A Woman Crusader’s “Day Off” in the Ozarks by Alice Curtice Moyer Wing

Alice Curtice Moyer Wing wanted equal voting rights for women. She traveled the Missouri Ozarks with her horse La Belle in the 1910s, talking to people about voting rights. Her experiences were chronicled in a series of articles published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1916-1919. Missouriwomen.org is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s eleventh article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 19, 1917:

She got tired of hearing that “a woman’s place is in the home,” so she watched the antics of a trick colt, heard the story about the man from St. Louis who sympathized with a “painter,” listened to an Ozarker’s account of his dream, and then started to hear about “Aunt Serry” but was forced to flee.

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

“This here colt,” he said, “is the geewhizzinest little cuss. You jist orter see her cut up some of her shines. Why she’ll pick my hat off of my head as slick as a ribbon. She’ll pull the pins off the clothes on the line. She’ll put up her little hoof to shake hands, and, when she’s a mind to, she circles around, a standin’ on her hind legs and playin’ like she was a circus hoss. She’s shore some rinktum. Hain’t you, Queenie? Hey? Show the lady how you can shake hands.”

It was a warm August morning and La Belle and I were taking a change of diet.

I heard of a man once who sickened from eating a quail a day for 30 days, and, though he liked quail better than anything he ever ate, he needed a change in order that the flavor of his favorite dish might not become tasteless.

“What we need, La Belle,” I had said that morning, “is to lay up a day and rest. But we are headed for a certain spot in the woods where we can hang up our hats and do as we please. Where some new clover hay is waiting for you and where our vegetable garden is getting all red and glowing in one corner from ripe tomatoes.

“We’re homesick and we’d be unhappy to lay up and not move a peg. Therefore, La Belle, we’ll travel just the same and we’ll chat along the way, because your habit of interviewing people won’t let me pass one by. But we’ll forget our subject for today, unless people remind us of their own free will.

“We don’t want the Bible cited to us today as a book crammed full of reasons for keeping the vote away from women. Remember that man yesterday who demanded that we show him the ‘verse and the line’ in the New Testament where it was stated in plain words that women should vote? And how his woman folks got the best of the argument by demanding that he show us the ‘verse and line’ giving the right of the vote to men? We enjoyed that yesterday – but that was yesterday.

“Why, it would make us sick at our stomachs this morning if someone should assume a self-righteous cast of countenance and dolefully remark that the woman’s place is the home.

“This is our day off. And we’ll just see what people will do or say for our amusement.”

And right here belongs the first part of the story, for the man with the benevolent appearance and the colt with the gymnastic tendencies were our first entertainers. In fairness to Queenie, I ought to say that the picture doesn’t flatter her and her fond owner will probably never forgive me that she held her head in such a manner at the psychological moment, as to give her the appearance of a long-eared mule.

“Lord!” said the benevolent-looking man. “Before I fergit it, I want to tell you a joke on a man from Sent Louis, you bein’ frum thar yourself. I don’t know how this feller ever escaped, ner how he happened to be wanderin’ around down here, but he shore was here, lookin’ around, he said, and a-fishin’. Hadn’t never been out of the city afore, and he jist wanted to git down close to the ground, he said. I didn’t know fer why, but that is what he said. He stayed with us a couple of weeks and paid his board reglar as a clock, so I reckon he wasn’t jist an ordinary hobo tramp.

“Well, one night we was settin’ out on the porch, when Jim, that’s my boy, he up and says: “Pa, that painter is still over thar on the creek. I heered him a-hollerin’ agin last night.’

“‘You don’t suppose he’s lost,’ says the feller from Sent Louis.

“‘Lost! I jist natcherly wisht he was,’ says Jim. ‘The derned old cuss,’ he says.

“‘But maybe he needs help, man. Maybe he’s hungry,’ says the feller.

“‘I wisht he’d jist natcherly starve hisself to death,’ says Jim.

“The feller was gittin’ plumb excited.

“‘Well,’ he says, ‘I though you was decent people,’ he says. ‘But you’re a lot of unfeelin’ wretches,’ he says. ‘What harm has this here painter ever done to you? Is it his callin’ you don’t like?”

“‘It shore is,’ said Jim.

“‘You’ve seed him, I reckon,’ says the feller.

“‘I hain’t,’ says Jim. ‘They skeered him up this way frum down the river with a passel of hounds last week. They say he’s shore a big one and fights like the devin.’

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“‘Jist put yourself in his place,’ says the feller.

“‘Cain’t,’ says Jim. ‘I ain’t a painter.’

“‘What chance has he got agin all this persecution, you-you miserable wretches!’ says the feller. ‘I’ll not stay another night under your roof. And country people has the name of being’ hospittyble! I’ll go out to this painter feller you’re so afeerd of and stay with him tonight. And I’ll take him to Sent Louis with me. The pore feller jist wants work. I reckon, and a chance.

