The Bonniebrook Homestead in Taney County, Missouri, is historically significant for its association with the life and work of Rose O’Neill (1874 - 1944), the world famous author, artist, sculptor, illustrator and creator of the Kewpie doll. Rose O’Neill always considered the Bonniebrook Homestead to be her home and it was the pioneer homestead of her family. Born the second of seven children in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 25, 1874, Rosie was encouraged early on by her parents to pursue her artistic interests. She won a drawing contest at 14, subsequently she won further prizes and later sold her sketches in New York City. Her family later moved to Nebraska, and in 1893 they settled on this site in Taney County, Missouri.
It was at this location in the Bonniebrook Homestead that her career as an illustrator took off, as she began sending drawings to New York publishers. As Rose grew wealthy from her illustrations, she financed the building of her 14-room mansion which became her Ozarks home. Within this Ozark home Rose O’Neill created the illustrations and artworks that made her famous, and also the highest paid female illustrator in the world. In 1896 she married Gray Latham from Virginia, but the marriage fell apart and the couple were divorced in 1901. A second marriage to Harry Leon Wilson also did not last; she did illustrate a best-selling novel he wrote, Ruggles of Red Gap. Rose finally decided marriage did not agree with her.
In 1909 Rose O’Neil created the Kewpie dolls at Bonniebrook, coming to Rose O’Neil in a dream. By 1914 the Kewpie dolls were the best selling toys in America, and Rosie became a millionaire philanthropist. She had a villa on the Isle of Capri, a townhouse studio on Washington Square in New York City -- she was reported to be the original “Rose of Washington Square (of Ziegfield Follies fame), and a stucco castle in Westport, Connecticut, but she loved her home at Bonniebrook the best. At the height of her popularity and influence, she visited royalty, and was regarded not only as an artist but a captivating beauty who had studied with the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
She made many improvements to the Bonniebrook Homestead, and the home had the first indoor plumbing in Taney County, later improvements included steam heat, electricity, and a telephone. In 1936, Rose O’Neill moved back to Bonniebrook for good, but she suffered hard financial times as the Great Depression took hold throughout the country.
An early advocate of women’s rights, she remained active in the local community. She died in 1944, and soon after her family sold the land. Perhaps her best description of the effort of the Bonniebrook Homestead on her life and work was a comment she made to a friend one day and recorded in Rowena Godding Ruggles’ book, The One Rose:
“I love this spot better than any place on earth. Here I have done my best work. Among my lovely hills I want to live and to die and to be buried out there beneath the big oak tree where we buried my beloved brother.”
The home burned down in 1947 and today it has been restored and is open for tours. A museum contains numerous original dolls, molds, books, poems and artwork. The Bonniebrook Homestead is an irregular shaped tract of land containing 172 acres. A 12.5 acre portion of the Homestead is leased by the Bonniebrook Historical Society, Inc. a Missouri-Not for Profit organization dedicated to preserving the Homestead property. The Bonniebrook Homestead was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on April 20, 1984
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