Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

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

One Woman and One Vote
The First "First Lady" from Missouri
After the War


One Woman One Vote

Visitors to the nation's Capitol often admire the life size statue of Abraham Lincoln.  It was the work of a Missouri woman --Vinnie Ream [left], the first woman to be commissioned by congress to sculpture a statue.

Born in the Wisconsin Territory, Vinnie moved to Kansas as a child.  here her family became acquainted with Major James S. Rollins of Columbia, Mo. and as a result, Vinnie attended Christian College in Columbia.

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Ream family moved to Washington and renewed their acquaintance with Rollins, then serving in Congress.  He introduced Vinnie to Clark Mills, famous sculptor, who accepted her as a pupil.

She was so talented that she received many commissions but her greatest desire was to sculpt Lincoln.  Rollins and Senator Orville H. Browning of Illinois spoke to Lincoln and he consented to pose.  For five months he sat daily in her studio, until death came to him.

As she continued to work on the statue, her studio became a rendezvous for members of President Andrew Johnson's administration and when his opposition sought to have him impeached, Vinnie was credited with influencing Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who cast the decisive vote which prevented impeachment.

Her studio was closed and for a time, it seemed the Lincoln statue was doomed, but eventually she was allowed to resume work.  The statue, cast in Carrara marble, was dedicated on January 25, 1871.

Another distinguished woman sculptor of Missouri was Harriet Hosmer, first woman to enter a medical school in St. Louis.  Her study of medicine was in the interests of anatomy to aid her art.  One of her best known works is the statue of Thomas Hart Benton which stands in Lafayette Park.

The First "First Lady" from Missouri

St. Louis paid little attention to the wedding of a young Army lieutenant on August 22, 1848 but 20 years later, the name of Ulysses S. Grant was a more familiar one.

Fresh from West Point, Grant had come to his post at Jefferson Barracks in 1843.  Not far from the Barracks, on Gravois Road was the home of Fred T. Dent, his academy roommate.  Grant was invited to visit and met Julia, then 17.  Early in 1844, his regiment was ordered to the Mexican border but he took leave and made his way to the Dent home.  On reaching Gravois Creek, he found the way blocked by a raging torrent swollen by recent rains but plunged his horse into the creek and emerged on the other side.  He continued to the Dent home where he asked Julia to marry him.

[Photo of Mrs. Grant with her two children.]

She accepted his proposal but they kept the engagement a secret.  In 1845, he returned to St. Louis and asked for formal consent.  Colonel Dent agreed although he thought his daughter should aspire to something higher than "a small lieutenant with large epaulets."  When Grant returned from the Mexican War, they were married.  And thus Julia Dent Grant became one of two Missouri women destined to be first lady of the nation. 

One of the handsome homes in which the Grants were later entertained was that of Robert Campbell.  Campbell had built the home on Locust Street for his bride, Virginia Kyle and furnished it befitting a wealthy fur trader as he was.  It has since became a museum and an example of the elegance of its period.

After the War

Social life took an upswing after the dark days of the war and reconstruction.  In 1878, a group of civic leaders originated the idea of a fall festival and a Veiled Prophet came up the river on a barge to start a social tradition in St. Louis.  he chose a "belle of the ball" that year, Miss Susie Slayback.  In 1893, the first crowning of a queen was a part of the ball; she was Miss Hester Bates Laughlin.

In 1181, Mrs. Mary Scanlan, famous hostess of her day achieved a coup when she entertained the descendants of the officers who had come to the United States with Lafayette in commemoration of the centennial of Yorktown.

There was even royalty in the ranks of Missouri women.  Miss Mary Dameron married Count Ravensloe De Crimini and made headlines by introducing cigarettes.  A St. Louis Life of 1893 noted that: "all the swagger girls are trying it, some successfully but many decidedly unsuccessfully...there is an art in a woman's smoking cigarettes.  Some are dainty, some are clumsy."

Woman's place primarily was in the home in the late 19th century but here and there, one raised her aspirations and many of the women of that day were outstanding in fields other than housekeeping and family rearing.


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