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Daring to Be Different

Missouri's Remarkable Owen Sisters

Doris Land Mueller

Publication Year: 2010

 In the 1800s, American women were largely restricted to the private sphere. Most had no choice but to spend their lives in the home, marrying in their teens and living only as wives, mothers, and pillars of domesticity. Even as the women’s movement came along midcentury, it focused more on gaining legal and political rights for women than on expanding their career opportunities. So in that time period, in which the options and expectations for women’s professional lives were so limited, it is remarkable that three sisters born in the 1850s, the Owen daughters of Missouri, all achieved success and appreciation in their careers.



Doris Land Mueller’s Daring to Be Different tells the story of these exceptional sisters, whose contributions to their chosen fields are still noteworthy today. Mary, the oldest, followed a childhood interest in storytelling to become an internationally recognized folklorist, writing about the customs of Missouri’s Native Americans, the traditions of its African American communities, and the history of St. Joseph’s earliest settlers. The middle daughter, Luella, became a geologist, breaking into the “old boys club” of the nineteenth-century scientific community; her book, Cave Regions of the Ozarks and the Black Hills, was for over fifty years the only reference to include Missouri caves and is still a valuable resource on the subject. And the youngest Owen girl, Juliette, was a talented artist who painted images of birds and studied and wrote about ornithology. An ardent conservationist, Juliette was an animal advocate during the early days of the humane movement.



Through a compelling narrative driven by thorough research, Mueller showcases the different personalities of the three sisters who all eschewed marriage to pursue their callings, putting their accomplishments in context with the place and times in which they lived. With family stories, illustrations of early St. Joseph, and images of the Owen family to enrich the story, this book pays tribute to the Owen sisters’ contributions to the Show-Me State. The latest addition to the Missouri Heritage Reader Series, Daring to Be Different will appeal to anyone interested in Missouri history and the early years of the women’s movement.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Sponsors, Series Information, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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1. An Introduction

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pp. 1-5

For a female child born in the mid-1800s in St. Joseph, Missouri, or for that matter anywhere in the United States, opportunities available to her as she grew up would have been severely limited by her sex. The struggle for woman’s rights in the United States had just begun, and a long and difficult battle lay ahead ...

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2. St. Joseph: The Place and Its People

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pp. 6-29

The lives and career choices of Mary, Luella, and Juliette Owen were deeply influenced by their hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. Mary, the oldest of the three, was fascinated from childhood by the stories and songs she heard from members of St. Joseph’s African American community and her discoveries...

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3. The Early Years

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pp. 30-51

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” This tribute to women, found in the Book of Proverbs, could well apply to all three of the famous Owen sisters. Or perhaps Mary Alicia, who was the eldest and would become the best known of the five surviving children of James and Agnes Cargill ...

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4. Mary Alicia Leads the Way

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pp. 52-73

When Mary Alicia Owen returned to St. Joseph from Vassar, she was undoubtedly welcomed home not only by her family but by her many friends and acquaintances who had not had the opportunity to spend time “back East.” They were eager to learn about the social activities, customs, and fashions of the...

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5. Luella: Geologist, Explorer, Painter, Family Historian

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pp. 74-93

Although she did not become as internationally famous as her sister Mary Alicia, Luella Agnes Owen also gained fame and respect in her chosen field and enjoyed a successful career as a scientist. In 1852, when she was born, St. Joseph was still a frontier town, one of the last U.S. settlements before the beginning of ...

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6. "Miss Juliette": Ornithologist, Botanist, and Artist

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pp. 94-99

If Juliette Amelia Owen had been born into almost any other family, her accomplishments would have been considered extraordinary, especially for the time in which she lived. As the youngest Owen daughter, however, she followed her older sisters Mary, who became a world-renowned folklorist, and adventurous...

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7. The Twilight Years

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pp. 100-117

As Agnes Owen grew older and more frail, the three daughters living with her spent more time at home with their mother. She continued to manage the family estate with the help of Herbert and his son Stephen. When her brother John’s children decided to sell their part of Burr Oak Grove, she kept her share to pass on ...

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8. The Legacy of the Owen Sisters

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pp. 118-123

Even viewed from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, the accomplishments of Mary Alicia, Luella, and Juliette Owen inspire notice, admiration, and respect. But in order to understand and appreciate the achievements and contributions of this unique trio of women, one needs to take a step back in ...

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pp. 124-126

In 1848, just two years before Mary Alicia Owen was born, the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 initiated a lengthy conflict that even today has not yet been totally resolved, but which began to change the way Americans viewed and treated women. No woman’s rights movement had existed in this country before that...

For Further Reading and Research

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pp. 127-130


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pp. 131-134

About the Author

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p. 135-135

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272362
E-ISBN-10: 0826272363
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218971
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218970

Page Count: 151
Illustrations: 38 illus
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1