Reminisce: The intelligent and courageous Martha Allen

In a time when women fought for the right to vote and to own property regardless of their marital status, Martha Allen made her way first as a teacher in Auglaize and Allen Counties and then as one of the largest landowners in Auglaize County. Overcoming tragedy caused by the invisible scars of the Civil War, she became so prominent within the community that she was one of five women and 995 men to have a biography in the 1923 Auglaize County History compiled by William McMurray.

On November 11, 1861, Anna Eliza (Pippin) Allen gave birth to Martha H. Allen in Auglaize County. Missouri-native Anna had lived in Clay township with relatives since she was a child, after her parents died. James Whiting Allen, Martha’s father, grew up on a farm in Union township and continued in that profession after his marriage to Anna in 1860.

Just seven months prior to Martha’s birth, the Civil War broke out in the United States. On August 6, 1862, her 22-year-old father enlisted in the 45th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving as a private in Company B. The 45th O.V.I. participated in the Defense of Cincinnati, fought in skirmishes in Kentucky, defended Ohio against Morgan’s raiders in the Battle of Buffington Island and other skirmishes, and fought in Burnsides’ Campaign in Eastern Tennessee and the Knoxville Campaign.

Martha, known as Mattie, would never get the opportunity to know her father. During the Battle of Rockford on November 14, 1863, James was captured and sent to Andersonville prison, a prisoner of war camp known for its poor conditions. James died of disease after six months.

Anna Allen married Joseph Slack Heston, a wealthy farmer, on February 6, 1868. Heston also served in the Civil War, mustering in as a commissioned second lieutenant of Company F of the 4th New Jersey Infantry, promoted to first lieutenant of Company G in the 4th New Jersey Infantry, and mustered out under the rank of captain again in Company F on June 4, 1865. The 4th New Jersey Infantry fought in many battles including the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg. Heston was captured during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and survived imprisonment in Camp Oglethorpe in Macon, Georgia, and then in Camp Sorghum in Columbia, South Carolina.

Martha Allen and her mother moved to Heston’s farm in Union township. The Heston farm, located one mile north of St. Johns, grew throughout Allen’s childhood. In 1870 the Heston farm consisted of 160 acres of improved land, three horses, one milk cow, 22 cattle, 50 sheep and one pig. The farm alone was worth $6,000. Additionally, the family’s farming equipment was worth $200, and livestock was valued at $860. The farm produced 310 bushels of wheat, 400 bushels of corn, 150 bushels of oats and 7 bushels of buckwheat that year.

Allen began her education in the neighborhood school, district no. 9, near her family’s farm. She later attended St. Johns School and Wapakoneta High School, graduating in 1878. Allen was one of 10 students who graduated that year. Most of the graduates were women. Her classmates were from Wapakoneta, Uniopolis, Waynesfield, Cleveland, Texas and the Philippines. She then participated in a two-year post graduate course as she taught in Auglaize County schools.

Starting in 1880 Allen taught in Lima’s grade schools. According to the U.S. Census by then, she and her parents lived on Elizabeth Street in Lima. Heston still owned 120 acres of land in Union Township at that time.

In September 1880 Allen participated in the teachers’ institute for Allen County, where newspapers noted that she explained a percentage mathematics problem during their exercises. She was elected to be secretary of the Allen County Teachers Association, serving in 1881 and 1882 and filling in as secretary pro tem in 1883. Martha served on the association’s Committee of Resolutions in 1883 and 1884.

Lima schoolteachers’ salaries were between $25 and $63 in 1885. School lasted for 38 weeks. In her last two years with Lima’s schools, Martha taught mathematics at Lima High School.

By 1900 Allen and her parents had moved back to Union township. Allen owned a little over 70 acres of land off the northwest section of her parents’ property. She had stopped teaching, and for the rest of her life she turned to investing in property. She made a living from renting her land. Heston also acquired an additional 40 acres of land off the northeast corner of his property.

Allen and Heston continued to expand their properties. In 1917 Heston owned nearly 200 acres of land in Union township, and Allen owned almost 96 acres of land directly to the west of her parents.

Tragedy struck the Heston household on September 1, 1917, when Martha was recovering from a broken leg at her parents’ house. After arguing with Anna, Joseph retired in the early evening. At around 10 p.m., Joseph went into the bedroom where both Anna and Martha slept. He shot his wife in the shoulder using his shotgun and began beating his daughter-in-law. When Allen wrestled the gun away from her father-in-law, the assailant attempted to continue using a broom.

His violence eventually turned to pleas. “Believing that he had killed his wife, and fearing prosecution, he begged the daughter to let him have the gun, promising her that he would not injure her, but would use the weapon to commit suicide,” the Miami Union reported. With her strength failing, Allen gave the gun to Joseph to save her life. Her father-in-law went to the kitchen and committed suicide.

Heston, 82 years old, suffered from dementia and had been released from the Toledo State Hospital a few weeks prior. The Celina Democrat described the well-known veteran as “eccentric for more than fifty years, probably due to a bullet wound in his head, received during the [Civil] war.”

Allen was so injured that she tried but could not call for help. Her mother lived until the following morning when she succumbed to blood loss due to her wound. Although in critical condition, Allen survived. The news shocked the local community as newspapers throughout the region reported on what they claimed was one of the most terrible tragedies in Auglaize County history.

After inheriting her parents’ farm, Allen remained in Union township and grew her land holdings to around 480 acres by 1923, becoming one of the largest land holders in Union township, Auglaize County. She continued to rent her fields. She was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Johns and maintained an active role in her hometown community throughout her life.

At age 74 Allen fell on ice in January 1936 and broke her hip. Four months later, on March 14, she died due to a coronary thrombosis, or a blood clot in an artery in the heart. Allen is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Wapakoneta.





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Auglaize County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Brittany Venturella at [email protected].