Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

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

The Writers...Akins, Hurst, Teasdale
Stars of Stage, Screen and Sports
The Business Women

The Writers...Akins, Hurst, Teasdale

There have been many writers of note.  The big three names which became known at the same time - around 1912 -were ZoŽ Akins, Fannie Hurst and Sara Teasdale.

An aggressive and picturesque figure in literary circles, ZoŽ Akins was born in Humansville, and moved to St. Louis when her father, Republican State committeeman, became postmaster.  She wrote poems and criticisms for Reedy's Mirror, and then went on to write plays for Broadway and Hollywood.  The best known were, "Declassee" which starred Ethel Barrymore, "The Greeks Had a Word for it," and "The Old Maid," which won a Pulitzer prize in 1935.

Fannie Hurst, [left] a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, was at one time the highest paid magazine writer of fiction in the world.  She, too, had her start on Reedy's Mirror.  The daughter of a conservative Jewish family, she broke out of the family mold to live in New York where she became known not only for her writing but for her style and dashing way of life.  Her marriage to Jacques Danielson and her advancement of the idea of separate apartments for married couple were widely publicized.  She wrote 13 novels, among the best known, "Back Street," " Imitation of Life, " and "Humoresque". Her autobiography, "Anatomy of Me" tells much about her early life in St. Louis.

Sara Teasdale [right], who attended Mary Institute and Hosmer Hall in St. Louis, was one of a group of eight St. Louis girls who called themselves The Potters Wheel for their literary work.  Her first poems appeared in it.  She, too, attracted the attention of editor William Marion Reedy who reprinted some of her work.  Her greatest fame came through her love lyrics, several volumes of which were published from 1907 until her death in 1933.

One Missouri writer portrayed the principles of democratic living so well in her books that General Douglas MacArthur had them translated into Japanese for use in schools of that country.  She was Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote the "Little House" stories about frontier family life in the "land of the big red apple," the Missouri Ozarks.   Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane was also known for her books on Ozark life.  Her novel, "Let the Hurricane Roar" was a 1933 best seller.

Writer and civic leader was Emily Newell Blair, of Joplin, who wrote "Letters of a Contented Wife" for Cosmopolitan magazine and later became the first woman to serve as vice chairman on the National Democratic committee.

Newsmaker and writer was Mrs. John W. Curran, of St. Louis, who created a stir in the 1920s by maintaining that she had contacted, via the popular Ouija board, a 17th century girl, Patience Worth, whose stories she transcribed.

Mary Dillon who wrote "Rose of Old St. Louis," was a Missourian and so was Temple Bailey.  A headliner, both as writer and radio personality is Mary Margaret McBride of Paris, Mo. who wrote lovingly of her early life in the book, "How Dear To My Heart."

Two noted poets are Missourians - Marianne Moore and Mona Van Duyn.   Other noted writers with Missouri backgrounds are: Josephine Johnson, whose "Now in November" won a Pulitzer prize; Sally Benson, who wrote " Meet Me In St. Louis"; Emily Hahn, Fannie Cook, Laura Lou Brookman, Jean Bell Mosley, Cena Draper, Lelia Hardin Bugg, Louise Plat Hauck, and Jetta Carleton, Noted for her historic novels is Shirley Seifert, Kirkwood, whose sister, Elizabeth Seifert, St. Joseph, is also a novelist.  Ruth Philpott Collins and Janie Lowe Paschall are writers of children's books, Elinor Coyle and Dena Lange outstanding contributors to St. Louis historic research, Mrs. Marlin Perkins both writer and naturalist trying to preserve our endangered world.

Mrs. Irma Rombauer became the bride's best friend through her book, "The Joy of Cooking," so popular in the 1940s that it outsold Wendell Wilkie's "One World" on best seller lists.

Stars of Stage, Screen and Sports

There is a long roster of famous names connected with opera, theater and motion pictures made up of Missouri women.

Among the best known:  Gladys Swarthout, born in Deepwater, Marion Talley, Nevada, Marion Telva, Edla Vettori, Helen Traubel, and Grace Bumbry, all of St. Louis.  In the silent screen era there was Louise Closser Hale and Laura LaPlante whose family came from Festus and Bonne Terre, and later, Ginger Rogers of Independence, Jeanne Eagels and Jean Harlow, both of Kansas City; Joan Crawford, who worked as a waitress at Stephens College; Virginia Mayo, Betty Grable and Shelley Winters, of St. Louis; Martha Scott, of Jamesport, Jane Wyman, of St. Joseph, Georgette Harvey, Josephine Baker, the St. Louis girl who became a nightclub headliner in Paris, France and Jane Froman , singer of worldwide fame, now a resident of Columbia.

Photos of Ginger Rogers, above right, and Betty Grable, below right.

Irving Dilliard of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, once delivered a speech about famous Missourians, entitled, "They Came From Missouri and They Showed the World." When it appeared in printed form, a reader wrote to chide him about one omission.  Said he, Sally Rand, who gained fame as a fan dancer at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, came from Missouri and certainly "showed the world." A similar entertainer, Margie Hart was a Missouri farm owner.

Missouri women have been well known in the sports world.  Some of these headliners have been Helen Stephens, the long lanky girl from Fulton who was once known as "the fastest woman in the world," Dee Boeckmann, Olympic star, Mrs. Opal Hill, golfer, Mary Ann Eisel and Carol Hanks, tennis players, and Mrs. [Helene] Hathaway [Robinson] Bigsby [name in Manual given as Helen Hathaway Robison Bigsby, online editor forced to correct], who owned the St. Louis Cardinals.

Women have been prominent in aviation since its beginnings.  One of its Missouri veterans is Adele Scharr, charter member of the Ninety Nine Club.

The Business Women

In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, with the new freedom came business and financial success for many Missouri women.  One of the nation's wealthiest Negroes was Annie Malone, [below left] founder and owner of Poro College, a cosmetics firm which started in St. Louis and later occupied an entire city block in Chicago.  Known for her philanthropies, she helped found the Annie Malone Children's Home.

A noted St. James, Mo., philanthropist was Lucy Wortham James who created the James Foundation there.  A St. Louisan who founded a hospital named in her honor was Josephine Heitkamp [now known as the Incarnate Word Hospital, part of the Tenet Healthcare Corp. 2/20/02]

Mrs. Mathilda Welsh helped design a better baby carriage for her children and turned her idea into a big business.  Nelly Don, Grace Durocher, and Grace Ashley became well known names in the fashion field; Margaret Chandler Porter headed a paint company.

One of the best known St. Louisans is Luella Maycroft Sayman who took over the soap business of her husband, Thomas M. Sayman and became even better known for her civic interests and her reputation as a hostess in the grand manner at her home on Lindell Boulevard.  It was here that another St. Louis woman, Jane Hadley, widow of Carleton Hadley became the bride of the Vice President of the United States, Alben Barkley in 1949 after a much publicized romance.

And it was in the 1940s that a Missouri woman became the First Lady of the land - Bess Truman, wife of Harry S. Truman and mother of Margaret.

When one comes to the listing of outstanding Missouri women of the present day, the first impulse is to run and hide rather than attempt to single out the most noted in a number which includes the late Dr. Gerty Cori, Nobel prize winning scientist, and Virginia Johnson Masters, co-author of the 1970 best seller, Human Sexual Response.


Back to Missouri Official Manual
Next section:  Who's Who