Marie (Mary) Henriette Hermine Hegeler was born 10 January 1861 in La Salle, Illinois. Her parents Maria Camilla Weisbach and Edward C. Hegeler were both German-American immigrants. Mary was the first born of ten children, and thus the first U.S. born citizen of the family. She was also the first to be born on the grounds of her father’s zinc smelting plant, the Matthiessen and Hegeler Zinc Company (M&H), which was established in 1858. Her father—a well-educated mechanical engineer and shrewd entrepreneur—and her mother—also well-educated and a devoted matriarch of her family and mansion estate—would prove a strong foundation for her future.
The unique context of Mary’s birth is an auspicious beginning for a girl who went on to break many cultural norms for women of the nineteenth century and to achieve success as an engineer, business executive, wife, mother, humanitarian, and editor. Her devotion to her career and family made a significant impact on later generations, and she continues to stand as a role model worthy of admiration in our own time.