5 Boss Moms of Missouri History

6, May 2016

Missouri history boasts several boss women—women who were confident, intelligent, and could hold their own. In honor of Mother's Day, we're kicking off our recognition of the boss women of Missouri history by highlighting five boss moms. Here's to all you mothers out there—you're in excellent company!  

1. Madame Chouteau

Portrait of Madame ChouteauPortrait of Madame Chouteau by Francois M. Guyol de Guiran, 1805–1815. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Born in 1733, Madame Marie-Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau was the matriarch of the Chouteau fur-trading family. Deserted by her husband after the birth of their son, Auguste Chouteau, she began calling herself a widow and had a relationship with Pierre Laclède. Laclède established St. Louis in 1764, and Madame Chouteau's involvement with him earned her the moniker "the mother of St. Louis." Her husband eventually reappeared and demanded she return with him to New Orleans, but she ignored the order.

2. Harriet Scott

Engraving of Harriet ScottWood engraving of Harriet Scott from Century Magazine, June 1887. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

After spending more than 20 years of her life as a slave, Scott joined her husband, Dred Scott, in suing for their freedom in 1846. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court—which famously rejected their plea. But that didn't keep Scott down. She eventually won her freedom and went to work in her own right as a laundress, keeping her hard-earned wages for her and her daughters.

3. Lucy Virginia Semple Ames

Image of Lucy Virginia Semple AmesPhotograph of Lucy Virginia Semple Ames, 1869. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Known as the "Queen of St. Louis society," Ames was the wife of businessman Edgar Ames until his death in 1867 made her a single mother to their four children at the age of 30. Ames took over management of her husband's business interests, but she didn't stop there. She created the Ames Realty Company, serving as its president. A firm believer in women's rights, Ames joined the Equal Suffrage Society in 1869.

4. Kate Chopin

Image of Kate Chopin with her childrenPhotograph of Kate Chopin with sons Frederick, George, Jean, and Oscar, 1877. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

A native St. Louisan, Kate Chopin moved to New Orleans with her husband, Oscar Chopin, in 1870. Together they had six children before Oscar died in 1882. Chopin returned home to St. Louis and eventually took up writing, publishing numerous short stories as well as The Awakening. This novel about a woman trapped in the confines of an oppressive society was considered scandalous when it was published in 1899—today it's read around the world, and Chopin is considered an important American author.

5. Irma Rombauer

Image of Irma Rombauer (left) and her daughter Marion (right)Photograph of Irma Rombauer (left) and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

The daughter of German immigrants, Rombauer spent a few years in Germany during her childhood but lived most of her life in St. Louis. Ever the affable hostess, Rombauer was known for whipping up dishes that let her spend less time in the kitchen and more time with her guests. Following her husband's suicide in 1930, Rombauer decided to occupy her mind—and seek out much-needed income—by writing a cookbook. First published in 1933, that book, The Joy of Cooking, became one of the most successful cookbooks of all time.

—Emily Underwood, Director of Community Programs