In keeping with the celebration of Women’s History Month, March’s Northlandia explains Duluth’s connection to a 19th-century feminist who befriended the fathers of communism, fought in a revolution, and inspired Susan B. Anthony.

Duluthian Mike Fink hired August Fitger as brewmaster of his Lake Superior Brewery in the fall of 1882, and within six months Fitger had bought half of the business. The plan was to have his friend Percy Shelly Anneke — named by his mother for the British poet — purchase the other half. Anneke worked for Milwaukee’s Voechting, Shape & Co., who bottled beer for Schlitz.

Fitger knew how to make beer, and Anneke knew how to bottle and sell it. But in 1882, Anneke was reluctant to move away from his ailing — and somewhat notorious — mother in Milwaukee.

Anneke’s mother, Mathilde, was born into a successful mining family in Westfalia, now part of Germany, in 1817. She received an excellent education, but her father lost the family fortune.

Mathilde married a wine merchant who promised to help with her family’s finances, but he drank more than he sold, and they divorced in 1841.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

A single mother of two, Mathilde supported her family writing for newspapers and met Friedrich “Fritz” Anneke, an idealistic Prussian artillery officer whose “democratic activities” earned him a dishonorable discharge in 1846. They married the next year and moved to Cologne, where Fritz joined his friends Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, leaders of the growing communist movement.

Mathilde Anneke’s second husband Fritz Anneke, restless socialist, soldier and journalist. (Image courtesy Zenith City Press)
Mathilde Anneke’s second husband Fritz Anneke, restless socialist, soldier and journalist. (Image courtesy Zenith City Press)

The Annekes founded the “pro-working class” newspaper Neue Kölnische Zeitung and Mathilde also published Frauen-Zeitung, considered Germany’s first feminist newspaper.

Fritz joined the democratic rebels as an artillery officer in the German Revolution of 1848. Anneke biographer Joe Horsley reports that Mathilde, “a skilled horsewoman, followed (Fritz) into battle as his orderly and mounted courier.”

But the revolution was crushed, and the Annekes fled to America. They landed in Milwaukee, where Percy was born. Mathilde delivered a series of lectures and wrote for German-language newspapers before starting the German Woman’s Newspaper, the first feminist paper in the U.S. published by women. She even hired female typesetters, but that upset male typesetters, who quickly organized a union that disallowed women. So the Annekes moved to Newark, New Jersey, where she revived her publication and Fritz started that city’s first daily German-language newspaper.

By the mid 1850s, Mathilde was collaborating with suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She became known as an eloquent speaker and later traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for women’s rights. Besides her feminist views, Mathilde was also an ardent abolitionist. But she stopped publishing the newspaper in 1858 after smallpox ravaged her family, infecting all of them and killing two of her children. That year she and Fritz separated, in part because he refused to allow his children to be vaccinated.

Mathilde and her youngest remaining children — Percy and his sister Herta — returned to Milwaukee. There Mathilde took up with poet Mary Booth, wife of noted abolitionist Sherman Booth. In 1860 Fritz convinced Mathilde and Booth to join him in Zurich, Switzerland. But when the American Civil War broke out, Fritz abruptly left to serve in the Union Army. Mathilde and Booth stayed behind with the children, writing anti-slavery stories for prominent German newspapers.

This portrait of a young Mathilde Anneke was used to make a German postage stamp in her honor in 1980. (Image courtesy Zenith City Press)
This portrait of a young Mathilde Anneke was used to make a German postage stamp in her honor in 1980. (Image courtesy Zenith City Press)

By the war’s end Booth had died and Mathilde and her children were living Paris with a young teacher named Cecilie Kapp. They moved to Milwaukee in 1865, establishing a German-language girls school later called Madame Anneke’s Milwaukee Academy for Young Ladies.

Mathilde taught esthetics, literature, geology, geography, German, mythology, reading and writing.

After Kapp left in 1867 to teach at Vassar, Mathilde and Fritz briefly reunited. He had struggled throughout the 1860s after being dishonorably discharged from the army. The reunion was short-lived, as he died in 1872 after falling into a construction pit in Chicago.

Mathilde kept the school running until her death in 1884. Not long after she was buried, Percy married, moved to Duluth, and purchased Fink’s half of the brewery. The following year Fitger and Anneke organized the A. Fitger & Co. Lake Superior Brewery, later the Fitger Brewing Company, which operated in Duluth until 1972.

While her obituary in the Milwaukee Herald included praise, it also suggested that humanity was not quite ready for women like Mathilde Anneke: “She was one of the most cultivated, highly gifted and noblest women, although the world, we should hope, will never recognize her unpractical ideas with regard to women’s equality.”

Fortunately many others did gain inspiration from those “unpractical” ideas. One of them, Susan B. Anthony, stated in 1902 that, “It was through the influence of a German woman, Madame Mathilde Franzika Anneke, that I became a suffragist.”

Duluth author Tony Dierckins is the publisher of Zenith City Press and his latest book, “Duluth: An Urban Biography,” is available at zenithcity.com. You can contact him at info@zenithcity.com.