Selena Severson’s autograph book

Front cover of albumSelena Severson was born in September, 1862, the fourth of five daughters of Sever and Martha Severson. She was only two years old when her father died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army in the Civil War. Despite this devastating setback, the Severson sisters grew up to be strong, successful women.

Selena grew up with her family in Black Earth, Wisconsin, and in 1880, at the age of 18, enrolled in the Wisconsin State College at Whitewater (now the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater), a rural, four-year, co-educational, residential college founded in 1868 as the Whitewater Normal School. While at Whitewater, she earned her teaching certification and then returned to Black Earth to teach for two years.

After teaching in Black Earth, she returned to Whitewater to finish her degree, graduating in the class of 1887. After graduation, she taught for a year in Berthoud, Colorado, then for one year in Fort Collins, Colorado, and then for two years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Around 1891, Selena enrolled in a medical college for women in Chicago (presumably the Woman’s Hospital Medical College, which changed its name to the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1891/1892). She was entered in Illinois’ Official Register of Legally Qualified Physicians in 1895. She practiced medicine in Chicago for a time, and then relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, to be near her family once more.

In this post, I’d like to share with you Selena Severson’s 1878 autograph book, which I just finished digitizing today. Transcriptions and analysis of this book will be provided in a future post. Charlie and Nancy Frey generously allowed me to borrow and digitize this book along with Sever Severson’s diary.

The autograph book appears to date to the period from 1878 (when she was about 16 years old) through the 1880s, with some later margin notes, presumably written by Selena. The autograph album is full of charming Victorian wit, wisdom, and design, with inscriptions from friends and family, written not only in English, but also Norwegian and Latin. I’ll upload a PDF of the entire album shortly, but for now you can view the pages individually below.


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