Women have played a vital role in the progress of Cape

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Throughout history, women have played a quiet role in bettering communities, and Cape Girardeau's women were no exception. Locally, women's groups have worked to offer health care, promoted education by providing scholarships and creating a library, and developed the city's first parks.

During March, women's achievements are noted as part of National Women's History Month. This year's theme is "Women Inspiring Hope and Possibility."

Many things of civic importance have been the result of women, said Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University.

"Things that we would think today as perhaps small provided cultural enhancement and education that wouldn't otherwise be present in society," Nickell said.

Women's clubs and civic organizations are responsible for a litany of events and programs in Cape Girardeau, from saving Fort D and beginning a historic-preservation program to campaigning for a city nurse and public health department.

There's no way to make an exhaustive list of the accomplishments of area women, but the Southeast Missourian has collected a sampling of some of their efforts.


May Greene, Alma Schrader and Nell Holcomb: Women had a profound effect on Cape Girardeau's education. Several stand out as beloved by their pupils and the community.

May Greene was an elementary school teacher in Cape Girardeau's public schools from 1879 to 1932. A building was named in her honor in 1921; it since has been sold by the school district. A city garden at the corner of Themis and Fountain streets bears her name.

Alma Schrader began her teaching career in Cape Girardeau in 1906. She became principal of Jefferson School in 1911 and then moved to May Greene school in 1921. She served as May Greene's principal for 34 years before retiring. The school district named a building in her honor in 1959.

Born in 1896 in the Hobbs community north of Cape Girardeau, Nell Holcomb taught in the area's rural schools for more than 40 years. Holcomb said she preferred working in rural schools "because I'm a farmer myself."

The reorganized school district north of the city was named in her honor in 1959. Nell Holcomb died in 1963.

Sadie T. Kent: For three decades, Sadie T. Kent served as director of the college library in Cape Girardeau. Kent helped develop a library from a small collection in the university president's office to an entire department and then a collection in a building named in her honor at Southeast Missouri State University.

She first came to the Normal School as a teacher of hygiene and geography in 1905. She served as dean of women and gradually began adding library duties. She served as head librarian from 1910 until she retired in 1943.

As librarian, she served as president of the state library association in 1932 to 1933 and helped prepare a high school library manual and wrote a handbook for college libraries. She died in 1951.


Dr. Anita Bohnsack: Anita Bohnsack graduated from Cape Girardeau's schools in 1902 and taught in St. Louis County before becoming a doctor. She graduated from the American College of Osteopathy in Kirksville in 1914 and opened a practice in Portland, Ore., before returning to Cape Girardeau.

Bohnsack practiced medicine here for 20 years. She was president of the Missouri Osteopathic Association of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933.

She was described as "an astute businesswoman, a mechanical wizard, well read, curious, austere but compassionate, strong-willed, self-controlled."

Bohnsack retired in 1935 and died in 1963.

Dr. Marguerite Fuller: Bohnsack helped recruit the city's other female doctor, Marguerite Fuller.

Both women attended school in Kirksville, but Fuller had planned to move to Seattle and open a practice with her brother. She was recruited to Cape Girardeau when Bohnsack needed short-term help at her practice. What started as a three-month relationship turned into 10 years before Fuller opened her own practice in the city.

Fuller served as a physician in the city for 58 years and was honored as an outstanding community leaders. She helped establish the Cape Girardeau Osteopathic Hospital and then worked to open the Chaffee General Hospital in 1960. Neither hospitals exist today.

In 1981, Fuller was the first women to receive the city's Golden Deeds Award. She was honored in 1960 as the first woman to receive the Missouri Osteopath of the Year award.

Fuller died in 1990.

Social, civic

Countless women have offered their time and talents as community volunteers. Working at churches, civic centers and hospitals, these women have devoted their lives to making Cape Girardeau better.

Wednesday Club: Amy Kimmel founded The Wednesday Club in 1902; she died in 1936. The Wednesday Club devoted 100 years of service to the community. The organization has since disbanded but left a legacy in the city.

The club began as a literary group organized by the wives of faculty at Southeast Missouri State University but eventually group into a humanitarian organization. During its history, the club sponsored opera concerts and lectures on women's suffrage.

By 1915, the club was working to develop the city's public library.

If you can imagine a project that would have benefited Cape Girardeau, the Wednesday Club likely sponsored it. "If you would make a list of the things that were a result of women's work making a difference in town, you'd have a wonderfully significant list," Nickell said.

The Wednesday Club helped clean up Old Lorimier Cemetery, helped develop the city's park system by working on beautification, cleaned up the old Frisco Railroad station and insisted that public restrooms be installed, pushed for street lights throughout town, sponsored a "mayor's cleanup day" and funded a scholarship for a university student at Southeast Missouri State University.

Mary Hunter Giboney Houck: The wife of Louis Houck, a lawyer and businessman, Mary Houck was involved in many civic projects as a partner with her husband. The pair worked to build a railroad line from Delta to Cape Girardeau.

In 1881, she organized a chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy in St. Louis and then one in 1901 in Cape Girardeau. The local chapter became the third in the state. Houck also served as president of the Cape Girardeau chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution until 1907. Because all the members at the time were descendants of Joseph Hunter, the chapter was named for Nancy Hunter, his wife.

Many of the area's freed slaves lived around the Houck home and Mary Hunter Giboney Houck made sure there was a church and school available for them.


Cape Girardeau women haven't been much for serving in elected office. Only five women have ever served on the city council. They include Cecelia "Skeets" Sonderman, Mary Wulfers, Loretta Schneider, Evelyn Boardman and Marcia Ritter. Schneider was the first to serve. Boardman and Ritter are currently serving four-year terms.

At the state level, Mary Kasten served as state representative for 18 years before retiring in 2000. Betty Hearnes of Charleston was elected as state representative in 1979 during a special election and then served from 1980 to 1986. She is the wife of former governor Warren Hearnes.

Jo Ann Emerson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, three months after the death of her husband, Congressman Bill Emerson. She is serving her fourth term in office.

One of Southeast Missouri's best known contributions to government was Marie Oliver's sewing skills. Oliver who had homes in both Cape Girardeau and Jackson designed the Missouri state flag.


335-6611, extension 126

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