The Last of the Twenty
Lillian Braden of Glidden passes away on Friday, had 12 biological brothers, 7 sisters
GLIDDEN - Lillian Braden experienced a childhood of eating in shifts.
German Lutheran immigrants Jans and Elizabeth Peters of rural Glidden (both died in the early 1950s) had 20 biological children, including Lillian Braden of Glidden who died last week in Carroll at age 92, the last of the children to pass. Pictured are the couple with all 20 children in a photo with no known date. In front, from left are: Derk, Anna Hunt, Jans and Elizabeth, Jacob and Mary. In second row, from left are Roy, Hannah, Emma Potts, Fred, Louise Cornelius, Edna Lovell and Herman. In third row, from left, are Albert, Alvie, Lillian Braden, William and Hilda Olerich. In fourth row, from left are Lawrence, Hank, John and Warren.
The Peterses have reality TV beat
Depending on your perspective, it's either fortunate or a missed opportunity for international fame that Jan and Elizabeth Peters and their 20 biological children lived in Carroll County well before the days of reality TV - and television itself for that matter.
In terms of the numbers, The Peterses have the television Duggars beat. The lives of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 biological kids are chronicled regularly on TLC.
Kelly Bates, then 44, of Lake City, Tenn., told ABC in 2012 that she feels "more normal" being pregnant than not - she's just given birth to number 19. After welcoming Jeb Colton Bates on Feb. 1, the Bateses now share the title of largest family in America with their good friends, the Duggars, according to The Huffington Post.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the greatest recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev of Russia in the 1700s. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four set of quadruplets, according to Guinness.
Not at a restaurant.
At the family farm north of Glidden where she was one of 20 biological children born (in single birth, no twins) to German Lutheran immigrants Jans and Elizabeth Peters.
To cycle all the kids through dinner in the 1920s and 1930s, the Peters family would allow the oldest and youngest to eat first, with the rest of the clan serving the meal. The line for baths could start on a Saturday and stretch well into Sunday.
Lillian "Lil" Braden, the 18th of the 20 children, died Friday at age 92 in Carroll. A Glidden resident she had only entered the Carroll Health Center before Thanksgiving. She was the last of the Peters children to pass.
"It's a great legacy," Braden's daughter-in-law Nancy Braden of Glidden said in an interview Monday night.
Jans and Elizabeth Peters emigrated on the steamship Necker from Hamburg, Germany, to the United States in May 1901 - already with four children. Elizabeth had her first son, Derk in 1897 at age 20 or 21. She would bear her last child 27 years later in Carroll County in 1924, at age 47 or 48. Based on an average pregnancy of 9 months, Elizabeth Peters (1878 to 1952) spent 15 years of her 74-year life with child.
After arriving in the United States the Peterses settled in the Glidden area with the assistance of family. They knew little English.
"They learned it by reading the newspaper," Nancy Braden said.
In a 1933 Des Moines Register story Jans Peters talked about the joys and challenges of raising such a large brood. He said he'd never whip one child in front of others and always sought to explain wrongdoings, reason with the kids, before turning to the "palm of my hand."
"Then you can't have favorites," he told The Register. "Everyone in our family gets the same treatment. But then momma and I love them all just the same."
Jans Peters said that on the 240-acre farm all the kids had to learn to work before they could play.
"They've all had their tasks according to their age and strength," he said.
Lillian learned wallpapering and painting and cooking - skills she would use throughout her hard-working life. As a youth, she worked at the Glidden Cafe, and later, while living in Georgia with husband Boyd for a time, she worked at a Ben Franklin store.
In the winters the Peters children had bobsled parties and nights of making popcorn balls. There were family picnics at least once every two weeks in the summers.
Nancy Braden, 61, a retired preschool teacher in Glidden, said that for Sunday dinners the Peterses' seven-room home would be jammed with family as older sons and daughters would bring their families.
"There would be way more than 20 people," Braden said.
All of the 20 children attended Jan and Elizabeth's 50th wedding anniversary in 1946.
"We have wonderful reunions," Nancy Braden said of modern-day gatherings of descendants.
Lillian's three sons - Gary, Randy and Dan - have 58 first cousins. Lillian already had several nieces and nephews when she was born on May 20, 1924 on the family farm. All the Peters kids were born at home, a remarkably healthy place considering the times.
"We have never had much sickness," Elizabeth Peters told The Register in 1933. "Oh, mumps, measles, chickenpox and such things, but nothing serious."
Jans Peters helped build the St. John Lutheran Church, which operated as a country facility between Lidderdale and Glidden before moving to its current location in eastern Carroll. Lillian was a lifelong member of the church where she taught Sunday school and sang in the choir.
At one point in the 1930s or 1940s, according to family lore, a Hollywood producer approached the Peterses about doing a movie. Jans rejected the idea out of distrust for the filmmaking industry, Nancy Braden said.
"He didn't want them to make fun of them, embarrass them," Nancy Braden said. He was reportedly worried the movie would depict the family bathing in rivers - something they didn't do, Braden said.
Nancy and Dan Braden, one of Lillian's sons, spent daily time with her in recent years.
"Once you get to 92 she said you've outlived most of your friends and family," Nancy Braden said.
Dan Braden, 63, retired as a guard with the Iowa Department of Corrections and the former General Electric plant in Carroll, said his mother had reconciled death.
"She was not worried about it," Dan Braden said.
As she slipped out of her earthly existence Lillian could be heard speaking to her sister, Hannah, 20 years her senior, who died in 1982.
"The older ones seemed like surrogate mothers to Lil," Nancy Braden said.