By Kelsey Phipps
Women are total badasses. All around the world, women accomplish incredible things daily. While we still have a long ways to go, we have already come so far, and it is important to remember where we have been in the past and to honor those who led the way in women’s equality. Back before the nineteenth amendment was even being considered, there were women making big moves in the world, working tirelessly for fellow sisters to make a path for us to follow. This series will highlight women from our home state of Missouri who played a part in the movement for equality in the 18-1900s.
- Martha Gellhorn
Martha Gellhorn was born in St. Louis on November 8, 1908. Her parents, George and Edna Gellhorn, had four children, Martha and three sons. George was a doctor and professor at Washington University. Her mother, Edna, featured in the first part of this series, was very influential in the women’s rights movement.
Martha attended the John Burroughs School in St. Louis, and then Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. As a young journalist, she worked for the New Republic magazine and the Albany Times Union newspaper. She returned home to St. Louis for a short time but moved to Paris, France at the age of twenty-one. She had her suitcase, a typewriter, and seventy-five dollars to her name. Martha resided in the popular French city alongside Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other prominent writers and artists. She was employed by the United Press News, but was fired after complaining that a coworker had sexually harassed her.
She traveled between the United States and France for the next few years, writing for different publications such as Vogue and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.In 1934, Martha published her first novel, What Mad Pursuit.
Back in the United States, she was hired as an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and traveled the country interviewing citizens and documenting life during the Great Depression. After convincing a group of workers to riot against a corrupt contractor in Idaho, Martha was fired from the FERA. This experience inspired her second book in 1936, titled The Trouble I’ve Seen.
Martha did not let her setbacks stop her, though. She went on to marry Ernest Hemingway and together they lived in Spain, where Martha reported on the Spanish Civil War. Additionally, she traveled to China to cover the war there with Japan. Although her marriage to Hemingway was suffering, her career continued to grow as she traveled to Britain to cover World War II. In 1944, Martha wanted to be in the middle of the action when France, occupied by Nazis at the time, was invaded. Despite pushback from the U.S. military, who did not want women on the front lines, Martha snuck onto a civilian hospital ship and helped the medical staff take care of the wounded during the invasion of Normandy. She also went onto land with ambulance crews to assist there. She was the first female journalist at D-Day.
Martha was deeply moved by the scenes at Dachau concentration camp when the U.S. Seventh Army liberated the camp in 1945. She reported on the prosecution of the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. Martha and Ernest divorced after the war ended and she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico. She adopted a son from Italy in 1949, George Alexander, and called him “Sandy.” Martha had a second marriage to T. S. Matthews from 1954 to 1963, when she divorced him for infidelity.
Martha went on to report on the Vietnam War in 1966, but was so critical of the United States that she was banned from Vietnam during the war. In 1967, she went to Israel to cover the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab nations. She kept on moving all around the world throughout her life, including Kenya, Wales, Italy, and England, while focusing on her writing career. At age eighty-one, she reported on the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.
On her ex-husband Ernest Hemingway’s writing career, Martha noted “I was a writer before I met him, and I have been a writer for forty-five years since. Why should I be a footnote to someone else’s life?”
Although Martha led a courageous, independent life with an impressive and honorable career, she ended her own life on February 15, 1998 at her home in London. She had been struggling with ovarian cancer. Martha Gellhorn was a vital instrument in the progression of women in journalism. She braved the front lines of war, traveled all over the world, dealt firsthand with corporate and national sexism, and was published countless times internationally. Her life and legacy will not be easily forgotten – Martha challenged oppression and fought for justice. Her work influenced people all over the world in times of war and struggle.
- Gwen B. Giles
Gwen Burdette was born on May 14, 1932 in Atlanta, Georgia. Her family moved to St. Louis when she was three years old. She attended Saint Rita Academy and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri High School. After graduating, she attended both St. Louis and Washington Universities.
Gwen married Eddie E. Giles in 1955, when she was 23, and had two children with him: Karl and Carla. She and Eddie divorced in 1980 and she remarried, this time to John W. Holmes. Her political career began in 1968 when she served as a campaign manager for U.S. representative William L. Clay, who was Missouri’s first black congressman. Gwen was appointed executive secretary of the St. Louis Council on Human Relations by mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, as well as director of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency.
Gwen worked tirelessly to push justice and end employment discrimination against minorities, as well as housing and public accommodation discrimination. She was honored by the St. Louis Committee for Freedom of Residence for her work. In 1977, Franklin Payne resigned from a Fourth District Senate seat and Gwen was asked to run in the special election to replace him. She won with a staggering ninety-two percent of the vote in 1978.
