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Carpets and Cats Were Status Symbols in Early Whitewater

During the pioneer era in Whitewater, women were important producers of goods for the household. They processed most of the food and made much of the cloth and clothing for the family, and also made essentials such as soap and candles.

The Early Annals of Whitewater, published in 1906 as a reprint of history notes from 1836 to 1867 by Prosper Cravath and Spencer Steele along with new articles, featured reminiscences of notable pioneer-era women in Whitewater. It is interesting to read what they remembered.

One of the women remembered was Rosepha Trippe. Mrs. Trippe was the wife of Dr. James Trippe, who built the first dam on the Whitewater Creek and the first grist mill. He also purchased a considerable amount of land and it was from the sale of this land for city lots over the years that gave Mrs. Trippe a comfortable living after Dr. Trippe died unexpectedly in 1844.

Rosepha Trippe. Image reproduced from the Early Annals of Whitewater.

As probably the wealthiest woman in pioneer Whitewater, Rosepha Trippe reportedly “held herself superior” to other women because she had a “parlor.” In fact, that parlor was a small portion of her log cabin that had a small carpet over the rough floor, a cupboard with French

china, and a set of chairs with four legs—three legged stools being the common seating in log cabins.

Mrs. Melinda Pratt, wife of another early settler took great pride in her cat. Apparently, cats were few in the pioneer era and were valuable because they could take care of the rodent population around a log cabin. Mrs. Pratt’s cat was borrowed by other women when their mouse population became too great. One of these borrowers accidently shot part of the cat’s tail off and after it was nursed back to health, Mrs. Pratt never again lent out her prized possession.

Mrs. Maria Cravath was noted for giving lessons to children before there was a formal school. It was difficult to gather the children from their play, so she coaxed them with home-made doughnuts, which she reportedly made each day for her husband, Prosper Cravath. On a more serious note, of course, the lives of pioneer women were hard and filled with dawn to dusk work. But, some of the women found time to tend to the sick and act as midwives. One woman, known only as Mrs. Seth Billings, was practicing “social housekeeping” long before it became fashionable. Social housekeeping involved doing good works outside of the home for charity and/or civic improvement. Mrs. Billings was known to help out at births, deaths, and illness on a regular basis. The Annals state, “No night was too dark or cold, no day too rough

and stormy to keep her from a mission of helpfulness, especially to the unfortunate and neglected.”

Most of the stories are light-hearted or emphasize women’s good works, but one story probably reflects more of the norm of pioneer women’s experiences. The woman’s story is quoted in the Annals. “Then the twins came. They were sickly babies and peevish, and night and day they needed our care. But the father had to work in the fields; I had all the indoor work to do and the garden to look after, and all the time the twins claimed my attention and needed it.”

*If using this article, please cite, Carol Lohry Cartwright, “Carpets and Cats Were Status Symbols in Early Whitewater,” 2014, Whitewater Historical Society website, Whitewater, WI.

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