Americanization of Christina Hillius: German-Russian Emigrant to
By Gordon L. Iseminger
State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, North Dakota,
North Dakota Mini-Biography Series, 1986, 36 pages, softcover
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to provide
one of the biographies of this series published by the State Historical
Society of North Dakota with a grant from the North Dakota Humanities
From: The School Bell- The land
of the Docotahs, ca. 1924
The North Dakota Mini-Biography Series provides brief studies of
"plains people" from the state's past. Written in non-scholarly
style, the series nonetheless presents useful and verifiable studies
of people who made an impact upon North Dakota.
Dr. D. Jerome Tweton, University of North Dakota, writes in the
Preface: "North Dakota became a land of immigrants. Between
1890 to 1920 the numbers of foreign born and children of foreign-born
parentage made up almost seventy percent of the state's population."
"Christina Netz Hillius presents a micro-view of both the struggle
to succeed in a new land and the Americanization process. John and
Christian Hillius left Neu Elft in southern Russia [Bessarabia]
in 1887, arrived in Ellendale with only a few clothes and bedding.
Like thousands of other Germans from Russia, they took up land and
carved a farm out of North Dakota's prairie. They coped with the
problems and hazards of starting up a farm operation but could not
overcome an accident that left John Hillius with the use of only
one arm. They left the farm after less than two years. In Ellendale
and after 1893 in Kulm, Christina Hillius became the head of the
family, establishing a successful hotel in Kulm. This made Christina
unique among the German-Russian women for rarely did the husband
abdicate his role as family head."
"Yes, she was unique in still a more important way. At age
sixty-two, she decided to complete her Americanization, learning
to read and write English so that she could live life to the fullest,
appreciate the meaning of the American flag, and become a responsible
citizen. Taking advantage of evening school, an institution that
was designed to promote Americanization and stamp out illiteracy
in North Dakota, she achieve her goal in 1923. So significant was
her achievement that she was asked to tour North Dakota and speak
at a world conference on behalf of evening schools."
Hillius (ca. 1924). Photo courtesy of Gordon L. Iseminger,
Grand Forks, North Dakota.
After losing the
ill-fated claim contest, the family moved into Kulm and purchased
a hotel, John Hillius (right) posed with neighbors and guests
atop a snowdrift that nearly blocked the entrance to the hotel.
Photo courtesy of Delores Hillius Runkle, Riverside, California.
The Moonlight Schools
movement that eventually involved Christina Hillius made free
use of symbolism to attract adult students. The illustration
not only emphasizes the rural setting and evening hours, but
it includes a family theme. Note the schoolbooks dangling
from the father's arms. Image courtesy of Gordon L. Iseminger,
Grand Forks, ND.
The family of John
and Christina Hillius: (left to right): John Hillius; Theodore;
Bertha; Otto; and Christina Hillius. The photograph was taken
probably about 1910. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Melvin Pagel,
Wheatland, North Dakota.
The Americanization of Christina Hillius
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