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Comedy: ’My Aunt’s Heiress’ draws audience raves in 1877

Eliza Drane participated in a comedy at Covent Hall, St. Joseph’s Academy, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 1877. When she was 23, she married J. Thad Ray, then sheriff of Marion County, Mo. Tragically, she died five months after her wedding. Photo contributed by Dee Beard on Reprinted with permission.


Sixteen-year-old Eliza Drane, with her deep blue eyes, golden hair and a dazzling complexion, was among the students featured in an entertainment offering at Convent Hall, St. Joseph’s Academy, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 1877. Eleven young actresses from the school presented a 19th Century comedy in one act, written by Katherine Lacy: “My Aunt’s Heiress.”

Fellow actresses in the all-female cast were: (Mary) Kelley, F. Raioum, N. O’Brien, (Mary) Burke, (Nellie) Hawkins, M. Moore, N. Burns, N. Courtenay, (Lotta) V. Hafner and (Hattie) Sallee.

A representative from the Hannibal Clipper newspaper attended the event, and described the weather of the evening as “unpropitious” (unfavorable). Regardless, a good audience turned out. Eliza Drane’s younger sister, Miss Nellie Drane, performed a solo, which “was received with enthusiastic applause.”

The Drane girls, motherless since 1871, were the middle children of Richard Drane, who held a position of distinction: land commissioner for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Their nice home was just blocks from the school, on the south side of Bird, west of Tenth.

Richard Drane, born in 1833, and his sister, Priscilla Ann, had traveled to Missouri during the 1840s with their parents, Marien and Mary Ann Hoye Drane. After facing health hardships, the parents moved back to Maryland, leaving their two children in Missouri. Mrs. Drane died in 1848, not long after returning to Maryland. Marien Drane lived until 1883.

In Missouri, Priscilla Ann Drane married William Feazle, a physician, prior to 1850, and Richard Drane married Eleanor J. (McCawdly or McCandles). Dr. Feazle died in 1860; and Eleanor Drane died in 1871.

After his wife’s passing, Mr. Drane’s sister, Priscilla Ann Feazel, (and her young daughter, Willie) came to live with the family in Hannibal and helped care for her nieces and nephew. In addition to Eliza and Nellie, there was the oldest, Priscilla, and the youngest, Thomas.


On Jan. 18, 1878, Richard Drane was appointed to the coveted political position of postmaster at Hannibal. Drane’s compensation in 1879 was $2,800, as compared to W.H. Purse in Lou

isiana, Pike County, who earned $1,700.

Mr. Drane held this post until his death on Feb. 10, 1880. Wilbur F. Chamberlain was appointed to fill the vacancy.

Eliza marries

After their father’s death, Eliza Drane ultimately moved with her siblings to Monmouth, Ill., with their oldest sister, Priscilla, who was married to John Frank Martin (1857-1888).

On Oct. 1, 1884, Eliza (nicknamed Tupie) was united in marriage to J. Thad Ray of Palmyra. The ceremony took place at the Trinity Church in Monmouth, Ill. At the time, Ray was the Democratic nominee for Sheriff of Marion County, Mo. He subsequently won the election.

Five months later, Eliza Jane Ray died, and her services were conducted at Hannibal’s Trinity Episcopal Church. At the age of 24, she was laid to rest beside her parents in Section C, Riverside Cemetery, south of Hannibal.

Brewington journal

A mention of Eliza Drane Ray’s passing is included in a journal kept by R.D. Brewington. That journal is digitized and accessible on the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

Mr. Brewington’s journal entry for Tuesday March 31, 1885:

“Cloudy but not cold mercury 50 this morning at 6 o’clock. Wind west by south. Myself and family about the same. I see from papers that Mrs. Thad Ray died at Palmyra yesterday and will be buried today from the Episcopal to the Riverside Cemetery. Was married in October last. Mr. Ray is sheriff of this county. The light rain Sunday night done a great deal of good helped the wheat and laid the dust. It’s reported that General Grant died on the 30th but later reports say he is not dead but can’t last many hours. So all must die, great and small the man who directs the killing of thousands as the killing of one.”

