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Servant Class: Independent Woman

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Looking back at some of my ancestors, and I admire the guts it must have taken to leave their familiar homes for the unknown America. The more I learn about my great grandmother, Eliese Trede, the more I wish I could have met her. I've recently found a few photos and a document from Germany that caught my attention.

Eliese sailing to US

At nineteen, she sailed to the United States in 1908, to be a servant for a family friend. Her father didn’t want to let her go because he didn’t know if he would ever see her again. In fact, he did see her only one other time almost twenty years later on her sole trip back to Germany.

We have an amazing photo of her sailing to America on the SS Pennsylvania, en route to New York before heading to Illinois. Other photos show her smiling with friends. One has a note on back saying, “In Michigan with friends.” She seems to have embraced life.

The photos we have are remarkable, but we also have a few other treasures. One is a Menial Servant Book. As a member of the servant class in Germany, she had to get hers issued when she turned 16. The first page goes into her physical particulars: Blue Eyes, Dark Blond Hair, Birth February 17, 1888.

In a totally different way, being able to read even a few pages from this one booklet helps me understand and appreciate Eliese in a way bigger than the photos alone could do.

She had blond hair and blue eyes! [ black and white photos don’t show that.] She had to register with the government because she was in the servant class - I guess that was"normal."

While it’s kind of interesting to read about the rights menials had (subsequent pages), but my biggest surprise was that her “class” was actually written down in a book.

I love the a-ha that comes about when I dig deeper into these amazing family heirlooms. I’m curious what the next one will be!


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