They’s plenty of jobs in the city. He can room with me till he finds one. You don’t need to worry yourselves about him no more. I’ll look after him myself. Fer a little,’ the feller says, ‘I’d knock your head off.’

“‘Try it,’ says Jim.

“And honest, they was mighty nigh into it when they got to understandin’ each other. The feller thought that Jim was a-talkin’ about a man that paints fer a livin’. Hain’t that a plumb sight? Every time I woke up that night I jist shuck the bed from laughin’. Honest, I like to a-died over it. Haw, haw, haw!”

I laughed with him, remembering with particular zest the much-feared panther of my Ozark childhood, and easily fitting the “panther” term to its proper translation.

“Well, come around agin sometimes,” said the benevolent looking man, “and we’ll talk hoss swap. Queenie is shore goin’ to be a dandy, the little cuss.”

“Oh, say!” as I was turning to go, “I’m with you tooth and toenail on that worman sufferage deal. With you clean through.”

“Wait a minute,” he called again. “That same feller heerd us talkin’ about layin’ by a patch of corn and he wanted to know if it was dead, was the reason we was layin’ it by. Haw, haw, haw! Reckon they ain’t all that way in Sent Louis, air they?”

We had several chats along the way, but it was nearing noon when we came upon our next real entertainer.

“I had a powerful odd dream last night,” he remarked, as he leaned against an outside wall of his rough board shack. “Powerful odd. They was a real estate agent a-projeckin’ around down here, trying to buy me out. Lookin’ fer iron, I reckon, or somethin’. No tellin’ what. It was a plumb sight the way he run down the land and the country in general and he was all aggervated up when I wouldn’t talk no kind of trade with him. I jist ‘lowed to him that I didn’t know of no place to go that could anyways nigh come up to this part of the world, regardness of him, and that if he didn’t clar out I’d set the dawgs on him.

“And so, in the night, all of the sudden I woke up and found myself inside of the Pearly Gates. I don’t know how I managed to git in, but I shore did. I was a-rubbin’ my eyes and a-lookin’ around and was all sproodged up in some bran new fixin’s till I didn’t know myself, hardly. But by and by, when my eyes commenced gettin’ used to things, I got to lookin’ fer people I knowed. ‘Shorly,’ I says to myself, ‘they ort to be others frum Iron County, Mizzoura. I always knowed I was a right smart of a good feller, but I hadn’t reckoned that I’d be the only one to git in.’

“But I kept a-lookin’ and couldn’t see nothin’ of ‘em, so by and by I got up the courage to ax about it. ‘Ain’t they nobody here frum Iron County, Mizzoura?’ I says to a feller close by.

“‘Shore they is,’ says the feller. They’ve got ‘em over here in cagest jist a little ways off.’

“‘But fer why,’ I says, feelin’ sorter skeered.

“‘To keep ‘em frum breakin’ loose and goin’ back,” he says.

“‘Say,’ I says to him, ‘do you reckon they’d let me out a little while if I was to give bond fer my reappearance, as it were?’

“‘What fer?’ he says, lookin’ at me suspicious like.

“‘I jist want to tell that real estate agent about it.’ I says.”

This old story, dressed up to fit the occasion, was just one more sample of how the real artist dips his brush in the paint pots of local color, wherever we may find him.

One other star performer of this day off stands out in my mind – Jinny.

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“My Aunt Serry,” said Jinny, “had gone down to Mis Epps to make the butter come.”

“To do what?” I asked.

“Why; to make the butter come. Mis Epps, she’s afeerd to heat the poker hot enough.”

“To do what?” I asked again.

“Why, to heat the poker. You see,” she explained, “when the butter won’t come, it’s because the witch down there in the churn won’t let it. And you got to poke a red-hot iron down there and kill the witch afore the butter will gether. But you got to know jist how and Aunt Serry, she knows.

“She left word fer you, Aunt Serry did, fer me to give you if you ever come while she was gone. She’s gone a heap. She cures all the babies around here jist by blowin’ her breath in their mouths. Cures’ em of the thrash.”

“How?” I asked.

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“Why, jist by breathin’ into their mouths. It shore cures ‘em ever time. You see, Aunt Sherry, she’s the only child her father ever had and she never seed him. He died afore she was borned. That is what gives her the power. She travels round most all the time curin’ babies and killin’ witches and tendin’ meetin’s. She’s a great hand fer tendin’ all kinds of picnics and meetin’s, Aunt Serry is, but she left word fer ye. Me and Uncle John, we keeps house here jist by ourselves ‘cause she ain’t ever here much.”

“What was the message? I suppose she believes that women should have the vote?” I ventured.

“She shore don’t,” said Jinny promptly. “She said fer me to tell you that a woman’s place is at home.”

 

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