Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

from the Official Manual of the State of Missouri, 1971-72
James Kirkpatrick, Secretary of State

Women's Lib of Long Ago
Anna Snead Cairns
The Golden Lane


Women's Lib of Long Ago

Women's Liberation activists might be surprised to learn that their grandmothers and, in some instances, their great and great-great grandmothers were there before them.

Throughout the narratives of the early twentieth century, it is amazing to note how many women who became known for achievements of many kinds also were involved in the effort to secure equal rights for their sex.  History somehow had left the impression that there were only a few leaders and protest marchers but research reveals that almost all women who held positions of prominence in business, the arts, the professions were heart and soul behind the suffrage movement.

It is also interesting to note what a large percentage of them were in agreement in principle, if not actively working toward the furtherance of two other causes -- temperance and pacifism.

A passionate pacifist and highly controversial figure just before World War I was Kate O'Hare, of St. Louis.

Nationally, the Women's Christian Temperance Union was formed in 1851 and headed by Mrs. H. H. Wagoner, the former Sophronia Wilson, a Missouri woman who was also president of the White Cross rescue home for girls.  Later Mrs. F. H. Ingalls was its president.

Outstanding in her work for the cause of prohibition in Missouri and the nation was Mrs. Clara Cleghorn Hoffman, president of the Missouri WCTU in the 1880s and a delegate to the world temperance conference in London in 1895.  After an eight month lecture tour on the continent, she lectured and held temperance meetings until her death in Kansas City in 1908.

Striking evidence of the real and dynamic interest in suffrage, temperance and pacifism is found in the book, "Notable Women of St. Louis 1914," by Mrs. Charles P. Johnson.

Anne Andre Johnson took it upon herself to compile this book about leading women "not with the thought of remuneration," she carefully set forth in the foreword, "but because there should be some record of their achievements placed in public libraries... Every city of any size has one or more books of its important and noted men but so far none has been published as a tribute to the noteworthy and capable women."

There were 65 "noteworthy and capable women" in her book.  The poets, playwrights and authors will be listed under a separate heading, but these were some of the women who did not have bylines but whose work shone as beacons of light for their own and succeeding generations.

For example, Mrs. Anita Clavert Bourgeoise, lawyer and genealogist, traveled 102,000 miles in the interest of woman's suffrage.  Asked by one politician, witheringly, what women had "produced," she retorted, "The women of your state, in fact of the world, produced first the men of the world.  Who can produce more?"

Thekla M. Bernays, who wrote a book of memoirs of her brother, Dr. A. C. Bernays, was also known as a speaker of eloquence.  In December 1911, she delivered a decalogue for women at a suffrage tea at the home of Mrs. F. W. Lehmann.  In it, she called for equal facilities in education, equal rights in the guardianship of children, equal wages for equal work, a single standard of morality, restraint of child labor, abolition of sweatshops, suppression of smoke, minimizing the drink evil and abolition of white slave traffic.

Amabel Anderson, one of a dozen St. Louis women attorneys who organized the Woman's State Bar Association of Missouri (the first association of women lawyers in the world) also organized the Women's National College Club in 1912 and served as its national president.

A strong advocate of woman's suffrage and equal rights, she operated the Arnold Preparatory School with her husband, W. E. Arnold, but later was divorced and had her maiden name restored.  She was at one time the only woman on the St. Louis University faculty, the only woman student in her class at City College of Law and Finance, and the only woman at Benton College of Law where she received an LL.M. degree.

Other lawyers mentioned in this book were Mrs. Victoria Conkling-Whitney and Caroline G. Thummel, of Phelps County who was engaged in the federal practice of law.

Among the prominent physicians listed was Dr. Mary Hancock McLean, a native of Washington, Mo.  who enrolled in Lindenwood College at age 13, attended Vassar and received her doctor of medicine degree from the University of Michigan.

She was physician at the 300-bed St. Louis Female Hospital and was the first woman member of the St. Louis Medical Society.  For a time she was associated with N. M. Leavell, another woman doctor and then established her own practice as physician and surgeon.  During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, she sponsored the Emmaus Home for Girls.

Other women doctors of this time were Dr. Mary Dodds and Dr. Frances Lewis Bishop, who was active in pure milk and anti-tuberculosis projects.

