Veronica Kerler Frank Pined for Germany, but Made Milwaukee Her Home
Veronica Frank wasn’t famous like her contemporaries Harriet Beecher Stowe or Louisa May Alcott, but her life symbolizes the courage and resilience of immigrant women.
During the 1850s, the immigrant trade to Milwaukee grew like the yeast in the new kinds of beer German immigrants brewed in the city. Almost 1.4 million Germans entered the United States between 1840 and 1860, making up about one third of all immigrants in these decades. Veronica Kerler Frank’s life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin illuminates the difficult adjustments that immigrant women had to make in their new country.
Veronica is Lonely, but Finds Comfort in Her Music
In 1849, John Kerler Sr., Veronica’s father, immigrated to Milwaukee from Memmingen, Germany, with his two daughters and three sons. Veronica then was 21 years old, the same age as her stepsister, Regina. Veronica's brother Edward was 22, Louis 19, and Herman was 10 years old. John Kerler Sr. bought a farm in Greenfield, about 2 ½ hours by horse and wagon from Milwaukee.
Life on the farm proved to be lonely for Veronica, even though she and her family had plenty of work to do. Eventually, Veronica became more accustomed to America. Music in the form of her portable organ provided her some comfort and she played every Sunday in the Greenfield Church that her father founded.
A Handsome, Blonde Stranger Walks out to the Farm
Then in June 1852, a handsome blonde, stranger walked out to the Kerler farm from Milwaukee and changed Veronica's life. August Frank came to Milwaukee in June of 1852, planning to open a dry goods business. He walked out to the Greenfield farm to find a place to stay while in Milwaukee and to investigate the possibility of marrying Veronica or her sister Regina.
August and Veronica fell in love and they were married on July 18, 1852, in Greenfield. She wore a black wedding dress, a white blond long shawl and a myrtle wreath in her hair. Veronica reported that August wore his good black pants and coat which he had brought from Germany, but had to have it taken in to about half its size. She wrote to pastor John Henry Frank, August's father in Germany, “My bridegroom pleased me very much with his nice blond beard.”
The day after their marriage, August and Veronica Frank drove their horse and buggy into Milwaukee where August owned a dry goods store on Market Square. August and Veronica lived in the rooms above the store.
Married Life in Milwaukee
Between 1853, with the birth of their first son John Henry, and 1864, with the birth of their only daughter Anna Veronica, August and Veronica Frank had eight children. Only John Henry, Louis Frederick, August Carl and Herman Otto grew to adulthood. Two of their sons, both named August, died in infancy and their son Otto, died of complications of what Veronica called “teething.”
In 1855 August bought a bigger house with a garden on three sides to meet the needs of his expanding family. According to Veronica the house was a two story frame house with a parlor, living room, bedroom and summer kitchen. In the kitchen Veronica had a pump with purified rain water which the family used for drinking. Next to the stove was an oven in which Veronica baked rye and white bread every week. Underneath was a roomy cellar. Next to the house was a flower garden and behind it a large vegetable garden. Veronica was very pleased with the house because she felt it was safe for her children, since it sat away from the street .
In 1862, Veronica gave birth to another boy that she and August named Herman Otto. August wrote to his father that Veronica suffered from lung trouble. Veronica’s lung trouble continued into 1863. In July 1863, Veronica wrote to Pastor Frank that her children were doing well. John advanced in school and so did Louis. “Gusti has nothing to do but to smash a few windows every week, pull off flowers, etc. The baby is the best one so far, and he cannot play any bad pranks yet…”
Buried Far Away from Memmingen, but at Home
In the summer of 1864, Veronica again stayed in Greenfield, enjoying the country air and improving in health. August usually visited her twice a week and other friends and neighbors drove out to the farm from Milwaukee. Often on Sunday afternoons the entire Frank-Kerler families, about 23 people in all, would congregate there in the open under the trees. They joked, talked politics, swapped stories about farming, and laughed. One Sunday, Veronica announced that she would have another baby in November and it was sure to be a girl this time!
When Anna Veronica Frank was born on November 27, 1864, Veronica finally had the girl she had wished for so may years as well as a namesake. But her baby girl, Anna Veronica died on December 5 and her mother, Veronica, died on December 6, 1864.
Veronica Frank is buried with Anna Veronica in Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She lived a quiet, ordinary life that some historians don’t deem “significant” enough, but she was one of countless ordinary immigrant women who created the backbone of America.
Milwaukee, at the gathering of the waters. Harry H. Anderson and Frederick I. Olson, Continental Heritage Press, 1981.
German-American Pioneers in Wisconsin and Michigan: The Frank-Kerler Letters, 1849-1864, by Dr. Louis F. Frank, translated by Margaret Wolff, Milwaukee County Historical Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1971.