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Women's History Month: Missouri Edition

February 28, 2020
"I've been a female for a long time now. I'd be stupid not to be on my own side." – Maya Angelou

March is Women's History Month and almost from the beginning when Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Purchase for the United States – women have been making their mark on what was to become the Show-Me State.

For example, where would Lewis and Clark have been without Sacajawea? She was the only woman to accompany the Expedition in 1804, as interpreter and guide, and returned to live near St. Louis for a time.

Harriet Scott and her husband Dred Scott filed suit in 1846 to gain their freedom in a landmark case settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1857. A statue of the couple stands outside the Old Courthouse in St. Louis where the original case was heard.

Louisa Volker of Mineral Point was the first female operator in the Military Telegraph Corps west of the Mississippi during the Civil War. With her sister, she defended her father's house from marauding Southern cavalrymen while hiding evidence of her profession so she could continue transmitting.

Born in Hannibal, Molly Brown grew up to become a socialite and philanthropist, and most famously survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Known primarily as a singer, St. Louis-born Josephine Baker was more than a performer. She was a French Resistance agent during World War II, using her charm to gather information among high-ranking Axis officials she met at parties. Notes were written in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Jenny Doan with Missouri Star Quilt Company in Hamilton.

Entrepreneur Jenny Doan is one of You Tube's original superstars, sharing her quilting expertise in a series of tutorials. The town of Hamilton became the "Disneyland of Quilting" after her family founded Missouri Star Quilt there in 2008.

Cartoonist/illustrator/artist/writer Rose O'Neill created the popular comic strip characters Kewpies in 1909 while living in Walnut Shade. The character went on to become the distinctive mascot for Hickman High School in Columbia.

Laura Ingalls Wilder had a column in the Missouri Ruralist magazine even before she wrote her Little House on the Prairie series of children's books while living on the farm she and her husband Almanzo bought in Mansfield.

If you love a good mystery, you'll love the work of Margaret Truman, daughter of the 33rd President of the U.S. Born in Independence, Truman was also a trained classical singer, actress and journalist. She is buried at the Truman Library.

Best-selling author Gillian Flynn was born in Kansas City. Her three novels Sharp Objects, Dark Places and Gone Girl have all been adapted for film or television, with Gone Girl being shot partly in Cape Girardeau.

Speaking of Cape, native daughter Dr. Linda Godwin completed four Space Shuttle missions as flight controller and payloads officer and logged more than 38 days in space including two spacewalks.

Poet and native St. Louisan Maya Angelou won three Grammy Awards for spoken word albums in 1994, 1996 and 2003.

The arts owe a big debt of gratitude to Missouri:

  • Actress/dancer/singer and World War II pin-up girl, Betty Grable, set a record of 12 consecutive years in the top 10 of box office stars. She was born in St. Louis.
  • As Ann Richards famously said, "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." The actress/dancer/singer was born in Independence.
  • Tina Turner lived in St. Louis in the early 1950s and got her start in St. Louis' R&B scene
  • Singer/songwriter/actress Sheryl Crow was born in Kennett and has gone on to win nine Grammy Awards from 32 nominations (and counting).
  • Rhonda Vincent, renowned bluegrass singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was born in Kirksville and still calls Missouri home. She and her family host the yearly Sally Mountain Bluegrass Festival near Queen City.

As do sports:

  • Helen Stephens was a two-time gold medalist in track and field at the 1936 Summer Olympics.
  • Professional golfers Amy Alcott, born in Kansas City, and Judy Rankin, born and raised in St. Louis, are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
  • St. Louis native Doris Hart is a Hall of Fame tennis player who won six Grand Slam singles titles in the 1940s, and the first to win the "box set" of Grand Slam titles: singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles. And she did it with a permanently impaired leg from a childhood bone infection.
  • Soccer player Becky Sauerbrunn from St. Louis is an American soccer player, the captain of the Utah Royals FC.  She played every minute of all seven 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup matches that resulted in the U.S. women's national soccer team claiming the championship.

Considering how awesome all these women of the Show-Me state are, Betty Grable nailed it when she said:

"The practice of putting women on pedestals began to die out when it was discovered that they could give orders better from there."

Written by Barb Brueggeman

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