During her time as a senator, she was on the Bi-State Development Agency, where she worked to fight discrimination in hiring policies. She also served as a co-chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Gwen resigned from her senate seat in 1981 when she was appointed to lead the St. Louis City Assessor’s Office; she was the first woman and first African American to do so.
On July 19, 1984, Gwen’s husband John shot her daughter Carla and Carla’s husband, Mark Odom. Carla died from her injuries, but Mark survived. After shooting the pair, John shot himself. The murder-suicide happened at Gwen’s St. Louis home while she was in San Francisco at the Democratic National Convention. Just two years later, on March 26, 1986, Gwen passed away due to lung cancer.
Gwen Giles was a lifelong public servant. Everywhere she went, she aimed to improve the quality of life for minorities and end discrimination. She proved to women of color that it was possible to rise up and be what they had been told they could not be. She worked tirelessly in the face of oppression and secured civil rights for countless people of color. At her funeral, St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl said of Gwen, “she was an early and active proponent of civil rights and worked tirelessly to help those in need. Her intelligence, independence, and dedication earned her the respect of the entire community.”
The Wellston Post Office in St. Louis was renamed the Gwen B. Giles Post Office Building in her honor, as well as Catalpa Park in the West End, where she lived.
- Lucy Wortham James
Lucy Wortham James was born on September 13, 1880, in St. James, into the James family which established Maramec Iron Works in 1826. Although the business ended before her birth, the family remained in St. James and Lucy resided there as a child. She spent her summers at Maramec Spring with her grandmother Lucy Ann, and grew to have a strong passion for the spring. Her grandmother’s brother, Robert G. Dun, supported the family during their bankruptcy in 1878, and once Lucy was born, she quickly became one of his favorite grandnieces. She went to live part time with Dun and his wife in New York.
Lucy attended school in Kansas City and New York, and then studied music in Vienna, Austria with the help of her great uncle. She married Huntington Wilson in 1903 and they began traveling together. They divorced in 1915 and Lucy made New York City her home. There she became friends with several wealthy, high-society citizens. Lucy’s father had passed away in 1912, and she inherited stock shares as a portion of the estate of Robert G. Dun. She became the largest stockholder of Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.
Her income kept her afloat in New York City and also allowed her to own a home in Newport, Rhode Island. She frequently enjoyed long vacations at Maramec Spring. She donated extensively to Trinity Episcopal Church and the St. James public library. Once her father’s estate was settled, Lucy bought land in Phelps County at the original site of Maramec Iron Works. She ended up with over thirteen hundred acres and prevented a state highway being installed through the spring.
The Great Depression caused Lucy’s stock income to crash, and she moved home to St. James and spent most of her time at Maramec Spring. She made plans for the Spring to be conserved and used publicly. She set aside funds that eventually became the Lucy Wortham James Memorial fund.
In 1929, Lucy had surgery and faced a long and hard recovery road. Her health was declining, and so she enlisted the help of her friend William Greenough to plan her estate in 1930. Lucy died in New York City on January 20, 1938. She left an estate of nearly two million dollars (worth thirty-four million dollars today) which went to the New York Community Trust in order to be distributed to her philanthropic choices. Most of the money went, without surprise, to the conservation of Maramec Springs, as well as to the city of St. James for civic improvement.
Maramec Springs State Park opened to the public in 1947, just nine years after Lucy’s death. Still today, the park is a popular tourist destination. During that same time period, her memorial also built the James Memorial library, a fifty-six acre public park, a public swimming pool, and a fishing lake. Also receiving funding was a new city hall building as well as extensive beautification projects. Because of Lucy, St. James became a beautiful, well-conserved nature spot, and earned the title “Forest City of the Ozarks.”
Lucy Wortham James preserved an entire town and state park for the state of Missouri, ensuring that generations to come can experience the tranquility and beauty that she came to love as a child. Lucy is an example for women everywhere that what matters to you is important, and you can invest in it and help make the world a more beautiful place. She is also an example of the importance of preserving nature and investing in local communities. Lucy bettered the lives of Missourians in St. James and the surrounding areas long after her death.
- Mary Paxton Keeley
Mary Gentry Paxton was born on June 2, 1886, in Independence. Her father , John, was an attorney, and her mother, Mary, was a teacher. Her mother passed away as she was graduating high school, and so Mary put off attending college for a while. She spent a short time at Hollins College in Virginia, but did not feel it was an improvement from home. Mary also tried out the University of Chicago for a semester, where she realized she wanted to study journalism, which the university did not offer.
