Never forgotten: New coloring book honors Joplin women and their historical contributions

“Coloring JOMO: Women Who Made Their Mark,” a new coloring book released by Post Art Library at the Joplin Public Library, focuses on women who helped carve local history through activism, the arts, business, and philanthropy. Women like Lena Beale, Joplin's first woman mayor; Melissa Fuell Cuther, who helped found Ewert Park and George Washington Carver National Monument at Diamond; and Dorothea B. Hoover, a historic preservationist who helped found Joplin Little Theater and is the namesake the city's historical museum. Courtesy|Marta Churchwell

After weeks of coronavirus-induced isolation, I’ve been feeling a need for mental stimulation that goes beyond hollering out answers to TV game show questions or going down online rabbit holes as I research how long the human mind can withstand boredom before it flatlines.

For some new stimulation, I decided to explore the women who helped mold our local history. My first stop was a download of “Coloring JOMO: Women Who Made Their Mark,” a new coloring book released by Post Art Library, our local art and history treasure that’s housed in the Joplin Public Library.

While the prospect of a coloring project couldn’t be ignored, I was more interested in learning about the women who helped carve local history through activism, the arts, business, and philanthropy.

I was familiar with some of the names in the book. Lena Beale, our first woman mayor. Melissa Fuell Cuther, who helped found Ewert Park and George Washington Carver National Monument at Diamond. Dorothea B. Hoover, a historic preservationist who helped found Joplin Little Theater and is the namesake of our local historical museum. Henrietta Cosgrove, a mine operator, suffragist and philanthropist who successfully convinced states to offer pensions to widows of miners.

But there were several names that were new to me, and I uncovered some historic tidbits I knew nothing of previously.

Did you know a local native daughter is commemorated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a silent film actress? (Pauline Stark, 1900 or 1901-1977).

How about another Joplin native who painted aviation murals in New York City and whose work has been displayed in the Smithsonian Institution? (Olivia Bendelari, 1910-1996).

Granted, this is no textbook on women in local history. But it’s a creative way to introduce our historic mothers and, perhaps, stimulate some further research on them. It’s a good resource for parents who are home schooling their children. As a coloring book, it makes the study of history a bit more enticing for a child.

The project to compile the coloring book started a couple of years ago after PAL director Jill Sullivan discovered a similar project produced by the Kansas City Public Library. She pitched the idea of a local book to Paula Callihan and Mary Anne Phillips with Historic Murphysburg Preservation, a local nonprofit that promotes local heritage. They suggested a collaboration with Visit Joplin because of its work in tourism, including the historic variety. The three entities — PAL, HMP and Visit Joplin — provided the funding for the project.

Sullivan, Callihan and Phillips first developed simple criteria for inclusion in the book. The women profiled could no longer be living and they must have made significant contributions to community arts and culture, business and beyond. Then they compiled a list of potential candidates for the profiles.

“We ended up with 60-plus names on the list,” said Sullivan. “But we knew we needed to start somewhere, so we started with women from early-day history. We selected women with an array of accomplishments, whether with women’s suffrage, holding office, business, etcetera, and went with it.”

Eventually, their list of women who were significant to the community were narrowed to 12. The group then commissioned the artwork through Martha Goldman, a former Joplin artist now living in Kansas City.

“She was able to take the information and what little visuals we had and make wonderful illustrations,” said Sullivan.

While a book release party was scheduled for March 21 during Women’s History Month, it was nixed when the pandemic began bearing down, forcing social distancing. The group opted for a digital release, knowing the book could be good for keeping people busy during home isolation. It can be downloaded at www.postartlibrary.org. After local stay-at-home orders have been lifted it will be available for free at locations to be announced.

There will be special outreach to local third graders since that is the grade when local history is taught, said Sullivan. The books will be available to all third-grade classes in Joplin public and private schools.

This is a creative way to teach local history and honor the women who influenced our community. Coloring has been shown to be a positive outlet for stress and we certainly need that right now.

Keep hanging onto your patience and sanity, folks. It’ll be a while before the corona ride is over. Meanwhile, keep washing your hands.

Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.

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