Cover image for Insane sisters, or, The price paid for challenging a company town
Insane sisters, or, The price paid for challenging a company town
Andrews, Gregg.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 262 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F474.I23 A54 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Andrews told the story of his hometown in City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer. There he profiled Ilasco, Missouri, whose name is an acronym for the components of cement, showing how the city was totally dominated by the Atlas Portland Cement Company. While researching his book, Andrews uncovered a story he felt could be told on its own. In 1910, Mary Alice Heinbach inherited, from an alcoholic husband to whom she had been married only one year, a valuable tract of land that Atlas needed. The company, along with town leaders, challenged the will. Heinbach was joined by her sister, Euphemia, in the struggle to keep the land. After 17 years and four trips to the state Supreme Court, the county probate court successfully declared Heinbach incompetent. Euphemia continued the battle and was ultimately ordered confined to a hospital for the insane, where she died. The sisters' sad saga has much to say about corporate power and the treatment of women at the beginning of this century. --David Rouse

Library Journal Review

Alcoholism, complex legal battles, and elderly women defrauded by large corporations are often the subjects of captivating fiction, yet the factual story of Mary Alice Heinbach and her sister contains all of these elements. In this work, Andrews (history, Southwest Texas State Univ.) recounts the compelling tale of two unconventional women and their battles with representatives of a powerful company over a valuable track of land Heinbach owned. Interweaving wider historical facts with fascinating personal detail, Andrews demonstrates how the legal system was used to divest these women of their property, destroy their relationship, and ultimately curtail their freedom. Andrews, also the author of a history of the locus of these events, City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer, presents a gripping tale that is good local history but also a case study of the cynical use of social control mechanisms. Well documented and highly readable; recommended for larger public and academic libraries.√ĄTheresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.