-made man" and middle-class men's determination to succeed and pursue wealth. For the self-made man, see Rorundo, American Manhood 167-168 and Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, 25-29.

(14.) Mahoney, Provincial Lives, 134.

(15.) Joseph A. Wheelock, Minnesota: Its Place among the States, 125 and 148 and William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota Vol. 1(St. Paul, 1921), 359-360. Folwell estimates town site numbers at 700; my work with Wheelock's statistics results in a total of 366 for these years.

(16.) For reference to mortgages, see Levi N. Countryman (LNC) Diary, August through November 1858, Vol. 1, Levi N. Countryman Papers, 1858-1862, Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), Sr. Paul, MN. See also, Dakota County Abstract Book, T-115 R17 & 18, Hastings Nininger #27, Dakota County Government Center, Hastings, MN.

(17.) 13 January 1858, Emigrant Aid Journal, p. 2.

(18.) Ignatius Donnelly (ID) to George H. Burns, 7 January 1859, Roll 151, Donnelly Papers, MHS. All emphases in this article are from the original authors.

(19.) Sandage, "Deadbeats, Drunkards, & Dreamers: A Cultural History of Failure in America, 1819-1893" (Ph.D. diss. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1995) 61. E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood, 179. Both authors credit this blame of individuals for their own failure with the strength of the cultural ideal of the "Self-Made Man." See also, Clyde Griffen, "Reconstructing Masculinity from the Evangelical Revival to the Waning of Progressivism: A Speculative Synthesis" in Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America edited by Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen (Chicago, 1990), 188-189.

(20.) Ditz, "Shipwrecked," 58 and 59-70.

(21.) For example, see Robert L. Griswold, "Divorce and the Redefinition of Victorian Manhood" in Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America, edited by Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen (Chicago, 1990), 107.

(22.) Joyce Appleby, "Consumption in Early Modem Social Thought," in Consumption and the World of Goods, edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter (London, 1993), 169.

(23.) Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, 64. See also Lois Banner, American Beauty (New York, 1983), 24-25.

(24.) See Joan Cashin, A Family Venture: Men and Women on the Southern Frontier (New York, 1991), 31-32; Roberts, American Alchemy, chapter 3; Peavey and Smith, Women in Waiting, 193-194; John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie (New Haven, 1986).

(25.) See Minnesota Territorial Census, 1857, Dakota County, Nininger Township and Nininger City, Roll 1, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN and Federal Census, 1860, Dakota County, Nininger Township and Nininger City, Roll 2, MHS. For problems in studying out-migration, see Richard S. Alcorn, "Leadership and Stability in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America: A Case Study of an Illinois Town," Journal of American History 61. (December 1974): 685-702; David Paul Davenport, "Tracing Rural New York's Out-Migrants, 1855-1860," Historical Methods 17,2 (Spring 1984): 59-67; and Michael P. Conzen, "Local Migration Systems in Nineteenth-Century Iowa," Geographical Review 65,3 (July 1974): 339-361.

(26.) For similar conclusions for other areas, see John Mack Faragher, Sugar Creek, 60 and 145 and Robert E. Bieder, "Kinship as a Factor in Migration," Journal of Marriage and the Family (August 1973): 434.

(27.) David C. Barnitz to ID, 5 July 1858, 27 August 1858,3 January 1859, 12 July 1859, 4 September 1859, 18 February 1860, Rolls 6 and 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(28.) See Sandage, "Deadbeats, Drunkards, and Dreamers," 15, and Anne C. Rose, Victorian America and the Civil War (Cambridge, 1992), 91.

(29.) A.W. MacDonald to ID, 12 December 1858, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MRS.

(30.) For the western gold rushes and "women in waiting", see Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement (Norman, 1994) and Roberts, American Alchemy.

(31.) Faragher, Sugar Creek, 51-52.

(32.) Lewis W. Govett to ID, 3 November 1858, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(33.) Lewis W. Govett to ID, 27 August 1860, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MRS. Jemima Govett returned to Nininger City in the fall of 1861. Based on correspondence of Elizabeth Caleff, "Minnie" came back to live with her father, Sylvester Russell, and corresponded occasionally with her husband, but it appears that the couple was estranged. Eventually, Jemima Govett divorced Lewis and married "a man named Bingham." See Elizabeth Caleff Bowler to James Madison Bowler, 3 June 1862, James Madison Bowler Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN. See also John H. Case, Biographical Sketches, P-W Folder, John H. Case Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN.

