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Dorothea Christiana Saalmann  more photos

Dorothea Christiana Rühling Saalmann

July 19, 1827 - February 20, 1920

Dorothea Saalman widowed

After her husband, Christian, was killed in 1864 at Andersonville Prison during the American Civil War, Dorothea was left a widow with four children. She made her living as a midwife, delivering babies for the women in the area, and she apparently was quite well thought of for her skills. She also did spinning for her neighbors, and she had many friends. She received a widow's pension of $8 a month from the government, plus $2 a month for each child under 16. She lost this pension on March 7, 1873, when she married Franz Thiele.

Theile took Dorothea and her two youngest children to his home in East St. Louis, Illinois. Columbus remained on the Saalman farm, and Hermiena had married George Vaupel several months earlier. Dorothea's marriage to Thiele didn't work out, and after six months, in September, 1873, she left him and returned with her children to the family home in Branchville. In an affidavit she later submitted during their divorce hearing, Dorothea said Thiele "was cruel and cross" with her and her children, being physically and verbally abusive and not providing them with the basic necessities of life.

She didn't have enough money to divorce him, and so they remained separated until Thiele filed to divorce her, charging desertion. A court hearing was scheduled in February, 1875, but she couldn't be present for the hearing, which was in East St. Louis, 375 miles by a roundabout route from Branchville. Later affidavits described her problems. She was sick with chills and fever, had no money to pay her fares, and could not physically make the trip. She would have had to take a horse and buggy to Alton, on the Ohio River, from there take a steamboat 90 miles to Louisville, Kentucky, then catch a train 250 miles to East St. Louis. The trip would have taken at least two days in good weather, but the Ohio River was blocked with ice and was impassable, even if she had been well enough to go.

She also couldn't notify the court of her inability to appear. In those days mail was delivered only once a week routinely, but with the river frozen, no steamboats carried the mail. Her inability to be present at the hearing resulted in a divorce judgment against her. Perhaps she was naive about the intricacies of American laws, perhaps she couldn't afford the expense involved, but she did not appeal this judgment. The marriage was dissolved as she desired, but the circumstances of the divorce were later to cause her considerable difficulty.

Hiram Esarey

She married again at age 58 on August 8, 1885, this time to a Branchville man named Hiram Esarey. Esarey was descended from the first white man to explore and settle northern Perry County. This marriage was much more satisfactory, lasting until Hiram's death on January 22, 1891.

After he died she found herself at age 64 without an income. She applied for reinstatement of her widow's pension, but the fact that Thiele had divorced her with a judgment in his favor blocked reinstatement. The pension laws at the time required that widows divorced from subsequent husbands be blameless in those divorces. The court record stood against her.  She lived on in a tiny house in Branchville, with a small garden, spinning yarn for her neighbors and performing her services as a midwife.

Widow Benefits

Dorothea actively sought reinstatement over the years. The paperwork involved in the process of applications and appeals must have been daunting. She obtained many affidavits supporting her cause, including one from Thiele's own daughter by an earlier marriage, which confirmed his physical and verbal abuse of Dorothea. In 1909 she wrote a letter of appeal directly to President Theodore Roosevelt.

The following year, Indiana Senator Albert J. Beveridge intervened on her behalf, as did Federal Congressmen from Indiana and Illinois. In 1911 the Secretary of the Interior personally reviewed her appeal. She pressed her cause until at least 1917, but her pension was never reinstated.

In her later years, Dorothea lived in Grayville, Illinois with her daughter Hermiena and son-in-law George Vaupel. After the death of George Vaupel, she lived with her daughter Anna Esarey, in Keenesburg, Illinois. She died there at the age of 92 on February 20, 1920, and was returned to the Walker Cemetery in Branchville where she is buried.

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