Yesterday, my wife and I drove by the Bonniebrook Mansion and Museum a few miles north of Branson on U.S. Highway 65. I had noticed it before but never paid much attention to it, and my wife was surprised that I didn't know more about Rose O'Neill, who owned and lived at Bonniebrook during the early part of the 20th century and was the designer of the kewpie doll. So, I read up on her a little bit.
Rose was born in 1874 in Nebraska, and at age 14 she won an illustration contest sponsored by the Omaha Herald
. In 1893, her father bought some land in Taney County, Missouri, and the family moved there. About the same time, Rose, who was already making a name for herself as a cartoonist and illustrator, went to New York to further her career, and she soon became famous as an illustrator for leading magazines and other publications. Meanwhile, her father began building a mansion on the land in Taney County. It was called Bonniebrook and was financed largely by Rose's earnings from her work as an illustrator.
In 1901, Rose divorced her first husband and moved to Bonniebrook. A year later, she remarried and the couple lived at Bonniebrook. Rose continued her work from the Taney County farm, and her husband wrote a popular novel, which she illustrated. She and her 2nd husband divorced in 1907. In 1909, Rose's kewpie illustration appeared in the Ladies Home Journal
, and in 1912 a German manufacturer began producing dolls based on the illustration. O'Neill became enormously popular and also very wealthy. In addition, she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. Besides Bonniebrook, she owned a townhouse in New York's Greenwich Village, and she was called the "Queen of Bohemian Society." She also owned property in Europe and studied sculpture under Rodin.
However, the Depression and her own extravagant lifestyle left her no longer wealthy by the time she came back to Bonniebrook to live permanently in 1937. She became popular in the Branson area, presented artistic workshops, and donated some of her artwork to the School of the Ozarks at Point Lookout. A strong advocate of women's rights, she also lectured on women's equality. Rose died in 1944 at Springfield and is buried at Bonniebrook. Today, Bonniebrook Mansion and Farm is maintained as a museum.