Rose Cecil O’Neill was born in 1874 but her life and career make her seem like a much more modern woman.
As a child, she was artistic. She sold her first artwork to a magazine when she was 13 years old. She grew up in Pennsylvania and went to New York to try to sell her illustrations. After her success with this endeavor, O’Neill went on to become the first American female cartoonist. Eventually, she joined the staff of Puck, a magazine of political satire, as an illustrator.
O’Neill was a women’s rights activist and worked hard for the cause of giving women the right to vote. She also wrote novels and poetry and was known for having a wide circle of creative and interesting friends.
She is most famous for creating the “kewpie” doll, a unique, bright-eyed, sweet looking doll which became wildly popular early in the 20th century and helped to make O’Neill wealthy.
When Rose was experiencing the early successes of her career, her father moved the family to a homestead in the Ozark mountains of southern Missouri. Today, a recreation of the original homestead is open to the public as the Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum, and Homestead. It showcases Rose O’Neill’s art, kewpie dolls, and history, and gives a look into the remarkable life of this talented woman.
We were able to visit Bonniebrook on our way to Branson, Missouri, during the summer of 2016. It is easily accessed off of Highway 65, ten minutes north of Branson, and it is well worth a visit. We knew that Bonniebrook had burned to the ground in a devastating fire but it was amazing to hear our excellent tour guide describe how the home was carefully recreated inside and out, using photographs of the original. It is once again a spacious and beautiful estate with wonderful views of the surrounding woods and grounds.
In the gallery, we viewed O’Neill’s large volume of sophisticated fine art pieces which was a surprising contrast to her more popular work. The museum’s dozens and dozens of kewpie dolls were fun and enjoyable to look at and made us smile.
Make sure to leave time for the the gift shop. It has a wonderful selection of O’Neill’s works, including some of her books, and, of course, all kinds of kewpies.
Bonniebrook is the third stop on our Missouri Trail!
Rebecca Blake Beech