The story of Netta Anderson and her contributions to both Augustana College and the Quad-City community is alive and well, thanks to Ann Boaden, an associate professor of English at Augustana.
Boaden researched the Rock Island college’s early women graduates and published their stories in “Light and Leaven: Women Who Shaped Augustana’s First Century.”
“Working back, I found there were a wealth of women I had never heard of, or had heard of in only the most fleeting way,” Boaden said. “All of these stories are just buried in the archive. These are stories people need to know.”
In addition to writing about Anderson, Boaden portrays her in performances, assuming her character in costume.
Netta Bartholomew moved to Rock Island in 1888 when her father took a job as an English professor at Augustana, and she enrolled in 1891. She soon realized, though, that while the college was coeducational on paper, in practice women were not welcome in all intellectual pursuits, Boaden said.
“We were frankly told that while (the men) loved us as girls, they did not care for us as students. … (They) were so scornful of ‘women’s rights’ about which everybody was then talking … I very much resented this male assumption of superiority,” Anderson wrote in papers that Boaden located in the special collections area of Augustana’s library.
“Being Netta, she set out to do something about it and the exclusionary practices it created,” Boaden writes in a recent edition of The Lutheran Journal.
“She succeeded. She crashed the all-male ranks of the college’s literary society despite hazing and so opened the door to membership for future Augustana women. When she found out that tradition prohibited women from speaking in the college chapel, she promptly submitted her name as a candidate for an oratorical contest scheduled to be held in that very venue. (She was allowed to participate. In the chapel.)”
After graduation, she married K.T. Anderson, a banker she had met through church. They had three children.
With no real job market for a woman unless she wanted to teach, Anderson used her abilities in support of various organizations, including Bethany Home, the Red Cross, Royal Neighbors of America and the Rock Island Woman’s Club. In 1911, she helped organize and became the first president of the Augustana Alumni Association. From 1930 to ‘48, she was one of the few women on the college‘s board of directors.
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She also published an academic paper on geology and was one of the first women admitted to the reorganized Rock Island Historical Society.
One of her legacies was gathering the stories of Rock Island County’s pioneer women. Anderson hosted a tea party for 15 women, all past the age of 75, who had settled in the area during the 1830s and ‘40s. She asked them to talk about their experiences and recorded what they said.
They spoke of leaving grandparents back in Vermont and never seeing them again, of glimpsing the Mississippi and Rock rivers for the first time, and of dealing with hostile Indians, storms and endless work. They also spoke of good times. All of the accounts are found in Anderson’s unpublished manuscripts.
The Andersons lived in Rock Island until 1950 when they retired to Florida, although Netta continued to visit Rock Island. In fact, she died on campus of a heart attack in August 1960. She had returned for homecoming at the age of 87.