History of Northeast Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

Women in the Counties

 

Whether preserved on Babylonian bricks, or painted on American bluffs, whether written by the stylus of Herodotus, or the typewriter of today, history is the record of the achievements of man, of his conquest of the world. Since Deborah's wild war cry stung the Jews to victory, but few women have been instrumental in shaping the destinies of peoples or of nations. And yet she is the substructure of every world accomplishment. The toil of her hands, her sacrifices, her insight, the deep red depths of her heart and the clear eyed vision of her intellect constitute the welding material that has given strength and permanency to every establishment of civilization, whether of the old world or of our own Northeast Missouri.

Real History around the Hearth

The real history of a country is made around the hearthstone where women reign. The written page with its record of the deeds of men and the rise and fall of governments is only the result.

The wanderlust is an ineradicable heritage. When the Aryans swept down out of Asia and flowed up into Europe, they set in motion vast currents that still move and sway. They developed instincts that still pervade the blood, and men and women are ever traveling hither to new countries, to far horizons, to wide silences, ever going, ever traveling, seeking the Land of the Heart's Desire. The same tang in the blood sent adventurous spirits across the great America, and shortly over a century ago the tide of life paused here on the edge of this wonderland, with silent mysteries brooding along the shores of its wide and shining river, which came from they knew not where and went on toward the sea, slowly moving, majestic. Into this land of mystery man came like King Arthur of old, to let in the light. Nor did he come alone. But hand in hand with his mate, the woman. And who shall say which was the stronger of the two? Back of them many days' journey they had left friends, home and comparative comfort. Here on the bosom of the mighty river their souls were charged with the awe of vast potentialities. Under a sky of brilliant blue, a slow-moving, molten-yellow stream moved sluggishly away between caressing low lying shores. Stretches of low lands, miles of crowned bluffs. Pleasant valleys, the songs of birds, alluring, beckoning, but everywhere mystery, mystery! What Indians lie in wait under that dense foliage! What wild beasts lurk in those fair valleys! What pestilences hang along that sluggish stream! They were heroic, those pioneer women. What wonder their descendants walk like free women, with head erect, squared shoulders, meeting the issues of life with courage, with serene eyes.

In the Silences of the Forests

"Thales remained motionless four years. He founded philosophy." Succeeding the first valorous onslaught on the primitiveness of Northeast Missouri, passed a long period of pioneer years, apparently consecutive duplicates. The women spun and wove and cut, Clotho, Atropos, and Lychesis, weaving a wonderful cloth of character, an even, beautiful fabric for their daughters and granddaughters for interminable generations. While the good pioneer women brewed like sybils and wove like the Fates, great dynamic forces were silently at work and suddenly it seemed the light was shining. In less than three generations life swung the limit, from pioneer days to the crest of civilization. The needle was relegated for the sewing machine, electric range and fireless cooker had supplanted the open fireplace, and instead of her woven, handmade dress, grandmother can now wear the most per feet of garments, turned out ready to wear by great industrial factories.


Synodical College for Women, Fulton

Civilization is the hand of God working through human agencies. When the work has been accomplished and valley and plain are blossoming like the rose the transformation seems a bit of alchemy, or a fairy tale, Man may claim the glory, but God planned, and also while Adam delved Eve span.

Betsy Biggs

When Betsy Biggs moved from Kentucky in 1817 with her husband, Wm. Biggs, she brought courage and character and a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost along with slaves and gold and furniture and a brood of incipient citizens. The book is a keynote. Her myriad descendants are lovers of learning, and that Betsy read the book is proven by her giving her son the name of the blind poet. The book, nearly 200 years old, was printed in Edinburgh in 1726 and is now the most valued possession of a granddaughter. And Betsy was a wonderful wife, for when she was to be baptized along in the late twenties, her husband rode horseback from Jefferson City, where as representative he was attending the legislature, to observe the rites. And Betsy was a lover of fine horses and on her eightieth birthday went riding, keeping up with the best of them. So strong was this love that it passed into the line of inheritance and wherever a drop of it prevails it means the possession of blooded animals and fine stock. Her women slaves were taught by her to weave and they were splendid weavers, their wool and linen being remarkable for their smoothness. When one of her sons was married he and also his bride were dressed in fine white linen from head to foot, even wearing moccasins of deer skin tanned to a gleaming white. It is related that one of the guests, a pioneer gallant, slipped while playing ball and had the misfortune to get his pants so stained with grass that he disappeared in mortification from the company. Betsy Biggs was a woman of such strong character that among her descendants scattered over several counties of northeast Missouri, her name is still a household word. ''How strangely do things grow and die and do not die."

