Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

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

Daniel's Wife
The First Nuns
The Early Colleges


Daniel's Wife

The famous Daniel Boone had settled in Missouri in 1799 and although little is said in the history books about his wife, Rebecca Boone was often with him on the trail and in the wilderness, caring for her own five children and the six motherless children of her brother, James Bryan.

Their daughter, Jemima married Flanders Callaway and is described by Shirley Seifert in "Never No More," the story of Rebecca Boone, as "ancestress of a line of strong and very independent men and women who led that part of the state still known as the Kingdom of Callaway."

A granddaughter of Daniel and Rebecca Boone, Panthea Grant Boone became the wife of Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri from 1836 to 1840 and her portrait hangs in the Governor's mansion.

There were no Americans living in Missouri south of the Missouri river when Hannah Cole and her nine children settled in what is now Cooper County in 1810.  Her husband was murdered by Indians near Mexico, Mo. and she and her children crossed the Missouri river in the middle of winter, in a pirogue.  Stranded, they lived for 11 days on acorns, slippery elm bark and one wild turkey.

It was she who built a fort to protect the settlers from Indian atrocities during the War of 1812.  The fort later became a community center and then the seat of justice for Howard County.  She was the original owner of the site of Boonville, which she sold for $100.  In 1816, she and her sons operated a ferry over the Missouri River.

An authority on southeast Missouri history credits a woman, Eliza Bryan with the most graphic account of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811.

Excerpts from her letter read as follows: "on the 16th of December, 1811, about 2 o'clock a.m. we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by a complete saturation of the atmosphere with sulphurous vapor causing total darkness.

"The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do; the cries of fowls and the beasts of every species;  the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi, the current of which retrograded for a few minutes...all formed a scene truly horrible."

It took courage to make a home in the wilderness.

Henry Brackenridge, writing of the pioneer families of Missouri, gives an inkling of the character of these women and the influence which they displayed.

"The women make faithful and affectionate wives," he wrote, "but will not be considered second in the matrimonial association.  The advice of the wife is taken on all important as well as less weighty concerns, and she generally decides."

Were the early Missouri women occupied only as wives, mothers and homemakers?  By no means.  Ann Hawkins Gentry [photo, left] of Columbia was the second woman in the United States to receive and official appointment as postmaster and served from 1838 to 1865.  She succeeded her husband, General Richard Gentry, killed in the Florida Seminole Indian War.

The mother of 13 children, she was noted for her courage and judgment. When the Gentrys came to Missouri shortly after  the War of 1812, she rode a thoroughbred mare and held a child on her lap.  The Gentrys settled first at Old Franklin and were among the founders of Smithton, the forerunner of Columbia where they kept an inn.  Because Gentry was away much of the time, the responsibility fell to his wife.  When he marched away to the Florida War, she said she would "rather be a brave man's widow than a coward's wife."  He was killed Christmas Day, 1837.

 

The First Nuns in Missouri

Contribution of Missouri women in the field of education are especially noteworthy. Among them were many members of religious orders who performed their missions of service in primitive settings.

The arrival of the first nun to Missouri, on August 21, 1818 was a gloomy occasion.  The Riverboat Franklin, bearing on board Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne and her four companions, sister Octavie Berthold, Eugenie Aude, Marguerite Manteau and Catherine Lamarre, ran short of fuel and had to dock at nightfall a mile below the foot of the Market Street landing in St. Louis.

Transferring to a small boat, the sisters were brought to land and greeted by bishop Louis DuBourg.  There, Mother Duchesne received her first disappointment.  Instead of teaching in St. Louis, she was to go to St. Charles.  But she quickly recovered her courageous and optimistic attitude.

"Divine Providence has brought us to the remotest village in the United States," she wrote to her Superior in France.

Grown from the trading post established by Blanchette Chasseur in 1781, St. Charles was populated mostly by farmers.  It became necessary for Mother Duchesne and her companions to combine farm chores with their teaching.

On September 14, 1818, they opened the first Sacred Heart school for girls in a log cabin.  Their stay in St. Louis has been made pleasant by the hospitality of the Bernard Pratte family, and two of the daughters, Emilie and Therese and their cousin, Pelagie Chouteau were the first boarding students at the Academy.

