Sheryl Crow, actress Kathleen Turner and author Laura Ingalls Wilder among inspiring Missouri women

Lake Sun Leader

The famous Kewpie doll might not seem like an obvious symbol of women’s suffrage. The cheerful, topknot-wearing cherub is more likely to invoke thoughts of whimsy or naivety.

And while that may have been part of Rose O’Neill’s inspiration, there was certainly much more to the talented and influential artist.

“After O’Neill made money with Kewpies, she bought an apartment on Washington Square, so she’s right there, using her art to support the suffrage movement,” curator Sarah Gordon told the News-Leader in 2018.

Gordon, at the time, was speaking about O’Neill’s work creating art for posters and postcards that were used to advocate for women’s right to vote.

One famous poster, showing a man and woman holding hands, read “Together for home and family — vote yes for the woman suffrage amendment.”

The bulk of O’Neill’s work occurred prior to 1920, so she was not included in our list of Missouri’s 10 most influential women of the last century. However, she absolutely created a path for those who followed.

This list, part of USA Today’s Women of the Century project, was created with nominations from the public and experts, some of whom assisted in narrowing down the candidates.

Because this nationwide project includes women who have done important work across state lines, some deserving candidates may appear on another state’s list. One of America’s finest poets and civil rights activists, Maya Angelou, is from St. Louis, but moved to California as a teen and did much of her work in other parts of the country as an adult.

Others may have had incredible impacts on local communities but are less known at the state and national level. There is an opportunity for those women to be recognized as part of another project, Womankind. Here are the 10 women who were ultimately selected as Missouri’s most influential of the century, representing fields as varied as politics, activism, the arts, science and sports.

(See photo captions for individual stories)

Jean Carnahan                                                                    First woman to hold a U.S. Senate seat from Missouri                                       

Jean Carnahan entered Missouri's political scene in the 1990s as the state's first lady, when her husband, Mel Carnahan, was elected governor. In that role, she advocated for job-site day care centers for working families. She also supported abuse centers and child immunization.  
In 2000, her career took a turn because of an accident. Mel Carnahan was running for a U.S. Senate seat when he was killed in a plane crash just weeks before the election. Because it was too near the election to change ballots, Mel Carnahan was still listed, and won election to the Senate. Jean Carnahan was appointed to the seat, making her the first woman from Missouri to hold such a position. She held that seat until a special election in 2002, which she lost to Republican Jim Talent.