Five Women Who Are Remembered in 250 in 250
We are nearing the end of Women’s History Month, and a number of famous women—ranging from Susan B. Anthony to Sojourner Truth—have been celebrated. St. Louis has also been home to amazing women who have fought for their rights and have made a mark in local and national history. Many of their stories can be found in 250 in 250, our exhibit commemorating the 250th anniversary of the city through the stories of 50 people, 50 places, 50 images, 50 moments, and 50 objects. To showcase the importance of women’s history right here at home, I have highlighted one remarkable woman for each of the five sections of the exhibit. I invite you to come learn more about these women and others in the 250 in 250 exhibit, which will be on display until February 15, 2015.
People: Virginia Minor
Virginia Minor first attempted to register to vote in 1872, but was refused on the basis that she was a woman. Minor sued, arguing that citizenship included voting rights. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled against Minor, stating that specifically the Fourteenth Amendment only allowed men to vote. Minor appealed the Missouri ruling to the United States Supreme Court in 1875. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Missouri ruling, stating that voting was not an inherent right of citizenship. Minor appeared before the U.S. Senate committee on women’s suffrage in 1889 to once more state her case. Unfortunately, she died in 1894, 26 years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Places: Tillie’s Corner
In 1948, Lillie Pearson was widowed at age 33, with six children at home. She was offered a job at the post office but didn’t want to be away from her children. Instead, she took a gamble and bought a failing grocery store in North City. Pearson took out $247 from her savings ($2,397 in today’s currency) to purchase the building on Sheridan Avenue. Her business did so well that she bought two surrounding buildings and expanded. Tillie’s Corner, which was named after her nickname for her eldest daughter, became a popular spot in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. The popular store was open for 40 years, closing in 1998.
Images: Equal Suffrage League of St. Louis at the Syndicate Trust Building (1912)
In 1910, Florence Wyman Richardson, Marie Gareche, and Florence Richards invited 20 women to the Richardson residence to talk about the suffrage movement. Only five showed up, but through persistence that number grew to 50. Those 50 women became the Equal Suffrage League of St. Louis. After one year, membership had risen to 250. With a much bigger member base, the League started meeting at the Cabanne branch of the St. Louis Public Library. A year later the Equal Suffrage headquarters was established in the Syndicate Trust Building.
Moments: The Golden Lane
During the 1916 Democratic Convention in St. Louis, nearly 2,000 suffragists lined Locust Street, all wearing yellow sashes and carrying yellow parasols. Golden yellow was the color of the United States Suffrage Movement, borrowing from the British Suffrage Movement. During this protest, women from states that had gained women's suffrage wore white. Those from states with partial suffrage were in gray. Those from states with no votes for women, including Missouri, wore black. An ad to recruit women for the “Golden Lane” protest includes, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring sentences to join the cause: “Help us make this demonstration so big and beautiful that Missouri will be proud of its women and that the delegates to the convention can not fail to feel the force of the plea for votes for women.”
Objects: Mantle from Forest Park University
Through 65 years and two locations the mantle on display in the exhibit was meant to inspire the arts and the Protestant faith to hundreds of girls. It was built by Anna Sneed Cairns and resided in Kirkwood Seminary and later Forest Park University. Both schools for girls focused on rigorous liberal arts, Bible study, and Protestant values. Cairns opened Kirkwood Seminary in 1861 because St. Louis Public Schools would not allow the Bible to be used as a text. In 1891, she married John C. Cairns, who designed a new campus on Oakland, which was named Forest Park University. While running the schools she devoted much of her time to the temperance and suffrage movements. Anna joined the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association in the late 1880s. She participated in all areas of the association, even speaking at the state capitol on behalf of women’s suffrage in 1897 and 1899. Cairns sold Forest Park University in 1926 due to lack of enrollment.
—Nicole Smith, Lead Public Service Representative