Signing of the Right to Vote by Missouri Legislature


Anna Snead Cairns

A real ball of fire in the education field of this era was Mrs. Anna Sneed Cairns.  A graduate of Monticello College, she refused to teach in the St. Louis schools because bible reading and prayer were not permitted.  Instead, she taught in Lexington, Mo. in 1861, at a time when she had to pass through both Union and Confederate lines to go home.

When the school in Lexington was closed, she opened her own school, the Kirkwood Seminary.  It closed down and she then opened the Forest Park University.  It, too, experienced difficulties, chiefly financial and was about to go bankrupt when a benefactor, Miss Ellen J. McKee contributed $5000 to pay her creditors.  In gratitude Mrs. Cairns named a gymnasium for Miss McKee.

As early as 1897, Mrs. Cairns joined in an appeal for equal rights for women in the Missouri Legislature.

Active in the WCTU, she won her case with the School Board of St. Louis to force the teaching of the evils of drink.  She traveled extensively as a temperance speaker, and once made 30 speeches in 30 nights in Texas.  Told in San Antonio that a mob would cut off her hair, throw eggs at her and perhaps even kill her, she replied with courage and eloquence: "Let them.  My hair is long.  I can spare some.  I will wear a wash dress.  And should they kill me, we will win our amendment."

Another prominent educator of that day was Louise McNair, head of Hosmer Hall for girls.  She, too, was gung-ho for women's rights.  Asked why girls should spend their time learning Latin and mathematics when they were going to be homemakers, she replied that such subjects were of value because of their mental training.

"She believes a girl can make a better loaf of bread by knowing Latin and mathematics than in the study of domestic science alone," her biographer wrote.

All 65 of the notable prominent women should be recognized but to name a few there were clubwomen like Hattie B. Gooding, who organized the Women's City Club, forerunner to the Town Club and wrote advertising for the Lesan Co. which later changed its name to Gardner; Mrs. Philip North Moore, first president of the Missouri Federated Women's Clubs and later national president; Mrs. Harry E. Wagoner, president of the St. Louis branch of the National Plant, Flower and Fruit Guild; and Daisy Nirdlinger, first president of the Women's Advertising Club of St. Louis.

There was Mrs. F. W. Baumhoff, civic and charities worker especially with blind children; the Gerhard Sisters, noted photographers; Clare Pfeifer Garrett, sculptor, whose figure of a girl stands at the entrance to Kingsbury Place in St. Louis; long time Post-Dispatch writer and artist Marguerite Martyn, writers Jane Frances Winn and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether; sculptors Nancy Coonsman, Adele Schulenburg and Caroline Risque Janis; Mrs. Frances Cushman-Wines, only woman on the Real Estate Exchange; singer Mrs. Franklin Knight; Bessie Morse who founded the Morse School of Expression and Mrs. Eugene Senseney, known for her work in the cause of pure foods and sanitary restaurants and -again the familiar refrain- for her ardent interest in women's suffrage and equal rights.

The Golden Lane

The St. Louis Equal Suffrage League in 1910 began working in earnest to secure the vote for Missouri women.  A classic anecdote told of Mrs. William C. Fordyce, president, who said to the legislators: "Gentlemen, 50 years ago my grandmother came before you asking for the enfranchisement of women; 25 years ago my mother cam to make the same request; tonight I am asking for the ballot.  Are you going to make it necessary for my daughter to appear in her turn?"

A dramatic spectacle was part of the 1916 national Democratic convention held in St. Louis.  This was "The Golden Lane," in which thousands of women wearing yellow sashes and carrying yellow parasols lined both sides of the street leading to the Coliseum where the convention was being held.  In front of the Art Museum, then on 19th and Locust streets, they presented a tableau of the states.

The Golden Lane, suffragettes at the 1916 convention.

Women representing states which had woman's suffrage were draped in white.  Those from states with partial suffrage were in gray.  Those from states with no votes for women, including Missouri, were draped in black.  At the top was Mrs. David O'Neill, resplendent as Miss Liberty.  In the front row were two little girls, Mary Taussig and Martha Gellhorn, representing future voters.

Martha Gellhorn writer, later the second of Ernest Hemingway's three wives, all of whom were from St. Louis, was the daughter of Mrs. George Gellhorn [photo, left], Edna Fischel Gellhorn who was one of the valiant women who formed the national League of Women Voters, started in Missouri


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