Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

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

Shady Ladies
Hatchet Carry
The Two Kates
The Gay 90s


Shady Ladies

Not all the women famous in Missouri history were noble, civic leader types.  At least three were notorious women.

Born within a few years of each other, they were Martha Jane Canary, Myra Belle Shirley and Carry Amelia Moore.  Or, as they were to become better known --Calamity Jane, Belle Starr and Carry Nation.

The most colorful female figure of the post Civil War frontier, Martha Jane Canary was born in Princeton, Mo. in Mercer County in 1852.  Her family moved to Montana and there she was orphaned and left to take care of herself.

With a talent for riding and adventure, she became a full fledged scout for the U.S. Army, starting with the Black Hills campaign of 1872 and serving on through the final defeat of 1891.

A wearer of masculine buckskins, chaps and spurs, " Calamity Jane" as she came to be known, prided herself on her ability to "out-chew, out-smoke, out-swear, and out-drink" her male companions.  Her profanity, it is said, was so rich in metaphor and so varied that it was "a delight to discriminating audiences."

Bartlett Boder, St. Joseph historian, has called Belle Starr a feminine Jesse James and certainly there are many parallels in their careers. At gun point, she robbed banks, stores and stage coaches.¬†She was born about the same time as Jesse James-1846-and like him, she was a Southern sympathizer who served with William Clark Quantrille,* guerrilla leader.  Her first love affair was with Cole Younger, a companion of the James boys.

*  Electronic editor's note: Most biographical sources list his name as William Clarke Quantrill.

Like Jesse James, she came from a respectable family.  Her father had the title of "Judge" John Shirley and he owned a city block in Carthage and operated the hotel, Shirley House.  She was educated at Carthage Female Academy, incorporated by the legislature in 1855.

When the Civil War broke out, the entire town of Carthage was in an uproar and before the war was over, the town had been burned. When the federal troops came to town and Myra Belle learned they were planning to capture a group of Confederate sympathizers at Newtonia to warn the Southerners, permitting them to escape.

Among the Confederates was her brother Bud, later killed while trying to escape Union troops near Sarcoxie.  After his death, the family moved to Texas where the Judge had property near Dallas.  Belle married Jim Reed who was shot and then married Sam Starr, whose ranch was a haven for fugitives from justice.

When word began to filter back to Missouri about Belle Starr, bank and stagecoach robber and cattle and horse rustler, the hometown folks at first did not connect the name with that of Myra Belle Shirley.  When the truth got out it caused quite a stir.

Belle Came to the same sad end as Jesse James.  In 1889 she was returning to her ranch when someone shot her off her horse, then, while she lay unconscious, took her own revolver and shot her in the back of the head as she lay, face down, in the mud, and there she died.

Hatchet Carry

[insert Nation here]Probably the best known of the three, at least the one whose name is still best known, was Carry Nation, hatchet swinging temperance agitator.  She was born, not in Missouri but in Garrard County, Kentucky Nov. 25, 1846.  With her parents, George Moore,  a prosperous planter, and his wife, Mary Campbell, she came to Missouri as a child and lived in the town of Belton.

Here she met and married Dr. Charles Gloyd.  A physician, he had come from Ohio and intended teaching until he could practice his profession.  Carry's father helped him get a position and he boarded at the Moore house.  Casual acquaintance with Carry turned to love.

Her parents strongly disapproved so the lovers met clandestinely and left notes for one another in a volume of Shakespeare.  Her parents' objections were two-fold; first, they had planned for her to marry a local farmer, and second, Dr. Gloyd had become a drinking man as he served in the Civil War, and now his drinking had gone to excess.

Carry believed she could reform him through her love.  On November 21, 1867, they were married and moved to Holden.  The groom was sodden during the ceremony and never sobered up.

"He seldom came home until long after midnight and sometimes not at all," wrote one biographer, "and night after night, Carry never closed her eyes but sat at the window, straining to hear the sound of his footsteps on the deserted pavement."  She became a familiar and pathetic figure searching the streets, often pounding on the door of the Masonic Lodge where he took refuge because women were not allowed inside.  In later years, she became almost as bitter against the Masons as against the demon rum.

When she became pregnant, her parents came and took her home with them.  Her mother would not allow her to see her husband but Carry wrote him daily notes, begging him to sign the pledge.  When their daughter was six weeks old, she went back to get her trunk and belongings.  He begged her to return but she refused.  He predicted he would die within six months and so he did, his death sending Carry into grief and despair.

She taught school for the next few years and in 1877 married David Nation, lawyer, minister and editor 19 years her senior.  Their marriage ended in divorce but she was to make his name a household word.

She became involved in the prohibition question in Kansas where liquor was prohibited but stores violated the law.  Organizing a branch of the WCTU, she began a campaign to break up the liquor stores in Medicine Lodge.  Her "breaking up" was literal; she went in and destroyed liquor, furniture and fixtures.

She moved on to wreck saloons in Wichita, Enterprise, Danville, Leavenworth and Topeka.  In Wichita, she first used the hatchet which gave her the name Hatchet Carrie.  Arrested many times for disturbing the peace, she paid her fines from the sale of souvenir hatchets, lecture tours and stage performances.

She built a home for drunkards' wives in Kansas City, Kans.  And although she never received the support of any large group, she is credited with doing much to bring about prohibition.  She died in Leavenworth in 1911, and is buried in Belton.