She returned home to Missouri and the morning she was read to enroll, sat on the steps of Mizzou’s journalism school until it opened. The school of journalism was the first of its kind in the world, with classes beginning in 1908. Mary was the first woman to attend the school. One professor sent Mary out to interview the mascot of a team visiting the university. Mary quickly discovered the mascot was a live bear cub, and laughed, saying “he sent me out to interview the bear! So I had to translate the bear’s conversation.”
Despite not always being taken seriously at the school, Mary was awarded the honor of selecting the color of the school’s graduation tassel because she would be the first female graduate. Mary decided, “Any old color as long as it is red.” The University of Missouri’s journalism school graduate tassel is still red to this day.
Mary’s first job was with the Kansas City Post, going to work just one week after graduation. She made eight dollars a week covering local stories and also doing some investigative journalism. Her most notable piece was an investigation of alleged abuse at the State Training School for Girls in Chillicothe. Mary said of the job, “a woman reporter was pretty rare west of the Mississippi. I became such a curiosity that people used to come into the office just to stare at me.” At the time, Mary was dating Charles Ross, whom she met in college. They did not marry. Shortly after their relationship ended, Mary was hospitalized with appendicitis. After recovering from surgery, Mary decided not to return to journalism immediately. She began teaching instead.
Mary taught several places, including an orphanage and in 4-H groups. While working with 4-H in Virginia, she met Edmund Burke Keeley. They married after she returned from working with the YMCA in France. In 1921, the couple welcomed a son, John Gallatin Paxton Keeley. When John was a young child, Edmund’s health severely declined, and so Mary became the provider for the home. Edmund passed away in 1928. Mary returned to the University of Missouri’s journalism school, got her master’s, and taught creative writing and journalism at the Columbia Christian College. She taught until 1952, but continued writing throughout her retirement. In 1959, Mary co-founded the Columbia Art League.
Mary passed away on December 6, 1986, at one hundred years old. She was honored by the Mizzou School of Journalism with an Alumni Citation Award, and her portrait hangs in the school’s graduate studies center. In 2002, Columbia Public Schools named a school after her: the Mary Paxton Keeley Elementary School is located on Park de Ville Drive. When asked about her life, Mary recalled, “the first part of my life, I had everything I thought I wanted. The next forty years I had to struggle. I am more of a person than if I had always had a sheltered, protected life, and have certainly reached more people.”
Mary Paxton Keeley led the way for female journalists all around the world, never letting obstacles conquer her determined spirit. Her dedication to education and journalism brought inspiration to her students as well as students for decades to come. Still today, Mizzou journalism students can walk by her photo and remember the legacy she left behind. Because of brave women like Mary Paxton Keeley, we have strong female representation in journalism today, and women all over the world can make their voices heard to better the communities around them.
- Annie Turnbo Malone
Annie Minerva Turnbo was born on August 9, 1869, in Illinois. She was the second youngest of eleven children, raised by her older sister after her parents passed away when she was young. She attended high school in Peoria, Illinois, but struggled due to chronic illness. She was unable to graduate, but despite her setbacks, she had a knack for chemistry. Annie developed a hair product that straightened black women’s hair without using damaging chemicals.
Eventually, Annie had a whole line of hair products for black women. She moved her business to St. Louis in 1902 in order to have better professional opportunities. With the World’s Fair just two years away, the city’s economy was performing extremely well, and Annie saw good opportunity in St. Louis. However, because she was African American, Annie was repeatedly denied access to distribution channels. Instead of having her products advertised, she went door-to-door advertising them herself along with some assistants. They gave demonstrations in people’s homes and the business began to grow. Annie set up shop at the World’s Fair in 1904 and had great success. She decided to take her company national, and officially created “Turnbo’s Poro.”
Annie married high school principal Aaron E. Malone in 1914. Her business was booming, and by the end of World War I, she was a millionaire. Annie was extremely generous with her money, donating to several African American charities and organizations. In 1918, she opened Poro College, a cosmetology school that trained black women in the business. Aaron filed for divorce in 1927 and demanded half of her business, eventually ending up with a settlement of two hundred thousand dollars.
The stock market crash of 1929 pummeled Annie’s business, but determined to succeed, she moved her business to Chicago and kept working. By the 1950s, she was operating thirty two branches of Poro College all over the United States. Annie passed away on May 10, 1957, but her legacy as a pioneer in the beauty industry for black women has impacted lives long after her death. Her generosity continues, as well, with the St. Louis Orphans Home renaming in 1946 to the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, located on Annie Malone Drive. The home is still in operation today. Her determination and hard work despite exponential setbacks is a testament to the power of women. Annie changed the beauty industry game all on her own, never letting trouble defeat her.