Stories from the Big House

10 January 2013

Mary Hegeler Carus


Mary Hegeler Carus was born on January 10, 1861 in a two-story frame dwelling which was located on the grounds of the M and H. Zinc company, founded by her father and F. W. Matthiessen three years earlier.   After the family moved from the home in which she was born to the Mansion, it was used for as the general office of the firm.
Mary Hegeler married Paul Carus
in 1888 at the
Hegeler Carus Mansion.
 Her parents were Edward C. Hegeler and Camilla Weisbach Hegeler, who commissioned the construction of the Mansion in 1874.  Both of her parents were natives of Germany. Her mother was the daughter of Julius Weisbach who was the head of the School of Mines at Freiberg, Saxony, Germany, which Mary later attended.

After studying in local schools, including the La Salle City high school, which was located on Third and Tonti street, Mary entered the University of Michigan and graduated from that institution in 1882.  She was the first woman ever to receive a B. S. degree in engineering at U of M. From there, she went to Germany and did post-graduate work at the Freiberg school, which at that time was one of the world’s three outstanding mining schools.
When she returned to the United States, she became closely associated in the operation of M&H Zinc and throughout her lifetime she maintained an intimate contact with all the phases of operation at that plant, having served as president of the company from 1903 to 1917, succeeding her father upon his retirement from that office, as secretary from 1917 to 1933 and again as president from 1933 until her death in 1936.

Throughout her lifetime Mary avoided frills, always content with only the fundamentals of living. Hers was a life dedicated to doing things for her fellow man and scores of her works of benefaction never came to public light. She found keen satisfaction in making life easier for others by giving quietly, a trait that many of her children and grandchildren have followed today.
 
She is remembered lovingly by the hundreds of young men from the area who served their country in World War I, for through her each received a warm, woolen blanket before entraining for camp. The first of these blankets was made by her and her friends in the Mansion.  When the draft increased, it became impossible to continue supplying home-made blankets, so Mary met the situation by buying blankets and directing the distribution of them.

Mary also initiated the first classes in sewing for girls and in manual training for boys, financing this project for many years before the local board of education absorbed domestic science and manual training in the school curriculum.

The information above is taken from her Obituary, which was published in 1936.  For more information on Mary Hegeler Carus, visit the Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle, IL. 

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