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MU: Miss Gillett paved path for other female graduates

The double Dubach house, as it stood circa 1875-1880. Its location was the northeast corner of Fifth and Bird streets, Hannibal, Mo. The rear wings were removed some years ago, and the structure was converted into apartments. The exterior has been covered with siding. The picture was taken from David Dubach’s front yard. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB YAPP

Mary Louise (Lulie) Gillett was an instructor in Normal and Preparatory Studies at Missouri State University in 1875. (Note that her original N.G. diploma had been reclassified as B.S.) Source: Report to the Governor by the Curators, year ending June 24, 1875.


The victory of the Union Army during the Civil War brought forth many changes in American lifestyle, the most obvious and pronounced, of course, being the abolishment of slavery.

But another change that took place at that time also had far-reaching effects on the populace: The establishment of the public education system.

That concept was believed to be a Northern notion, and was subsequently resented by the Southern sympathizers within Hannibal’s midst.

Hannibal opened its first public high school in 1866, and Miss Sarah Francis Fisher was first the principal. In an article published in 1922 titled “The Public School, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” the then-Mrs. Archer wrote about her experiences teaching in Hannibal at the war’s end.

“Missouri was a border slave state. This was soon after the Civil War, and the public school system had been in existence only four months. It was looked upon with disfavor by the majority of the people, who were of pronounced southern sentiment and considered the free school a northern innovation.”

Prior to the war, Hannibal children were educated in fee-based private schools, operated in church basements and in individual homes scattered throughout the community.

Notable student

This was the educational environment that Mary Louise (Lulie) Gillett encountered when she moved to Hannibal with her family from Iowa and Indiana circa 1862. She was about 14 years old, and the oldest of the surviving children of E.P. (a tinner by trade) and Mary A. (Dubach) Gillett.

Mary Louise’s father died May 17, 1864, a year or so after the family moved to Hannibal, and he was buried at Riverside Cemetery. This left his widow, Mary A., to raise their children: Mary Louise, Jerome, Hattie and Zellie, ranging in age from about 15 down to 5.

Fortunately for Mrs. Gillett, her brother, David Dubach, (1826-1897) was already established as a wood manufacturer in Hannibal, giving her much needed family support. In the late 1860s, David Dubach and his wife Emma lived on the north side of Center Street (facing Central Park), between Fourth and Fifth, and Mary A. Gillett and her children lived around the corner, at 206 N. Fifth.

Normal school

The state university in Columbia, Mo. was undergoing great changes following the end of the war, as well. The university had shuttered its doors for 10 months during the peak of the Civil War, and the buildings were used as housing for soldiers and as a Confederate prison. (Source: MU archives: The Military and Mizzou)

Much renewal was required to restore the campus to university status, and Daniel Read was hired as president in 1866 to facilitate changes at the previously all-male institution.

High on his list was the establishment of the Normal School for teacher preparation. Mary A. Gillett’s daughter, Mary Louise, enrolled, and studied under the school’s second principal, Professor E.L. Ripley, who would remain at the helm of the school for teachers for 11 years.

After completing her coursework, Mary Louise Gillett became the first female graduate of the university in 1870.

Armed with her Normal Graduate (N.G.) diploma, she returned to Hannibal, accepting a teaching job in the primary department of Hannibal’s Central school, which was located on the northeast corner of Fourth and Church.

Extended family

By 1870, other members of the Dubach family had joined their Hannibal relations, including 70-year-old Maria C. Dubach, (1800-1880) the family matriarch and Mary Louise’s maternal grandmother. A native of Switzerland, Mrs. Dubach came to the United States in 1821, along with her husband, John Aaron Dubach, and their first-born son, settling after a few years at Switzerland County, Indiana, along with others from their homeland.

In addition to David Dubach, Mrs. Dubach’s grown children who joined her in Hannibal were George W. Dubach (1838-1872); Charlotte Dubach (1830-1899); and Frederick L. Dubach (1828-1909), all moving to Hannibal from Madison, Indiana.

