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1932 letters:

Click on image to enlarge. Once enlarged, to zoom, move cursor to right of image, back onto image, and click again. Some of the people from the letters, may be among the unidentified on this page: Sis and friends

Sis third from left with her friends, who called themselves "The J.B.O.s" (Just Between Ourselves)

Sis on the far left in the back row with the "girls of the sorority" who probably include Helen Jann and Marie DiMuro.

Sis in her habit 9-5-1932, two weeks after arriving

Viola Marek (Fries)

Viola Marek's wedding to Milton Fries as discussed in letter 9-23-1932 written by Viola


These are letters by friends and relatives to Irene "Sis" Wachdorf (later Heagberg) when she was in the convent in Milwaukee. She saved them until her death in 1939, after which her mother saved them, after which her sister saved them. Reading between the lines, two devastating things are obliquely revealed in the letters. One is the Great Depression, seen in the number of references to lost jobs and jobs sought. The other is tuberculosis. As baldly as possible: Sis joined the convent 9-1932. By 11-1932 she had contracted TB from another student (Florence See). She left the convent for the sanatorium and never returned because she was too weakened. In 1935 she married Dick Heagberg. In 1939 she gave birth to a baby boy that died at four days old. Sis followed not long after. Her death certificate lists the cause of death as Tuberculosis. These letters unwittingly record when she contracted the disease that killed her.

The letter to read if you skip all the rest is 11-25-1932 Irene.

Judging by the number of joking references, Sis did not like to eat her vegetables.

People are referred to in connection to Sis, so that Irene Pfleger Wachdorf is "her mother" and Clara Roster is "her aunt" and so forth, though her brothers and sister (Ed Jr, Art, Harry, Jerry, Francis/Bunky, Larry, Dolores) are only referred to by their names. Marie DiMuro, Sis' friend, comes up in the surname index more than once. She was also the sorority sister of Helen Jann, and Helen Jann was the daughter of John Herbert Jann, who was the groomsman at Lou Pfleger's wedding paired off with bridesmaid Irene Pfleger (Sis' mother). A sorority sister of Helen Jann and Marie DiMuro was Catherine Klingenbeck, and a Mrs. Klingenbeck is mentioned within these letters (as well as Mrs. Fichtel and Mrs. Veara, so I presume those are also mothers of Sis' friends).

These people are identified only by first name or religious title and so far I haven't been able to pin them down further:

-Friends: Bert and Lucille, Bill (a friend of Lucille), Cel & Harold and his sister Caroline, Stela, Evelyn, Ruth, Dorcas, Jerry, Bob (maybe coworker "stuck with the books"), also "Margaret A or B" who cuts hair.

-Religious types: Brother Austin at De La Salle, Dorothy (another girl at the convent), Sr. Fidelia, Sr. Louise, Sr. Sixtina

9-9-1932 Marie (DiMuro, probably, a friend) "...your mother was just great going home--didn't cry or anything..." People mentioned: Sis' mother, Viola Marek and her future husband Milton Fries, Viola's mother, "Dorothy and those two other cana"

9-9-1932 Viola Marek (Fries) (a friend). Announcing her engagement, warning Sis an old boss is in a muddle, etc. People mentioned: Viola's fiance Milton Fries, "Dud" (her brother?), Sis' mother, friend Marie (Di Muro?), Mr. High (former boss?)

9-9-1932 Wachdorfs (in a single envelope there were notes from Irene; her father; Ed Jr, age 22; Art, age 17; Harry, age 15; & Jerry, age 13). References to Francis (Bunky), Larry, her cousin George Pfleger, her cousin Leona Pfleger, her aunt Clara Roster and family, Art's friend Joe Zapf, nuns Sr. Beatrix & Sr. Fidelia (teachers at St. Martin's), an unspecified Mary, and "Bert and Lucille." Refers also to a new car.

9-9-1932 Lucille Huguelet (friend/former coworker). References to Irene, also to "J.J." (possibly Hanley) of Han-ley Manufacturing, apparently a former employer worried about the Sears Roebuck account

9-16-1932 Irene (and also Art) References to Larry and Dolores (ages 6 and 3), her father and his new car, her aunt Dell, her aunt Clara Roster. Art gives his verdict on the new car.

9-1932 circular letter a group effort, the original of which was apparently written in circles. The partial transcription that survives has sections by her father, her mother, her future husband Dick Heagberg, her brother Art, her friend/coworker Lucille Huguelet, her aunt Dell, her Aunt Louise Pfleger, and some unnamed friend whose section is cut off by the end of the transcription. References also to Ed Jr, someone Lucille knows named Bill, boss HJ (was JJ last time, presumably Han-ley), and Duke Ellington (Ed & Dick caught a show). Good example of her father as instigator, and demonstration of what kind of gang passed through the house on any random night.

