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Swiss Settlers in Southwestern Illinois

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Switzerland is a small nation, poor in natural resources. For centuries, scarcity of resources and restricted personal opportunities prompted young Swiss males to seek employment as mercenary soldiers through Europe. It has been estimated that between the years 1820 and 1920, more than 250,000 Swiss immigrants entered the United States. This number accounts for a small percentage of all immigrants entering the United States, but amounts to a substantial figure in terms of the population of Switzerland.

 

During the nineteenth century, hundreds of Swiss nationals left their homeland and settled in eastern Madison County, Illinois, in the vicinity of today's community of Highland. Five remarkable books--four translations of pioneer memoirs and one historical study--published under the auspices of Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville between 1970 and 2000 record the experiences of several of these early Swiss immigrants in Southwestern Illinois. In order of publication date, these five informative works are:

 

Solomon Koepfli, The Story of the Settling of Highland, trans. Jennie Mary Latzer Kaeser, ed. Raymond J. Spahn (Edwardsville, Illinois: Lovejoy Library, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, 1970). A translation of Solomon Kopfli's Die Geschichte der Ansiedlung von Highland (1859).

 

Kaspar Kopfli and Johann Jacob Eggen, New Switzerland in Illinois, as Described by Two Early Swiss Settlers, Kaspar Kopfli and Johann Jacob Eggen in Spiegel von Amerika and Aufzeichnungen aus Highlands Grundungszeit, trans. Jennie Latzer Kaeser and Manfred Hartwin Driesner; ed. Raymond Jurgen Spahn and Betty Alderton Spahn (Edwardsville, Illinois: Friends of Lovejoy Library, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, 1977). Translations of Kaspar Kopfli's Spiegel von Amerika: Praktische Grundsatze, Belehrungen und Warnungen fur Auswanderer nach Amerika (1849) and Johann Jacob Eggen's Aufzeichnungen aus Highlands Grundungszeit: zum Funfzigjahrigen Jubilaum 1887 (1888)

 

Betty Spindler Coats, comp., The Swiss on Looking Glass Prairie: A Century and a Half, 1831-1981, ed. Raymond Jurgen Spahn (Edwardsville: Friends of Lovejoy Library, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Highland Historical Society, 1983). A history based on primary sources compiled by Betty Spindler Coats and edited by Raymond Juergen Spahn.

 

Joseph Suppiger, Salomon Koepfli, and Kaspar Koepfli, Journey to New Switzerland: Travel Account of the Koepfli and Suppinger Family to St. Louis on the Mississippi and the Founding of New Switzerland in the State of Illinois, trans. Raymond J. Spahn, ed. John C. Abbott (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987). A translation of Joseph Suppiger's Reisebericht der familie Kopfli & Suppiger nach St. Louis am Mississippi und grundung von New-Switzerland, im state Illinois (1833) plus excerpts from The Story of the Settling of Highland.

 

Heinrich Lienhard, New Worlds to Seek: Pioneer Heinrich Lienhard in Switzerland and America, 1824-1846, trans. Raymond J. Spahn; ed. John C. Abbott (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000). A translation of Heinrich Lienhard's manuscript biography, folios one through fifty-one, page one, line twenty-two.

 

Portrait of Jennie Latzer Kaeser by Jules Pierlow

Portrait of Jennie Latzer Kaeser by Jules Pierlow.
Jennie Latzer Kaeser Rare Book Room, Lovejoy Library,
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

This unique series of five books descriptive of the Swiss in Southwestern Illinois came into being primarily through the enthusiasm, shared interests, and sustained efforts of three remarkable individuals: Jennie Mary Latzer Kaeser, John Cushman Abbott, and Raymond Juergen Spahn.

 

Jennie Mary Latzer Kaeser (1878-1986), a descendant of Swiss immigrants, was the daughter of Louis and Eliza Luehm Latzer of Highland. Her father, one of the developers of the evaporated milk process, founded the Helvetia Milk Company, a parent of the Pet Milk Company. A motivated and highly educated woman for her era, Jennie received her B.A. degree from the University of Illinois in 1900 and her master's degree in bacteriology in 1901. Her doctoral work was interrupted by her marriage in 1907 to Dr. Albert F. Kaeser of Highland.

 

Possessed of a lifelong interest in the origins of her family and her community, Jennie Latzer Kaeser became a self-taught historian. In 1945 she published Family Memories, an Informal Narrative of the Latzer-Luehm Families, 1846-1943. A generous philanthropist who supported many public causes, especially libraries, Jennie Latzer Kaeser completed the translation for The Story of the Settling of Highland in her ninetieth year of life. Her commitment and financial support initiated the preparation of this series of local history books.

 

John Cushman Abbott

John Cushman Abbott

John Cushman Abbott (1921-2005) served as the founding director of Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville from 1960 to 1981. Abbott earned his bachelor's degree in history from Bowdoin College in 1943 and a master's degree in history from Syracuse University in 1949, prior to pursuing a career in academic librarianship. Upon accepting the position of director of Lovejoy Library, and settling in Southwestern Illinois in 1960, Abbott became interested in the history of the region and began to acquire books and manuscripts documenting regional history. Abbott formed a bond of friendship and admiration with Jennie Latzer Kaeser, used his position as library director to encourage the translation and publication of the books that form this digital collection, and contributed his own scholarly expertise.

 

Raymond Juergen Spahn

Raymond Juergen Spahn

Raymond Juergen Spahn (1909-2007) was born in Lawton, in western Iowa, and attended high school in the town of Schleswig. Spahn graduated with his B.A. in German from the University of Iowa in 1931. He subsequently obtained his M.A. in German from Northwestern University in 1932 and his doctorate from Northwestern in 1938. After pursuing a career as a high school teacher and serving with the American occupation forces in Germany from 1945 to 1948, Spahn went to work for the American College Bureau in Chicago. He joined the founding faculty at SIUE in 1957 as the first director of news services and as a German instructor. Spahn remained a faculty member until his retirement in 1977. His native-speaker fluency and academic training in the German language and German literature, together with his passionate interest in the subject matter, made Spahn (with assistance from his wife, Betty Alderton Spahn) the key player in the preparation of these five books.

 

In order to comprehend fully the details of the relationships between these five works--and the essential roles of Kaeser, Abbott, and Spahn--researchers are advised to consult Abbott's Foreword ("The Pioneer Writings about Highland") to New Switzerland in Illinois and his Introduction to Journey to New Switzerland.

 

Library & Information Services, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is proud to have played a vital role in the print publication of these five works and equally proud to be able to make them accessible in digital format as well. This digital collection was created by Library & Information Services in 2015. The Project Director was Stephen Kerber, who also wrote the home page text. The original materials are preserved in the Louisa H. Bowen University Archives & Special Collections.

 

 

 

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