Madame Sosnowski, noteworthy citizen of Columbia, South Carolina

While reading the Columbia Phoenix online in Chronicling America, I ran across a brief article printed on March 28, 1865. The editors of the Phoenix wished to make quite clear that a highly regarded citizen of Columbia had NOT followed the Federal Army as they withdrew their occupation of the city the previous February, as was incorrectly printed in the recent issue of the Augusta Constitutionalist. Intrigued by her name, I began a fruitful search of a noteworthy woman and her history.

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Madame Sophie Sosnowski (nee Wentz) was born in Baden, Germany in 1809 and was the daughter of a “prominent court physician,” Dr. Christian Wentz. In 1833, she emigrated from Europe to America with her Lithuanian husband, Captain Joseph Stanislaus Sosnowski, who served with distinction in the Russian Army, but was compelled to flee the country after participating in the failed Polish Revolution of 1830 against Russia.

The Sosnowskis lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, and after her husband’s death in 1845, Madame Sosnowski moved her family to the various cities of Troy, New York; Macon, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; and lastly Athens, Georgia. She penned her own eye-witness account of the Burning of Columbia, called “A Thrilling, Faithful & Graphic Description of a Monstrous Crime” which was published in 1924 in the Georgia Historical Quarterly titled the “Burning of Columbia.”

Madame Sosnowski ran a highly respected school for girls in Columbia during the 1850s and 1860s, called the Brahamville Institute, located two miles north of the city. Madame Sosnowski, her daughters, and Captain Thaddeus Strawinski, an ex-officer of the 1830 Polish Army, taught Music, German, and French to young ladies.

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Remarkably, there are several collections of family photographs, ephemera, and correspondence related to Madame Sosnowski at the South Caroliniana Library, the South Carolina Historical Society, and the University of Georgia. It appears that many descendants and relatives of Madame Sosnowski live in South Carolina and Georgia today.

Sosnowski family letters and scrapbook, 1809-1949.

South Caroliniana Library Manuscripts Division

Two volumes (photostatic copies) consisting of volume one, 1809-1949 (memoir, biography and family history) and second volume of correspondence, 1853-1876, related to the career of Madame Sophia Sosnowski and her related Polish-American family lines in South Carolina and Georgia. Persons represented in these two volumes include members of the Sosnowski family of Polish and German descent who settled in South Carolina during the mid-19th century. German-born Sophia Wentz Sosnowski (1809-1899) and her husband Joseph Stanislaus Sosnowski (1800 or 1806-1845), a captain in the Polish army, came to New York via France shortly after their marriage in 1833. Following her husband’s death, Madame Sosnowski moved the family to Columbia, S.C., and opened the South Carolina Female Collegiate Institute at Barhamville. Madame Sosnowski became renowned as a teacher of languages, literature, and vocal music. After the Civil War much of the family resettled in Athens, Ga., where Madame Sosnowski taught at the Lucy Cobb Institute and later operated her own school, known as the Home School. Sophia Augusta Sosnowski married Colonel Frank E. Schaller (1835-1881), who had been stationed in Columbia, S.C., during the Civil War. The new Schaller family also settled in Georgia and maintained close ties with the Sosnowski family. Dr. Julius Christian Sosnowski (1840-1876) married Susan Grace Townsend and resided with her family at Bleak Hall on Edisto Island, S.C.

Papers of the Sosnowski and Schaller Families, 1828-1948.

South Caroliniana Library Manuscripts Division

Chiefly Civil War and family correspondence and business papers including information on professional lives of Sophie Sosnowski and Frank Schaller; including manuscript, 1865, Madame Sophie Sosnowski, recording eye-witness account of W.T. Sherman’s burning of Columbia, S.C.; diary, 1861-1862, kept by Frank Schaller re family and military activities; 2 letters, 27 July 1861 and 28 June 1877, Mississippi and Georgia, re roster of the 22nd Mississippi Infantry, commanded by Col. F[rank] Schaller.

Photographs of Langley-Seabrook-Sosnowski families [picture] : 1869-1960.

South Caroliniana Library Manuscripts Division

Photographs of Madame Sophie Maria Wentz at various ages; Frank Schaller and daughter Ida; Julius C. Sosnowski, M.D. in WWI uniform and later by Holland Studio, Charleston; photographs of miniature of Dorothea Odenheinz Wentz (Mrs. Christian Wentz) and silhouette of great-aunt of Madame Wentz.

Other sources include  the Madame Sophie Sosnowski collection, 1869-1917 at the University of Georgia, Hargrett Manuscripts Library and an informative article about her called “A Polish Family in the South” reprinted from Polish-American Studies (1946) on the Polish-American Historical Association website.

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