Still another colorful character, unlucky in love, was Frankie Baker, who on October 13, 1899, shot her lover, Allen Britt*, at 212 Targee Street (where Kiel Auditorium now stands) and inspired the famous ballad, "Frankie and Johnnie".

* Electronic editor's note: Some sources give Britt's first name as Albert.

The Two Kates

Writing was one of the areas which first offered an opportunity for recognition for women.  there are far too many published writers of this period to list them all but some were outstanding.

For example, when Kate Field died, one critic said, "She was beyond doubt the foremost woman journalist the United States has yet produced."

Born in St. Louis, October 1, 1838, she was named Mary Katherine Keemle Field but was known as Kate Field.  Her childhood was spent in St. Louis but when she was 16. She went east to school.  In 1859, she traveled  to Europe and became acquainted with such greats of the literary world as Robert and Elizabeth Browning and George Eliot.  She worked as a correspondent for Atlantic Monthly and for American newspapers.

Her career was varied - lecturer, actress, champion of many causes, among them Hawaiian annexation, temperance and the abolition of Mormon polygamy.  One of her best known projects was the founding in 1890 of Kate Field's Washington, a weekly journal devoted to art, education, music, drama and various reforms.  Her brilliant career came to an untimely end when she traveled to Hawaii, became ill of pneumonia and died there in 1896.

As there were two contemporary Phoebes, there were two Kates, Kate Field was better known in her day but the works of Kate Chopin have been undergoing a revival of recent years.

Born Kate O'Flaherty in St. Louis, she graduated from the Sacred Heart convent in 1868 and was married to Oscar Chopin in 1870.  They lived for a while in New Orleans and then her husband took over the management of tow plantations on the Red river.  It was at this time that she made her observations of Creole life.

When her husband died in 1882 of swamp fever, she brought her five sons and one daughter back to St. Louis where she spent the rest of her life.

One of her fist writings was a novel, "At Fault," published in 1890.  She became better known with her next, "Bayou Folk" and "A Night in Acadie."  Her novel, " The Awakening" was published in 1899 and the appearance of this book "two decades ahead of its time" has been called "the tragedy of American literature."  It was so harshly criticized that she never again tried a major novel but confined herself to magazine writing especially for youth.  This is the book which has attracted much attention in the last few years.

Mary Alicia Owen of St. Joseph was a widely known folk lore writer around the turn of the Century.  Her Voodoo tales as told among the Negroes of the Southwest were published in England and this led to the publication of many books.  She was the first person to become a life member of the State Historical Society of Missouri and gave some valuable specimens of Indian handiwork to the state museum at Jefferson City.  She often remarked that Missouri was the finest field for collecting folklore in the world.

One woman writer, Mary Murfree felt a woman had little chance of publication so wrote under the name of a man, Charles Egbert Craddock.  "In the Tennessee Mountains" was the title of her first book and this led to many published stories.  She worked on the third floor of her home at 702 North Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis, daily, it is told, from nine a.m. until dark.

The Gay 90s

A prominent turn of the century writer of music was Jessie L. Gaynor.  The story is told that when her little girl came home from school singing, "Ain't It Pleasant With Your Sweetheart Riding in a Sleigh," she resolved to make public school music more appropriate for children and thus began a career as a composer.

Born Jessie L. Smith, she taught school in her early life.  Later she composed more than 600 songs, operettas and games and originated her own method of teaching music in the primary grades.  One of her compositions, "The Slumber Boat" was sung in many languages.  In 1901, she established the Gaynor Studio in St. Joseph, Mo. and she organized and was the first president of the St. Joseph Fortnightly Music Club.

Another woman prominent in St. Joseph history is Mrs. Constance Faunt LeRoy Runcie*, credited with having organized the first women's club in the United States.  This was in New Harmony, Ind. Later she organized clubs in Madison, Ind. and in 1894 started the Runcie Club of St. Joseph, which became a member of the Missouri Federation of Women's Clubs. She was active in many other civic endeavors in the 40 years she lived in St. Joseph.

* Faunt LeRoy is sometimes written as Fauntleroy

Mrs. John Perry of Kansas City was a prominent citizen of the 1890s when she founded the Kansas City Boy's Orphans Home, with four Daughters of Charity of the Order of St. Vincent de Paul in charge.  Mrs. Perry and her four children were killed in a disaster in 1898 and her husband later gave a building as a memorial to her.

Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, designer of the Missouri state flag, was a woman whose activities extended from this period and on through the years.  Born in Farmville, Ray County, she married Robert B. Oliver of Cape Girardeau, who became a State Senator.  Appointed to a D.A.R committee to prepare a design for a state flag, she did so, creating it around a state seal painted by Miss Mary Kochtisky of Cape Girardeau.  Her husband drafted the bill for the flags adoption in 1909.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Oliver's flag burned during the 1911 capitol fire.  She made a second flag with the state seal painted by Mrs. S. D. McFarlane, Cape Girardeau and in 1913 the bill for its adoption passed.

Another Missouri woman with a long career of public service was Luella St. Clair Moss, president of the Missouri Federation of Women's Clubs, Missouri League of Voters and first woman president of the Missouri Library Commission.  One of her big interests was the suffrage movement.


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