Plankinton Elizabeth

Who really jilted Elizabeth Plankinton, daughter of a prominent Milwaukee businessman in the 1880s? What was life like for a rich, single woman in that era?

Elizabeth Plankinton was raised in Milwaukee as the daughter of one of the richest men in town. Still in her teens, her older sister died. Two years later her mother passed away, and two years after that her father remarried. She traveled extensively to the East Coast and Europe, spending time in Florence, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. When she was 33 years old, her father built a mansion on Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue) for her as a wedding present. Newspapers stories of the time and since then contradict each other as to the name of the prospective groom. Some stories even say she was married.

The mansion, in which she never lived, was the center of controversy in the mid-1970s. Marquette University wanted to tear it down and historical preservationists wanted to save it. The university won that battle, but, as a result of their efforts on this project, the preservationists organized and succeeded in saving other structures in Milwaukee.

Elizabeth Plankinton was a member of the higher social class and a benefactress in late nineteenth century Milwaukee, donating the first pubic statue, and providing funds for the YWCA and other charitable projects. Later in life she built a home in Dresden and was caught in Germany during World War I. The United States froze her financial assets during this time. After the war, she visited Milwaukee once, then returned to Europe where she died in 1923, too ill to return home. It is interesting that she chose to live in Germany. While most people living in Milwaukee were of German descent, Elizabeth’s family was of English heritage.

Elizabeth Plankinton was a rich and single woman without a home or job to anchor her to any one place, in an era where women were defined by their ‘housekeeping’ role as mother, wife, teacher, or nurse. She earned a place in history because she was jilted and refused to live in the house built for her marriage, and because that house became the center of an epic battle which energized historic preservation efforts in the city of Milwaukee.

I am curious about this woman who appeared to have more freedom than other women of that era. She was in Florence during the same years many famous impressionist painters were painting and studying in that city. I’ve found evidence that she corresponded with Mark Twain. I also found documentation that she was a charter member of Wisconsin’s Archeological Society. I would like to research her life and lives of other women who may have led similar lives. The stories of these women do not seem to be included in history books. I would also like to discover the real truth about the jilted groom, to correct those historical stories that contradict each other.

Story of Elizabeth A. Plankinton, 1933: Famous Milwaukee woman.

7 Responses to Plankinton Elizabeth

  1. Linda says:

    I found some great letters between the state department and her atty when she was living in Dresden during WWI. You can access them here:
    I was curious too. what an interesting woman. good luck, Linda

  2. Judy Kiehle says:

    I just found a newspaper article that stated she was engaged in 1886 to my great grandfather Rev. Amos A. Kiehle, pastor of Calvary Presbyterian church. This was between the death of my great grandmother in 1885 and his marriage to Bessie Harrison in 1890.

  3. genemeier says:

    I am writing the first spreadsheet from the American point of view about 19th century rotunda panoramas. These were the biggest paintings in the world, 50 x 400=20,000 square feet, housed in their own rotundas which were 16-sided polygons. Chicago in 1893 had panorama companies and panorama rotundas. On September 18,2003 I found in the display case of Milwaukee County Historical Society the F.W.Heine diaries 1880-1921. These are the only known narrative of a panorama company, that of William Wehner (1847-1928) of Chicago who built his panorama studio in downtown Milwaukee. From 1885-88 Wehner produced 2 units of BATTLE OF ATLANTA, 2 units of BATTLE OF MISSIONARY RIDGE & LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN and 3 units of JERUSALEM ON THE DAY OF THE CRUCIFIXION. The diaries needed to be transcribed in German, translated to English, scanned to computer. Michael Kutzer, born 1941 in Leipzig like Heine is transcriber of the project. ALSO, some 300+ glass plate negatives by panorama artist Bernhard Schneider (1843-1907) were found in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. REGARDING LIZZIE PLANKINTON: Some 10 of the glass plate images were made February 27,1888 inside the panorama studio before the #3 unit of JERUSALEM (#1 debuted in Chicago,#2 debuted in Minneapolis,#3 debuted in Buffalo, later London). Young men and women dressed as gypsies pose before the #3 unit of JERUSALEM–and the tall girl in the photos appears to match Lizzie Plankinton’s two FINDAGRAVE images (a photograph and an oil portrait, artist unknown).INFO TO SHARE Gene Meier 1160 Bailey Road, Sycamore, Illinois 60178 815 895 4099

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