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Southeast Missouri had a key role in the road to Missouri statehood in 1817-1821. The events leading to statehood, and some of the events, people, and lifeways in the area may be unfamiliar to many modern-day Missourians. Currently, Missouri is celebrating its Bicentennial, and this program aims to summarize the events leading to statehood, some of the factors affecting Missouri’s entry into the Union, and how people lived and worked during that time 200 years ago.Every Friday morning at 6:42 and 8:42 a.m. and Saturday morning at 8:18 a.m., Bill Eddleman highlights the people, places, ways of life, and local events in Southeast Missouri in 1821.The theme music for the show ("The Missouri Waltz") is provided by Old-Time Missouri Fiddler Charlie Walden, host of the podcast "Possum’s Big Fiddle Show."

MO Bicentennial Minutes: The Role of Women in Missouri at Statehood

A Pioneer Kitchen Scene.
State Historical Society of Missouri.
A Pioneer Kitchen Scene.

The role of women in 1821 varied with ethnic and economic status. Women in French settlements held a dominant role in the family. The matriarch often made decisions about running the household. French wives had the primary role in training and discipline of children, often because of long absences by fathers who were fur traders, miners, or merchants. Girls could marry at age 14, boys at 17, and marriages were a business arrangement requiring parental consent.

Women in American settler families played a more submissive role. Frontier families experienced high infant mortality, and thus families were larger in more settled regions. In rural areas, the wife had to manage nearly all household affairs. They did the food processing; cooking; sewing, including spinning, weaving, and making clothing; fire-building; cleaning; and child rearing. One woman from Callaway County wrote in a letter, “The men and dogs have a fine time but, the poor women have to suffer. They have to pack water [up to] a mile, and do all the cooking and washing.”

In different households, the role of pioneer wives varied from helpmate to servant. Literacy was lower in women as well. Legally, women had inferior status. While single women or widows could own property and conduct financial affairs in some cases, they could neither vote nor participate in public life. Once they married or remarried, their legal role was subservient to their husbands. In some rare cases, pre-marital contracts protected property held by some women.

Religious services and events provided relief from the daily pattern of life for women, as did community chores turned into entertainments such as house raisings or quilting bees.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.
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