Ida Hagen, first African-American postmistress in Indiana

I ran across Ida Hagen two places: in a news clipping in the Dubois Country Historical Museum and in information about Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann. I knew this was a woman I needed to learn about.

As I have researched Hagen more, I have been increasingly impressed. Hagen became a clerk in the post office that Dr. Wollenmann ran in Ferdinand, Indiana in 1904. In fact, other opportunities arose from her contact with Dr. Wollenman.

But I am getting ahead of myself. From my vantage point in time, Hagen looked like she was on the road to great things from a young age. Dr. Wollenmann just helped her along.

Ida Hagen was born into a family that started the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County. By the time she was born (1888), her great grandfather (or great great grandfather…sources differ) who founded the settlement, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr, had been deceased for three years.

She attended Gehlhausen Country School, where she received county honors in 1901. She was the first African American to graduate from a common (grade) school in Dubois County.

In 1903, she began to help Dr. Wollenmann with cleaning, cooking, and raising his two sons after his wife died. The following year, in 1904, she finished high school after only one year and then, at age 16, became a clerk at the post office where Dr. Wollenmann was the postmaster.

In her spare time, Ida studied German, the language spoken by many in the community, and then studied pharmacy under Dr. Wollenmann and assisted him in his doctor’s office and on house calls.

To my delight, I located some early announcements about her formal pharmaceutical training certification. In May 1906, she graduated with a degree in pharmacy. In January 1909, she received a certificate from the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.

Upon Dr. Wollenmann’s death in 1912, she took over as assistant postmaster, but left Ferdinand that same year.

I have found little about her life after she left Ferdinand. She practiced pharmacy in Indianapolis, and then moved to Gary and continued to practice pharmacy there. By 1955, she was living in Detroit with her husband Sidney Whitaker. And there her trail starts to go cold. She died in 1978 and is buried in Detroit.

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