Lillian Davenport

Ivy King

Catalog Number: 2011.009.03       


While traveling from city to city, vaudeville shows often commissioned posters to advertise their acts. This red vaudeville poster, from 1907, was printed in La Crosse. The poster gives the names of the performers, and, in small print, lists the printer, “Life’ogravure, La Crosse Wisconsin.”

Vaudeville shows were a popular form of entertainment from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s. The shows — which featured comedy, music and sometimes even animals — represented a variety of racial and ethnic groups.

La Crosse had a number of vaudeville performers, and one of the most widely known was Lillian Davenport. While she does not appear on this poster, it represents her career, and she would have appeared on her own posters after she joined the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s.

Lillian was born Dec. 8, 1894, in La Crosse. Her grandmother, Clara Virginia Johnson, was born a slave in 1842 in Georgia. Clara was freed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. After being freed, Lillian’s grandparents moved to the La Crosse area, where she became a renowned chef.

Continuing in Clara’s tradition, Lillian’s mother had a successful catering business, which she ran out of her Vine Street house. In August 1887, both Lillian’s mother and grandmother helped plan La Crosse’s Emancipation Day celebrations.

Lillian grew up in La Crosse with her mother, and she graduated from La Crosse High School in 1913.

Lillian began her vaudeville career in the 1920s. She was the musical director of “Bowman’s Cotton Blossoms,” and it was said she played nearly every instrument in the orchestra. Later, she began performing comedy routines, and she had a many friends at a newspaper, The Chicago Defender, who helped give her career a boost.

Not only was she a performer, she also was an activist. While visiting her mother in 1941, she noticed a large number of La Crosse businesses — including bars and restaurants — had Jim Crow signs posted. She notified Wisconsin’s NAACP, which led to the removal of the signs.

Later in her life, Lillian taught music at a public school in Chicago. She died in Chicago on Sept. 28 1964, and she was buried in La Crosse alongside her family.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 9, 2017.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Normanna Sangerkor Badge

Peggy Derrick

Catalog Number: 2013.fic.103


This badge was worn by a member of the La Crosse Normanna Sangerkor, or Norwegian Men’s Singing Corps. Singing societies were popular among Scandinavian and German immigrants, and La Crosse also supported the German Frohsinn Singing Society, and another Norwegian group that was ultimately absorbed by the Normanna Sangerkor.

The Sangerkor was founded in 1869, by Carl Jackwitz, with 21 original members. It’s considered the first Norwegian singing society in the U.S., and it continued until 1955. Its members sang for their own amusement, and they sang at large sangerfests, or singing festivals, across the upper Midwest.

One of the largest was held in La Crosse in 1906, when the Northwestern Scandinavian Singers held a festival here. A special, temporary, auditorium was built downtown to seat 3,000 people, and other singing groups from around the region came to participate.

Another important milestone was the time, in 1870, when they were invited to perform with the world-famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull.

Emil Berg was their first director, a musician and tenor of some renown who had immigrated to Chicago, where he was making his living at an upholstery shop. The La Crosse Sangerkor invited him to move to La Crosse, even paying for his move. Berg spent the rest of his life here and directed the Sangerkor until his death.

In 1911 Rolf S. Rynning thought they needed something more elegant and permanent than the printed ribbons they wore for performances and competitions. Sketches by the artist E.O. Forseth were sent to Whitehead Hoag and Co. in Newark, N.J. The company based its design on those drawings, and this badge is the result.

Rolf was the son of Erik Rynning, one of the 1869 founders, and a longtime member himself. E.O. Forseth was a longtime director of the Sangerkor.

These badges were officially worn for the first time in July, 1912, at a Sangerfest in Fargo, N.D.


This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 2, 2017.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

The Artwork of Lillian Annin Pettingill

Amy Vach

Catalog Number: 1984.130.20


Lillian Gleason Annin was born in 1871 in Le Roy, N.Y., to James and Priscilla Annin. She was the youngest of seven children. At the age of 16, she graduated from Ingham University with a degree in Fine Arts. Records from Ingham University, one of the few all-women liberal arts colleges at the time, indicate that Lillian was an assistant art teacher at Ingham University for one term. A year later, Lillian taught at a university in Nyack on the Hudson. In 1889, she was in charge of the Art Department at the Indianapolis Institute. She was also on the staff of Ohio Western Reserve University.

At the age of 37, Lillian married Claude Pettingill on Dec. 28, 1907, in Bellingham, Wash. Pettingill was the son of Josiah and Eunice Pettingill. Josiah came to La Crosse at a young age and served in public office as county clerk and chairman of the town board. He was also appointed postmaster of La Crosse by President William McKinley. Josiah started the first abstract company in La Crosse, and Claude followed in his father’s footsteps and continued the company after his father’s death. He worked as an attorney, real estate agent and insurance agent.

Lillian and Claude stayed in the Seattle area for about nine years before returning to La Crosse. She painted in the Seattle area and is described as a “rare and collectible artist” in art dictionaries.

When they moved to La Crosse, Lillian became active in the art community and helped found the Art Association of La Crosse. Apart from her involvement in the Art Association, Lillian also provided additional classes for people who desired more instruction. She continued painting and drawing in the La Crosse area. A shift can be seen in her artwork as she transitioned from painting west coast scenes to painting scenes of rivers, valleys and bluffs in the Coulee Region.

Lillian was also involved in the League of Women Voters around 1925 and is mentioned in the La Crosse Tribune as giving talks about the importance of the group. She served as the vice president of the League of Women Voters. Her husband, Claude, died in 1948 and she died in 1953. Her sister-in-law Grace Pettingill Hogan Van Steenwyk donated 20 pieces of artwork created by Lillian Pettingill to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1984.

Lillian is going to be portrayed in this year’s Discover the Silent City: “Leaving a Mark-Artists of La Crosse.” Her artwork is also available for viewing in a virtual exhibit on the La Crosse County Historical Society’s website at

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 26, 2017.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.