Madame Schriefer

Only sixty years ago when plodding, ponderous oxen brought Madame Schriefer, a buxom German bride, through forests, over streams and by perilous ways to the broad prairie, her chief assets were courage and youth. Away from her one room log house, prairie grass, taller than herself, stretched as far as eye could reach, shimmering in the gleaming sun. Green flies buzzed all day and rattlesnakes were so numerous it was not safe to venture out without a stout stick. This precaution Mrs. Schriefer forgot one day when going a few yards away to the well, but when she stepped on a coiled snake her presence of mind did not desert her, and she quickly plumped her bucket over the writhing mass. There were no dubs and receptions in Mrs. Schriefer's day and when her husband made his three days' journey to the mill, her chief diversion was climbing a ladder to the roof of her home, where she would sit and watch the deer go plunging through the tall grass.

No Parsee guarded his altar fires more zealously than this indispensable article was guarded on this hearthstone. Matches were as rare as jeweled stickpins and one day when not a live coal could be found in the ashes, a member of the family rode several miles to procure some from their nearest neighbor, on the return journey riding with extended arm that the rushing wind might fan the coals and keep them above. A spacious home now replaces the log cabin and from where Mrs. Schriefer watched the deer, now can be seen fallow fields rimmed with trim hedges, sleek, fat cattle grazing, winding railroads, and a breath of peace and opulence.

As a mark of great favor she brings out her spinning wheel and shows you how she spun a stout woolen thread and a fine linen thread. ''Life was not hard. No, it was fun. I could do it again," says this indomitable will that helped to make the prairie blossom as the rose.

Here and there in Missouri are women who have seen King Arthur pass, slaying the beast, felling the forest and making broad pathways for the children of men. There are only left a few of these dear roses of yesterday, clinging tenaciously to life, faded, fragrant, anachronisms among the gorgeous bloom and blossom of today.

Unfortunate indeed is one who does not count among their acquaintance, one of those dear, sweet, white-haired women, in their eyes lingering shadows and depths and vision of things long swept out by the march of progress. When they say, "I remember," it has the folk lore quality of "Once upon a time." Their story is of those who have gone before in the wilderness.

Each pioneer woman, living or dead, baa added her little molecule to the glory of the state. The story of each life is a sentence in its history. They are the real uncrowned heroines of Northeast Missouri. And how pitifully few are left. How close they are to the brink of the river. Every day one slips over. Perhaps another decade will mark their complete passing. How strangely odd and lonely the world will seem then.


William Woods College for Women, Fulton

The Pioneer Woman

Every community has its few pioneer women. Their stories all vary and are yet all typical and can be duplicated in any other community. Men and women are so absorbed in the mad rush of the day, commercial, industrial and social, that they do not realize that the last human documents of an historic period are yet open about them. That it is their rare and rich privilege to read if they will. The names and deeds of these women are never written in books. They have only been written in human lives. They have done nothing great, only lived and loved, and made a home and borne children, and lived life to the full of its circumstance, the while unconsciously fostering, developing, crystallizing the character of the men and women of their state. The historic atmosphere is elusive but their story should have a setting of the wildness' of a century ago. It should be told about a cavernous fireplace with the tea kettle hanging on the crane, and the blaze creeping up through the hickory logs and breaking into flickering, wavering shadows on walls of log and puncheon floor. In the gleam and glow the old wrinkled faces would turn magically back to the smooth bloom and beauty of youth.

Cevilla Inlow Roland

In 1829 civilization had not disturbed the lair of the panther or frightened away Indians, or bear or deer. Cevilla Inlow Roland, who was born in that year, can still, despite the lapse of eighty-three years, remember vividly the screams and cries of "painters" that made the nights hideous and kept her shivering even in her warm featherbed.

Around her pioneer log home lay primeval wildness, and once while fishing in a nearby stream a bear came stealthily padding on a log across the water, but was seen in time and the children fled in wild haste. The Indians, too, kept the hearts of the children in terror. They only committed occasional depredations, but this fact conveyed no feeling of safety to the children of pioneer days, and one day Cevilla was almost paralyzed with fright to see an Indian brave with feathers in his hair emerge from the woods and loom suddenly, before her. Though he only demanded a handshake, the courtesies of the highway were ignored and she fled precipitately, followed by sounds that her imagination freely translated as challenging war whoops. This was in 1838 and the last Indian Cevilla ever saw.

In 1843 when Cevilla was fourteen years old tragedy came into the pioneer home. The mother died. Also the old black mammy slave of the family. There were ten bodies to feed and ten bodies to clothe in that stricken household, and the work devolved solely on Cevilla, aged fourteen, and her sister, aged sixteen, and nobly they rose to the work.

Prom early dawn to late candle light these two young heroines wrought miracles with their slender, marvel working fingers. They carded the wool into rolls, spun it into thread, wove the cloth, made the garments worn by the father, the children and the cabin of little darkies. Sometimes there was a roll of jeans to spare and it was carried on horseback forty miles away to the town and exchanged for tea and coffee and many coveted things. There was not an article used in that home, sheets, table cloths, towels, but these two girls, fourteen and sixteen, had not made.

A happy feature of this pioneer life was the over-Sunday visits of a certain pioneer swain, who arrived on Saturday evening and stayed until Sunday evening. He gave the ladies the latest news, how mother was checking the cotton she had in the loom, and they were keeping their sheep pens covered to keep out the wolves. And they roasted wild turkey in the fireplace and carefully turned the corn pone on its board taking on a golden brown before the mellow blaze. On the mantel overhead ticked the clock bought from a journeyman peddler the year Cevilla was born and as the flames danced eyes sent fair speechless messages.

