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Veteran attorney steps up to help damsel in distress

1900 poster featuring actress/playwright Grace Hayward, who was married to Hannibal native George Mahan Gatts in 1906. Library of Congress.


Multi-talented stage actress Grace Hayward was well known to theater-goers of Quincy, Ill., and beyond at the beginning of the 20th Century, as a regular on the traveling stage circuit serving the Midwest beginning as early as 1893.

Born in Terre Haute, Ind., in 1868, the actress turned professional by the time she was 20, and spent the next decades traveling from town to town via train on the theater-vaudeville circuit, taking with her elaborate costumes, scripts she penned, a bevy of talented performers and ornate set decorations.

A regular visitor to the historic Empire theater on South Eighth Street in Quincy, Ill., her name on the marque likely attracted theater fans among Quincy’s elite, who may have arrived at the theater dressed in evening attire and transported via horse-drawn carriages.

Early on she was married to Dick Ferris of the Ferris Comedians, of which she was the leading lady. In the early years of the 20th Century, Ferris and Hayward divorced, and on Dec. 12, 1906, she was married to George Mahan Gatts, a native of Hannibal, Mo. She established her own traveling troupe, "The Grace Hayward Company,” performing during the 1920s and 1930s. Hayward and Gatts, by now her manager, traveled the circuit, often presenting plays that she herself had written.

Famed play

Among the most noted of her plays was “Her Unborn Child,” which opened at Etlinge’s 42nd Street Theater in New York March 5, 1928. She shared playwright credit with Howard McKent Barnes.

A decade prior to its production on Broadway, the play was performed at Quincy’s Empire Theater in October 1917. The Quincy Daily Herald of Oct. 6, 1917, carried the following disclaimer:

Quincy Daily Herald

Saturday, Oct. 6th, 1917

Sunday-Monday, Her Unborn Child

Because of the sacredness of motherhood and out of courtesy to the ladies, the Monday matinee performances of “Her Unborn Child” which will be the attraction at the Empire for two days commencing Sunday, will be reserved exclusively for the ladies. Gentlemen will be admitted to all other performances. No one under 18 years of age will be admitted.

“Her Unborn Child” is a dignified drama, dealing with the subject of birth control, written by Howard McKent Barnes, a brilliant young American dramatist whose theory is that by education of the masses the slaughter of innocent unborn babes will stop.

“Her Unborn child” is a play with a purpose and it will take an honored place among plays of this kind, like, “The Blindness of Virtue.”


Thomas F. Gatts (1853-1915) the father of George M. Gatts, came to Hannibal circa 1870, studying the law first under the tutelage of noted Hannibal attorneys John L. RoBards, and later A.W. Bacon. He was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1874, and shortly after marrying 19-year-old Margaret O’Connell in 1877, opened his own law office on the second floor, southwest corner of Main and Center streets. In 1879, he practiced law from 405 Broadway, upstairs.

In Hannibal they would remain, after the births of their four children, until the early 1890s. George Mahan Gatts, their only son, was born in 1884, and completed his early schooling in Hannibal’s public schools, before the family moved to Kansas City, Mo circa 1888. (As previously mentioned, George M. Gatts was married to actress Grace Hayward in 1906.)

The elder Gatts, whose name is only faintly represented in the logs of Hannibal’s history books, was well known during his day. His name dots case law established by both the state’s highest and appellate courts, and his name and the court cases he fought are sprinkled liberally in newspapers of his era.

One particular case was filed in 1909, three years after the younger George M. Gatts married the well-known actress. The elder Mr. Gatts - who had moved back to Hannibal for a time - filed a lawsuit on behalf of his son and daughter-in-law.

According to a prominent article in the Feb. 22, 1909 edition of the Quincy Daily Herald, a fierce blizzard passed through the Midwest on Saturday, Feb. 13, 1909, fueled by strong winds that left snow and a layer of ice in its wake.

Traveling at the time, north between Alton, Ill., and Quincy, was Mrs. Hayward-Gatts, and the Grace Hayward Company, via the Chicago Alton Railroad.

Represented by her father-in-law, Mrs. Hayward-Gatts and her husband filed a suit against the railroad, charging that trunks of clothing and scenery were left unprotected from the wind and rain and snow on the depot platform at Alton during the storm.

