Celebrating Missouri’s Remarkable Women

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For more than two centuries, Missouri women have been making their mark on the world – as artists and activists, explorers and entertainers, athletes and philanthropists. Here are some of the remarkable women who have called the Show-Me State home:

Sacajawea was the only woman to accompany Lewis and Clark on their journey west to explore the Louisiana Territory. She joined the expedition in 1804 as an interpreter and guide and returned to live near St. Louis for a time.

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

Mary Meachum, a freed Black woman, helped enslaved people escape to freedom through Illinois. The Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, located in St. Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River, is Missouri’s only documented Underground Railroad site and is part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Hannibal native, Molly Brown grew up to become a socialite and philanthropist and famously survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Her birthplace is a now a museum in Hannibal.

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, gathering information from high-ranking Axis officials she met at parties. Notes were written in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is a native of St. Louis. She has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays and several books of poetry. She also won three Grammy Awards for spoken word albums.

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

Hannah Cole and her family were one of the first white families to settle in what is now the Boonville area. Her husband was killed, but she remained in Missouri and built a house for herself and her nine children on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Her cabin eventually served as the first church, first school and first voting location in the area.

In 1867, a group of 12 women belonging to the Springfield Women’s Athletic Club answered an ad seeking someone to journey into a nearby cave that had been discovered by a man and his hunting dog. These women are considered the first explorers of the cave that was eventually named Fantastic Caverns. Their names are still visible on the cavern walls today.

Rose O’Neill was an artist, author, activist, illustrator and inventor. She was also considered one of the first female cartoonists in America. She created Kewpies – popular comic strip characters and dolls – in 1909 while living in Walnut Shade.

Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the U.S., was a writer known for her mystery novels. Born in Independence, Margaret was also a trained classical singer, actress and journalist. She is buried at the Truman Library.

Entrepreneur Jenny Doan has become a You Tube superstar, sharing her quilting expertise in a series of tutorials. In 2008, she and her family opened the Missouri Star Quilt Co. in Hamilton, transforming the town into the “Disneyland of Quilting.”

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

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

The arts owe a big debt of gratitude to Missouri women:

  • Actress, dancer and singer and World War II pin-up girl, Betty Grable, ranked among the top 10 box office stars for 10 consecutive years. She was born in St. Louis.
  • Ginger Rogers is lauded for doing “everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.” The actress, dancer and singer was born in Independence.
  • Tina Turner lived in St. Louis in the early 1950s and got her start in the city’s R&B scene.
  • Singer, songwriter and 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.

Many female athletes from Missouri have been standouts in their sport:

  • Helen Stephens, known as the Fulton Flash, 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 was 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, the result of a childhood bone infection.
  • Soccer player Becky Sauerbrunn is an American soccer player from St. Louis and 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.

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