Woschkeruscha Family, Leobersdorf, Austria, 1901 L-R Therese, Alöisia (Louise), Hans (later John Miller) Johann

Woschkeruscha Family, Leobersdorf, Austria, 1901 L-R Therese, Alöisia (Louise), Hans (later John Miller) Johann

The story of my mother’s family began with my maternal grandmother’s mental breakdown during the “happiest days” of Lillian’s life–as she made wedding preparations for her marriage to my dad in the summer of 1942. (See More than I could stand.)

I first introduced my maternal grandmother last year at this post for Women’s history month, 2012:  Dressmaker Extraordinaire. There you’ll find cool details which I will summarize here. Alöisia Woschkeruscha, was known casually as Luise in Austria (Louise, later in America).

Louise's Arbeitsbuch

Louise’s Arbeitsbuch

Louise was born on May 4, 1886, in Wiener-Neudorf, Austria. Her family later moved to the small town of Leobersdorf, about twelve miles south of Vienna, where she grew up. Before her brother, Hans/John was born in 1892, Louise had a younger sister. Both girls, I believe under the age of five, contracted smallpox. As they burned with fever, dimpled pustules covering their little bodies, their father, Johann, ran through the night to fetch a doctor, but it was too late for Louise’s younger sister. She died of the disease.

Louise's Arbeitsbuch, pg 1

Louise’s Arbeitsbuch, pg 1

Who knows whether that loss propelled her father, Johann, into a depression, feeding his alcoholism and abusive behavior toward his wife and son, Hans, about whom I wrote in the last post. (Anger begets anger). Louise survived, but her face was pitted with deep pox scars. Louise was painfully self-conscious of her marred appearance and forever thought of herself as ugly because of her facial wounds.
Even Louise’s Abeitsbuch (literally her “Work-book,” a kind of resume and identification document), was a bitter reminder of her ruined skin. On the first page, left, she’s described to be of medium stature, with grey eyes, and dark-blond hair. Her face is described as “longish,” and her nose and mouth are “proportional.”

But it’s the “noticeable marks,” entry that makes me cringe. It’s filled in with “pox scars!”  I’m horrified by the casual cruelty of this basic document––the shame Louise must have felt every time she presented her work history/ identification.

Elise Vogel’s dressmaking students, Vienna, sometime between 1906-1909; Louis, 4th from right, standing; Frau Vogel, seated.

Louise Woschkeruscha, age 20-23. Detail from dressmaking school photo

Louise Woschkeruscha, age 20-23. Detail from dressmaking school photo

Louise decided to study dressmaking. Was it her self-perception that drove her to want a career, thinking that no one would marry a woman with a pitted face, and she would need to make her own way in the world? Perhaps she was just ambitious and wanted a career. Whichever is the case, she discovered she had immense talent.

The Lehrbrief, below, translates to “apprentice certificate,” but it actually is like a diploma and recommendation, declaring that Louise has finished her apprenticeship. The translation was tricky because so many words are from another era, so I originally thought it was the start of her apprenticeship. My friends in Germany helped me get it straight.  You can see the beautiful details of this document, including a naked couple in a hot tub (!)(upper right)  at Dressmaker Extraordinaire, where you’ll also find photos of her crocheting and embroidery samplers, which Louise created at about age eleven).

Her completion of this first phase of her dressmaking studies was also entered into her Arbeitsbuch. Both the Lehrbrief and Arbeitsbuch are signed by the same woman: Elise Vogel, her dressmaking instructor, for whom Louise worked for another three years before creating her “masterpiece.”
Next week:  A peek inside Louise’s Arbeitsbuch at the end of her work for Elise Vogel in 1913, the photo of her 1912 Masterpiece, and details of Frau Vogel’s recommendation.  
Alöisia Woschkeruscha's Lehrbrief—like a diploma 7/1/1909

Alöisia Woschkeruscha’s Lehrbrief—like a diploma 7/1/1909