The same old clock ticks today in a dignified, deliberate way as befits its years. Underneath it sit the same swain and the same maid telling the story of that far-off day. "It was hard work," says Cevilla, but we didn't know anything else." By the side of the clock in a hand-carved frame is a silhouette, ninety years old, of Cevilla's mother, Anne Briscoe, born in 1803, a Bourbon county, Kentucky belle, and a woman of great strength of character. How else could her daughter, aged fourteen, have accomplished the work she did in that pioneer home?


Hardin College for Women, Mexico

Mrs. Lewis Coontz

Though one of the first settlements of Missouri was made along Salt River and Spencer creek, life there remained primitive for a long period. Even at this day a ride in certain communities is like dropping into the atmosphere of a century ago. Hills are wild and lonely. A brooding quiet prevails. Perhaps in going around a curve a tiny home is nestled by the side of a small patch of corn, as if it were the first tentative pioneer essay at cultivation.

In riding over the rocky bed of the shallow stream there are glimpses of overhanging low growth. A canoe of Indians can easily be pictured paddling toward you over the green and glassy water. Under the dense growth of hillsides a thousand feather helmeted braves could easily hide. There is no noise but the clear bird calls. On a hill etched against the sky is a gaunt two-story log house, leaning, tottering. The setting sun sends shafts of light through its open windows. It is ghostly, a last lingering shadow. The historical atmosphere antedates the pioneer. It is tinged with medievalism. An automobile is an anachronism. It needs slow moving oxen. Even in 1833 when Mrs. Lewis Coontz came into this country with her father, life was pitifully primitive.

This family built a one-room cabin of poles and prepared to challenge the forest for a living. Wild turkeys were in abundance but they were elusive and wary. One expedient for catching them was for one to sprinkle corn on the earth floor of the cabin, meanwhile counterfeiting on a bone the cluck of a turkey, while two others held a blanket at the top of the door ready to drop when the cautious birds had ventured in. More often than not this ruse was unavailing. But a turkey trap was maintained which was more successful in contributing to the family needs.

Getting shoes in those days was not the simple matter of sitting in a leather chair while an obsequious clerk fits a rather fastidious foot and fancy. Instead there was waiting sometimes months until the shoemaker of the section arrived and made the shoes for the family, the hide from the last cow killed having been dressed and tanned and waiting for his skill. If shoes wore out before his arrival there was nothing to do but go barefooted, without any reference to the zero tendency of the thermometer. This last was the condition of both the family and the weather when it became known that the turkey trap, a quarter of a mile away, held a bunch of coveted birds. Mrs. Coontz and the girls ran to the trap with all speed. Each grasped a bird, but on the return home they were compelled to frequently sit down and warm their feet in their woolen skirts before dashing on, on another lap of the journey. These stories seem like a fiction coined by the imagination, but those who have seen these things still live and tell the story.

Mrs. Susan Pox

Today in Northeast Missouri woman has every facility for learning that an overeducated age can offer, yet many of their grandmothers progressed no farther than the Rule of Three and learned that sitting on a split log seat. It is a rare privilege to meet one of these old ladies who, so to speak, were in at the birth of our great educational system. Mrs. Susan Fox, sitting bent with the weight of her eighty-six years, began her schooling in one of those log buildings that belong now only to history. She is a dear, quaint, but remarkably strong-minded old lady, with a very just doubt as to the spelling ability of the younger generations, given to phonetics and queer markings.

She was seven years old in that far-away spring of 1833 when she started to the log cabin schoolhouse, just at the edge of a forest, passing on the way with great fear and trembling, a bunch of wigwams, but gathering courage she stopped to see the Indians execute a dance, the braves making queer noises on queerer instruments, while the squaws circled in a slow, fantastic, aboriginal dance. "The schoolhouse," says Mrs. Fox, "was built of logs, with an enormous fireplace occupying one entire end. On one side a log was left out and this gave us the only light we had. The floor was just a rough puncheon one and the seats made of logs split in two. There we sat all day, our little feet dangling and our poor little backs nearly breaking."

These little martyrs of learning possessed an incongruous collection of books. Mrs. Fox rejoiced in a "blue back" speller and the Life of Washington, while next to her a little maid had to learn the mysterious process of reading from the cheerful source of Fox's Book of Martyrs, and another still used the Bible. Her father had decided ideas about learning and his daughter was sent to town where a select school was taught by a lady late from Philadelphia, who added philosophy to her curriculum as a touch of eastern culture. Her father also sent his daughter to a dancing school but never permitted her to attend dances. However, it was an accomplishment he said that every lady should know.


Main Dormitory, Howard Payne College for Women, Fayette

While spinning and weaving were done in this home, it was for the use of the darkies, with the exception of Samuel which was made into petticoats, gathered at the waist and three yards around, top and bottom.

