Women’s snowshoe clubs in the U.P.

The Ishpeming Wan-be-wawa (Wild Geese) women’s snowshoe group in 1887. From left: F.P. Tillson, F.P. Miller, Guy Canfield, (Cap.) W.H. Johnston, G.G. Barnett, Mrs. Barber, E.B. Howard, J.H. Andrees, J. Vandeventer, Geo. Hayden, W.F. Swift, Miss Penny, and E.E. Osborn.

In December the Marquette Regional History Center shared an image to our Facebook page titled “It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter.” Look at these ladies enjoying the outdoors! Women’s Snowshoe Club circa 1880s, compliments of the John M. Longyear Library” which was viewed around 17, 000 times and shared by hundreds.

Many questions and responses were posed to us by our followers. “Can anyone tell me why one of these women is wearing white?” “Look at those outfits!” “What are their names?” “Where was this taken?” Needless to say, the response was amazing and it peaked our interest to research the club. Here is what we found out.

The first Marquette County snowshoe club was organized in 1868 at the Cleveland Mine in Ishpeming, comprised of men. Snowshoe clubs were organized not just for the exercise, but for camaraderie and to help pass the long winter months, as they held many social events.

As the sport gained popularity both Marquette and Ishpeming started women’s clubs in 1886. The Marquette ladies named their club “Agimosse” based on the Ojibway phrase “nind agimosse,” meaning “I walk by snowshoes.” The Ishpeming ladies named their club “Wan-be-wawa” based on the Ojibway phrase for wild geese.

Each club had its own distinctive uniform. The History Center’s permanent collection contains one such uniform. It’s made out of heavy gray blanket wool with large blue, black, and white stripes on it. The donation comprised of the complete uniform including a skirt, jacket, belt, stocking cap, and scarf. The uniform was donated in 1965 by Mrs. Glen H. Morey but we don’t know which club it represented.

The Marquette Agimosse group’s uniform colors were modeled after the men’s uniforms. The women’s uniforms were white and scarlet, with blouse waists. Their skirts were to the ankles and they had heavy jackets with red hoods, red stockings and embroidered moccasins.

Ishpeming’s group had gray coats with red stripes, hoods, sashes and toques or “chooks,” as we know them. There is no indication that differing uniforms or colors were meant to reflect the status of club members. However, we do know that due to the popularity of the sport, other independent clubs were formed. Perhaps this would account for the variation in uniform colors.

In Marquette, the women shared the Snowshoe Clubhouse, which was located at the Powder Mill (now Tourist Park), while Ishpeming’s was on the north shore of Lake Bancroft. The Marquette Clubhouse was built in the winter of 1886-87 and was situated near the bank of the Dead River around three miles from the city. The grand housewarming was held in January 1887 and was quite the soiree, complete with a torch held moonlight walk to the clubhouse.

The party included both male and female members. Guests arrived on horse drawn sleighs, there was glee club entertainment, dialect stories, special guests and refreshments. The paper covered the evening as “The Good Old Style. The Marquette Snow Shoe [sic] Club gives an Old Fashioned House Warming.”

Honorary female members of the club included in the “tramp” in were Mrs. J. M. Longyear, Mrs. A. O. Jopling, Mrs. R. H. Keim, Miss Emma Wetmore, and Miss Millie Bailey. The article credits Mrs. R. H. Keim as the only lady to persevere and walk in as well as out. The walk out was to intentionally seek new and “untried hills and trials” and the three mile hike took one hour, as the group left at noon and “Home was reached by 1 o’clock.”

In 1888-89 the Marquette clubhouse was remodeled due to popularity making it suitable for entertaining. Additions consisted of a stage, dressing rooms and kitchen, and the enlargement of the lobby, as well as an immense open fire place where logs up to six feel long could burn.

The floor space was 2,060 square feet. An unidentified newspaper clipping in the John M. Longyear Library boasted that “the total investment represented by the building and its fittings is about $2,000, and yet the organization has not a cent of indebtedness.”

The Marquette and Ishpeming groups often had joint ventures and meetings, traveling back and forth by train. They would hold grand parades, with grandiose headlines such as “The parade of the Marquette Snow Shoe [sic] Club and the Ishpeming Snow Shoe [sic] Club last evening was the most magnificent winter spectacle that Marquette has ever witnessed.” Thousands would turn out for the events lining Pine Street, Front Street and Superior Street to watch the torchlight spectacle.

Wouldn’t it be something, if we were to reenact a spectacle of this magnitude now? This exchange of hikes and parties between the clubs was an annual affair for several years at least, and their meetings were held more often than that. A few brief items in 1896 stated that “over 100 ladies and gentlemen enjoyed meeting in January, with about 40 of them hiking,” which indicates the clubs were popular for over a decade.

We are thrilled to have such a following on our social media platforms and are inspired by your questions and comments. For more information about the Marquette and Ishpeming Snowshoe Clubs and some fantastic images, visit the John M. Longyear Research Library.