Hometown Histories – Cleveland – Margaret Hansen

My paternal grandmother, Margaret Hansen Hillinger, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, US, in 1919.

Cleveland, Ohio skyline, wikimedia commons
Cleveland is the county seat of Cuyahoga County, the most populous county in the state. As of the 2013 Census Estimate, the city itself has a total population of over 390,000. It is the 48th largest city in the US, and the second largest in Ohio. In 1920, a year after my grandmother was born, the population was more than double that size, at 796,841. It was not the largest the city has been, though. In 1950, it reached over 914,000 people. The year after Margaret was born, it became the fifth largest city in the nation.

The city is situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie, and currently covers an area of about 82 ½ square miles. It was founded in 1796, and incorporated as a city in 1836. It became a manufacturing center because of its location on the lake shore, which gave it easy access for transporting goods. These days, the city has quite a diversified economy, which includes manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and biomedical. Cleveland is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several sports teams, including the Indians and the Browns.

Before the Europeans arrived in the area, several native tribes lived in the area, including the Erie, Wyandot and Ottawa tribes, until at least the mid-seventeen hundreds. It is believed most of the tribes in the area were transient ones, coming and going, or settling only seasonally in the area.

The city got its name from the leader of the group who surveyed the land that would become Cleveland, General Moses Cleveland. He oversaw the plan for the core of the city before going home, and never returned to the area.

Though the city had voted only marginally in favor of Lincoln, when the South began to succeed from the Union, they were quick to rally to Lincoln's war efforts, though there were still some that opposed it. The Civil War was a boom time for Cleveland. Manufacture of railroad iron and gun-carriage axles brought in a great deal of money. By 1863, almost a quarter of all US Naval craft for use on the Great Lakes were built in Cleveland. In 1865, that number had increased to nearly half. The fact that all supplies from the South were cut off caused Cleveland to build its first tobacco factory. And its garment industry also began to flourish due to the German Woolen Factory, which was the first company in the area to manufacture the cloth.

At the end of the war, there was much rejoicing and celebrating, though even then, some still felt that the former slave population did not deserve citizenship, which had been granted to them by Lincoln. It took many more years for the black population of Cleveland to arrive. Most did not start arriving until after 1900. At that time, the Census Bureau estimated the Black population of Cleveland at just over 4000. By 1930, it had risen to over 70 thousand, most of whom had arrived during the twenties.

The May Day riots happened the year my grandmother was born. These were a series of violent demonstrations all over Cleveland on May first of that year. Eugene V Debs, a Union leader, was arrested for denouncing US participation in World War I. He was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917, and served until his sentence was commuted in 1921. Charles Ruthenberg, head of the US Communist Party at that time, organized a series of protests that quickly broke into violent clashes with other groups. When things calmed, two people were dead, and forty injured. 116 people, including Ruthenberg, had been arrested. The city government quickly passed laws that restricted parades and specifically red flags, which had been one of the inciting points of the riots. It is seen as the most violent of the civil disorders that happened at the time, a result of the first Red Scare.

My great-grandmother, Oline, would have been about halfway through her pregnancy then. She and her husband, Holger were both Danish immigrants who had not yet even been naturalized. I can only imagine how they must have felt about all this. I'm sure they kept well away from the worst, but even living in the city would have made it quite alarming.

Margaret with her parents ca 1921
Oline and Holger immigrated to America in the early 1900s. He settled in New York, and she in Chicago. They met on a trip back to Denmark to visit family. They married a few years later, settling in Cleveland. By 1930, there were about seven hundred Danes in Cleveland. Margaret and her siblings grew up in a very strong Danish community; one which included many of their extended family members. Her father, Holger, built houses with the help of many of his Danish friends and family from the old country; many of which still exist today in Cleveland.

The family flourished in Cleveland, and in 1923, Margaret had a sister, and in 1925, a brother. Holger's homes sold well in the increasing population, and Oline sewed and cooked and took care of their family. Unfortunately, in early 1929, Oline fell ill, and soon died of pneumonia. Holger was devastated. He packed his kids off to live with his brother and sister-in-law, who lived nearby, then began to work on a new home for the family. He couldn't bear to live in the same house where she had died.
ca 1929 - back: Helga; middle: Margaret, Marilyn, Torben; front: Else
He soon remarried, and Maggie found she did not get along with her new stepmother. When the opportunity came to go to boarding school, she jumped at the chance, and never looked back. Andrews Academy (now Andrews Osborn Academy) was located just outside of Cleveland in a small town called Willoughby. She lived there during the school year, and only returned home on breaks and for the summer. The school taught her basic secretarial skills, and when she finished her schooling, it helped her find a secretarial job in Cleveland.

She remained in the Cleveland area until 1942, shortly after the US joined World War II. As soon as the call went out for women to be able to enlist, she joined up, as did both her sister and brother. She spent the years of the war in different locations in the US, eventually landing the rank of First Lieutenant, the highest rank a woman could get at that time. When the war is over, she and her sister signed up to help with the cleanup over in Europe. She was stationed in Frankfurt, where she met and married my grandfather. After the war, they had to choose where to settle their family. He was not particularly attached to Chicago, where his family had moved only a few years before he was drafted into the army. She did not particularly want to go back to Cleveland, either. After some debate, the couple settled on Seattle, and settled there happily, living there and raising four children. Maggie returned to Cleveland for visits, but she never lived there again.

Hillinger Family Tree
Margaret Hillinger Interview, 2001
May Day Riots of 1919


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.