In 1840 when Mrs. Fox was fourteen years old she made a visit to her grandfather in Kentucky and brought home with her a salmon-colored silk that she rejoiced in greatly. One day she wore it to church, accompanied by a young gallant, also her father, all on horseback. They stopped at the creek to let the horses drink, when Mrs. Fox's horse laid down in the cool water. The young man was so excited and frightened that he rode out and left her to her fate. Her father rescued her not before, however, the salmon colored silk was a total ruin, the water turning it to a bright purple. In those days the stork had not been dislodged from his supremacy and when the young people returned home a mischievous aunt asked the young man how he expected to take care of a wife and twelve children if he couldn't pull one girl out of the creek, a question that so abashed him that he did not call again for a month.

In this pioneer household every child was given his own horse and saddle when it was ten years old, and the twelve members made a goodly procession when they started to church.

Mrs. Fox's mother had one of the first cooking stoves brought to Northeast Missouri, but for many years it was simply an ornament. She was afraid the darkies would break it if they cooked on it. Mrs. Fox herself had the first sewing machine in her part of the country. Women would come for miles to see it, and men, sometimes driving stock, would stop and stay while she showed them the wonders of its sewing, meanwhile the hogs or cows straying far into the woods.

Mrs. Fox sits now, rocking gently; on her finger, worn thin as her thread of life, is a gold ring worn one hundred and twenty-five years ago by her Kentucky grandmother and she shows with pride family silver hammered out a century ago by Kentucky silversmiths. Her eyes have witnessed marvelous changes. The town where she dabbled in philosophy and took her dancing lessons has grown from the small bunch of houses to a city counting many thousands of population. Log schoolhouses with their blue back spellers, and their simple games of ''Black Man'' and ''Base'' have given way to stately stone-trimmed edifices where they babble German, wrestle with Greek, and take exercise in a gymnasium.

Section by section the country has had wilderness and wolves, panther and deer, pushed into the primitive lying beyond. ''I have seen changes, strange changes,'' says Mrs. Fox. ''I can remember when here, where I sit, it was considered as much as a man's life was worth to venture near it. Yet men were always pushing just a little further on and women went with them. They are the real heroines of this country.'' And the old lady sits, her eyes far back into the past, seeing things that you can never see, this country as it looked when she herself came and dwelt, making overtures to fortune and the future.

Education of Women

While along in the thirties and forties of eighteen hundred, the educational facilities were intensively primitive, in a few sporadic spots, of older settlement, the habits of Virginia clung and the children were taught by a governess. Later the girls went to a ''Female College," where the curriculum was sufficiently formidable to satisfy modem requirements.

Columbia even then had young and cherry-lipped maids who babbled Greek with the finished spontaneity of perfect acquirement. The Patriot, published in Columbia in 1841, in giving an account of the exercises of Bonne Femme College, says that Miss Mary Jenkins, afterwards the wife of Charles H. Hardin, governor of Missouri, read Cicero with ''Extraordinary ease, lucid diction, and inimitable taste," and ''read parts of the Greek Testament, named at haphazard by a gentleman in the audience, and went through the labyrinth of the Greek verb, not as by the aid of a borrowed clue, but as if nature had formed her another Ariadne." The latter quotation also gives an illustrative flash of information on the educational acquirements of the editorial chair of the period. Or perhaps it was not the chair but a young tyro from the University sent out on assignment. The rosy-cheeked maid with a waterfall of curls, a cameo brooch at her throat, the billowy skirts of her little checked silk flowing over her sedately strapped ankles, evidently intoxicated him and Ariadnes and Cupids filled all the air.

The meagerness of the early educational facilities was only a phase. It was a poverty, not of mind, not of purpose, but of resources. The adjustment was slow, but the strong arm was ever pushing back the primitive and the strong mind was ever appropriating, assimilating and improving, until today education is almost a fetich, an obsession, in Northeast Missouri. It is the freest thing we have. The mysteries of Greek are as open to the daughter of the day laborer as they are to the daughter of the capitalist.

Mrs. Sallie Barnett

There prevailed still in the fifties in many communities social life of great simplicity. Finger bowls and pink teas lay in the unfathomed future. The blood ran full and expression was free and untrammeled. The dictum of culture that language is used to conceal thought had not penetrated to the localities where log cabins and puncheon floors prevailed. Boys and girls enjoyed life robustly, and when there was a country dance its opportunities marked the high tide.

It was a great time, says Mrs. Sallie Barnett, who was born in the last year of the thirties. A star danced the night she was born, and for once the horoscopic significance was true, for it is not the work of her pioneer home that lingers most vividly with this white-haired old lady, but the memory of the country dances. ''It was none of your come at half past nine,'' she says, ''and home at twelve. We began dancing at one o'clock and danced all afternoon, and all night and the next morning until noon.'' By one o'clock of an afternoon they came riding in from country lane and forest road, brave boys, and buxom maids, many times the girls riding behind the boys. The flaming hickory blaze sent dancing lights over the smoothly worn floor, the old darkey tuned up his fiddle, and under its compelling music feet went flying in the mazes of the old time cotillion. At early dusk pound cake and custard and fried pies were eaten with zest, and then the long white tallow candles made by the women, were brought out and under their gentle radiance dancing and love making flowed along, interrupted only by the occasional disappearance of some of the laughing girls to make anew their toilets.

