Fritz Anneke and Mathilde Franziska Anneke Papers, 1791-1884


Fritz Anneke was born January 31, 1818 in Dortmund, Westphalia. His mother died in his youth, but he was very fond of his step-mother, Emilie Anneke, as his father (also named Fritz) was rather a hard man. Throughout the political and financial crises of Fritz's early manhood his father did nothing to assist him, although he followed his son's later career with interest. After obtaining a university education Fritz became a lieutenant in the German army, in accordance with his position as a member of a respected bourgeois family. But he was removed from his command in 1845 because of his socialistic beliefs. Two years later he married the gifted Mathilde Franziska Giesler, a free thinker in politics and religion, a champion of women's rights, and a writer of some renown. The daughter of Karl Giesler and Elizabeth (Huelswitt) Giesler, she had been born on April 3, 1817 in Levringhausen, Westphalia, on her paternal grandfather's estate. Her father, a king's councillor and wealthy mine owner, provided well for Mathilde, his eldest daughter. But she was troubled by the hunger of the poor about her; her parents had been very conscientious and had themselves bought grain for the needy. This, combined with an early marriage at the age of nineteen which ended in failure, led her to activism for social reform and women's rights. Marrying Fritz Anneke on June 3, 1847, she carried on the publication of a newspaper during her husband's imprisonment during the revolution of the following year, stayed at his side during the ensuing battles, and escaped with him to France after the defeat of the revolutionists, and thence to New York and Milwaukee.

During the next three years Fritz Anneke lectured, gave riding lessons, worked on a railroad in Illinois, and served for a couple of months as state librarian of Wisconsin. His wife, besides assisting him in his work and caring for their children, likewise lectured, wrote for newspapers, and in March, 1852 began the publication of the Frauen Zeitung, which she continued after the Annekes' removal to Newark, New Jersey later in the year. In 1858 they re-turned to Milwaukee, where Mathilde Franziska formed a close friendship with Mary Booth, the wife of the anti-slavery agitator, Sherman Booth. She made her home with the Booths for the next two years, while her husband was abroad serving as foreign war correspondent for several newspapers in America.

In 1860 Mathilde Franziska, accompanied by Mrs. Booth and the Booth and Anneke children, joined her husband in Switzerland, but he soon left for America to take part in the Civil War. His military career was as unsettled as his civilian one had been: he was appointed colonel of the 1st Wisconsin Artillery; was transferred by request to an Indiana regiment, serving as aide-de-camp to Gen. John A. McClernand; was appointed by Governor Edward Salomon of Wisconsin as colonel of the 34th Wisconsin Infantry in 1863, only to be dismissed before the end of the year on ill-founded charges of desertion based on internal dissentions and rivalries within the regiment. During the greater part of the remaining nine years of his life he was an editorial writer and translator for the Anzeiger and other newspapers in the region of St. Louis, and was killed by an accidental fall from an elevated sidewalk in Chicago on December 6, 1872, while serving there as agent for the German-American Society.

Madame Anneke, in the meantime, after nearly five years of precarious existence in Switzerland, returned to Milwaukee and opened a girls' day and boarding school there. This is the period in which she most closely identified herself with German-American affairs in Milwaukee. Her educational methods, her eloquent speaking, her reviews of current German theatrical and musical performance, her association with intellectual and revolutionary leaders on two continents, and her vigorous personality all contributed to making her a figure of considerable importance. She enlarged upon her suffragist activities, writing and lecturing on the subject, consulting and corresponding with other outstanding proponents such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and her countryman, Karl Heinzen, and assisting in campaigns in the state and nation.

Her arduous duties, she maintained, prevented her from continuing her literary activities to any extent, although she occasionally produced poems for festive occasions. In 1882, two years before her death on November 25, 1884, she had the satisfaction of seeing her play, Oithono, written in 1844, presented at the Milwaukee Civic Theater. Mrs. Anneke was later honored by the National League of Women Voters as one of the four Wisconsin pioneers in the suffrage movement.