Family Story

18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book 18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book 18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book 18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book

The Museum of Danish America paints an enviable portrait of Niels Christian Klendshoj: that of a doctor of many specializations and much academic achievement paving his way as a Danish emigrant to greatness in the New World, according to a personal history donated to the museum by members of his family. It is no surprise, then, that only one of the three wives he cared for throughout his long life is worthy of inclusion. Family histories of the 1930s tend to err toward the patriarchy, as evidenced by Niels’ listing as head of his 1930 household, followed by many dependents and a column denoting their “relation to head of household.” Thus, we find much more information on the husband and man who in 1933 married Annette Roberta Klendshoj, the owner and woman whose name our volume of Lady’s Monthly Museum bears inside its front cover, than we find information on Roberta the book collector who personally inscribed her name on a bookplate all her own.

But it would stand to reason that a woman, with a personal library large enough to warrant a personal bookplate, would have some sort of life and story of her own to tell. Bookplates are meant to convey ownership, but when women married in 1933, like Annette Klendshoj, it was quite likely that the entirety of their worldly possessions would instantly transfer to being their husband’s worldly possessions. Such is where the patriarchal propensities of the time and the bookplate-implied ownership of the Monthly Museum volume appear to clash. Marriage and divorce dates and records also create broken branches in the Klendshoj family tree, though it is necessary to write off some of those inconsistencies if we intend to place the Annette who appears somewhat independent amongst the Klendshojs.

Dr. Niels Klendshoj arrived in New York, NY, via the Oscar II from Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 1927. By that time, the man had already obtained a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Copenhagen and was offered a job with a pharmaceutical company in Buffalo, NY, just a year after his graduation at age 24. At this time, work on the Holland Tunnel connecting New York City to New Jersey beneath the Hudson River had just been completed and Charles Lindbergh had recently accomplished his solo transatlantic flight for the record books, nonstop from New York City to Paris. Lindbergh’s flight also coincided with the first transatlantic telephone call from New York City to London. Klendshoj’s first wife Else (22), sons Ole (toddler) and Jorgen (infant), mother Anna (49), and sister Anna (22) were right behind him in coming to America, joining Niels just a year later, in 1928.

The family set up shop and was documented as part of the 1930 United States Federal Census. Arne, Niels’ son, was then a new addition to the family. The Museum of Danish America includes the 1928 arrival of his family, which is immediately followed by 1933-1937 journals of “the young scientist bicycl[ing] between his workplace and evening classes at the University of Buffalo Medical Center, where he received his M.D. [Doctor of Medicine] degree in 1937.” The years 1928-1933 are seemingly unaccounted for, but further inquiry into the matter returns the February 24, 1933, courtship of Niels Christian Klendshoj and Annette Roberta Klendshoj.

18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book 18th Century Lady's Monthly Museum Book

Annette is strangely absent from the museum’s biography, though this marriage date was provided by the foundation via e-mail correspondence. It is also worth noting that research also turns up no evidence of a Niels/Else divorce. The museum’s details seem to imply, via lack of any information to the contrary, that Niels’ and Else’s marriage did not end. If this were the case, Niels then would fall into the category of a “bigamist”—someone who has entered into a marriage with one person while still being married to another.

An Oklahoma court case (Robertson v. State) dated March 15, 1930, provides evidence of the legal ramifications a person engaging in bigamy are subject to, supposing of course that they are caught in the act. The defendants in this case were charged with bigamy for entering into marriage within 6 months following a previous divorce. Fannie Robertson and R.C. Robertson were sentenced to 30 days in a state penitentiary and a fine of $100, respectively. It is worth considering, though, that records regarding Niels’ initial divorce were simply unaccounted for during online archiving efforts. But if that is not so, we may be examining an untried case against the man—one whose only evidence is this lack of evidence of a divorce from Else. Such a case would not likely hold up in court. Still, bigamy was a relevant enough issue in 1930 for the Marx Brothers to play it up in their film Animal Crackers.

            Capt. Spaulding: [to Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead] Let’s get married.
                        Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?

            Capt. Spaulding: All of us.

            Mrs. Whitehead: Why, that’s bigamy.

            Capt. Spaulding: Yes, and it’s big of me too.

Later, Buffalo city directories of 1941 and 1955 list A. Roberta Klendshoj and Annette R. Klendshoj, respectively, as Niels’ live-in spouse, notably at two different Buffalo addresses. As his career continued, Niels “held increasingly responsible positions” in his field. His accomplishment was praised accordingly, as he was shortlisted for the 1941 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside partner Dr. Ernest Witebsky for isolating their B-blood complex. This work assisted in the creation of a universally acceptable blood for transfusions, but no Nobel Prizes were awarded for the next two years in light of World War II developments.

While all this was happening, it would seem that Annette, like Else and Anna Klendshoj before her, entertained no occupation. Niels’ increasing responsibilities, which probably included pay-grade bumps as time spun on, led to money not being an object of concern for the family. Niels was already supporting a household of six unemployed women and children as early as 1930. Annette Klendshoj probably did not need to work, which might also help to explain the lack of documentation regarding her. If her book possessions are any indication, and it would seem that the Lady’s Monthly Museum did cater to a certain type of woman, Annette was a housewife of great means. This led to a need for her to occupy the hours when her husband was occupied by research and bread-winning. It is possible that the family members Niels left behind, like the ones who donated his Annette-less history to the museum, viewed her as a mere inconsequential addition to the family. Niels was paving his own way and supporting whatever woman would fulfill his more personal needs, as he did not appear to be lacking in the intellectual-independence department. Simply put, Annette (who sometimes went by her middle name Roberta, as seen on the bookplate) had time to read some of the fanciest women’s publications. She also had enough of her husband’s money to put together full collections of those magazines.