OCHS presents “Infamous Women of Osage County” at the Osage County Library

By Elise Brochu, UD Staff
Posted 3/20/24

OSAGE COUNTY   —   Nearly 50 people attended last week’s Infamous Women of Osage County presentation by the Osage County Historical Society at the Osage County Library to …

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OCHS presents “Infamous Women of Osage County” at the Osage County Library


OSAGE COUNTY    Nearly 50 people attended last week’s Infamous Women of Osage County presentation by the Osage County Historical Society at the Osage County Library to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Mary Zeilman and Julie Allen took turns describing these women to the assembly.

“It’s a time when we pause to remember and honor the contributions women have made to the world we live in today,” said Zeilman. “Osage (County) women are not any different than other woman in America. Most of them were average, ordinary, but their heroism is defined by their quiet, persistent faith and fortitude, which helped them face different life’s challenges.”

After a lengthy dissertation on voting and the importance of citizens exercising their right to vote, Allen spoke of the first women known to vote in Osage County — Belle Gundelfinger and her daughter, as listed in a surviving poll book from August 1921. Belle was a milliner (hat maker) in Linn who also gave piano lessons.

Anne Hilkemeyer Steele was then invited to speak about her mother, Pat Hilkemeyer, the first female mayor of Westphalia and Osage County. When asked to run, Pat purportedly asked if they could find a man to run instead because she wasn’t sure the community would accept a female mayor. She was elected mayor in 1985, though, and went on to serve 12 years. Anne also described her work with elections.

Zeilman talked about Alma Muenks of Loose Creek, who, with the help of her brother and nephews, ran her husband’s turkey business and feed mill for 40 years after his death. At 90 years old, Alma could be seen sweeping the sidewalk in front of the feed mill. “So I guess we can say for sure that she really did know the meaning of hard work,” she added.

Zeilman also told of Sister Irene Schmitz, born Dorothy Schmitz, who taught for 67 years, 34 of which were in Loose Creek. Sister Irene touched many lives during her time as a teacher.

Zeilman then spoke of Edie Martin of Frankenstein, who served four years in prison in Jefferson City for attempting to poison three members of her extended family. Edie also served six years in Canada for murdering her husband before being deported. Edie returned to Osage County and was jailed the same day on outstanding charges, for which she served an additional five years. Edie was killed at age 67, in self-defense, by her 38-year-old husband.

Allen regained the podium to tell the story of Ollie Berry, a black woman who, with her husband, opened the first laundry cleaning business in Chamois between the 1920s and 1940s. She was also instrumental in getting her father, Jerry Berry, recognized as a Civil War veteran and getting the government to provide him with a tombstone. Both Ollie Berry and her father are said to be buried in the Chamois Cemetery.

Zeilman then spoke of Grace Bacon Ferrier, who taught for 43 years before returning to her family farm. She then wrote two books, “Teacher, Teacher, I Done It, I Done It, I Done Done It,” in 1986 and “Post Oak Sprouts Along Belly Ache Creek,” in 2001. The earlier book was awarded first place for best non-fiction by the Society of Midland authors in 1987. Both books are for sale at the Osage County Historical Society.

The final lady recognized was Hallie Mantle of Linn. “She’s unofficially known as the Osage County Historian,” Zeilman said, noting that Mantle was also a teacher for 47 years in Jefferson City and Osage County. “As a teenager, she became interested in family history and genealogy.”

Mantle continued to pursue her interest in Osage County history, even while teaching school, which led her to research and begin writing a newspaper column in the Unterrified Democrat. The “History of Osage County” was published from 1965 to 1971.

“Her dedication during her teaching career and then in compiling all of the history of our county will will live on and endure forever,” said Zeilman.

She reminded those in attendance that history is made every minute.

“As I was working on this project, I was thinking of the women I know in the communities here in Osage County that have made history and continue to make it every day,” said Zeilman. “We have teachers among us like Christy Brandt, Sue Galvin, and Arlene Broeker, who have formed minds for 30 and 40 years. I think of business owners like Jan Havilland of Haviland Corporation, of women who work with their husbands to run a business, like Jerry Voss (and) Connie Warden. I think of women who are working for the justice of all, like (Prosecuting Attorney) Amanda Grellner and Judge Sonya Brandt. I think of all the women who work at the polls, (such as) Linda Roberts, Sarah Koenigsfeld, and Merilee Thoenen, to name just a few. I saw the hands go up earlier. You help secure our freedom to vote. I think of women like Doris Frank and Verda Rogers, who work hard to preserve our history so that future generations can do research and learn about their ancestry. But remember, it’s the ordinary and the day-to-day that we women do the best. Women must remember to be kind, mostly to each other. Grow where you’re planted; be a good neighbor to all.”