My husband’s grandmother, Catherine Ehr Brosnahan, grew up in Minot, North Dakota. She graduated from the Saint Clare Seminary, a preparatory school of the College of St. Theresa in Winona, Minnesota in 1914. Among some family treasures, I recently discovered her scrapbook from her graduation year. The red leather cover is tattered: the gilt edges are worn. But inside the musty pages is a peek at a girl’s life in 1914.
“What are you looking so serious about, Katy?” Mother asked.
“Just thinking, about Minot. I don’t really have many friends there, like I did at school.”
“You certainly made some lovely friends at St. Clare’s. But, you do have your sisters.”
Kate wanted to say that sisters weren’t the same as friends, but knew she should not. How could she explain to her mother, who’d come to Minot as a young girl and had even lived in a sod hut, how important socializing with friends was to her. I seem so shallow, so frivolous, she thought.
Her father, who had appeared to be dozing, opened his eyes. “Katie, don’t sigh. It’s impolite. Why you should be thrilled to return home and to be with your family.”
“I’m sorry, Father. I just don’t know what will be expected of me at home. My friend Olive is continuing on to college, and Esther is planning to work as a secretary in Minneapolis. I’m just unsure of what I will be doing.”
“We have already discussed this,” her father said. “How would that look for me as the vice president of the new bank to have my daughter taking a job? I won’t stand for it. You will be a good help to your mother, and you can focus on doing good works for the church until the day comes when you marry. You have already received a sufficient education, and your place is at home.”
Kate lowered her eyes and blinked back the tears that were threatening to surface. “Yes, Father,” she said. Kate wondered at her father’s insistence about being proper. After all, he had not always been well-to-do, or concerned about what others might think. He and her uncle had come to Minot when it was only a stop at the end of the train line. They’d lived in a sod shack they’d built themselves, opened a meat market.
As if he had read her mind, her father said, “Katy, I’ve worked hard to provide a fine life for my family. It is your duty to be an example of a good Catholic girl for your sisters. I know that you will demonstrate your good morals every day.” He rustled his newspaper, and began to read, ending the discussion.
“Katy, you’ll be quite a help to me with sewing. You can make some new skirts and blouses for your sisters. Now, what have you put into your scrapbook? Would you like to show me?” her mother asked.
Kate knew that her mother meant to keep any unpleasantness at bay, but she had no intention of showing her mother some of the silly notes she so treasured. She turned to a couple of theater program she’d included in her book.
“I’ve several program from the Winona Opera House. This one’s for a performance of In Old Dublin. All the songs were Irish, of course. And this one is a comedy opera, The Firefly. It was quite funny. Oh, and we saw Julius Caesar. Our teacher, Miss Sweeney, escorted us to all of them, and afterwards we’d discuss the elements of the story, and the staging, acting, and so on. It was so enlightening.”
“That’s lovely, Katy,” her mother said. She reached over and patted her hand. “You know, the Lyceum in Minot has presented some interesting performances. Perhaps we can attend some of them.”
Her father snorted. “We shall see about which ones, however. Some are simply low-class, vaudeville types. Perhaps you should just consider plays at the Opera House. Those seem respectable.”
“Certainly, John,” her mother said.
Kate managed a smile. It’s not the same, though, she told herself. Minot is so unsophisticated. And what about Miss Sweeney’s discussions afterwards that I loved so much? Miss Sweeney urged us to consider all aspects of each play. Going to a play with Mother would not be the same at all.