10 November 1895 – 24 July 1915
The Eastland, one of five chartered excursion boats meant to ferry employees, their families and friends from Chicago over to the Michigan City shore for the annual Western Electric Company picnic, keeled over into the Chicago River while still at dock, trapping hundreds inside its hull and leading to the deaths of 844 of the 2,500 passengers aboard at the time of the incident which became known as The Eastland Disaster.
Martha was the second oldest and second daughter of five children born to Wilhelm and Therese (Hopp) Quwas.
Wilhelm had immigrated at 18 years old, just a few years before he and Therese married in 1892, but Therese had arrived as a small child. Wilhelm was foreman at a brewery, and the family seems to have done well for themselves with all the children surviving childhood. However, Wilhelm died in 1912, and Martha and eldest Gertrude became the sole supports of their family. Martha got her job at at Western Electric at around the time of her father’s death (though whether she entered the workforce prior to his death or because of it is unknown).
Martha was engaged to be married, and she and her fiance Frank Sagenbrecht both boarded the Eastland the morning of the picnic, planning a day together. Both perished. Frank was buried at Forest Home; Martha at Concordia with her father.
Tragically for a family already having suffered so much loss in such a short period of time, youngest son William (who according to Martha’s obituary had been in the hospital awaiting an operation at the time of her death) passed away in November 1915 and was buried with his father and sister.
We can speculate that young Walter, only recently having turned 15, must have gone to work to help Gertrude support his mother and little sister Theresa. His later census records report his level of education as 3rd year of high school, so it’s possible he was able to stay in a bit longer due to settlements or community support, but he did leave before graduating.
Both Walter and Gertrude were still living with their mother in 1930, the family having moved to York in DuPage County. Gertrude had become a supervisor at the telephone company; Walter was an assistant superintendent at a plating company. By 1940, both had married. Therese stayed with Gertrude and her husband, moving to Villa Park where Theresa and her husband also lived; Walter and his wife lived in Chicago. It’s unclear where youngest Theresa was in 1930 as she did not marry until 1935, but by the 1930s, women had more opportunities than before the war. She doesn’t show up on that census, and her maiden name is on her marriage record, so it’s likely she simply lived elsewhere as a single working woman.
There is no evidence that any of the surviving siblings had children of their own. Theresa’s husband was a widower with a daughter from his first marriage; Gertrude’s husband was a 20-years-older, divorced railroad conductor (who fibbed on several census records making himself 10 years younger) whom she married when she was in her 30s. Her obituary mentions only Walter and Theresa as her survivors. I did find a family tree on Ancestry.com which included the Quwas family with many of the above little details. It was curated by a relative who is a descendant of Wilhelm’s older sister, so at least some family is still watching over them all.
Therese lived to see the end of World War II, dying in 1946 at 82. Gertrude, Walter, and Theresa all lived long lives, though they scattered seemingly as far apart from each other as possible, Gertrude to Arkansas, Walter to North Dakota, and Theresa to Los Angeles. All three are interred in their final home states.
RIP Quwas family
Please visit my Instagram for any questions or comments on this post!