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 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.
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.
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).