Tidbits regarding

St. Joseph Academy

“History of Marion County” indicates that in 1864, the Catholic Church of Hannibal, with funds raised by subscription, purchased the three-story building and accompanying grounds of the Hannibal Institute, which had operated on Market Street (later renamed Broadway) near the intersection with Maple Avenue since as early as 1859. The church then deeded the property to the Sisters of St. Joseph, of Carondelet.

Circa 1840, Mother Celestine, Superioress General, had come to St. Louis from France, and established a school to teach the deaf in Carondelet, Mo.

According to a story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Nov. 9, 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph operated a school for the deaf in Hannibal during two time periods in the convent’s early history.

The school, which taught the hearing impaired, was in turn transferred to St. Bridget’s parish in St. Louis, then it once again returned to Hannibal. In 1885, the school for the deaf left Hannibal, and a new school was established in St. Louis.

1873-1875: The parochial school was operated by the Sisters of Joseph, and Mother Gabrielle was the superioress.

1875: Four young women graduated at the end of the school year, June 27, 1875. Graduates were Misses (Mary A.) McAnulty,; Kelly; (Kate) Higgins; and Foley. This marked the school’s 10th graduating class.

1879: Saint Joseph Academy was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and Maple Avenue; Mothers Amelia and Anna were principals.

1885: Mary Hart, born in 1858, was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, Lemay, Mo., in 1885. She was the daughter of William and Nora Cullen Hart of Hannibal. She was known as Sister Mary Elzear Hart. During her career she taught at Chicago, Peoria, Ill., and St. Ann’s School in St. Louis, and later at Sainte Genevieve. She died in August 1947.

1894: St. Joseph’s Academy, conducted by Sisters of St. Joseph, * 1033 Broadway.

1905: Saint Joseph Academy, Sister Columba was Mother Superior, * 1045 Broadway.

  • The academy was in the same location in 1894 and 1905; the street numbering system had been changed.

1908: On April 29, 1908, the golden jubilee of Mother Theodora McCormick of St. Joseph’s Academy was celebrated in Hannibal. She began her work as a member of the Sisters Order of Joseph’s Convent in St. Louis in 1858. Solemn mass was conducted in the morning by Rev. Fathers Daniel F. Sullivan, Joseph J. Rapien and Charles L. Tournehout.

Today, the school operates under the name Holy Family.

NOTE: Especial thanks go to Dee Beard, who shared the Drane family historic documents on her pages, and for granting this author permission to use the documents for research purposes.

St. Joseph Academy is pictured around the beginning of the 20th Century. Originally constructed in the 1860s, the building was purchased in 1864 by Hannibal Catholic families, and deeded to the the Sisters of St. Joseph, of Carondelet. This building was torn down, and replaced in 1926 by what would become McCooey High School. The building is still in use by Hannibal’s Catholic congregation. Photo by Anna Schnitzlein, from the Hannibal Public Library collection.

J. Thad Ray, 1853-1942. In 1884 he married Eliza Drane. Five months later she died. He married Susan Frances Burgman in September 1886. They had two daughters, Wilhelmina and Katie Ray (Kuhn). Photo courtesy of the Hannibal Free Public Library.

The year 1985 was the first year that Sanborn Fire Prevention Maps were published for Hannibal, Mo. This page, accessed via the Library of Congress, shows the location of St. Joseph Deaf Mute Institute, which soon thereafter moved to St. Louis. St. Joseph Academy, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, of Carondelet, occupied this building until circa 1926. It was at that time that the large building was torn down, and replaced by what would become McCooey High School. That building is still in use today by the Hannibal Catholic community. Notice that the First Christian Church was yet to be constructed to the school building’s east.

The Hannibal Clipper publicized the upcoming comedy at Covent Hall in its Nov. 7, 1877 edition. Newspaper accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.

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. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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