In 1890 Maren Olesen came through Ellis Island on her way to Waterloo.
At age 17, Maren J. Christensen left her home and family behind in Denmark and set sail for the United States. Arriving at Ellis Island in 1890, she knew that other Danish immigrants had settled in Waterloo, so she boarded a train bound for Waterloo after a brief stop in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Maren did not speak English, and when she arrived in Waterloo on a below-zero night in February, she was stranded at the station with very little money and no way to communicate with the stationmaster. Although he could not understand her, he suspected that she was speaking Danish. At dawn, the stationmaster ran out to intercept Mr. Jensen, the milkman, as he passed by on his daily route. Mr. Jensen came into the station and spoke to Maren in Danish. She was so relieved she broke into tears. Mr. Jensen invited her to his home and she lived with the family for nearly a year as she learned to speak English and settled into the community.
In 1901, Maren married fellow Danish immigrant, Jens Olesen. They had two children, J. Peter Olesen and Katrine Olesen-Schumann. Jens Olesen and his son, J. Peter Olesen founded Jens Olesen & Sons Construction Company in 1921.
Both Maren and Jens Olesen are buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Waterloo, Iowa.
This wool petticoat was worn by Maren on her sea voyage from Denmark to the United States when she was 17 years old. The skirt was made from the wool of sheep raised by her family. The wool was carded, dyed, and woven into fabric by Maren’s mother who made the petticoat to keep Maren warm during her long sea voyage.
The petticoat has been handed down in the family over the years and was donated to the Grout Museum by Maren’s grandchildren, Roger Olesen, Waterloo; Joan Schumann-Broshar, Scottsdale, Arizona;, and Donna Schumann-Walker, Clear Lake, Iowa.
Baptismal gowns were often handed down through families as well. When Maren emigrated from Denmark in 1890, most Danes were members of the Lutheran Church. Unlike the United States where we don’t have a state religion, the Lutheran Church was the state church of Denmark. Maren Olesen would have had her children baptized in gowns like these—both the boys and the girls!