(34.) See Lewis W. Govett to ID, 9 January 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS. Neither the Govetts nor the MacDonalds appear in the 1860 Federal Census.

(35.) For biographical information, John H. Case, Biographical Sketches, A-O Folder, John H. Case Papers, MHS.

(36.) Levi N. Countryman (LNC) Diary, 22 August 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS. Levi Countryman, listing his wife's practical virtues in housewifery, contrasts with the eastern middle- and upper-class men, who focused more on qualities such as "piety, obedience, good humor, beauty, intellect, and wealth." Analysis of these men's writing and quote from Jeanne Boydston, Home and Work, 151. For an argument that productive skills were still necessary, see Lebsock, Free Women of Petersburg, 148-152; Nancy Grey Osterud, Bonds of Community: The Lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York (Ithaca, 1991), chapter 6; and Linda J. Borish, "'Another Domestic Beast of Burden': New England Farm Women's Work and Well-Being in the 19th Century," Journal of American Culture Vol. 18 (Fall 1995): 83-100.

(37.) LNC Diary, 1 September 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman papers, MHS. LNC Diary, 7 September 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(38.) LNC Diary, Sand 9 September 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(39.) LNC Diary, 23 August 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS. See also LNC Diary, 21 August 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS

(40.) LNC Diary, 24 August 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(41.) LNC Diary, 24 August 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(42.) See Bieder, "Kinship as a Factor in Migration," 429-439.

(43.) LNC Diary, 24 September 1858, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(44.) For married women's property, see Carole Shammas, "Re-Assessing the Married Women's Property Acts," Journal of Women's History 6 (Spring 1994): 11; Joan Hoff, Law, Gender and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women (New York, 1991), 127-135 and Appendix 1; and Marilyn Ferris Motz, True Sisterhood: Michigan Women and Their Kin, 1820-1920 (Albany, 1983), 24. For another case of this in Little Falls, Minnesota, during the same period, see Peavy and Smith, Gold Rush Widows, 31. Ignatius Donnelly also transferred land into his wife's name, too. Plat maps of Nininger Township show Katherine Donnelly as a substantial landowner in the 1860s and 1870s.

(45.) LNC Diary, 1 April 1859 and 4 April 1859, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(46.) LNC Diary, 8 June 1859, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(47.) Sally McMurry, Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth-Century America: Vernacular Design and Social Change (Knoxville, 1987, paperback edition), chapter 4, especially 94. She writes on xv, "Rural women's lives surely differed from those of urban women; yet, the degree of divergence in their experience has probably been overdrawn." For similar conclusions about fashion, see Banner, American Beauty, 18. For higher standards see Borish, "'Another Domestic Beast of Burden'," 84-85.

(48.) LNC Diary, 8 June 1859, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS.

(49.) LNC Diary, 20 July 1859, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS. See also LNC Diary, 21, 22, and 23 July 1859, Vol. 1, Countryman Papers, MHS. For a different outcome of a domestic dispute between husband and wife over appearance of "property", see Boydston, Home and Work, 97.

(50.) LNC Diary, 4 May 1861 to 20 June 1861, Vol. 2, Countryman papers, MHS. For Levi Countryman's various occupations, see Jane Pejsa, Gratia Countryman: Her Life, Her Loves, and Her Library (Minneapolis, 1995).

(51.) Dakota County, District Court Minutes, 1853-1985, Box 1, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN. At mid-century, divorce remained relatively rare compared to the latter third of the nineteenth century. See Griswold, "Divorce and the Legal Redefinition of Victorian Manhood," 99-100.

(52.) March 29, 1862, Mary Richmond vs. John Richmond, Dakota County, District Court Minutes, 1853-1985, Box 1, MHS.

(53.) June 21, 1864, Mary E. Tapley vs. George W. Tapley, Martin O. Walker, S.S. Carll and Robert Buell, Dakota County, District Court Minutes, 1853-1985, Box 1, MHS. In an 1870 court case in New Jersey, a judge suggested that married women regularly signed deeds under duress at the insistence of their husbands, so it is clear that issues over property were not limited to the newly settled Midwest. But the timing of the Tapley's case is at the height of the effects of the financial panic in Dakota County, and therefore might have additional dimensions that make it unique to the situation of the frontier county. For the judge's comments, see Griswold, "Divorce and Redefinition of Victorian Manhood," 107-108.