The Social Life

For three times at least during the long dance girls changed their dresses, slipping away up the stairs and shortly emerging, fresh and stiffly starched and with smooth locks, for feminine vanity is the same yesterday, today and forever. Freshness and immaculateness were the chief points of glory in the matter of dress, for each was made alike, with tight waists and full skirt. In fact, there was only one pattern in the neighborhood and it passed from family to family, serving alike for the old and the young, the slim and her unfortunate sister. Any change in dress caused untold wonderment and once when two town girls appeared at a dance with their hair in curls and with ribbons, it caused an overpowering sensation.

''We had none of your dreamy waltzing," says Mrs. Barnett; ''we danced and when it came to swing your partners, the boys fairly lifted us off our feet." And this same vigor was maintained until noon of the second day when they mounted horse and rode away to dream for weeks of swift glances and whispered word and the glory of the dance. Though the country swain of the fifties was generally in the proper bounds of conventional jeans and tow linen, a man who is now living and a wealthy citizen was seen by Mrs. Barnett wearing a gorgeous flowered calico coat, tow linen pants, and a pair of overshoes.

While this primitiveness of social life prevailed in many localities during the fifties, in others life was the reflection of the best that was maintained in Virginia and Kentucky. In many places fine country mansions had been built, large and spacious. Many of them stand yet, their workmanship having a permanent quality. They were built in a day when houses were built on honor. About their old colonial simplicity still hangs that basic idea of stability and honor, as well as a kind of story book stateliness telling of a day when men bowed with courtly grace and even sometimes kissed a lady's hand. What flower faces have looked out those little panes, or waited by the little ladders of light framing the great hall door for a glimpse of the coming swain. What gay figures have come trooping down those wide old stairs in sprigged muslins, in flowered, flowing, silk, with black sandals strapping their white ankles, a cameo brooch at their throat and their faces framed in curls. When they stood in long lines facing smiling gallants and danced the Virginia reel with graceful sway and stately curtsies, it was different from the country dance only in its little elegancies and the air of culture, for the heart of a maid beats in unison with the heart of a man, the wide world over.


Read Hall, Dormitory for Women, University of Missouri

"Becky Thatcher"

Northeast Missouri has the distinction of giving to literature one of its most famous heroines. For here still lives Mrs. Laura Frazer, "Becky Thatcher," the heroine of Tom Sawyer, known wherever the English language is spoken. Though her head is crowned with the snows of many winters, there is yet a twinkle in the eyes reminiscent of the gay little coquette that tossed a pansy over the fence to bare-footed Tom. Time has covered the fire with a veil of years, but there still shines through the glory of an eternal charm, and it is small wonder that Becky's initial appearance, roguish, dimpling, coquettish swept Tom's heart like a gale. She sits in her room today, flashing eyed but serene.

Though the author, Mark Twain, has been her life-long friend and she prizes beyond anything his photograph he gave her shortly before his death, and bearing this in his fine old fashioned chirography, "To Laura Frazer, from her earliest sweetheart," Becky Thatcher is but an incident of Mrs. Frazer's youth.

She has been through fires that have only made wider spaces for a great soul. When the horrors of war convulsed her state, she too suffered and endured and triumphed. When the emancipation proclamation freed the slaves it left a great mass of helpless women to whom the cooking of a meal was as great a mystery as the hieroglyphs of an Egyptian monument. They knew nothing of cooking or of the management of a kitchen. But these finely bred gentlewomen of Missouri met the condition with the courage of the brave and the resourceful. "If a woolly-headed Negro could learn to cook," said Mrs. Frazer, "I knew I, with intelligence, added, could and surely would learn too." And this was the general attitude of that large number of women of Northeast Missouri who met the fortunes of war like good soldiers. Yet how trifling was this domestic disorganization to the tragedy of war with its harrowing suspense, its torture of soul and mind.

"It was a black time," says Mrs. Frazer. With her husband in hiding in another town, this wife and mother, only twenty-three, scarcely more than a girl, stayed in the home with her two little boys, her soul torn with the anguish of uncertainty. General McNeil was camped in her yard. It rained and he asked permission to bring his officers in her house. She gave it. They filled the house, cooking, eating and sleeping there. Her kitchen was full of strange Negroes and she cooked for her family as she could. With the guileless craft of sweet and loving women she made a little dinner and asked General McNeil to dine with her and when he had broken her bread and was under the influence of dainty courtesies and the charm of his hostess, she plead with him to permit the return of her husband, upon the solemn assurance that while his sympathy was with the south, he was not actively arraigned against tha government, and that his services as a physician were needed. Her request was granted and her husband came home, but only saw his brave wife and his babies that night, for General McNeil, breaking camp next morning, had reconsidered overnight and had taken Doctor Frazier with him a prisoner.

