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Famous Milwaukeeans: Mathilde Anneke

Dec. 1, 2012
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Built over many generations by visionaries, dreamers and leaders—the great city of Milwaukee was created by those who came before us. Many of these Milwaukeeans names have been memorialized in streets or in buildings but there are other Milwaukeeans that have made great contributions and are lesser known to us. Besides beer barons and industrialists, many activists called Milwaukee their home. This feature tells the story of one prominent resident—Mathilde Anneke—a leader before her time.

Mathilde Anneke, birth name Mathilde Franziska Giesler, was born on April 3, 1817 in Lerchenhausen, Westphalia—a region of present day Germany. Her upbringing was one of nobility, she was raised on her grandfather’s estate and married a wealthy man—Alfred von Tabouillot—a wine merchant.

Unfortunately, this marriage ended in divorce, leaving Mathilde and her child alone. As a wife and a mother, Mathilde had no rights compared to that of her ex-husband and was left alone with her child. This experience opened her eyes to the injustices against women.

Mathilde later married Fritz Anneke, an artillery officer with leftist ideals. The couple settled in Cologne, where they started a political newspaper for the working class. Fritz then ended up in jail for this political and social banter, forcing Mathilde to run, edit and print the newspaper by herself.

After his release, Fritz joined the uprisings during the German Revolutions of 1848 with Mathilde by his side as a field aide. The couple was a part of the “forty-eighters,” a group of individuals who opposed and attacked the royal forces in Germany. After the Revolutions ended, the Annekes, like many other “forty-eighters,” had to leave Europe. After leaving Eastern Europe for the United States, Mathilde and Fritz immigrated to Milwaukee in 1852.

Witnessing the struggles of many women in the United States, Mathilde published the first feminist journal in America--“Deutsche Frauen-Zeitung”—translated to English as “German Women’s Newspaper.” Her writings supported the advancement of women’s rights, supported the abolitionist cause and leftist movements. Also avid Union supporters, Fritz fought with 34th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

However, the paper was shut down after 7 months by the actions of a typographer’s union. This union wanted to keep their trade safe by enforcing a male only clause and Union forces shut Mathilde’s newspaper down.

Despite the newspaper being shut down, Mathilde continued to rally for women’s rights. She became an associate of Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton and even lobbied in Washington D.C... She continued her writing and public speaking and eventually opened a school for girls in Milwaukee, which she ran until her death in 1884.

The fight for women’s rights continues across the United States and in many parts of the globe. Bold beyond her years, Mathilde Anneke spent much of her life and time in Milwaukee promoting and speaking for the rights of women, in which, places her prominently in Milwaukee history.


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