Syverine at Northern Colony

A very different chapter in the Borreson family story was the stay of Syverine Marie, Emil’s older sister, at Northern Colony or the “Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded” at Chippewa Falls. In an earlier post, I indicated the possibility that her basic problem may have been more a major hearing loss than mental issues. If she had been born deaf or lost her hearing in infancy, that would have impacted her development significantly.

Last fall I contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society which I learned had archives with old records from Northern Colony. That search ended quickly when I was told the records I wanted were lost, probably there, but misfiled. Bummer. When I recontacted them this week, I received a quick response that a staffer had found them. Now I was excited!

My contact in Madison proceeded to send me all they had on Syverine for her stay at Northern Colony. It turned out to be handwritten records on one side of one sheet of paper. For ten years! Amazing! Obviously, here was minimal bureaucracy.

So what did I learn?

At the age of 39 years, Syverine was admitted February 1, 1909, her father Elias of Pigeon Falls listed as her guardian. She was located in #2 “B” at the home. She was five feet, two inches, and 209 pounds. Her hair was black, her eyes gray, complexion dark and skin condition good. Her behavior and cleanliness were also listed as good. Remarks? “Don’t speak English.”

Wis Home for Feeble Minded, built 1909

Further remarks about her [maybe near her admission date]: She was described as heavy and clumsy but quiet and good natured,… She was willing to do what little she could,[which seemed to be, as I read it] operating a floor polisher.

The next comment was from June 1910: “Condition not changed.” Thereafter, there was approximately one update each year, anywhere from three or four words to the same number of brief phrases or sentences. No changes were reported four times. In May 1912 she was “gradually deteriorating” but “good natured and contented.” She was about the same in November 1915 but “keeps physically well” and continues her work polishing floors. By February 1918 she had recovered from an eye infection called “erysipelas” and “has become quite thin.” On October 18 of that same year the last comments were that she “died from organic brain disease 6-28-18. Contributing cause – acute indigestion. Remains shipped to Whitehall for burial.”

According Aunt Clara Cook’s Homestead family history, Syverine’s death certificate indicated she came down with an acute case of meningitis June 20 and died seven days later.

So, we know a bit more but mystery remains. There is a grave marker for her in the Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church Cemetery with her parents Elias and Kari, but – but there is no record of her burial according to the church records. An error of omission perhaps? And we still don’t know how her hearing loss affected her mental development.




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