Mark Twain's boyhood home of Hannibal, Missouri, often brings to mind romanticized images of Twain's fictional characters Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer exploring caves and fishing from the banks of the Mississippi River. In City of Dust, Gregg Andrews tells another story of the Hannibal area, the very real story of the exploitation and eventual destruction of Ilasco, Missouri, an industrial town created to serve the purposes of the Atlas Portland Cement Company.
In this new edition, Andrews provides an introduction detailing the impact of this book since its initial publication in 1996. He writes of a new twist in the Ilasco saga, one that concerns the Continental Cement Company’s attempt, not unlike Atlas’s one hundred years earlier, to manipulate the sale of a piece of land near its plant in the town. He explores the uneasy relationship between preservationists and the plant’s CEO and officials in St. Louis; the growing movement to preserve Ilasco’s heritage, including the building of a monument to commemorate the early residents of the town; and the grassroots petition drive and letter-writing campaign that stopped the Continental Cement Company’s machinations.
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.
In 1938, a black newspaper in Houston paid front-page tribute to Thyra J. Edwards as the embodiment of “The Spirit of Aframerican Womanhood.” Edwards was a world lecturer, journalist, social worker, labor organizer, women’s rights advocate, and civil rights activist—an undeniably important figure in the social struggles of the first half of the twentieth century. She experienced international prominence throughout much of her life, from the early 1930s to her death in 1953, but has received little attention from historians in years since. Gregg Andrews’s Thyra J. Edwards: Black Activist in the Global Freedom Struggle is the first book-length biographical study of this remarkable, historically significant woman.
Edwards, granddaughter of runaway slaves, grew up in Jim Crow–era Houston and started her career there as a teacher. She moved to Gary, Indiana, and Chicago as a social worker, then to New York as a journalist, and later became involved with the Communist Party, attracted by its stance on race and labor. She was mentored by famed civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, who became her special friend and led her to pursue her education. She obtained scholarships to college, and after several years of study in the U.S. and then in Denmark, she became a women’s labor organizer and a union publicist.
In the 1930s and 1940s, she wrote about international events for black newspapers, traveling to Europe, Mexico, and the Soviet Union and presenting an anti-imperialist critique of world affairs to her readers. Edwards’s involvement with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, her work in a Jewish refugee settlement in Italy, and her activities with U.S. communists drew the attention of the FBI. She was harassed by government intelligence organizations until she died at the age of just fifty-five. Edwards contributed as much to the radical foundations of the modern civil rights movements as any other woman of her time.
This fascinating biography details Thyra Edwards’s lifelong journey and myriad achievements, describing both her personal and professional sides and the many ways they intertwined. Gregg Andrews used Edwards’s official FBI file—along with her personal papers, published articles, and civil rights manuscript collections—to present a complete portrait of this noteworthy activist. An engaging volume for the historian as well as the general reader, Thyra J. Edwards explores the complete domestic and international impact of her life and actions.