Today, her headstone is just another symbol of the many who have gone before us.
Her name, once clearly readable, has faded with time.
But Mary Louise Gillett is more than just a name with a date of birth and death inside historic Riverside Cemetery. She is a famous Hannibalian, a woman of history, and an inspiration who shattered the glass ceiling.
She is the University of Missouri's first woman graduate.
Her parents died when she was young, according to Hannibal historian Roberta Hagood. The Gilletts had moved to Hannibal from Iowa — presumably Fort Madison as indicated on the family tombstone — and when Mary's parents died, she and her brother lived with their maternal grandparents, the Dubachs.
There's not much as far as historical records go on Gillett until she arrived in Columbia, Mo., in 1867. On Jan 28 of that year the Normal School Department (which became the Department of Education) was authorized by the Missouri Senate and, according to a 1967 article in the University of Missouri Alumni Magazine, Gillett enrolled in September.
By June of 1870 after studying to be a school teacher, Mary Gillett, who was known as Lulie to her friends, graduated from the University of Missouri.
In Hagood's book, "The Story of Hannibal," Gillett returned to Hannibal and taught at Central School for two years before returning to Columbia to continue her career.
Hagood writes that a lung disease began to take its toll on her, so she was sent to Colorado in hopes that the change in weather could improve her health. Making the journey with her was Hattie, her sister. On Dec. 10, 1877, the 30-year-old teacher died in a horseback riding accident.
She was buried in Riverside Cemetery with her family near the Dubach plot. Hattie died 11 months later Nov. 13.
Gillett Hall was officially named in 1967 on the University of Missouri campus. The women's dormitory, which according to the University of Missouri Alumni magazine archives, houses 504 students. It has recently been renovated and continues to be used by the University to this day.
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