Then began for Mrs. Frazer a period of waiting in which body and soul were so lacerated by emotion that life was a living death. She made continued, frantic, unavailing pleas for her husband's release. The days went by on leaden feet. Fields were laid waste and homes burned. Lone women were stupefied with terror. That her home was not burned was due to herself, General McNeil himself admitting that he was in that part of the country for that purpose, when her courtesy saved it.

On an October morning in 1862 she went to Palmyra, only to again meet curt refusal. So great was her own distress that the crowds about the officers' quarters, stern faced men, women crying, women praying, disheveled women, with hair streaming down their shoulders, made only a blurred picture in her mind. It was not until she reached Hannibal that she learned that General McNeil had ordered ten southern prisoners to be shot, because of the disappearance of one Allsman. Five had been selected from the prison in Palmyra and men were there even to take five from the Hannibal prison. And her bus band was in that prison! She made appeals in every quarter that offered a bare possibility of hope. The only shadow of hope accorded her was the statement that a number of prisoners were to be transferred to St. Louis. It was an exhausted, tragic, heroic, little figure that asked for admission to the prison to see her husband. While waiting the provost marshal read a list of prisoners to be transferred to St. Louis. Doctor Frazer's name headed the list! Her alternating hope and despair burst into a prayer of thankfulness that amazed her husband, who was wholly unaware that his life had been hanging by so slender a thread. With the undaunted courage of women she followed him to St. Louis and traveled every avenue of appeal until at last Doctor Frazer went home with her a free man.

Though half a century has passed away there is a tremor in Mrs. Frazer's voice as she gently turns the leaves in her Book of Years. In this spacious room high above the city, steals an awe and a holy quiet and abides. Through the window, a beautiful picture, the broad Mississippi glistens and gleams and slips by the tree crowned bluffs. Tears are over the bright eyes of Becky, Becky Thatcher. "Life is a tragedy!'' she says. But out of tragedies women weave their starry crowns of womanhood. From travail of soul and the discipline of life are evolved the sons and daughters that are the glory of the state. "Becky Thatcher" is a beautiful gift of permanent charm to the world but a greater gift is a rare and beautiful womanhood radiating strength and virtue, and left as an inheritance to perpetuating descendants.

Women in Civil War Time

All over Northeast Missouri the story of Mrs. Frazer can be duplicated. Gay, feminine women keep their lady feet in soft and beaten ways, until occasion arises with stern demand. The soldier on the firing line is not braver then than she. When word came to Mrs. Thompson Alford that her husband was at Vicksburg and wounded, dainty dependence dropped from her like a garment. She was all iron. Through the horror of Vicksburg, her husband, and wounded! What were the hundreds of miles of Federal blockade that separated them? Love and money rendered impotent any barriers that men can build. She had both, ran the blockade and nursed her husband back to health. And when she had to return to her Missouri home, he procured an overcoat belonging to a soldier in the opposing army and going on board one of their transports put her in charge of the captain. "Madam he said with a courtly bow, "I wish you a safe journey home.'' And he left her there on the deck of the boat. Both were dry-eyed and calm, and neither had the assurance that they would ever again see each other. But when a similar call came to her, again she went, and followed her husband all over the south. The tragedy of the weary months culminating in Altoona, Georgia, when Sherman went through to the sea. Captain Alford was in an upstairs room wounded and helpless. The flames were blazing up the stairway before the frantic appeals of the faithful wife brought help.

For weeks after she tended him in a tiny cottage near Altoona, their sole fare being bacon and bread made from corn ground daily. They were permitted this luxury because of their host's expedient; when he heard of Sherman's coming he had ripped out the ceiling of his porch and hidden both bacon and corn under the roof, nailing it up again securely. When peace came to the wrecked country Mrs. Alford returned to her Missouri home with her husband where they found their once magnificent farm a barren waste, and their home in ashes. But what was that to a husband with such a wife!

Home Life in Pioneer Times

These little stories of human interest are representative of phases of Missouri history, and show that, in whatever phase, women played well their part. ''In books,'' says Carlyle, ''lies the soul of the whole past time; the articulate, audible voice of the Past when the body and the material substance of it, has altogether vanished like ''dream.'' Vanished indeed like a dream are the conditions and the environments called to mind by these stories of a day that is past. Ere long the last human link will have been broken, and it will be only through books that we can see the advancing of the sturdy pioneer, his broad axe whetted to carve out civilization, adventurous men with prophetic eye on the edge of the future with its full and fat years, and with them women, wives and daughters, building a foundation that their daughters and granddaughters might be as ''corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace.'' Through books only can we see the forest give way to fields of corn and vistas of prairie grass to fields of waving grain. Now we see only results.