The newspaper reported:

“The water penetrated into two of the several trunks in which Miss Hayward carries her wardrobe, including 47 new gowns, three of them … costumes which it is claimed were made in Paris at a cost of $3,000.”

The lawsuit, filed in Pike County, Mo., asked for $500 in damages. (No mention of a resolution to this suit was found during research for this article.)

While the gowns were not harmed, some of the scenery was badly damaged.

The damaged goods were stored for a time in the basement of Quincy’s Empire theater, awaiting the outcome of the lawsuit.

While in the area during February 1909, the Grace Hayward Company planned performances in both Hannibal and Quincy, as well as possibly in Louisiana, Mo.


Mrs. Hayward-Gatts retired during the 1930s, and the couple settled in Los Angeles. Her husband died in 1949 and she died in 1959.

Gatts family of Hannibal

After moving his family to Kansas City, Mo., Maggie O’Connell Gatts, the first wife of Thomas F. Gatts, died in 1892 at the age of 31. The cause of death was peritonitis. She left behind four young children, Grace, Minnie, George and Annabelle.

Mr. Gatts would remarry three more times:

• Sophia Long and Thomas F. Gatts were married in 1892 at the All Soul’s Church in Kansas City. Raising the four children left motherless when the first Mrs. Gatts died, Sophia Long Gatts became despondent over the responsibility and what she considered to be the unkindness of her husband. She took her own life, by inhaling gas fumes, Dec. 26, 1896. She was 37. At the time, the children, ranging in age from 17 to 9, were visiting their uncle, Charles Gatts, in Kansas City, and Mr. Gatts was visiting his aged parents in Hannibal.

Mrs. Gatts was found lying on her back on a couch in her home, dressed in her wedding gown.

• Sallie A. Pike came to him as a client in 1898 in order to file a breach of promise suit against another man who “recalled his promise” after proposing marriage. Just two months later, Miss Pike and Thomas J. Gatts, 46, were married. The marriage was short-lived.

• In 1907, Margaret Stewart Sadler and Thomas J. Gatts were married. They had two children together, Francis M. Gatts and Thomas J. Gatts Jr. They lived for part of the first decade of the 20th Century at 100 Georgia St., in Hannibal, before returning to Kansas City.

Death calls

Thomas J. Gatts died in August 1915, at the approximate age of 62.

Margaret Stewart Sadler Gatts Salander died in 1957, at Houston, Texas.

Children of Thomas J. and Minnie Gatts:

Anna Bell Gatts Griggs died in 1940. She was buried at Flushing Cemetery, Queens County, New York.

Minnie Gatts died in 1901, at the age of 19.

George M. Gatts, died in 1949, Los Angeles.

Grace May Gatts

Children of Thomas J. and Margaret Stewart Gatts

Katherine Gatts, born 1908.

Thomas Fiscus Gatts Jr., born in 1910 in Hannibal. Died 1995 in Houston, Texas.

Advertisement from the Mo State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1881-1882, featuring the Hannibal office of Thomas J. Gatts, attorney. Missouri State Historical Society. Accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.

Thomas J. Gatts advertised his law practice in the 1909 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website. His photo was included with this advertisement. He boasted practicing law for more than 35 years, and experience in both state and federal courts. His office at that time was located at 117 1/2 S. Main, above Brashears Bros. clothing and furnishings, on the east side of the street.

Advertisement for Thomas F. Gatts’ law practice in Kansas City, Missouri. Missouri State Gazetteer business directory. Missouri State Historical Society. Accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.

The Empire Theater, South Eighth Street, Quincy, Ill., Sept. 5, 1943. Quincy Herald Whig. Community History Archive, Quincy Public Library’s website.

1900 poster featuring actress/playwright Grace Hayward, who was married to Hannibal native George Mahan Gatts in 1906. Library of Congress.

Advertisement for the Empire Theater in the Quincy Daily Whig Dec. 17, 1905. Grace Hayward was featured performer. Community History Archive, Quincy Public Library’s website.

An advertisement for Doerr’s Opera House in Quincy, Ill., as it appeared in the Quincy Morning Whig March 1, 1894. Grace Hayward was a featured performer. Community History Archive, Quincy Public Library’s website.

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,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ the newest book, Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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