Insane Sisters: Or, the Price Paid for Challenging a Company Town

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9780826212405: Insane Sisters: Or, the Price Paid for Challenging a Company Town
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Insane Sisters is the extraordinary tale of two sisters, Mary Alice Heinbach and Euphemia B. Koller, and their seventeen- year property dispute against the nation's leading cement corporation—the Atlas Portland Cement Company.

In 1903, Atlas built a plant on the border of the small community of Ilasco, located just outside Hannibal—home of the infamous cave popularized in Mark Twain's most acclaimed novels. The rich and powerful Atlas quickly appointed itself as caretaker of Twain's heritage and sought to take control of Ilasco. However, its authority was challenged in 1910 when Heinbach inherited her husband's tract of land that formed much of the unincorporated town site. On grounds that Heinbach's husband had been in the advanced stages of alcoholism when she married him the year before, some of Ilasco's political leaders and others who had ties to Atlas challenged the will, charging Heinbach with undue influence.

To help fight against the local lawyers and politicians who wanted Atlas to own the land, Heinbach enlisted the help of her shrewd and combative sister, Euphemia Koller, by making her co-owner of the tract. In a complex case that went to the Missouri Supreme Court four times, the sisters fiercely sought to hang on to the tract. However, in 1921 the county probate court imposed a guardianship over Heinbach and a circuit judge ordered a sheriff's sale of the property. After Atlas purchased the tract, Koller waged a lonely battle to overturn the sale and expose the political conspiracies that had led to Ilasco's conversion into a company town. Her efforts ultimately resulted in her court- ordered confinement in 1927 to Missouri's State Hospital Number One for the Insane, where she remained until her death at age sixty-eight.

Insane Sisters traces the dire consequences the sisters suffered and provides a fascinating look at how the intersection of gender, class, and law shaped the history and politics of Ilasco. The book also sheds valuable new light on the wider consolidation of corporate capitalism and the use of guardianships and insanity to punish unconventional women in the early twentieth century.

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About the Author:

Gregg Andrews was born in Hannibal, Missouri, and grew up in Ilasco. A Professor of History at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, he is the author of City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A thorough examination of two sisters' property battles with the Atlas Portland Cement Company in Ilasco, Mo., in 191027. Ilasco was a company town whose story was first told by Andrews (History/Southwest Texas State Univ., San Marcos) in City of Dust (not reviewed). While conducting research for that book, he discovered in courthouse records the labyrinthine legal struggles of two sisters, Mollie Heinbach and Feemy Koller, who for nearly two decades combated agents of powerful Atlas for control of 26 acres which had first belonged to Samuel Heinbach, a blowzy, alcoholic eccentric with a malfunctioning sphincter. Having buried her third husband, Mollieto the wonder of the other residentscourted and won Heinbach, then cared for him devotedly for two years until his death in 1910. His will, which left all to Mollie, was promptly contested by Heinbach's other relatives, and thus began a 17-year deluge of lawsuits, hearings, stays, injunctions, trials, motions, and other madness, all of which Andrews fondly chronicles in this fascinating and ultimately melancholy account of two savvy sisters who quite literally fought city hall. Eventually, juries (all male) declared both women legally insane, Atlas acquired the property, and Feemy (who had eagerly entered the fray at her sister's side) died, broke and broken, in a state mental hospital. In his excavations of newspaper archives and of county and state court records, Andrews has unearthed numerous treasures of detaile.g., Mollie's first husband bore the scars of knife fights, Mollie needed an ear trumpet to follow testimony in her sanity hearing. Neither a lyrical writer nor a stylist with a supply of fresh images (in this book, starts are rocky, gossip runs wild, and towns grow like mushrooms), Andrews nonetheless guides readers through this serpentine story with a sturdy, conventional clarity. A sympathetic portrait of two dynamic and determined women, whose casea clash of ``gender, class, and law''illustrates the profound inequalities in early 20th century American culture and jurisprudence. (18 illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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