 9-21-1932 George Pfleger from her cousin in the Mundelein Seminary. Mentions his mother, Louise Pfleger, and Dorothy, Florence and "all the other sisters"

 9-23-1932 Viola Marek (friend) on wedding plans, dinner with Wachdorfs (individual banana cream pies), planned visit, etc. References to Ed Jr and Dick (probably Heagberg), to friends Marie (Di Muro?) and Milt (Fries), to Viola's mother, Sis's mother and father, Sis' "aunt Hilda and 2 girls" (Hilda Grimm=cousin of Sis' mother, and two little girls are most likely Marilyn and Bernadine, Hilda's nieces), also Cel & Harold and his sister Caroline (friends?)

9-28-1932 Chris Wagner (friend, and decades later, 2nd wife of Sis' brother, Ed Jr). Job scarcity becomes apparent in this letter. Refers to "the merry-go-round letter" (9-9-1932 circular letter, above). References to Sis' parents, Chris' father, her brother's John and Frank Jr. and sister Florence, and visited Wachdorfs with Jerry (not sure who Jerry is, but clearly not Jerry Wachdorf).

9-30-1932 Irene (her mother) on burial of Mrs. Fischer (unknown) and those at the funeral, plus who might come visit, plus a paragraph on the letters Sis' father gets up to. References to Sis' Aunt Gertie & Cousin Leona, siblings Larry, Francis and Dolores, Sis' friends Viola Marek (and her mother) and fiancť Milton Fries, Marie (and Mrs. Di Muro), Lucille (and employers, the Hanleys), Sister Fidelia, Sister Louise, and Milwaukee nun, Sister Clarissima (daughter of Mrs. Neuman, who might be related to Joe Neuman, pictured fishing with Sis' father). Reference to burial of Mrs. Fischer (unknown).

10-3-1932 Ed (her father) Apparently having fun with a thesaurus, mentioning almost no news but obliquely referring to the fact that censors read the mail coming into the convent. "...By this time the monstrosity of the communication should be dissipated to a degree so as to permeate your cranium..."

10-7-1932 Viola Marek (friend) Wedding prep ("Itís just lots of fun, and tonight weíre renting the cutest little house, with a fireplace, radio, piano, and everything") plus job offer ("will wonders never cease!!!!") because "Bob got stuck with the books and had to have me come over to help him out" (Bob unknown). Wedding showers given by Stela, Evelyn, Ruth, Dorcas (all unknown, presumably friends). References also to Marie and Marie's brother getting married. Reference also to Sis' mother.

10-10-1932 employer (illegible signature perhaps says JW Henig?) refers to the good old days when he had Sis and friends (Viola and Marie, or as he says, "Miss Marek and Miss Di Muro") on their toes at the Illinois Paper Co. Mentions nine-year-old Mary (his daughter?) being taught by Dominican nuns.

10-13-1932 Irene (her mother) Chock full of news. Talks about Sis' friends Cecilia (unknown), Viola Marek, Chris Wagner and her sibs Genevieve and John, cousin Catherine Pfleger very sick. Ed Jr and Ed Pfleger stop for lunch while Uncle Oscar (their employer) is out of town. Dorothy and Florence (other girls at convent?), Dorothy's mother, Uncle Henry Pfleger & Aunt Louise & cousin George, Brother Austin at De La Salle, Art, Dolores, "Margaret A or B" who cuts hair, and "Helen Z changed her mind about getting married as she started to work today in Beverly Hills as governess or something" (possibly Helen Zapf?)

10-21-1932 Irene (her mother) on recent visit to Milwaukee with Viola Marek, Mrs. Marek, Marie (Di Muro?), and upcoming visit possibly with Irene's aunt Rose Pfleger Grimm Weren and her daughter Hilda, referred to as Sis' "Aunt" Rose and "Aunt" Hilda. "Edward is still working and I wish it would be steady as it surely is a Godsend, only wish Arthur could be fortunate enough to find something..." Also talks of Sis' father, Harry, Larry, "Sister B" (unknown), "Dorothy's mother" (another girl at convent), Christine Wagner (Sis' friend) and her brother John Wagner, and of catching a music appreciation show on the radio.

10-27-1932 Chris Wagner (friend) Refers to many members of her own family, to Mrs. Knight (unknown), to Jerry (possibly a friend of both), to her brother-in-law, to Sis' parents and visiting regularly (I always say, ďIím going out to Ireneís,Ē and then when it dawns on me that youíre not thereówellóit just makes me get the blues) and has a cry while writing. Describes how she is making lampshades and pillow covers because there are no jobs to be found.