(54.) Tamara G. Miller, "'Seeking to Strengthen the Ties of Friendship': Women and Community in Southeastern Ohio, 1788-1850" (Ph.D. diss. Brandeis University, 1994), 64-65. See also Motz, True Sisterhood, 43 and Cashin, A Family Venture, 86-88.

(55.) ID to Louis Faiver, 27 February 1859, Roll 151, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(56.) Katherine Donnelly (KD) to ID, 15 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(57.) ID to Louis Schaefer, 11 July 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(58.) See Borish, "'Another Domestic Beast of Burden'," 84 and 97; McMurry, Families and Farmhouses, 99-100; Osterud, Bonds of Community, 142-147; and Boydston, Home and Work.

(59.) KD to ID, 25 June 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(60.) KD to ID, 11 July 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(61.) KD to ID, 13 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS. For another example of Katherine admonishing her husband to be kind to Mary Faiver, see KD to ID, 30 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(62.) KD to ID, 28 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(63.) Mahoney, Provincial Lives, 129. See also Banner, American Beauty, 26-27.

(64.) KD to ID, 26 July 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS

(65.) For Ignatius Donnelly's charade, see ID to the McCaffreys, 1 January 1859, Roll 151, Donnelly Papers, MHS. For importance of travel, see Mahoney, Provincial Lives, 168.

(66.) Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, 47-48, 58 and 99.

(67.) KD to ID, 7 June 1859 and 12 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(68.) For deputy husbands, see Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (New York, 1980), chapter 2.

(69.) See Motz, True Sisterhood, 51, for extended visits between western and eastern kin and, 43, for women involved in financial parlaying.

(70.) KD to ID, 17 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(71.) KD to ID, 30 May 1859; 7 June 1859; and 17 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS. Letters Donnelly received from Louis Faiver indicate that his wife Mary went to Philadelphia to transact business on his behalf, as well. Unlike her sister Katherine, she did not meet with success. Louis Faiver to ID, 10 February 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(72.) KD to ID, 30 July 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS and Helen McCaffrey to ID, 1 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS. Only later did Mary O'Bryan understand what she had signed, which prompted her to write a letter to Ignatius Donnelly chiding him for duping her. She wrote, "Persons would know that no such person as lever bought property [in Minnesota]; and they would plainly see that it had been transferred to me on account of its value, until the 'Crisis' was over." See Mary O'Bryan to ID, 17 October, 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(73.) KD to ID, 15 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS and KD to ID, 10 August 10 and 13 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(74.) KD to ID, 20 July 1859 and 13 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(75.) KD to ID, 13 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(76.) KD to ID, 15 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(77.) Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, 46. See also 114.

(78.) KD to ID 13 August 1859, Roll 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(79.) KD to ID, 30 May 1859 and 7 June 1859, Roll 6, Donnelly Papers, MHS.

(80.) KD to ID, 30 May 1859; 13 July 1859; 13, 22 and 30 September 1859, Rolls 6 and 7, Donnelly Papers, MHS. For the power of gossip and reputation, see Karen V. Hansen, A Very Social Time: Crafting Community in Antebellum New England (Berkeley, 1994), 133-136. See also, Motz, True Sisterhood, 67.

(81.) See Banner, American Beauty, 25.

(82.) See Ridge, Ignatius Donnelly, 46.

(83.) For the western gold rushes and "women in waiting", see Peavy and Smith, Women in Waiting and The Gold Rush Widows of Little Falls and also Roberts, American Alchemy. For the American Civil War, much more work has been done on southern white women. For example see Joan Cashin, "'Since the War Broke Out': The Marriage of Kate and William McLure," in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War, edited by Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber (New York, 1992) and Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill, 1996). Scholars note that less is known about northern wives' homefront experiences while their husbands were gone. For example see Drew Gilpin Faust, "'Ours as Well as that of the Men': Women and Gender in the Civil War," in Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand, edited by James McPherson and William J. Cooper (Columbia, 1998), 239.

(84.) Peavy and Smith, Women in Waiting, chapter 5. For a later period, see Sandage, "Gender and the Economics of the Sentimental Market," 105-130.

(85.) Roberts, American Alchemy, 185 and Kwolek-Folland, "Customers and Neighbors," 138. For a review of literature on separate spheres, see Linda Kerber, "Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History," Journal of American History 75, 1 (June 1988): 9-39.

(86.) Glenda Riley, The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains (Lawrence, KS, 1988), 109.
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Author:Foroughi, Andrea R.
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Date:Jun 22, 2003
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