The Americanization of Christina Hillius: German-Russian Emigrant to North Dakota

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 Council.
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."

Christina Netz 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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