By Lori Malcolm for Viva Cuba
Women’s Month is celebrated around the world every March. There are countless women in our nation’s history who have led extraordinary lives, including some here in Cuba, Missouri. There is a rich legacy of strong women who have made their mark in history only to lead the way for others.
Here are excellent examples of memorable women who will live on forever through art, education, and tourism in our city.
If you’ve driven down Route 66, heading west, you can’t miss the Gold Star Boys mural in its vivid red, white, and blue. This mural represents an era of great loss and victory for our country. Men who died in the service of their country were called Gold Star Boys.
With an act of Congress on August 1, 1947, the design and distribution of a Gold Star lapel pin began. Known as the Gold Star Lapel Button, it was a way to identify widows, parents, and family members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives.
Two pins were issued by the Department of Defense. One symbolizes a combat death while the other represents a death while in service. Mothers, widows, and sisters of young servicemen wear their pins with great pride to honor those lost. For more information visit goldstarmoms.com.
The Route 66 Mural City’s Gold Star Boys mural was painted just after September 11, 2001, as a wave of patriotism swept the country. The mural depicts the lapel pin and lists the names of fallen servicemen from the area. The mural also includes the Bluebonnet Train, of the Frisco Line, that often carried the service members to military bases. Learn more about the Gold Star Mural at cubamomurals.com. The mural was painted by muralists Michelle Loughery, Shelly Steiger, and Sara Lindsay.
Elizabeth Lewis Saigh - 1915-2006
One of nine brothers and sisters, Elizabeth Saign descended from a family of community leaders. Her family, much respected in the Cuba community, included an attorney and politician, a banker, a business owner, and successful realtors. Her childhood was surrounded by smart and capable people which served as fine examples to herself and siblings.
Elizabeth attended school in Cuba and graduated in 1933. She and her older sister Grace played high school basketball and were pretty good at it too. The team had an undefeated season and went on to win the South Central Missouri Championship in 1930. Grace was the team captain and took the team, that included Elizabeth, to victory. Later that year, the high school considered girls basketball a sport “injurious to their health,” and discontinued the program.
During World War II, Elizabeth volunteered on the home front for the Red Cross as one of the Gray Ladies. Just as the name states, volunteers were dressed in gray uniforms that included white gloves, hat, and shoes. The Red Cross Gray Ladies were volunteers who worked in hospitals, private homes, and health-care facilities to provide friendly personal non-medical services to sick, injured, and disabled patients. As part of her role, Elizabeth wrote letters, read aloud, tutored and ran errands for patients. For her efforts, Elizabeth was awarded a special commendation by the Red Cross in 1945.
She later married Fred Saigh, the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals before the Busch family became owners. When Elizabeth passed away in 2006 at the age of 90, she left over $2 million in a charitable trust to the Crawford County R-II School to support academics for future Cuba students. The generous gift from this hometown girl will live on for generations to come.
Amelia Earhart 1897-1937
It has been over 90 years ago, since Amelia Earhart first encountered Cuba, Missouri. Born July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia was an anomaly among women at an early age. Her aviation journey began in 1908 when she saw an airplane for the first time at the Iowa State Fair.
She later recalled being unimpressed until she saw a stunt-flying exhibition and then she was hooked. Amelia excelled in science but wasn’t the best at making friends. One caption in her high school yearbook described her as, “the girl in brown who walks alone.”
In 1926, she took her first ride in an airplane. She later recalled, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.” And fly she did! After working as a truck driver, photographer, and a stenographer, she saved enough money for flying lessons. Just a short time later, she would set an unofficial altitude record for female pilots.
She took a hiatus in 1924 from aviation and went back to school at Columbia briefly, then went on to Boston as a teacher and social worker teaching English to Syrain and Chinese immigrants.
Her overnight stardom came in the summer of 1928 when she was the first female passenger on a transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Wales in 20 hours and 40 minutes. Amelia wrote a book describing the experience called, 20 Hours, 40 Min: Our Flight in the Friendship.
It would be just a few months later that Amelia would make her unscheduled landing near Cuba, Missouri. According to a Muskogee Times Democrat newspaper article, on September 4, 1928, Amelia Earhart came to Cuba by happenstance.
She first landed at Scott Field in Belleville, Ill., in her new 1927 Avro Avian plane en route to Kansas City. Miss Annabelle Hoppe saw Amelia land at the airfield. Since Amelia didn’t know anyone in Belleville, Ms. Hoppe invited her to be a guest in her home during her stay. Accepting the invitation, Amelia also attended a dinner dance at the St. Clair Country Club where she received a warm welcome.
The article said that she left Scott Field in Belleville in her plane on her way to Muscogee and eventually Los Angeles, when she was forced down outside Cuba. No damage was reported, and she was able to continue her flight. In 1937, Amelia would disappear somewhere over the Pacific Ocean never to be heard from again.
Amelia’s legacy will live-on along Route 66 in Cuba Missouri. Local artists Shelly Smith Steiger and Julie Balogh Brand teamed up to depict the event in the Amelia Earhart mural located on Madison St. If you love the story of Amelia Earhart, watch the trailer to the film, American Pilot, for Hollywood’s version of Amelia’s journey.
Pocahontas Thompson Barnett 1911-2004
What’s in a name? She had a name you would never forget—Pocahontas. Her friends and family called her “Pokie.” Being a third generation female with the name Pocahontas, she decided the name would stop with her. But her name proved to fit her personality perfectly.
She attended grade school in Flat River, Missouri. After her father's death, Pokie and her mother moved the family to Columbia. While attending Jefferson Jr. High, she developed a love for art, which continued through her high school years at Hickman, where she graduated in 1929. She was a 1933 graduate of the University of Missouri, and also studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. She embraced her uniqueness and went on to teach art where she learned to love it.
Some claim a name makes the person. Perhaps, a name like Pocahontas shaped her
strong-will and curious nature. She often got odd looks or intense glares during roll call at school. People were curious at what a “Pocahontas” might look like, as many already had an image in their mind.
Pokie often told a story of overhearing a conversation that her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, was pledging a rich Indian girl from Oklahoma. Of course, she chuckled every time she told the story because not one word of it was true, and it was all because of her name.
Pokie met W. James Barnett, the owner of the Columbia Credit Bureau and a native of Cuba, Missouri, in 1935. Just a few years later they married. In 1952, they purchased acreage near the outskirts of Columbia, Missouri, where they raised sheep, and at one time Pokie had 21 cats. In the late 50s, James worked three days a week away from home to manage the Peoples Bank in his hometown of Cuba.
Pokie served on the Board of Directors for Peoples Bank until 1972. Her love for art never ceased. Her artistic talent revealed itself in everything she touched. She was an excellent painter, seamstress, and decorator. You may know her son, W. James Barnett, Jr. who is currently the chairman of Peoples Bank and is married to Viva Cuba’s Chairperson, Jill Barnett, as well as their son Jim III, who is vice chairman of Peoples Bank.
For all the daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, learn from each other and share what you know. Remember, wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes and may be as simple as the helping hand of a volunteer or a girl named Pocahontas. Whatever the case, stay strong and pass it on.
Viva Cuba, founded in 1984 by Peoples Bank, continues to coordinate beatification projects in the city of Cuba, Missouri. To learn more about Viva Cuba, visit us online at cubamomurals.com or follow us on Facebook and Twitter @cubamomurals and Instagram @cubamomuralcity.