11-4-1932 Irene (her mother) "I am having quite a time trying to write this letter as the boys have just come home from church for breakfast and between giving them something to eat and write too with all their shouting itís awful." Refers to Christine Wagner and her mother, Sis' Aunt Lettie, Susie Schubert (neighbor?), Sis' Aunt Gertie and her daughter Catherine, Art, Harry, Francis, Dolores, Larry, Brother Austin (teacher)

11-4-1932 Harry (her brother, age 15) Talks, among other things, of Jerry's pet rat vanishing right after the arrival of a new black cat. "Jerry thinks the rat got out but we think the cat got in." Refers to Brother Austin (teacher), their parents, brothers Jerry, Ed, Art, their Aunt Annie

11-8-1932 A full collection of birthday cards followed, more like painted postcards than the modern idea of a greeting card, reproduced in an image gallery on this page. They include cards from Sis' Mother & Dad, from Dick Heagberg (future husband), from Lawrence (signed it himself) and Dolores, from Edw. Jr., from Art, , from Jerry & Francis, and a more modern looking folded card with ribbon from Chris Wagner

11-10-1932 Chris Wagner (friend) First reference to illness-- "your mother was telling me you didnít look so good last time she was to see you" and also the Depression when she says her own father is "worried quite a bit now about losing our house. Heís the only one working again. John was laid off last week." Refers to Sis' parents, Sis' Aunt Dell, Chris' parents and brother John, Sis' brother Ed Jr.

11-11-1932 Bullington (neighbor?) "Once in a while I go over to see mother and Iíll see a wee little drop in her eye. Then she will tell me she was thinking of you. Say a prayer for her so that she will not feel blue and miss you so...I think it is so nice that Edward is working if only Dick and Art could get something too" Mentions Sis' parents, little sister Dolores, brother Art and Ed, and Dick Heagberg, friend Christine, and Florence (not sure which one).

11-17-1932 Art (her brother, age 17) First full mention of Florence See's illness (TB). Mentions brothers, Harry and Jerry, Pete Link (don't know who he was), Eleanor Pfleger and the Wilsons (perhaps the family of Eleanor's future husband), Sis' aunt Dell, Dick Heagberg and his brother Arnold, and Conrad Trudeau (apparently a neighbor boy)

11-18-1932 Irene (her mother) full updates on all her siblings, very newsy. Mentions all the boys, Sis' father, Mrs. Fichtel & Mrs. Klingenbeck (mothers of Sis' friends, I think), Mrs. Bullington and Alice (neighbors?), Helen Pomeroy & Genevieve Rossman & Helen Z (friends of Sis?), Christine (Wagner, friend of Sis), Sis' Aunt Dell, Sis' Aunt Gertie and Uncle Lou, Helen Jann's father (thinly related), and "we all prayed for Florence, hope she is better." Discussion of Helen Z's wedding makes me wonder if she's the same Helen Z from the letter of 10-13 who had decided to become a nanny in Beverly Hills rather than wed.

11-23-1932 Larry (her brother, age 6) "I am sure you will be glad to get a letter from me..." Mentions Florence ("I prayed for her") and Sister Sixtina

11-25-1932 Irene (her mother) The letter to read if you skip all the rest, touching on how the Depression is effecting various family members, and the seriousness of Florence's illness has become apparent. Also mentions Larry's letter, and Dolores (age 3) wanting to write one too. Mentions Sis' friends Chris, Marie, Lucille (& Mrs. Veara perhaps--don't know who she was), and "that girl from Peoria." Mentions Mrs. Klingenbeck & Mrs. Fichtel again (mother's of Sis' friends?), and Florence & Mrs. See. Mentions Sis' "Aunt" Hilda, Sis' grandmother Anna Wachdorf, Sis' Aunt Fran & Uncle Frank & Frank's parents, Sis' Uncle Oscar Pfleger, Sis' Uncle Harry Wachdorf, her father, her brother Ed Jr, and Art, and Dick Heagberg (Sis' future husband). Also Webb ("Uncle Harry hasnít got his business any more as he wasnít even making enough to pay his rent so Webb is back in there again")

11-25-1932 Chris Wagner (friend) mentions visiting Sis' folks and being put to work on a letter (not among those saved) where each person gets 3 yards of paper, so she was sort of out of news for this letter. Mentions Sis' parents, Sis' brother Ed Jr, her own brother John, Dick Heagberg (Sis' future husband), and Florence ("Ed told me all about Florence. It certainly is too bad, and I will say some extra special prayers for her. I was glad to hear that youíre feeling O.K. again.")

12-1-1932 Chris Wagner (friend) On a novena working, because her brother John got a job. Mentions John, her parents, and "Florence is pretty sick"--but this is Chris' little sister, not the girl with TB at the convent. Mentions Mrs. Knight, someone with whom she goes to church.