The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 11, 2013

Jo Ellis: Carthage women have left their mark on the world

By Jo Ellis
Globe Columnist

CARTHAGE, Mo. — With March designated as Women’s History Month, it seems appropriate to remember notable women associated with Carthage.

In the order of their birth, I have chosen four whose contributions to Carthage — and to a larger sphere in most cases — have been significant. It’s interesting that all four were born in the last half of the 19th century.

• Annie Baxter (1864-1944) was the first woman elected to public office in Missouri — 30 years before women received the vote. After moving here as a teenager, she graduated in 1882 and immediately was hired by the county clerk’s office, becoming adept at the complicated task of tax levies and extensions. Although the county leaned heavily Republican, an all-male Democratic committee nominated her for election to the post.

Newspapers questioned whether she could be elected, but a plurality of 463 votes seemed to end the debate. Baxter was instrumental in planning the present day courthouse in Carthage. She later served in state government offices in Jefferson City.

• Emily Newel Blair (1877-1951) moved to Carthage when she was 6. In 1914, she was an active suffragette, publicity chairwoman for the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association and editor of its magazine, Missouri Women. Her interest in politics stemmed from her father, who served both as county clerk and recorder of deeds.

She married Harry Wallace Blair in 1900. During World War I, she served on the Women’s Committee of the Missouri Council of National Defense and later worked for the Council of National Defense.

She was national vice chairwoman of the Democratic Party from 1922 to 1928 and played a role in helping elect Franklin D. Roosevelt to his first term as president in 1932. From 1925-1934, she was editor of Good Housekeeping magazine, and she wrote several books, short stories and political articles. She helped organize more than 2,000 Democratic Women’s Clubs around the country.

• Emma Knell (1878-1963) lived in Carthage from a young age. At just 20 years old, she joined the family business and became the third woman in Missouri to be licensed as an embalmer. Five years later, she was elected the first female director of the Missouri Funeral Directors Association.

She assisted her father in establishing the Knell Fair in 1902. The countywide fair, held west of Carthage, was known for its horse and car races, often raising purses as large as $10,000. She served as general manager of the fair from 1911-26, and she helped organize other fairs in Oklahoma.

In 1924, Knell was the first Republican woman elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. She was a member of the appropriation and highway committees, and sponsored the bill establishing the Missouri Highway Patrol. She retired from the House in 1932 after her third term. In 1932, she became president of Knell Mortuary, a business that continues today.

• Marian Wright Powers (1880-1969) grew up as a popular young lady in Carthage. Her musical studies and talent as a coloratura soprano led her to further study in New York City and Paris, France. She performed with traveling symphonies from St. Louis, Kansas City and St. Paul, Minn., at concerts throughout the central Midwest. She sang at hundreds of funerals and weddings, often joking that she had “married and buried half of Jasper County.”

Her favorite repertoire consisted of Civil War songs her mother taught her. Her marriage to Dr. Everett Powers produced one daughter, Marian Louisa “Toots” Winchester, who bequeathed the family fortune to establish our current Powers Museum.

I think Carthage can be justly proud of its historic women. If you’re interested in learning more, a Women’s History Tour will be conducted at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Missouri State University, Springfield. And visit the women’s history exhibit on the second floor of Meyer Library there. It will be up all month.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.