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Rose Cecil O’Neill Latham Wilson

Rose O’Neill was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1874. When she was a toddler, her parents moved to Battle Creek, Nebraska to try their hand at farming. Her father, William, was a classic book salesman by trade, and the farming venture was fairly short-lived. By the time she was seven, the O’Neill family had relocated to Omaha, where they would spend the next twelve years. There were seven children, and money was always tight. The family originally lived near Creighton University, but moved several times.[1]

In Omaha, Rose spent much of her free time drawing, and was largely self-taught. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, she entered a sketch called Temptation Leading down in an Abyss into a children’s drawing contest sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald. The judges couldn’t believe that someone her age could have produced a work of such quality, so she was asked to replicate certain elements for them before being named the winner.[2] As a teenager, Rose began taking drawing lessons from J. Laurie Wallace, a Realist with ties to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Temptation Leading down in an Abyss. Image source:

At the age of nineteen, Rose moved to New York to work as a contributing illustrator for various popular periodicals like Truth, Sunday Magazine, Harper’s Bazarr, and Cosmopolitan. In 1896, she published a comic strip entitled “The Old Subscriber Calls” and became the first female comic strip artist in the United States. She joined the Puck staff in 1897 and was the only female member until 1903.[3]

The Kewpie character didn’t come about until 1909, when Rose’s career was already well-established. The little cupids first appeared in magazines, and their massive popularity led to Rose creating dolls of the characters in 1913. Rose and her sister Callista worked with New York artists to develop the dolls, which were first produced in factories in Germany, then production expanded to France and Belgium, as well. In addition to being cute little figures, they also were unfailingly kind, respectful, and loving to one another in their cartoons; these little characters were an extremely visible way for Rose O’Neill to share her world-view with her audience.

An original Kewpie doll, c. 1915. Image courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society.

Meanwhile, Rose’s popularity was skyrocketing, and she became the highest-paid female illustrator of the day, worth $1.4 million in 1914.[4] She was an influential force in both the art world and politics. She hosted salons in her spacious New York apartment, and spent time studying in Europe, most notably with Auguste Rodin.[5] She was also dedicated to suffrage and other social causes, not hesitating to use her wealth and popularity to improve the situations of others. She firmly disagreed with the fashion trends of her day that saw women being cinched into restrictive corsets – she preferred looser-fitting robe-like dresses that were referred to as “flyin’ squirrel dresses” by natives from the Ozarks (the O’Neill family’s final home and the setting for Rose’s retirement). She also took issue with popular depictions of Black subjects in mainstream art, where they were often shown with grotesque or otherwise exaggerated features. She was one of the first illustrators to buck this trend, using the same stylization techniques for all of her characters.

Suffrage poster by Rose O’Neill. Image source:

The production of Kewpies slowed drastically during WWI, and only regained some of their former popularity, in part because of the arrival of another cartoon – Mickey Mouse.[6] But Rose O’Neill continued producing artwork – she lived in Paris for most of the 1920’s, where she produced more “serious” work. During this time, she exhibited at the Galerie Devambez and was elected to the Société Coloniale des Artistes Français. She returned to the United States in 1927, and spent much of the rest of her life living at Bonniebrook, her family’s estate near Branson, Missouri.

“The Eternal Gesture,” Rose O’Neill. 1920. Image source:,_by_Rose_O’Neill.jpg

[1] Dunbier, Lonnie. “O’Neill, Rose Cecil.” Courtesy of Museum of Nebraska Art.

[2] Rose O’Neill and Miriam Formanek-Brunell, The Story of Rose O’Neill: An Autobiography (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 44.

[3] Ibid, 16.

[4] Bossert, Jill. “1999 Hall of Fame Inductee: Rose O’Neill,” Society of Illustrators, 1999.

[5] Buhr, Sarah. Frolic of the Mind: The Illustrious Life of Rose O’Neill, 35.

[6] Dunbier, Lonnie. “O’Neill, Rose Cecil.” Courtesy of Museum of Nebraska Art.

Nebraska Suffrage 101: Rheta Louise Childe Dorr

The next phase of Nebraska’s women’s suffrage story has a direct causal link to the wave of support shown for the cause in the 1860s through the 1880s.

Rheta Childe Dorr was born in Omaha in about 1868 to Edward Payson Child and Lucille Mitchell, who at the time lived at the International Hotel on 11th and Dodge.[1] She grew up amidst the high-profile speeches, parades, and conventions that were so common in Nebraska leading up to the 1882 vote for women’s suffrage. When she was twelve years old, she famously snuck out of her house one night to attend a speech given by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her name soon appeared in the newspaper as a new member of the National Woman Suffrage Association, having spent her only silver dollar to pay the dues.[2]

She would soon go on to study journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, staying active in women’s suffrage and other progressive causes. After two years in Lincoln, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in newspaper. She married John Pixley Dorr and briefly moved to Seattle, but when their marriage dissolved, she returned to New York City and became an investigative reported for the New York Evening Post. After leaving the Post in 1906, she traveled through Europe and began focusing more on the issue of suffrage, writing several pieces voicing the plight of working-class women. In 1910, these articles were assembled and published as a volume entitled What Eight Million Women Want.

Rheta Childe Dorr (right) and British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, ca. 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1913, she became the first editor of the new newspaper The Suffragist. This publication, founded by Alice Paul, provided national documentation of protests and arrests and also featured editorials and cartoons that depicted trends within the movement and brought women’s suffrage to an even wider audience.

Rheta Childe Dorr. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A 1917 issue of The Suffragist. Image courtesy

And because this year is an election year, you can show your appreciation for Rheta Childe Dorr’s work toward voting equality by making sure you’re registered to vote!

[1] Collins’ Omaha City Directory. Compiled by Charles Collins, July 4, 1868.

[2] Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, “Rheta Childe Dorr”, 2020.

Nebraska Suffrage 101: Early Stages

Women’s suffrage in Nebraska was a long battle, and in the weeks leading up to the centennial of 19th Amendment on August 26th, we’re going to explore some of the ins and outs of our state’s history throughout the suffrage movement.

National women’s suffrage movements began in 1848, but when progress in this nation-wide campaign slowed, many switched gears to target individual state governments, fighting for the ratification of suffrage on a state-by-state basis. In Nebraska, interest in the women’s suffrage movement dated as early as 1855, before the territory had even become a state. Interest was sparked when Amelia Bloomer (of female trouser fame) spoke that year at the Douglas House Hotel. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would come to speak in Omaha in the 1860’s, and many parades, conventions, and events were held in support of the movement.[1]

Amelia Bloomer. Image courtesy of the National Women’s History Museum,

This wave of interest culminated in the early 1880s when Erasmus M. Correll of Hebron, Nebraska (Thayer County) introduced a bill to the Nebraska House of Representatives that would open the question of women’s suffrage up to a state-wide vote. Correll founded the Lincoln-based Western Women’s Journal to support the initiative, and more nationally-known speakers came to Omaha to attend conventions held by the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association.

Erasmus Correll. Image courtesy of Thayer County Museum, accessed

When the vote was put to the [all-male] electorate in November of 1882, it was soundly defeated 25,756 to 50,693.[2]

In the years following this defeat, many proponents of women’s suffrage focused their attention on other causes, such as temperance. It wouldn’t be until the 1910s that many of Nebraska’s iconic female suffragists would take the stage

And because this year is an election year, you can show your appreciation to the men and women who fought for decades for voting equality by making sure you’re registered to vote!

[1] National Parks Service. Nebraska and the 19th Amendment,

[2] History Nebraska. Woman Suffrage,

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