Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Notable Naperville Women - Hannah Ditzler

History books record plenty of men’s names because of the traditions of our society, but of course there have been many women who made distinctive contributions to our city. This year we’ll take a look at a few of Naperville’s notable women.

Hannah Ditzler lived from 1848-1938, spending most of that time in Naperville. She was born in town, but her parents arrived here in 1844 from family homes in Pennsylvania. (“Pennsylvania Dutch” is really “Pennsylvania Deutsch,” which is German for “German.”)

In addition to being a typical daughter and housewife of the time, Hannah also served as a teacher at the Naper Academy and as a librarian at Nichols Library, but her main contribution to Naperville is her extensive diary.

Throughout the years, Hannah took notes on the goings-on in her community. She talked about the weddings and the funerals she attended. She wrote down juicy little gossip tidbits and personal family stories. She also included newspaper clippings, sketches and fabric swatches from clothes she made.

It was Hannah who encouraged her sister Libbie to record her arduous wagon train journey to California as a new bride in 1854.

During the Civil War, Hannah kept track of the sons of local families who were serving. She copied into her diary letters sent home by her own “soldier boy.” As it turned out, Hannah was unlucky in love. The “soldier boy” married another and Hannah herself didn’t marry until 1903 when she was 55 years old. The man she married, John Alspaugh, was a widower with children and also her first cousin, which wasn’t legal in Illinois, so they married out of state.

Hannah’s scrapbooks and diaries are part of the Naper Settlement collection and serve as an indispensable touchpoint for our history during the the nineteenth century.