The little red schoolhouse occupies the site of the old log room. And they who sat on the old split log seats builded so well that now their granddaughters matriculate from one of the foremost universities of the country, here in Northeast Missouri. Instead of a blue back speller and the Life of Washington every facility known to an age when education is apotheosized, is at the command of the poorest. ''My great-grandmother," said one, ''propped an old grammar in front of her while she wove cloth, and she spoke so pure an English that it put us to shame." Is it a wonder that her descendants are at the head of colleges and schools and the center of the educational life wherever they may be?

The pioneer housewife tended with zealous care the corn pone slowly baking on its board before the wide-throated fireplace, and when done placed it on the snowy square of cloth of her own weaving. Her grand-daughter takes her pan of biscuits, little flyaway puffs, from the oven of an electric range, and serves them on a machine-made doilie on a silver tray, but the fine instinct of looking well to the way of her household has come down true and un-alloved. No more shines the blaze of the back log and the softer radiance of the candle while girls in calico gown, home-woven skirts and homemade shoes disport over smoothly-worn puncheon floors to the inspiring music of the old fiddle. Instead, stringed orchestras play, and gliding over the waxed expanse go fairy forms, silken hosed, satin slipperier, with wild roses going a maying over hair and filmy gown. Everything different except the coquetry. That is eternal. Women have gone along offering the apple to man, in one guise or another, ever since that little affair in the Garden of Eden.

When the Baby Came

The pioneer woman was happy with two or three little calico slips, the little flannels that she herself wove for her baby, and when the time came for her to go down in the dark valley, more often than not the doctor was forty miles away, and her only refuge was some good old woman, who many times had performed such offices. Indeed the pioneer mother was a good doctor, and knew all the qualities of medicinal herbs. It is related today by the eighty-four-year-old son of Mrs. Ann Waters, who was born in 1805 and died in 1905, that his mother looked on a doctor as a genuine disciple of Black Art, firmly believing that if she were to imbibe any of his potions it meant certain death. There was not much demand for a doctor in the pioneer day, however. Life ran quieter, less tense. It is in this swift, madly rushing present of 1913 that the neurologist is coining gold. Then, a birth was a natural process of nature, like the opening of buds in spring. Now it is becoming an event that disturbs the whole trend of life. It means drawers full of lacy, perishable things, two or three doctors, trained nurses, long hours of lounging in blue ribboned lingerie, long periods of readjustment. The modern woman has not the physique of her pioneer forbears. Invention and modem appliances have so reduced the labor of modem home life, that the body does not develop its full capacity. The heart* and mother love are the same though, and no more splendid mothers could be found in the world.

Women in the Church

While all the presiding ministers in Northeast Missouri are men, a large proportion would not command their salaries if it were not for the activities of women. From the tip of the spire to the basement the trail of the women is over the church. The ministers are learned, erudite, and can thrill to tears, but it is the women who pay for the pulpit, buy the pipe organ, tack down the carpet, control the missionary exchequer and see that the coal bins are full. ''What great work," was asked a woman of intelligence and broad acquirements, ''have the women of Northeast Missouri accomplished in religious work?" "Nothing,'' was the answer; ''nothing! she has been too busy paying the preacher and making missionary money." After all is it not practical religion that is the weightier argument?

The woman of today is a composite of Mary and Martha. She breaks her alabaster box with one hand and serves sandwiches with the other. Missions and church socials were not thought of in pioneer days. Church was solely a place in which to worship God, a place of godly quiet, solemn observance, firstlies and seventhlies. ''You may say, '' said an upright old lady of eighty, wearing her years like a coronet, ''that for more years than I can remember I never missed a Sunday service, and my husband and I rode four miles horseback, each carrying a child behind us and one in front of us. They sat between us during the service and neither talked or whispered. I carried cookies and a bottle of water in my reticule to give them. I do not like the way children run about in Sunday-school now, and neither do I like your godless music or your twenty-minute sermons.''

It is indeed a far cry from the antebellum church habits and methods to this day of progressiveness. The exponents of each have a very visible line of demarcation albeit each looks to the same ultimate point. Outward forms and mental attitudes are a product of the times, whether of old time sobriety, or modern broad interpretation. Though the solemn significance is often not felt in the atmosphere of some of our churches, who shall say that the white-gowned modish matron or maid who plays bridge on Saturday and sits under the jeweled light of stained glass windows on Sunday is less religious, less capable of sacrifice?

As pretty a story as one can hear is that of the recent action of the women of a Fulton church, who had, by the usual methods of women's church organizations, raised the sum of $1,000 to be used in providing long-coveted improvements. But when old Westminster burned, Westminster! Where their fathers and grandfathers and husbands had gone to school and the old columns stood stark and naked and alone in the grove these women did not hesitate. They sent their thousand dollars at once. ''Take it'' they said, ''it will help in the rebuilding." And they probably did this beautiful act of sacrifice in a smiling, everyday way. There was no solemn, religious hour of rendering a religious service to the Lord.

Religion is largely hid today under convention, or shall we say, that a broad, democratic interpretation of religion prevails, an everyday religion, capable indeed of its high and holy moments, but given mostly to doing deeds of week-day holiness, noiseless as the snow; There is no woman, however apparently given over to worldly ways, but has an inner chamber where the snake has never entered, and which keeps her soul true to the pole.

