Martin Stephan: Patriarchal History of Descendants 1810-1945

A survey of the paternal side of Martin Stephan’s descendants reveals a predictable and revealing picture of patriarchal patterns in the from 1810 (the marriage year of Martin Stephan and Julia Knöbel)-1945 the end of World War II.

Bishop Martin Stephan actually set the tone for these Lutheran pastor/wife patterns. He earned a PhD, received an important pastorate in Dresden and also organized an historical emigration to America, while Julia bore 14 children and had nothing more than a grade school education that I am aware of. Because of her social status, she may have had some private tutoring, but that was extremely rare among the Stephan women of this period.

Even while the banished Bishop Martin Stephan eked out an existence across the river in Illinois–once or twice going back across the river to win a law suit in Perry County–future LCMS Saxons lived their lives sequestered from the general population, (and Stephan) thus ensuring the German Lutheran way of doing things remained intact.
From mid 1839, the men began developing land and erecting living quarters for much of the colony 100 miles down river in Perry County. Their goal was to settle in, the single men looked for wives, and those the already married women bore children,(large numbers but less than the women in pastoral families.) On the Lutheran front, males only elected the president of the synod, called him to his pastorates, built LCMS churches and seminaries, erected churches, schools and colleges where women had no say. These events were the cornerstone of this period.

Except for Louise Günther who had joined the exiled Bishop in Illinois, women were of no consequence and disappeared into the mists of each individual family’s memory for almost a century. Beyond child bearing, women were expected to wash and clean, cook meals, and above all to obey their husbands, especially in the home. Males enjoyed a winner takes all status. Females’ claim to fame was the number of children they bore, if it was mentioned at all.
I barely know anything about my paternal Great grandmothers, aunts and cousins, whereas I do know facts about their counterparts, i.e., the ten pastors on the Stephan side. They all left a paper trail of degrees or accomplishments. An occasional letter from a woman does occur such as Julia Stephan’s beautiful handwritten letters to her son in 1839.
After her early death of exhaustion in 1844 at age 54, her son Martin remained another two years in Germany to complete his studies. In 1846, (the same year as the death of his father), Martin Stephan Jr, now 24, returned to St. Louis armed with a degree in Architecture from the Dresden School of Fine Arts to subject himself to his father’s rival and protégé.

For a complete description of the buildings and churches the son designed in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Vermont, see Philip’s book. Ironically, one of them was the Concordia Seminary complex in 1849 at its new home in the south of St. Louis.

Nota bene: Martin Jr.’s seven sisters enjoyed no education to speak of, if at all. Why he returned to America is still a mystery. Even as an underage boy he was allowed to go, because his father so wished. The sisters, although they may have wanted to emigrate to America, could not have traveled alone unlike their brother. Once a woman colonist arrived she was there to stay, unless a male in her life wanted her to return to Germany with him. There is no evidence that the young man wanted to visit his father in Illinois at all. A very sad stage of affairs, since his returning would surely open those old wounds.
Both Ferdinand and Martin continued the patriarchal pattern. A look at Walther’s life provides a glaring example of the difference in the lives of the men and the women. The internet, for example, describes Walther and his wife: “Walther married Emilie Buenger. They had six children.”
Now for her husband: On April 26, 1847, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) was founded. Walther served as its first president, a position he held from 1847 to 1850 and again from 1864 to 1878. In 1861, he also became President of Concordia Theological Seminary, now in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Walther also began and edited several Lutheran periodicals, including the magazine Der Lutheraner and Lehre und Wehre (Teach and Resist). He wrote a number of theological books; perhaps the best known is The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. In addition to his publications, Walther was author of many books and periodical articles.
No surprise, the internet (i.e. LCMS inspired) describes him as a man who “sacrificed his homeland, his health, and nearly his life (!) for the freedom to speak freely, to believe freely, and to live freely.” Hard to believe the writer was referring to LCMS members and especially, any women or children. No mention of his civil and theological Walther’s crimes.
Soon after the immigrants were settled in the new homeland, the writer also takes the liberty of a potshot again their leader and self-proclaimed (sic) “bishop of the new settlement,” Martin Stephan. The article briefly dispenses with Bishop Stephan as one who “was accused of financial and sexual misconduct and was expelled from the settlement.”
Stephan’s “departure” (sic) left Walther as “one of the most well-respected clergymen remaining. He served as the minister at Dresden, MO. (later absorbed into the nearby town of Altenburg) in Perry County until 1841, when he was called to be minister of his late brother’s congregation in St. Louis. No further mention of Emilie Buenger.
Walther, Bishop Martin Stephan’s “successor” and first President of the Seminary in St. Louis, certainly must have disliked that the banished Bishop’s son had returned from “the flesh pots of Egypt”–as Walther called it–to study for the ministry as a competent architect and designer. (Walther on the other hand, went back and forth to Germany at least twice and received honorary degrees.) So Walther’s seminary presidency his classes included a competent architect and designer. This kind of student he certainly did not want to be there. Walther wasted no time harassing, cheating him out of property and land and intimidating him in letters and in public. Walther’s distain for Martin Jr. became a role model of similar behavior of other synod members.
Martin Jr. graduated from the seminary in 1853.

