Louisa (Otto) Fiegenbaum
1832 — 1911
I know very little of the life and times of Louisa Otto, a situation which is all too common for so many of the women in our family history. What does emerge about Louisa from the shadows is often found in the background of someone else's story. Her formidable role can be discovered in an autobiographical letter her husband, Friedrich Wilhelm Fiegenbaum, wrote to his children.
Louisa Otto was born at Venne, Osnabrück, Kingdom of Hannover. Historical records report her birth on 13 August in either 1832 or 1833. She was one of nine children born to Heinrich Otto and Margueretha Rolfe. When Louisa was about 9-12 months old, the Otto family emigrated. They stopped first in Warren County, Missouri. Some years later they relocated to Washington County, Iowa, and then settled near Wapello, in Louisa County, Iowa.
Friedrich Wilhelm Fiegenbaum could tell a similar story. He was born on 10 April 1830 at Lengerich, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia; he was the fourth of six children. In 1834, when he was four years old, the parents their first five children immigrated to Missouri, living in St. Charles and Warren counties. In 1844, in spite of his mother's initial resistance, the entire family came under the influence of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in 1846, Friedrich formally joined the church. Over the next few years, he became more and more involved in local congregations. He struggled with a persistent calling to become a full-time pastor in the Methodist Church and with his fears of a career that paid poorly, for which he felt poorly educated, and which required so much responsibility.
By 1850, 21-year-old Friedrich, his 14-year-old brother, Rudolph, and his parents had relocated to Wapello Township, Louisa County, Iowa. The Fiegenbaums found a small, struggling community of German Methodists. But their farming went well and Friedrich was determined to follow that livelihood. However, the call to join the ministry still pursued him.
At that time young preachers must not get married before they had successfully worked in the ministry two years. But I had found a girl that I liked and got married. So now I was safe not to go. The church would not want me with a wife. But, about Christmas time came a letter from the President Elder that I must go to Peoria, Illinois and preach for those people else they might be lost and I would be responsible. O, what would I do now? It was a good thing that I had told my girl, now my wife, if God and the church wanted me to go preach, if she would be willing to go with me, she said "Yes." So I did get married on the 11th of April 1852, when I was 22 years old. Her name was Louisa Otto, was born in Hanover, Germany, August 13, 1833; now nineteen and one-half years old. A young couple indeed, both converted and members of the German M. E. Church.
In the spring of 1853, Louisa and Friedrich moved to Peoria, Illinois. In the next one and one half years, they built a brick church, increased the membership of the congregation from six to twenty-four and added the first child, a daughter, Wilhelmine Christine Elizabeth, to their family.
Louisa and Friedrich then moved to Cedar Lake, Lake County, Indiana (40 miles south of Chicago). They were there for one year and and added a son, Adolph Heinrich, to the family. Then they were on the move again.
Well, from here we again crossed the state of Illinois in the fall of 1855 with a horse and buggy. The baby Adolph had the chills every day on his mother's lap. We started Monday morning and the next Friday we got to Galena, Illinois where my brother Henry lived. I left my wife and children and proceded to Dubuque, Iowa where I found my appointment ten miles west Charles Mount Circuit. Preached Sunday, then on Monday I went back to Galena and got my family. We found a log church and a log parsonage with two rooms. Glad to find that.
The circuit included another appointment thirty miles west of the Fiegenbaum-Otto home. Over the next two years, two churches were built. And another son was born into the family, but Louis Fiegenbaum died six days later and was buried in the cemetery at Sherrill Mount (now called simply Sherrill), Dubuque County, Iowa.
At this time Mother suffered very much. We had a bad house to live in. While I was out collecting one morning for a new church, which I was building, a big shower came up. O, how it did rain. I was away from home about four miles, but hurried home as fast as my horse would take me. I found Mama crying in bed. I took my umbrella, held it over her to keep her dry, for it was raining on her. Then I kindled a big fire. The whole house was swimming with water. God only saved her life, but she never recovered her usual health. It was a hard time. God only knows.
Louisa and Friedrich were on the move again. Freeport, Stephenson County, Illinois, was home from 1857 to 1859. There were four appointments on this circuit. Even the Presiding Elder of the church district admitted that is was a charge that no one wanted.
Yes, it was a hard place. No house to live in could be found that suited. There were four appointments on this circuit. But even here we had our success. One time when I came home, Mama set the table and put on what she had – dry bread and black coffee. I looked at it and said, "Is that all you got?" "Yes," she said, "all." Well, I told the members if they did not do better in our support, I'd go and work on the street; I could not, would not, see my family starve. Then they did better. O, what hardships we went through, God only knows.
Another church was built. And, Louisa and Friedrich added another child, Lydia Maria, to the family.
After two years, Friedrich was suffering from poor health and asked that his next appointment be to Minnesota. In the fall of 1859, he was sent to Salem, Dakota County, Minnesota, eighty miles south of St. Paul. The circuit included five congregations. The changed in climate helped. Fifty to 69 people were converted to the Methodist church, and Louisa and Friedrich added a fifth child to the family, Louis Theodore Stephan.
In the fall of 1860, Louisa and Friedrich moved again. For the next two years, Friedrich was the pastor of First Church at St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota. He recalled it as a "hard field of labor." The economy was in depression, banks and business failed. And everyone struggled with the start of the Civil War. Twenty new members were added to the church. Theodore Johann joined the family. He was the sixth child born to Louisa and Friedrich in the nine and one-half years of their marriage; five children were still living.
