The Women of Missouri

Nine Women and their Accomplishments

With Women’s History Month coming to an end, learning about the women of Missouri’s past and present is important. From local communities to state and national service and recognition, many women born and raised in Missouri have been influential in politics, science, arts and athletics. Here are nine of the most influential women in the state of Missouri.

Susan Blow of St. Louis was the founder of the first public kindergarten in St. Louis in 1873. She and her husband, a member of the state senate, advocated for youth education. After witnessing influential youth educator Friedrich Froebel’s classrooms in Germany, she was inspired to study the teaching practices and philosophies of kindergarteners. Upon founding the first public kindergarten, she continued teaching and advocating for the establishment of youth kindergartens around the country. 

Luella St. Clair Moss of Virden, Illinois was the first president of the Missouri’s League of Women Voters in 1919. Following her election as the President of Christian College, during which she increased enrollment and faculty, St. Clair Moss established the Missouri’s League of Women Voters. The organization advocated for women’s suffrage and educated women on voting and citizenship. In 1922, she was elected as the first woman on the Columbia Board of Education and was the first woman to be appointed to the Missouri Library Commission.  

Josephine Baker of St. Louis was a singer, actor and dancer who became a symbol of Black American culture. During World War II, she volunteered with the Red Cross and the Resistance as a member of the Free French, where she entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East. In America, she performed for segregated audiences and continued to advocate for human rights and equality. At her French estate she adopted children of all nationalities while advocating for infant and child care and equanimity among people of all nationalities.

 Doris Hart of Saint Louis was an influential figure in women’s tennis, winning the Wimbledon Championships in 1947 and 1951. She was the first woman to win a Grand Slam in all events. Even with a bone infection in her right leg, she represented women in athletics as an advocate for equality in male oriented athletics. She would inspire players like Billie Jean King.

Virginia Johnson of Springfield was instrumental in the studies of sex and sexual phsycology. After identifying the human sexual response cycle, she and her research assistant, William Masters, established the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation in 1964 in St. Louis. The foundation educates people on reproduction and reproductive healthcare. With Masters, Johnson also founded the Masters & Johnson Institute in St. Louis in 1973, where she received recognition for her research on all forms of sex and sexual dysfunction treatments. She advocated for sex education regarding age, gender and sexual orientation. 

Faye Wattleton of St. Louis was the first Black woman and youngest president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1978. She advocated for the organization to be both a health care provider as well as an education organization on reproductive health, gender, equality and abortion rights. After her presidency, she co-founded the Center for the Advancement of Women, which implemented advocacy for the equality of women. Today, she continues to serve as the president of this organization.

Dr. Linda Godwin of Jackson, former NASA astronaut, educator and researcher, participated in four flights and received many awards during her time at NASA, from 1980 to 1999, such as the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. She taught at the University of Missouri and conducted research that has since been published in renowned science journals. During her flights she continued to conduct research while in space. She is a symbol for women in space and STEM areas of study. 

Joani Akers founded Oasis International in St. Louis in 1989, an organization that advocates for refugees who have endured war in their native countries. After traveling the world with her husband and assisting and counseling thousands of people in war torn countries, they founded the organization. Today their location in St. Louis aids refugees through partnerships with businesses, churches and the community.

Toni Jordan of St. Louis, a former addict, founded the Queen of Peace Center Consumer Advisory Board, which has influenced the programs, procedures and policies of the Queen of Peace Center. The center provides behavioral healthcare for women, children and families as they offer treatment, education, preventative measures and housing. Jordan and her board advocate for addiction awareness through compassion and empathy with incarcerated women. She also volunteers with service programs for people enduring homelessness, trauma, mental illness and substance abuse. 

These women and many others have been and continue to be influential figures in Missouri, the nation and the world. Their talents and accomplishments inspire others to advocate for equality and service in issues regarding politics, science, arts and athletics.