Granddaughter a Music Teacher in Chicago

The month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. In addition to that, some Lutheran schools in the United States still celebrate National Lutheran Schools Week during this week in March. I know our local Lutheran school is celebrating this week. I ran across a character today that may just fit into both of those celebrations. In the early history of Lutheran schools, the teachers were almost entirely men. Perhaps today’s character was one of the first women to serve as a teacher in a Lutheran school.

Today’s birthday girl had what I consider very special grandparents. First, one of her grandmothers was Christiane Buenger, who is the main character in the book I authored, Mama Buenger: Mother of a Synod. Second, one of her grandfathers was Rev. G.H. Loeber, the first pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg. However, because of the early deaths of her grandparents, today’s birthday girl never got to know any of her grandparents.

Let’s take a quick look at the parents of today’s birthday girl, Theodore Ernst and Martha (Loeber) Buenger. Here are photos of these two.

Martha and Theodore Ernst Buenger

These two are special to me for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that I have this theory that these two got to know each other better behind my barn. I know that sounds a little sketchy, but it is because Martha Loeber was one of the students in the first class at the Log Cabin College when it opened in 1839. That school was located behind my barn. That log cabin was built on the land belonging to Christiane Buenger, Theodore Ernst’s mother. Therefore, I believe Theodore E. was living on this property that I now own. These two would later get married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg.

Theodore Ernst repeatedly became a “first teacher” at a variety of locations. In the book, Heart of Missouri, we find him mentioned in several places. First, even before he was married, Theodore E. became the first teacher at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Louis.

In the early 1850’s, Theodore E. Buenger became the first teacher at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.

More evidence of Theodore’s presence in New Orleans is given in this book when it lists Lutheran teachers who were unable to attend the first Western District Conference in St. Louis which occurred in 1854.

Probably because of the unrest at that congregation mentioned above, Theodore E. did not stay there long. In 1855, we find him becoming the first teacher at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois.

That finally brings us back to today’s birthday girl, who was born to Theodore Ernst and Martha on March 8, 1855. Her name was Agnes Mathilda Buenger. This begs the question about where this baby was born. Some family histories on Ancestry.com say she was born in Altenburg. That is not the case. If she was born here, she would have a baptism record in the German Family Tree. The answer is found in several later census entries which say Agnes was born in Louisiana, so she was born when her father was still a teacher in New Orleans. Agnes must have been a baby when her family moved to Chicago.

The move from New Orleans to Chicago was likely made by taking a steamboat up the Mississippi River. I think there is a good chance that this young family might have gotten off at Wittenberg to make a visit to Theodore’s brother, Dr. Ernst Buenger, if he had relocated from St. Louis by this time. It is also possible this couple may have stopped off in St. Louis to visit relatives and friends there. However, because Agnes was an infant at the time, she would not remember any of this.

Another note in a history of Immanuel, Chicago describes the work of Theodore Ernst Buenger. Although his name is not given, this note is referring to him.

First of all, it blows my mind to even imagine having 130 students in one room. Second, this mentions Theodore’s involvement in music in this church and school. Theodore also carried the nickname, Cantor Buenger throughout his life.

While researching Cantor Buenger in the past, I know I was not able to locate this family in the early census records for Agnes when she was young. I did manage to find this entry in the 1874 city directory for Chicago. You can also see her father in this directory. This is the first indication that Agnes was a music teacher. Perhaps she helped her father teach music to his numerous students at Immanuel Lutheran School.

Agnes Buenger – 1874 Chicago city directory

Now, we will take a look at the man who would become Agnes’s husband. His name was Carl Wilhelm Gerhardt Koch, who was born on January 31, 1855 in Chicago. His parents were Carl and Caroline Sophia (Franke) Koch. Koch and Franke are both names that show up in our GFT, but neither of these two were tied to anyone in this area. Carl is found in the 1870 census at the age of 15. It says he was attending school, and his father was called a currier, which might be another name for a tanner.

1870 census – Chicago, IL

Next, we find Carl in the 1880 census. Once again, Carl is called a student at the age of 25.

1880 census – Chicago, IL

Carl became a Lutheran pastor. Carl married Agnes Buenger on June 8, 1882. I found a transcription of an Illinois marriage record for these two.

Koch/Buenger – Illinois marriage record

Between 1884 and 1888, this couple had 3 children. From 1886-1889, Rev. Carl Koch was the pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Lemont, Illinois, which is located in the Chicago metropolitan area. Two other pastors of that congregation, Rev. Querl and Rev. Bienlein, have had their stories told on this blog.

Early pastors of St. Matthew’s, Lemont, IL

Rev. Carl Koch died in 1889 at the early age of 34, leaving Agnes as a widow with 3 fairly young children. Pastor Koch was buried in the Wunder Lutheran Cemetery in Chicago. That cemetery was named after Heinrich Wunder, who was one of the 5 graduates of Concordia Seminary, Altenburg.

Rev. Carl Koch gravestone – Wunder, Chicago, IL

At this point, I’ll also mention that the first graduate of the Log Cabin College, Rev. J.A.F.W. Mueller, spent some time with Theodore Ernst Buenger at Immanuel, Chicago as the pastor.

Agnes Koch is found in the 1900 census with her 3 children. Once again, Agnes is called a music teacher. Was she a teacher at St. Matthew’s Lutheran School?

1900 census – Chicago, IL

Next, we find Agnes in the 1910 census. Her 3 children were all in their 20’s and still single.

1910 census – Chicago, IL

The last census in which we find Agnes was the one taken in 1920. At the age of 65, she was living with her daughter, Helen, who had married Harry Stemler.

1920 census – Chicago, IL

Agnes Koch died in 1923 at the age of 68. I located an Illinois death record for her.

Agnes Koch – Illinois death record

Agnes Koch was buried in the Bethania Cemetery in Chicago.

Agnes Koch gravestone – Bethania, Chicago, IL

Later this week, my wife and I will be travelling to the Chicago area where our daughter is a Lutheran school teacher, and her son, our grandson, will be celebrating a birthday. That grandchild, like Agnes Buenger, has a notable grandparent who is a Lutheran teacher, That would be my wife, Sandi Schmidt, who happens to be substitute teaching at our local Lutheran school today and tomorrow, during National Lutheran Schools Week. I guess it’s a great day to be discussing women Lutheran schoolteachers.

You can expect a few days of no blog posts later this week. We have a birthday to celebrate.


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