Preserving the Swiss Heritage in Minnesota

 
 
 

History of the Swiss Benevolent Society of St. Paul, Minnesota

Helen Diessling at the 50-Year Anniversary in 1963 The original "SWISS LADIES SOCIETY" was organized on Feb. 20, 1913 at the suggestion of Helen Flick Diesslin's husband who was a member of the "SWISS MEN'S SOCIETY" (which was organized in 1882 in St. Paul, MN.) Mrs. Diesslin had two miscarriages and was very unhappy, so her husband, Albert, thought gathering the women would cheer her up.

The first meeting of 6 women sitting around Mrs. Diesslin's kitchen table shared ideas on how to help new immigrant women as they settled in the area, including learning English, raising children and the cultural differences of their new surroundings.

This is probably the reason the Swiss people have been such a close-knit group, where families inter-married and friendships have endured to the present day. It is said among the Swiss men, that when introduced to someone, the question "Are you Swiss" was usually asked, and if the answer was "No", then the fella would likely say, "Then I don't know you". (Oh, yes, Swiss men can be stubborn!!)

Membership qualifications were discussed, i.e., a Woman had to be of Swiss descent, or the wife or widow of a Swiss man, and be at least 18 years of age. Dues were 25 cents per month, or $3.00 per year, the same in 1913 as it still is today in 2011. In 1913, even 25 cents a month could be a financial burden, and most women paid by the month.

THE SWISS LADIES SOCIETY was incorportated on August 10, 1915 and was named: "THE SWISS LADIES BENEVOLENT SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA." Sometimes families were financially stressed, and the Swiss Society would give them $5.00 a week for groceries or other needs. A $100 Death Benefit was paid for "members in good standing" who had died, and in early 1900's that could pay for the entire funeral.

THE PURPOSE of our Society is still the same, we are a SOCIAL GROUP, which does BENEVOLENCE and are determined to PRESERVE OUR SWISS HERITAGE. Our Benevolence now includes helping Swiss family members in times of financial need.

THE "SWISS MEN'S SOCIETY" dissolved in 1990. On November 19, 1991, members present at the SWISS LADIES BENEVOLENT SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL, MN meeting voted to accept men into the women's society as ASSOCIATE MEMBERS. Membership qualifications were that the men must be of Swiss descent, or the spouse of a Swiss woman, and must be at least 18 years of age.

ASSOCIATE MEMBERS (men) were approved with the following conditions:

  • They would not be eligible to attend monthly meetings, vote, or hold office.
  • They would be invited to attend Swiss Society functions, such as Festival of Nations, Swiss National Day Picnic in August, and other Swiss cultural gatherings.
  • They would receive society newsletters and special event flyers, and would be invited to attend the Festival of Nations volunteer luncheon in June (if they participated for at least 6 hours in Festival related activities—same as the women volunteers).
ASSOCIATE members (men) were happy to be a part of the Swiss festivities, and most did not want to participate in the administrative duties, and the women are happy to have the presence of our Swiss men at our Society functions.

SWISS BENEVOLENT SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL, MN—name change on February 21, 1995—members present at the Swiss Ladies Society meeting voted to delete the word "LADIES" from the Society name—much to the happiness of the Associate (men) Members. In May, 1995, this name change was completed with the Minnesota Secretary of the State's Office, and henceforth, our name is: "SWISS BENEVOLENT SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL, MN."

For certain, it is the Swiss music, early dances and Gruetlifeieres (fall dinner & dance parties where up to 1000 people attended) and Swiss picnics that have kept our Swiss Heritage alive here in Minnesota. Early Swiss people would not think of missing an opportunity to socalize (even if it were a funeral), and so our Swiss society survives yet today, even though some of our activities have changed. We must give credit to our early Swiss immigrants for setting the standard on keeping Swiss Heritage Alive here in Minnesota. With our 100th Anniversary Celebration on the horizon, we want to honor these early "keepers of the heritage" so we will not forget just where we came from.

Respectfully, Julie Spreck - President

 
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