History is littered with examples of women being prevented from educating themselves due to misogynists’ views.
But one man made it extremely personal when he left a bequest in his will, stating that the money from his estate was to be used to build and maintain a woman-free library. He even dictated what signage should be used to prevent them from entering.
He also left his daughter only $5 and charged his widow rent to stay in the family home after his death.
A respected Le Mars lawyer
Townsend Murphy Zink (known as T.M. Zink) was a lawyer and politician from Iowa. After graduating with a law degree from the State University of Iowa in June 1883, he moved to Le Mars, where he was to work and live for the rest of his life.
His first wife, Emma Nix, died in 1910 after 15 years of marriage. She left behind a daughter named Margretta.
In 1926, Zink went on to marry Ida Bennison, a widow. They seemed a perfectly normal couple, and in a newspaper interview after his death, Ida describes them both as being “ideally happy.”
Zink died in September 1930 at the age of 72 after complications from gall stone surgery.
As an upstanding member of the community, hundreds attended his funeral.
His death also made it into the newspapers, with the Le Mars Globe Post stating that “In the passing of Mr. Zink, this city and the members of the bar of this community, lose a real, honest man of high standing and ideas.”
Zink drew up his will on July 18, 1930. At the time of his death, his estate was estimated to be between $35,000 and $80,000.
Most of his money was to be tied up in a trust to be used for farm loans for a period of 75 years. It was estimated that, during that time, the funds would grow to $3 million. Once the 75 years were up, some of the funds were to be used to build a library. The will clearly states that 25% of the funds should be used for construction, while another 25% is for stocking the shelves.
So far, the bequest is unsurprising because, as noted by The Sunday Star in an article on November 23, 1930, Zink’s personal library was “one of the finest private collections in the State of Iowa and is valued at more than $15,000.”
He had high ambitions for this new project, stating that the money would be “invested in the best, most reliable and authentic books, maps, charts, works of art, magazines, and other authentic works containing all known information and knowledge of science, literature, geography, religions, and all known knowledge in the world.”
The “womanless” library
However, what comes next brought the will to the attention of several newspapers. Zink instructed that no women could be involved in the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of the library.
The library would be accessible to anyone over the age of 15 years old “regardless of religious faith, political affiliation, color, race or nationality, or place of residence, except to alien enemies of the United States of America.”
While this might seem to be incredibly progressive, there was one type of person that Zink absolutely would not allow to be involved in the library at any level. “No woman shall at any time, under any pretense or for any purpose be allowed inside the library, or upon the premises, or have any say about anything concerned therewith, nor appoint any person or persons to perform any act connected therewith. No book, work of art, chart, magazine, picture, unless some production by a man, shall be allowed inside or outside the building.”
Just to make sure he was absolutely clear on this point, Zink went on to stipulate: “There shall be over each entrance to the premises and building a sign in these words: ‘No Woman Admitted.’”
Potential reasons behind his hatred of women
Where did such prejudice come from? Zink tries to explain by including the following paragraph in the will: “My intense hatred of women, is not of recent origin or development, or based upon any personal difference I ever had with them, but is the result of my experiences with women, observations of them, and study of all literature and philosophical works.”
The Sunday Star article speculates on some of the reasons given for such animosity. Some “business acquaintances” suggest there was a threatened breach of promise suit from a woman whom he’d courted after his wife died but before he married Ida. In another paragraph, it states: “One man suggested the lawyer’s intense hatred for women may have been a result of frequent delving into the works of Schopenhauer.”
While Ida states in an interview with The Sunday Star that her husband was “most gracious to [women] socially,” the newspaper also reported: “He often remarked that women were difficult to work with. He said he disliked settling legal affairs for women. He referred to some of them as jealous, and he expressed a marked preference for men in business.”
These comments seem to be backed up by an event described by John Keenan, a Le Mars attorney, where Zink referred to a woman on the other side of a legal case as “the hell cat” when lodging an appeal. “The Supreme Court denied the appeal for this reason – and his prejudice cost him the case.”
Snubbing the women in his life as well
Having been married twice and leaving behind a daughter, it might be tempting to think that despite his dislike of women, Zink would remember his family in his will.
That was very much not the case.
To his daughter, he left only $5. Ida had signed a prenuptial agreement before marrying, so Zink left her nothing. However, he granted his wife permission to remain in the home they’d shared for six years, but only if she paid rent of $40 per month to the trust.
Inevitable legal challenges
Such a bizarre bequest coupled with nothing for his immediate family made it inevitable that the will would be challenged. Ida’s prenuptial agreement prevented any challenge from her side, but in October 1930, Margretta put forward nine claims objecting to the validity of the will. There was the tradition “was of unsound mind” but also was the argument that the will was “an insult to American womanhood and of the world.”
According to the Useless Information podcast, even the state’s attorney general was potentially gearing up to contest the will.
In court, Dr. George Donahoe from the state mental hospital in Cherokee was called to the witness stand, where he testified that Zink was suffering from “a classic case of sexual paranoia, which is a form of insanity that is chronic, progressive, and incurable.”
He went on to elaborate that, in Zink’s mind, he had replaced God with “a female creatress who is malicious, capricious, and thoroughly unreliable.” This creatress had created women for the same reason that she’d created diseases and calamities – to plague the men of the world.
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The will was found invalid in March 1931, which meant that Zink had effectively died intestate. As a result, the estate went to his daughter Margretta. Unfortunately, this was all going on during the Great Depression, and it was estimated that the estate had been devalued to somewhere between $10,000 and $25,000.
Eating into that amount even further was Ida Zink, who filed a claim in July 1931 for almost $3,000, claiming that she’d paid all of the household expenses for five out of the six years they were together. An unnamed person at the court commented: “Any man who can get his wife to sign such a [prenuptial agreement] and who can get her to pay his living expenses, may be adjudged crazy by the court, but he ain’t so bad just the same. He’s crazy like a fox.”