Women in the Schools

It is in school work that the women of Northeast Missouri have rendered a service next to that of motherhood. It is probable that seven-eighths of the instructors in the educational world are women. Some of them are at the head of the most successful colleges and schools and A. M. degrees are commonplace possessions. However, how many abbreviations she may be entitled to suffix to her name, the instances are rare when she has not been willing to substitute the simple prefix of Mrs. for the entire aggregation of the symbols of her learning, thus keeping inviolate the reputation of our women to be above all things truly feminine, truly women.

In college, in high school, in the grades, in the rural schools the women are doing a great work, not only in purely intellectual work, but in that broader and deeper influence radiating from a womanhood of culture and high ideals. Not only do women predominate as instructors, but they are encroaching in other fields, there being no less than fourteen women county superintendents of public schools. The work that women are doing is a growth, a development, a result, harking back to the foundation laid by their pioneer grandmothers.

The pioneer woman who looked after a large family, and a goodly number of slaves, with weaving and spinning, and cooking and sewing all proceeding under her able direction, was endowed generously with executive ability, and explains in great measure the women doctors, lawyers, editors, farmers, real estate dealers, women in public office that there are today. It is mental activity expressed in a different way, in alignment with the trend of the times. There are few vocations in which women are not creditably engaged. She fills many county offices with an efficiency not in any measure inferior to work done by men. At the present time there is a woman in Missouri running for the office of coroner, but this is probably an exposition more of nerve than of brains.

It is impossible to tell what women have done for Northeast Missouri. The historical perspective is too short. They have come such a short way. It cannot be said that they have come to this present estate along the primrose path of dalliance. Instead it has been over jagged stones, through primeval forests, over sun blistered plains, up from pioneer darkness to a sunlight of industrial plentitude, of broad culture, of almost opulent ease. The formulation of the modern has been on the strong, simple, sturdy lines of the pioneer and explains why the women walk as those who are free. Her broad-minded independence, her lack of snobbishness, her democracy, is a gift from a day when poverty was of a stigma, but solely the condition of the times, as plentitude is the condition of the present.

A Polyglot Composite

The women of Northeast Missouri today are a polyglot composite. English, German, Scotch, Irish, have gone into the "melting pot." Also the brawn of the back woodaman, the brain of the intellectual, the breeding of the aristocrat. The result is a woman nobly evolved, rich in honor, in love loyalty; splendid mothers, women of wit and resource, of brains and ready adaptation to circumstances; woman who can herself perform the work of her own household, and entertain high dignitaries with equal grace. She is a creature of merged heredities, culled from many countries. Many atavistic traits, sometime of manner, sometime of person, sometime racial, have given her a diversified quality, interesting to ethnologists, and curious, bewildering, perplexing, charming and exciting the admiration of those privileged to know her. In the same family one daughter may with haughty grace and proud carriage surround herself with the atmosphere of an old world court where an ancestor moved proudly among its courtiers, another has the housewifely instincts of her Plymouth forbears, while yet a third scorning the ways of the protected, side by side with her lord treads joyously in the course of empires, to western ranch, or Canadian plains, or the gold fields of Alaska.


Some Women Newspaper Writers in Northeast Missouri From left to right.
Miss Florence LaTurno, Miss Wilhelmina Long, Miss Frances Nise,
Miss Cannie R. Quinn, Mrs. S. E. Lee, Miss Mary Alice Hudson Miss Mabel Couch.
Miss Bertha Reid, Miss Malvina Lindsay, Miss Sara Lockwood.

As yet no high conspicuous deeds, no names of immortal luster have been produced in Northeast Missouri. The average woman is educated, cultured, domestic, religious, a club woman, and vastly interested in the live issues of the day, in every problem of public interest that means the betterment of conditions, and the development of public benefits. Her methods may lack a certain virile quality, hut her ultimate success excuses this. In a certain county the young ladies are vitally interested in good roads, and have issued an edict that every gentleman to be eligible to a place on their calling list should possess a certificate of membership in an active good roads organization. What veteran diplomat could transcend the subtle craft of that?

While energy has been expended in education, in literature, in journalism, sculpture, politics, religion, missions, the lecture field, but few names have emerged from the crowd. Indeed the glory of Northeast Missouri is the splendid type of her average woman, who finds in wife-hood and motherhood the full tide of her acquirements and her natural endowments. A modern high priestess of the home, keeping safe and secure the sweet, sane, everydayness of life out of which grows the possibility of all goodness and all greatness. Add to these basic virtues her full acceptance of Victor Hugo's apothegm that. "There is in the world no more important function than being charming," and it must be acknowledged that she has rendered the greatest possible service to her state. It may be said without fear of refutation that in its process of evolution, the fine type of womanhood generated in Virginia, and deflected to Kentucky, has been perfected here in Northeast Missouri. 

  Northeast Missouri| AHGP Missouri | Books on AHGP

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913

 

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