From 1862 to 1864, the Fiegenbaum-Otto family lived in Woodbury, Washington County, Minnesota, a short distance northeast of St. Paul, while Friedrich served six congregations in the area. One Sunday afternoon, while Louise was teaching the Sunday School lesson to her eldest child, Minnie, the daughter was converted. And Louisa became a mother again; Emma Maria was born in 1864.
From 1864 to 1866, the family lived in Wapello, Louisa County, Iowa, where Friedrich served as the Presiding Elder of the Burlington District of the newly formed Southwest German Conference of the Methodist Church. It was work he admitted was too hard for him; presiding elder was not his place in the church. Friedrich's parents lived nearby and needed some care.
After two years as Presiding Elder of a whole district, Friedrich returned to serving a regular charge of congregations. This appointment was in the Wapello area. If it involved a move to a new home at least it did not require a five-day voyage with an ailing child in a horse and buggy.
At about the end of these two years, another boy came to our home to stay with us. We named him Benjamin Fredrick (B.F.). Grandma said that was the last one. This was 1866.
Friedrich's mother, who had given birth to six children, thought that seven children (eight births) were more than enough for her daughter-in-law. Friedrich did not give voice to his own opinion; nor was Louisa's recorded. Regardless, in January 1868, another son, Heinrich F., was added to the family.
Beginning in the fall of 1869, Friedrich and Louisa lived in Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. A son, Wilhelm Edward, was born there in January 1870. This was the 10th and last child Louisa would bring into the family in slightly less than 18 years. By 1872, those children would start getting married and forming their own families.
If the size of the family stopped growing, there were still many young children to take care of. And the relocating did not end.
- 1870 – 1873 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Polk City, Polk County, Iowa.
The Des Moines circuit was divided. My health failed again. I was not able to take charge and do full work. For that reason I took Polk City and a settlement appointment as my field of labor. … I moved in a small house on the open prairie eleven miles north of Des Moines 160 acres which I had bought as a home as I did not think I could ever do full work again. I again took up three new appointments; had then five appointments. The first year all went well. But after conference, part of the church members rebelled. Said it was again the discipline. … Then in the spring I was struck by paralysis of the head. I still preached as best I could. I had hard time fearing all the time, it might be any time. I had to take one of the boys with me to drive the team, if I should fall over. I, with the help of the boys and girls too, farmed the best we could. Nine children, all small and at home, but we lived through the first years as best we could.
- 1873 – 1876 Friedrich Wilhelm took a leave of absence from the Church due to poor health. At some point,
…we moved to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to educate our children. I did some farming, my health then recovered. I felt better then. Here the same old call again. Go preach the gospel; let others feed hogs and cattle.
- 1876 – 1879/1880 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor in Wilton, Cedar and Muscatine Counties, Iowa.
- 1879/1880 – 1882 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Canton, Lewis County, Missouri.
Here it was when Ben stepped from a stable ruff, fell about ten to twelve feet, broke his right limb, hurt his body and left wrist. What a dreadful time we had. I was at a conference in Burlington, Iowa at the time. Mama with smaller children at home alone with him. I was called by telegram. Found Ben in that condition. Mother weeping. Then the doctor set his limb. We parents had to set up with him day and night. Ben would have no one else. Well, he got well again in due time – five or six weeks. His right leg schant a little.
- 1882 – 1884 Friedrich Wilhelm transferred to the West German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was pastor at Wathena, Doniphan County, Kansas.
- 1884 – 1886 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Eudora, Douglas County, Kansas.
- 1886 – 1888 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Clay Center, Clay County, Kansas.
- 1888 – 1891 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas.
Lawrence, Kansas was offered me but only $400 support. What would we do, accept or go and live on part of our pocket fund? 1888 til 1891. We had some success here.
- 1892 – 1896 Friedrich Wilhelm was pastor at Oregon, Holt County, Missouri.
In the year 1896 I again took sick with Lagrippe or Malaria Fever and was past 66 years old. I could not keep up the work. Half work I might have done, but such was not to be had.
In August 1896, at the Methodist Church conference at Sedalia, Missouri, Friedrich requested and was granted superannuated status and went into retirement.
At the time of the 1900 U.S. census, the local enumerator found "Fred Fiegenbaum" and "Louisa Fiegenbaum" living in the West Ward of Oregon, Missouri. According to the census record, Fred, born in Germany, was a 70-year-old naturalized citizen who had been a resident of the USA for 66 years. He and his wife, Louisa, had been married for 48 years. Louisa had also been born in Germany, was 66 years old, and the mother of 10 children (9 of whom were still living).
Oregon, Missouri would be "home" for Friedrich and Louisa for a decade – the first time since their marriage in 1852 that they would reside in any one place for longer than a few years.
In October 1902, the 50th year of their marriage, Friedrich and Louisa moved yet again, to Wathena, Doniphan County, Kansas. Louisa died there on 30 November 1911; Friedrich passed away on 27 February 1914. They are both buried in Bellemont Cemetery.
Toward the close of his letter to his children, Friedrich Wilhelm wrote:
And now, may the Lord bless you. All your training has been mostly in the hands of your mother. What you are, you thank her for, and God. I was always busy in the church work and its affairs.