Tidbits from the Archives Little Girl in Rocking Chair

by Associate Archivist Jeffery M. Sauve

In the College Archives’ Felland photo collection, I “discovered” a striking — almost haunting — photo of a little girl sitting in a rocking chair holding her doll. The afternoon sun illuminates her side while shadows dance in the foreground.  Considering that the month of October is Accessibility Awareness Month, I thought perhaps this image might lend itself well to one of my Tidbits.

I say “haunting” because while I tried to locate information for about this girl that is identified as “crippled,” I could not find anything–even her name. This particular photo taken more than a century ago is all that I could locate.

The photographer, Prof. O.G. Felland, was skilled in portrait photography and chose many residents of Manitou Heights for his subjects.  This young girl, perhaps nine years old, was the daughter of a matron named Mrs. Marie Gjellerup.  I do not believe there is an earlier reference to anyone at St. Olaf with a disability. Felland’s image captured her youth, free of infirmity, as no crutches or leg braces are visible; only a footstool where two feet perch closely together.

I wanted to discover more about this girl and what her life was like in the Main so I investigated documents and images related to her mother. She appears to have been hired as a matron to the boys in the Main in the fall of 1888 for a sum of approximately $200 for the year.  Mrs. Gjellerup remained for the school year and then departed.  She returned as the matron again during the 1891-92 academic year.

According to Georgina Dieson Hegland’s account published in “As it was in the Beginning,” Mrs. Gjellerup is kindly remembered as the matron who introduced salads into the bill of fare. She was once been connected with the culinary  department at the Court of Denmark. Little did it bother her that people laughed at her broken English. When she said, “My gutts are good gutts” (“gutter” meaning boys) they might smile a bit, but it was the thought behind the words that mattered. What rankled with the girls was that she definitely favored the boys.

The boys must have liked Mrs. Gjellerup as the matron that followed was poorly treated. Once the boys dunked her dog’s paw in an inkwell. The matron’s white dress was covered with paw prints.  Then the boys poured syrup on her chair so that she stuck to it. If that was not enough, Dieson wrote the boys shot her dog! Enough was enough. She resigned.

From later documents, I learned that Mrs. Gjellerup served as a matron at the Ladies Seminary in Red Wing.  She must have left St. Olaf on friendly terms, as later archive images identify her with the Ytterboes and Mohns.   In 1901 Prof. Ytterboe wrote her and requested a remedy for roaches. He added, “We have never had roaches here before, but now they have gotten into the bakery and we do not how to get rid of them.”

A few years later, Agnes Kittelsby toured Europe and stopped in Copenhagen to visit with Mrs. Gjellerup for several days — again no mention of her daughter.  At this point the trail grows cold.  Being an archivist is in many ways being a detective. I use the available sources to piece together a probable history. While the history of St. Olaf’s first resident with a disability is a small footnote, it is worth noting.