Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

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

A League of Women Voters
Rose O'Neill and the Kewpies


A League of Women Voters

In March 1919, when the National Suffrage Association held its convention at Hotel Statler in St. Louis, it was on the eve of victory.  Before the convention ended, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw read the telegram announcing the vote for Missouri women, and Carrie Chapman Catt presented her idea for a "League of Women Voters," so that the new voters would be informed voters.  Before long, cards appeared in window announcing, "A Woman Living Here Has Registered to Vote."

"These were no ordinary women," Avis Carlson wrote in her book, The First 40 Years. They were women of intelligence, education, stature.  Among them were: Miss Marie Ames, Mrs. C. V. Beck, Mrs. B. F. Bowles, Mrs. George Dobler, Mrs. Fred English, Mrs. E. C. Grady, Mrs. E. M. Grossman, Mrs. Charles Passmore, Mrs. Aaron Rauh, Miss Mary Semple Scott, Mrs. Ernest W. Stix, Mrs. Charles W. Swingley, Mrs. Leslie Thompson, Mrs. F. J. Taussig, and, of course, Mrs. Gellhorn and Mrs. Senseney.  Later added to the roles were Mrs. Roscoe Anderson, Mrs. Virgil Loeb, Mrs. Evarts Graham and Mrs. R Walston Chubb.

League presidents through the years have included women civic leaders - Mrs. W. Victor Weir, Mrs. Aaron Fischer, Mrs. George Roudebush, Mrs. J. Hardin Smith Jr., Mrs. Conrad Sommer.

Many did things with a flair.  When Mrs. Senseney was president she devised one of the League's most spectacular stunts.  It was decided to send carrier pigeons to President Harding with petitions requesting a disarmament conference.

Unfortunately, the carrier pigeons were moulting at the time and refused to fly, let alone carry, but the League, undaunted by this trifling problem, brought in untrained pigeons, unloosed them symbolically at a given signal, and the sent their message more prosaically by Western Union.

In the early 1920s when certain parts of rural Missouri could be reached only by rut or by rail, the League began its program of education.  Mrs. Gellhorn later recalled these trips which she often made, riding in the milk train caboose.

"It wasn't ladylike to ride this way," she reminisced, "and one had to be ladylike so, although I didn't knit, I had my cook fix up some knitting there I sat in the caboose, pretending to knit - and look ladylike."

Advances in child welfare, women's property rights, joint guardianship of children were among the early accomplishments of the new League.  Women in the political parties played their role in statewide organization, too - Mrs. Mae Dietz, Mrs. Lon Hocker, Mrs. Florence Many.

While the civic workers were making great advances in the cause of women, many individual women of Missouri were nationally known for art, literature and business.

Rose O'Neill and the Kewpies

Foremost among the popular artists was rose O'Neill, Pennsylvania born but an adopted Missourian who made her home at Bonniebrook near Branson, Mo.  In 1896 she became an illustrator on the staff of Puck magazine and also worked for Life.  She married Gray Latham and illustrated for a time under the name O'Neill Latham.  In 1902 she married for the second time - Harry Leon Wilson, writer and began writing, publishing and illustrating books.  When this marriage ended, she returned to Bonniebrook and here - from sorrow, it is told - she created the figure that was to bring her the greatest fame - the Kewpie doll.  By 1913 Kewpies had become a national craze, syndicated by newspapers and serialized by four national magazines.  Thirty factories turned out Kewpie dolls and their creator made a fortune of more than a million dollars.  She retired to Missouri and lived at Bonniebrook until her death in 1944.


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