O’Keeffes in Madison
Renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) grew up on the family farm near Sun Prairie and lived briefly in Madison when she attended Sacred Heart Academy (now Edgewood) from fall 1901 through spring 1902. While there, she won the school prize in ancient history, a gold pin in drawing, and a gold medal for deportment.
Many of her relatives are buried in Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
Georgia’s maternal grandmother was Isabel D. Wycoff (October 28, 1830 - April 13, 1894). She settled with her parents in Sauk City in 1854; her father soon died of cholera and she married George Totto (January 7, 1820 - December 1, 1895) in 1855. They lived in Waunakee, Westport, and Sun Prairie. In February 1876 the family moved to 928 Spaight Street while George returned to Europe to attempt to regain the family lands lost in the revolution of 1848. They rented out the farm, thinking the stay in Madison would be short, but George never returned, dying in Budapest in 1895.
Isabel’s sister, Jane E. Wycoff Varney (September 20, 1833 - May 4, 1918), died at 912 Spaight Street, her nieces’ home, where she spent her last years. She married Ezra L. Varney after her father’s death in 1854, then accompanied her husband overland to participate in the California gold rush. Ezra died there of tuberculosis; she returned to Madison, then moved to the family farm in Sun Prairie, helping Georgia O’Keeffe’s mother raise her family. A demanding woman, she was described by Georgia as “the headache of my life.”
Alletta “Ollie” Totto (March 6, 1856 – January 8, 1958) was Isabel’s first-born child. She taught in the Second Ward School in Madison after her father returned to Hungary. In the 1890s she went to Milwaukee and was the Milwaukee Sentinel’s only female proof reader. She later moved to Chicago; Georgia lived with her when she attended the Art Institute there. Alletta later lived with her sister Leonore at 1612 Regent Street.
Josephine C. Totto (April 10, 1858 - December 21, 1893) was Isabel’s second-born.
Ida Ten Eyck Totto O’Keeffe (January 13, 1864 - May 2, 1916) was Georgia’s mother. She married Francis O’Keefe on February 19, 1884, at her mother’s Madison house, then settled on the Totto farm in Sun Prairie. When Francis died in 1918, his sisters-in-law would not let him, a Catholic, be buried in the family plot in Forest Hill, so he lies in Sun Prairie.
Leonore I. Totto (April 22, 1867 – April 4, 1938), Isabel’s fifth child, taught at Lowell and Harvey schools beginning in 1889. When she retired in 1934 150 teachers, friends, and former pupils gave her a party.
George V. Totto (1869 - December 1, 1912) was Isabel’s sixth child and second son.
Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe (October 23, 1889 - September 27, 1961) was Georgia’s sister, the third child of Ida and Francis O’Keefe.
Alexis “Tex” Wycoff O’Keeffe (June 10, 1892 - January 7, 1930), Georgia’s brother, was an engineer in the 32nd Division, American Expeditionary Force, in World War I. During the war his heart and lungs were damaged by gas, injuries that shortened his life.
Georgia’s cousin, Charles Wycoff Totto (February 1912 - October 2, 1974), is also buried in the family plot. He was a graduate of the UW law school, and served as executive counsel to governors Rennebohm and Kohler.