Two great Hannibal houses became associated with the Dubach family circa 1870:

221 and 300-302 North Fifth.

A trained architect, David Dubach had the house located at 221 N. Fifth St., Hannibal, Mo., constructed for his family circa 1871. It is now known as the Dubach Inn, and serves as a bed and breakfast.

Catty-cornered from David Dubach’s house was a double house, which was occupied by other members of the Dubach and Gillett families. This U-shaped house faced Fifth Street, with a courtyard in the center at the rear. Some years later, the “U” shaped wings were removed, leaving just a rectangle-shaped building. It was converted into apartments, and is now covered with siding, which disguises the building’s heritage.

Mary Louise’s home

During the estimated two years that Mary Louise Gillett taught in Hannibal, she made her home with her mother and other family members, including her aunt, Charlotte Dubach, at 302 N. Fifth – the north half of the Dubach double house.

Mary A. Dubach Gillett – Mary Louise’s mother – died March 31, 1873, at the age of 52. She was buried beside her husband at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.

Mary Louise Dubach returned to Columbia, Mo., where she served as a teacher for a time at the Normal School. Her younger sister, Zellie C. Gillett, enrolled in classes at the Normal School, and was a candidate for graduation in 1876.

The following year, according to the Hannibal city directory of 1877, all four of the Gillette siblings – Mary Louise, Hattie, Jerome and Zellie - were living together in the Dubach double house at 302 N. Fifth in Hannibal. Also living at 302 N. Fifth were their grandmother, Mrs. Maria C. Dubach, and their aunt, Charlotte Dubach. Living in the other half of the double house was their uncle, Frederick L. Dubach, his wife, Louisa, and their son, George G. Dubach. (The other Dubach brother who moved to Hannibal, George W., died in 1872.)

Untimely death

Perhaps due to ill health, Mary Louise, accompanied by Hattie, went to Colorado Springs, Colo., in the autumn of 1877 in the hope that the climate would help restore Mary Louise’s health.

In mid-December, 1877, news came back to Hannibal of Mary Louise’s death. It wasn’t a result of her illness, however, but rather from a fall from a horse at Denver. Her body was returned to Hannibal for burial beside her parents. Less than a year later, her sister, Hattie, died as well. They rest together at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.

Surviving sister

Zellie Gillett married Hannibal watchmaker Bryant W. Annin on June 1, 1882 at the Presbyterian Church in Hannibal. They ultimately moved to Pasadena, California, where he died May 3, 1902. Zellie died in 1942 at the age of 84.

Surviving brother

Jerome S. Gillett, who worked as a bookbinder for the Hannibal Courier during the 1870s while a resident of Hannibal, married Slice L. Cherry on Sept. 6, 1877, at Quincy, Ill. They ultimately settled in Eau Claire, Wis., where he organized the Builders’ Supply Company. He served as its president until his retirement circa 1930. He died in 1935 at the age of 82. He was survived by his widow and four children, Jerome E. Gillett, Charlotte Gillett Taylor, Alden C. Gillett, and Voigt P. Gillett.

Photo of Mary Louise Gillett This portrait of Mary Louise (Lulie) Gillett was posted on Find A Grave by Ben Rogers.

Learn more: You can read more about Miss Sarah Francis Fisher, Hannibal’s first public high school principal at:

Various spellings of the Dubach family member names were found; the choice was made in this story to use the version on the family members’ tombstones.

Resource: A Foundation for our University: Daniel Read, President, from 1866-1876, University of Missouri System. The school became a land grant institution during his administration.

Note: After Professor E.L. Ripley left the university’s Normal School at Columbia, in 1878 he was hired to serve as president of Shelbina College, Shelbina, Mo.

Information regarding the transformation of the house at 300-302 North Fifth was obtained from Bob Yapp, who operates The Belvedere School for Hands-On Preservation, which is dedicated to teaching students from all over North America historic preservation trades.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at

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