Gertie was the oldest of ten children of Patrick and Sarah Breen McGowan. She was born on the family homestead in Tara Township, Swift County, Minnesota, and baptized at St. Francis Church, in Benson, Minnesota, three weeks after her birth. Her baptismal sponsors were her older cousin Fred McGowan, and her maternal aunt Mary Agnes Breen. Her family moved to Pillsbury Township near Kerkhoven, less than a year later and then to Benson, where Gertie grew up and attended school. She left school at age 16 when her father died, to help her mother support the large family.
|Millinery advertisement featuring Gertrude McGowan.|
In 1915, she joined her brothers after they purchased the Appleton Press newspaper in Appleton, Minnesota. In 1919, the group purchased the Swift County Monitor in Benson, and Gertie and Joe returned to Benson to operate the paper. She returned to Appleton after Joe bought sole ownership of that paper. In Appleton, she lived with her brother Martin and with her mother helped care for Martin Jr. after his mother died.
In 1934, Gertie was appointed postmaster of the Appleton Post Office, a post she held until her death. During her tenure, mail volume went from low volume points in 1931-1933 to "new record highs during each succeeding year for several years past."
Her community activities included the Degree of Honor lodge, the American Legion Auxiliary, where she served as president for two years; St. John's Church Rosary Society, and the church Study club. She was a member of social clubs including the Bridgettes.
The evening before she suffered the brain artery rupture that led to her death, Gertie was looking after her grand-niece and nephews. She walked home after Martin Jr. returned home from putting out the weekly newspaper. The next morning, Martin Jr. drove her the 150 miles to the hospital in Minneapolis. She died at age 69 in St. Mary's Hospital after surgery.
She is buried in the McGowan family plot in Appleton Cemetery.
Her life was memorialized by her brother Martin in the Appleton Press July 20, 1951:
"She had an intense pride in her brothers."
FOR THE SECOND time within a short period, death has come to a member of the McGowan family. This time it called the eldest member and only remaining sister, Gertrude. As one good friend has said, "Those who have known the pleasure of growing up in a large family must also know the sorrows of frequent parting." Certainly Gertie's passing leaves a great sadness for her brothers, and life from here on will have a vacancy to which it will be difficult to become accustomed.
Yet it would be unfair to her to wish that it could have been otherwise, because she, if anyone, had earned a release from the trials of this earthly life and the reward of eternal happiness that belief in the Christian doctrine teaches is the compensation. I know that I shall miss her as I have missed few people, but I know also that I must rejoice that she has gone to her reward--a reward that has been so well earned.
Our family was left fatherless when Gertie was seventeen years of age. She immediately gave up her own plans to become one of the family breadwinners. With a knack for millinery work she entered that trade. It was in a period when hat styles for women ran in fixed seasons and changed twice a year -- spring and fall. It was the custom for young women to go from this area to the wholesale millinery houses in St. Paul in advance of each season for a period of training and acquaintance with the prevailing styles. Following this they would be sent to various milinery stores in the territory to serve as trimmers for the current season. The stores would purchase a stock of original models which would be shown to customers and these served as patterns from which the customer could decide on her own individual hat and the trimmer would prepare it.
Gertie served stores in a number of towns. Among those that come to mind are Cedar Rapids, Ia., Albert Lea, Minn., Church's Ferry, N. D., and Aberdeen, S. D. Every cent of her earnings above her bare living cost, came home to help on the family expense. In many of the stores she was employed for several consecutive seasons, and she continued at this trade for sixteen years.
Then she suffered a physical breakdown and was ill for several months. When she regained her health sufficiently to work she took up employment at The Appleton Press and continued there until 1934 when she was appointed postmaster at Appleton.
Gertie suffered from migraine headaches practically all her adult life. This, and the fact her life had included difficulties and disappointments, tended to give her a pessimistic view and a leaning toward worry. Our mother, like some of her sons, one of whom modesty forbids mentioning here, was what would be generally rated as a poor financial manager. Gertie made constant, if somewhat unsuccessful, efforts against this situation as the family grew up and was virtually a mother-advisor even before mother's death.
She felt this responsibility as long as she lived, and the difficulties and problems of her brothers were her problems always. Likewise she had an intense pride in her brothers and equally intense loyalty to them. She might lecture them for faults or misbehavior in the family circle but would brook no criticism of them from the outside.
As postmaster, she carried the burdens of her office heavily. Always fearful that she was not doing everything exactly "according to the book" she would worry about the visit of an inspector as if his coming were her judgment day. During all her time in the office she never failed to receive a rating that was just short of perfect and much higher than the average. But one inspector would no more than leave than she would be concerned about the visit of the next one, and the fear that everything would not be in order.
In the later years she had been the keeper of the family records as well as the keeper of her own personal record of birthdays and other anniversaries and every possible occasion meant a gift. Likewise she had a number of personal charities to which she gave attention and individuals in need whom she assisted with no one but the indivdual and herself being aware of it.
She always maintained that she had no favorites in the family--she was equally interested in each of them. To a certain extent this was true. Yet there is no question she had a special interest in Martin Jr. and a great pride in him which reflects in some measure back on his dad, I hope. More so it was reflected on Marty's wife, Betty, and their five children, about whose welfare she could have been no more concerned if they were her own.
One of the things about which Gertie frequently remarked during and after her illness last winter, was how wonderful the people of this community had been to her. Always self-effacing, she seemed overwhelmed that so many people should be so interested in her health and so thoughtful with cards and flowers. The same applied during her last illness. If it happens that you did not receive an acknowledgment from her during her life, you will know that she hoped to be able to send you one and didn't achieve that goal before the end. If it were possible for her to communicate with you now in a way that would be understandable, I am sure she would. Also I am sure that she is thinking of you and acting in your behalf where she is.
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