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Grave Tales: Louisa German Outhouse—Pioneer Widow a Pillar of Geneva Society

Born in 1840, Louisa German Outhouse spent her 90-year life—and her five-year marriage—in downtown Geneva.

The name on the tombstone sounds like the type of joke that would crack up a fifth-grade class. But Louisa German Outhouse lived a long life as a respected pillar of Geneva society before coming to rest in West Side Cemetery.

Described as “one of the first white children born in the Fox Valley” by The Geneva Republican, Louisa was born in February 1840 on a farm in what is now Geneva’s downtown business district. She was one of the first students to attend Geneva’s first school, a one-room schoolhouse on the west bank of the Fox River just south of where State Street runs today.

In 1866, at the relatively advanced age of 26, Louisa married Edward Outhouse and settled down with him in a house on the corner of First and Hamilton streets. But the couple’s happiness didn’t last long—her obituary states that Edward died just five years later, in 1871.

After his death, Louisa continued to live at First and Hamilton until her late 80s, when she moved into Community Hospital as an invalid. Several of her diaries, which were donated to the Geneva History Center by her friend Ruth Joshel Barney, paint a picture of a country widow who divided her time between domestic pursuits and a vibrant social life. On Christmas Eve 1895, for example, she recorded that she killed a chicken in the morning and had a friend over for tea in the afternoon.

Other days she noted how much jam she made and how many jars she gave to various families, or who had invited her for supper that evening. Edward must have left her well provided for: twice in the 1890s she notated private loans of $165 and $210. Though she never failed to record cloudy or rainy weather, most of her diary entries start with the observation, “Lovely day.”

When old age finally claimed Louisa’s life in November 1930, her friends overflowed the Unitarian Society church at her funeral. Some of the most influential city leaders served as her pallbearers, including former Mayor M.A. Joshel, store owner Fred Hill, gravel fortune heir Leon Wheeler, Smith and Richardson Manufacturing co-founder Warren Smith, Joshel’s son-in-law, Richard Barney, and Republican publisher, Cadwell Mead.

“She was a woman of happy disposition and fine character and was beloved by a wide circle of friends,” The Republican reported.

She also left a historical puzzle. An Internet search for Edward Outhouse revealed two sources. One is an Outhouse family genealogical website that lists an Edward Outhouse, who was born in Canada and married in Illinois in 1866. The other is an Illinois State Genealogical Society web page about the Contraband Train of 1862, which brought 125 slaves who had been confiscated from their owners and freed by Union troops to Kane County. Among the list of “contrabands” on the train is an Edward Outhouse, who was born in Canada. Is it possible that Louisa’s short-lived marriage was one of the first interracial marriages in Geneva?

Lynne September 19, 2011 at 08:00 PM
As a member and past president of the Outhouse Family Historical Society, I couldn’t let this story pass without a comment. Edward was the son of James and Elizabeth Read Outhouse. He descended from Loyalists who fled to Canada during the Revolutionary War. The name originates in Holland and is taken from the ancestral hometown—Uythuysen (pron. Outhousen).
Denise Linke September 19, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Lynne, thanks so much for commenting on this story! Did Edward come to Kane County on the 1862 Contraband Train, perhaps as a soldier? I don't know how a Canadian could have become a slave in the South, but the Illinois State Genealogical Society lists Edward Outhouse as a passenger on that train -- which brought slaves confiscated and freed by Union troops to the North -- and states that he was born in Canada. Either the Edward on that train is the same man who married Louisa, or there were two Edward Outhouses in Kane County in the mid-1860s, which seems a bit unlikely.

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