By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
Emmie was not just any little girl. Born Sept 15, 1867, she was the daughter of civic and cultural leader Hermann Seele and his wife Mathilde nee Blum.
Much was expected of Emmie.
Hermann Seele was known as “The Soul of New Braunfels”, a name given him in honor of his impact on the newly founded town. In German, Seele means soul – his name was quite prophetic. He was the first school teacher in NB, holding classes in an elm grove on Coll Street just three months after the emigrants’ arrival to the banks of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. Seele organized traditional German societies to protect and keep the cultures of the “Old Country” alive. Vereins (Clubs) and parades like the Gesangverein (singing club), the Drama Club, the Türnverein (gymnastic club), Maifest (May Day) and Kindermaskenball and Parade (children’s masked) promoted both health and culture and kept the German language and literature alive.
Hermann Seele petitioned and got one of the State’s earliest school charters from the Texas Legislature for the formation of the New Braunfels Academy, the first public school in NB. He also helped win the lawsuit of the Veramendi heirs vs the citizens of NB, giving townfolks peace of mind and continued ownership of their property.
Seele was mayor and alderman, preacher and teacher and statesman — a tough act to follow, but Emmie did just that.
Emmie grew up amongst the second generation of the families who had immigrated to Texas. Her father’s stature in town assured her place in town society. She learned, played and worked with members of leading families such as Clemens, Faust, Moreau, Lindheimer, Voelcker, Forcke, Klappenbach and many more. Emmie attended the New Braunfels Academy, however, her father was no longer teaching. She was taught to sew, play several instruments and speak and perform in public (Declamation was a subject in school). Emmie participated in parades, played bridge and performed in plays.
In 1893, she married John Faust, one of the sons of Joseph Faust. Joseph, along with Mr. Clemens and Mr. Tipps, founded The First National Bank in 1881. Son John was also in banking, as well as merchandising, cotton buying and other lucrative endeavors. Throughout their marriage, John and Emmie travelled extensively, taking ocean liners to Europe, and trains to Mexico and parts of the US. Local newspapers record a 1904 trip to Mardi Gras in NOLA and to the St. Louis World’s Fair. They had one of the first automobiles in town and drove to San Antonio to watch “motion pictures”.
Emmie gave birth to twins within their first year of marriage; sadly, one child died at birth leaving them with only their daughter Stella. Stella contracted malaria and the Fausts took her to several health resorts including San Antonio and Mineral Wells and to doctors in San Antonio and Houston.
In 1905, the Fausts moved into their grand new home built on the 300 block of W. San Antonio Street. Still standing, this lovely, ornate, Queen Anne-style home cost $6,700 to build. The contractor/builder, Adolph Moeller, reportedly fell off a 20’ scaffolding while working on the home and ended up with “a slight head injury”.
Emmie and John doted on little Stella. She had tea parties with friends and her Seele cousins. They bought Stella wonderful life-size plaster statues in Germany of Rotkãppchen und der Wolf. These graced the landing of the ornate main staircase of the Faust Home. They were later given to the Sophienburg Museum where they still delight children and adults alike.
Stella Faust died in 1908 at the age of 14 years. It was not unexpected but hit the parents hard. John died in 1926 at the age of 65. Emmie dove head-first into philanthropic works, many benefitting the children of New Braunfels. Her tireless good works and generosity soon earned her the name of “Tante Emmie” (Aunt Emmie) from the many real and “adopted” nieces and nephews in the community.
Tante Emmie was a founding member of the Sophienburg Memorial Association in 1925, and a major contributor and donor to the building of the Sophienburg Museum in 1933. Through her time, efforts, planning and money, she built the city’s first public library in 1938. The cost of $7,500 was paid by her alone as a gift to the children and citizens of New Braunfels. No wonder they named it the Emmie Seele Faust Library in her honor.
Tante Emmie then bought and had installed the first traffic light in New Braunfels. Placed at the intersection of W. San Antonio and Academy Streets, it provided safe crossing for the schoolchildren who had to walk from the Academy to the new library on Coll Street.
Tante Emmie served on city anniversary and various parade committees including Maifest, the May Day celebration begun by her father. She was a major organizer of the 1946 Texas German Pioneer celebration, which included the unveiling of the bronze and granite German Pioneer Monument created by the sculptor Hugo Villa. It stands in Landa Park.
Tante Emmie was a longtime member the NB Bridge Club, the NB Garden Club and the Concordia Gesangverein (singing club). She was instrumental in the formation of the NB Parent-Teachers Association and a member of the NB Music Club.
Tante Emmie was one of the tireless ladies of the Womens Civic Improvement Club and a donor to their projects, some of which were a shelter out at the cemetery and building a women’s bathroom under the Bandstand on Main Plaza. As a woman, having a bathroom on the Plaza was/is a stroke of genius!
Tante Emmie was also generous to New Braunfels hospitals. She donated “a new electrical suction and ether apparatus” for use in the old Krankenhaus which made it easier to remove the tonsils and adenoids of children. She later made the largest single donation towards the building of the new New Braunfels Hospital.
Tante Emmie was a member of the German Protestant (First Protestant) Church. She was active in the adult choir, the Frauenverein (womens club) and served as church organist for 14 years. She attended services regularly until a few weeks prior to her death; on cold Sundays she could be seen sitting at the back with a mink stole around her shoulders. She also contributed to the construction of the Seele Parish Hall which was named in honor of her father.
Emmie Seele Faust died quietly at her home in New Braunfels on Sept 28, 1957 — just two weeks after her 90th Birthday.
An Oscar Haas article in a 1950 edition of The Austin American newspaper contained this quote from Tante Emmie:
“All my life, my heart’s desires have been centered in the civic interests of my home city, the city my father helped to establish in 1845. Here, he married. Here, he reared his family. Our family grew up with this community.”
In German we have a saying, “Die Apfel fãllt nicht weit vom Stamm.” (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) Tante Emmie, like her father Hermann Seele, gave to her community in ways we still enjoy today. As one of a later generation of adopted “nieces and nephews” of Tante Emmie, I am thankful for her energetic generosity and truly proud of her amazing legacy in New Braunfels.
Well done, Emmie.
Sources: Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, New Braunfels Herald, New Braunfels Zeitung-Chronicle, The Austin-American; Sophienburg Museum & Archives.