Nannie Colwell (1859-1952)


Nannie Colwell’s life began before the Civil War and extended to after WWII: she saw many changes in her lifetime. Her father, Capt. Wilson Colwell, was mayor of La Crosse and leader of Co. B of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry; as an infant she and her mother accompanied the brigade when they traveled to Washington, DC to join the Grand Army of the Potomac. Capt. Colwell was killed in battle when she was just 3 years old.  In his memory, Nannie was named “the daughter of the regiment.” 

Nannie’s mother, subsequently married Rev. Charles Palmer Dorset and they had three additional children. The family moved around the country following her stepfather’s ministry. They often returned to their home in La Crosse; the permanently in 1879. 

Nannie never married. She was well-educated and enjoyed traveling all her life. Her other great passion was her family history, especially the memory of her father, and his Civil War service. In his memory, she founded the Wilson Colwell Relief Corps 38; Grand Army of the Republic, and served as a charter member and one of its first presidents. She was also a member of other patriotic organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution.

She passed away on November 17, 1952 in La Crosse, the last surviving person to march under the banner of the La Crosse Light Guard regiment.

Location: 612 Cass Street, La Crosse

1860s: The family home known as “Stevens Reserve” and later “Colwell Court”

2019: Goodyear Auto Service

Evening dress, c. 1895 incorporates a voided velvet and taffeta brocade refashioned from her mother’s gown worn to “Mrs. Lincoln’s ‘levees’ (receptions) in Washington D.C.” in 1861. This fabric was said to be imported from Paris and the original dress made by Nannie Colwell Dorset’s Pittsburgh dressmaker.

Materials: silk velvet, voided velvet and taffeta brocade, lace, crocheted buttons, cotton lining

From the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society