Two Rivers Teacher Lost Life in 1907 Columbia Disaster

Frances K. Schroeder. Courtesy of Schroeder's Department Store.

Frances K. Schroeder. Courtesy of Schroeder's Department Store.

On July 22, 1907, news reached the City of Two Rivers that the steamer Columbia had sunk in a collision with the lumber schooner San Pedro about 12 miles off the coast of California shortly after midnight the night before.  Within minutes after the collision, the Columbia sank to the bottom of Shelter Cove in the Pacific Ocean.  Many passengers were schoolteachers returning home from a convention in Los Angeles.  Among those on board were Frances Schroeder of Two Rivers and Julia Matek and Hattie Goedjen of Manitowoc.

First reports had it that most all on board had drowned after the 160-foot wooden San Pedro came out of a fog and rammed the Columbia, tearing a hole in the 300-foot iron-hulled steamer.  The Columbia was bound from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, carrying 251 passengers and crew  on board.  Many were asleep in their cabins and bunks when the crash came.

Before the Columbia sank with a loss of 88 lives, lifeboats and rafts from both damaged vessels were launched.  Hours later, two other ships arrived to assist with rescue efforts.  Local teachers Matek and Goedjen were among 163 persons that safely returned home.

The fate of Frances Schroeder and many others remained uncertain for days following the ill-fated collision.  Peter Schroeder immediately departed for the coast to find his sister.  For months, the family hoped she had been rescued and was recuperating in a hospital.

News of the Columbia proved a severe shock to people of the city and vicinity.  On July 27, 1907, the Two Rivers Reporter lamented, “Miss Schroeder was one of the most beloved and highly esteemed young ladies of this city.  If she is lost the entire community mourns with the bereaved family.”

At the time of the collision, Frances Schroeder, age 31, was a kindergarten teacher in the Two Rivers public schools.  She was born on May 30, 1876 at the family farm in the Town of Two Creeks.  She was the youngest of eight children (four boys and four girls) born to Peter J. and Angeline (Rollinger) Schroeder, who were among the first settlers in the area, immigrating from Germany.  Her brothers Peter, Joseph, John and Frank operated the family’s mercantile business on the corner of Walnut (now 17th) and Washington Streets in Two Rivers.  They also ran a mill and bank.

Frances Schroeder graduated from Two Rivers High School in 1895 and Milwaukee Normal School in 1898.  She became director of the Two Rivers kindergarten in 1899.                            

In 1908, the school board placed a bronze tablet under a life-sized photograph of Miss Schroeder in the kindergarten room as a visible tribute to her memory.

In 1918, the Schroeder family received a letter from a woman and former Two Rivers resident who reported meeting the former purser of the Columbia.  According to his account, Miss Schroeder put on a life preserver only when she knew others had been provided for.  Jumping overboard in the open sea, they both clung to the same raft.  Frances was taken with cramps and disappeared after two hours in the water.  Sadly, she drowned and her body was never recovered.

Today, the portrait of Frances Schroeder and her memorial plaque are displayed at Schroeder’s Department Store.