Fast forward to 1858.
1. In that year, Martin Stephan Jr. and Karoline Zimmermann married. She bore eight children. Two sons went on to become pastors.

2. Theodore their son, (1863-1942) married (whom I do not know). He became the family archivist, and largely due to his excellent knowledge of German and English, his interest in the Stephan story, and because he was appointed consul to Germany in Anneberg-Buchholz, not far from Dresden and other locations important to Bishop Martin Stephan’s history. His notes and writings were of great help to both me and my cousin Phil, the author of the book on Bishop Stephan

3.Theo’s brother Theopholus, my Grandfather, married Alice Gilster who bore eleven children, of whom three became LCMS Pastors Luther, Paul, and my father Curtis.

4. One of Alice’s daughters Hulda, married Walter Wenck, whose sons Walter went into the ministry. Son Stanley became a Professor of Psychology in Indiana.

5. Paul’s third son was Philip, author and Pastor.

6. Luther Stephan, my uncle, married ? (again, my Aunt’s name I do not remember) had nine children. Two of the seven sons, Luke and Thomas, became LCMS pastors.

7. One of their daughters, Gloria, born in the same year as me, married a professor from at Valparaiso Indiana, and had three children.

8. Curtis born 1902, married Irene Heuer, in 1930. He had three degrees, including an M.A. In English literature and finished all but the dissertation for his PhD in history. My mother bore three children: David, born in 1933, Naomi, 1938, and Judith 1944.

With my mother Irene, the pattern begins to change. She earned a B.A in history in 1952 from I.U. and went on to study for her PhD. in musicology but stopped short of her dissertation. All three of us children earned college degrees or higher, and I was the first woman to receive a PhD.

9. My brother David and his wife Pat have two daughters and my sister Judith one. They in turn bore five children, two of whom were graduated from Harvard and Yale.

10. Carl Heuer, my maternal grandfather, married Martha Mueller and they had six children, of which one was my mother Irene born in 1906. My Grandfather was a professor of Greek and Latin at Concordia Seminary in St Paul, MN and also an ordained LCMS pastor. My grandmother had a grade school education.

One way for women to escape this large family scenario was to remain a spinster or even in a couple of cases, a bachelor, and a number of Stephan descendants did just that. For example, Ralph, my uncle, earned an BA in Latin in the 1920’s and did not marry. Hi sister ran a grocery store with Ralph, and the other sister worked in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C:

As we have seen, however the door for a high school or even college education for women did not open until after World War II. Thereafter, some of us unmarried women began to forge a path for ourselves.

In summary, the great divide between large families for women occurred for some as late as in 1965 with my uncle Luke and his wife, (nine children), and four children for my Uncle Paul. But, for most of the Alice Gilster Stephans, the large families (four or more) ended with World War II, coinciding with the Stephan women’s turn to education and the pursuit of other professions.

LCMS was founded in 1847, and to this day has denied the ordination of women as pastors.

The MS male descendants comprise a powerful legacy of thinkers and achievers. One wonders what the women prior to 1933 could have achieved had they had the chance. Like a tree in forest that falls in a storm, they were not heard nor noticed except by their children. Thank you Irene for breaking the glass ceiling.

Finally, I had two highly intelligent parents. Thank you to them and to all the Stephans and
their respective maternal sides.

I without you, I would not be the woman I am now.

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