Described as "the first free school west of the Mississippi," the Academy filled up quickly. Mother Duchesne [drawing on right] lamented the fact that her pupils were the children of established families and not the "little savages" she had hoped to convert.  But the bishop reassured her that, "Work among these children will be wider, more lasting... from their education, our culture must come."

Problems in conducting the school in St. Charles led to a move to Florissant and there in a single room farmhouse, a new school was set up.  Pupils came at once --Mathilde Hamilton from Ste. Genevieve, Virginia Labbadie, Emily St. Cyr, Emilie and Betsy Rolette from St. Louis.  In January, girls from the Leduc, Chenier and Cabanne families were added.

In 1824, Mother Duchesne achieved her wish to teach the savages when she started a school for Indian girls.  In 1827, she received her other wish, to teach in St. Louis when City House convent was established.

In all of her work, Mother Duchesne imposed on herself privations and austerities she would not have tolerated for others.  She wrote: "In all of this there is not much fun unless you are doing it for God."

Her last days were spent in the reopened Academy in St. Charles where she died in 1852.  Her beatification was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on May 12, 1940.

The Early Colleges

Another name allied with St. Charles and also with the cause of education early in our state's history is that of Mary Easton Sibley [drawing, left]  The daughter of Rufus Easton, first postmaster of St. Louis, she has been called "the first bride of Jackson County," where she lived with her husband, George C. Sibley who built Fort Clark in 1808.  Only 15 years old at the time, she traveled up the Missouri River by keelboat, taking her piano with fife and drum attachments, her library and furniture with her.  The frontier home of the Sibleys became famous for its hospitality to travelers and for her musical attainments.  Her husband wrote, "You may be sure Mary is a great favorite with the Indians, indeed they literally idolize her since they have heard her play."

In 1826, the Sibleys moved to St. Charles and the next year she taught a small group of girls in a school at her home.  This date of 1827 is the one which Lindenwood College accepts as its official date of birth.  The building which the Sibleys constructed in 1831 stood in a forest of linden trees which gave the school its name.

Lindenwood College was incorporated by the General Assembly on February 24, 1853 and the Sibleys donated additional land and buildings in 1856.  Although a woman's school, it was headed by men, with two exceptions, Mary Jewell, president in 1876 and Catherine Coleman, vice president in 1863.

Two years before Lindenwood's incorporation, Christian College had been incorporated and on April 7, 1851, its first seven students matriculated.  They were Anna Hitt, Emma Gordon, Ann Thomas Harris, Amanda Ellis, Mary E. Carter, Matilda Stone and Sallie Bedford.

Stephens College, also in Columbia, traces its ancestry to the Columbia Female Academy which held its first session in the fall of 1833.  Miss Lucy Ann Wales was preceptress, and her successor was Miss Lavinia Moore.  A commencement program of 1844 indicates the advanced views of this school.  Compositions were given on, "Chemistry, a proper study for a lady," and the daring question, "Ought Ladies to Engage in Politics?"  This school closed in 1855 and was supplanted by the Columbia Baptist Female College.

It was still many years before the state University would admit women but academies and private schools were coming into being all over the state.  Camden Point Female Academy established in 1848 later became William Woods College in Fulton.  Fayette Academy later became Howard Female College which subsequently became Howard-Payne and then merged with Central.  Mrs. Catherine Collier gave a building in which the Methodist Episcopal Church started a college in St. Charles in 1837.

Women were having a hand elsewhere in doing good.  There was the three room log cabin in St. Louis, staffed by four members of the order of the Sisters of Charity which is generally conceded to be the first hospital west of the Mississippi River.  The nuns had arrived on November 25, 1828 in answer to a request by Bishop Joseph Rosati.  The property for their first hospital, on Fourth St. was donated by John Mullanphy.  Here the Sisters of Charity aided in two cholera epidemics and later during the Civil War cared for the wounded at Mullanphy Hospital.


Return to Missouri Almanac, 1971-72
Next section:    A Tradition of Good Works