Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Barbara Blackman O'Neil, 1880-1963
By Makenna O'Neal and Maddie Reihs, undergraduate students, Northwest Missouri State University. Edited by Dr. Elyssa Ford, Northwest Missouri State University
Known for both her beauty and her intellect, Barbara Blackman O'Neil served as a true leader in the suffrage movement in Missouri. She utilized her connections to create awareness of the Equal Suffrage League and advocated for women to have a larger role in political parties. Her background in art helped create unconventional propaganda for the suffragists of St. Louis.
Barbara was born on September 3, 1880, in St. Louis, Missouri. After spending her childhood in Europe with her family, she returned to the United States and attended Washington University Art School. While there, she met her future husband, David O'Neil. During their marriage, the couple had four children: David, George, Horton, and Barbara, a well-known actress.
Barbara became the 2nd acting President of the Equal Suffrage League in 1912. As President, Blackman used a variety of methods to gain support for the suffrage movement. One of the noteworthy events she participated in took place during the National Democratic Convention in 1916. Working alongside the National American Woman Suffrage Association, women involved in the Equal Suffrage League staged a visual representation along Locust Street in St. Louis to show the small number of states that had full suffrage. At the end of the street, under a gold canopy, stood Barbara Blackman dressed up “as a triumphant Spirit of Liberty.” The demonstration by the Suffrage League garnered the attention of the press and was deemed a success.
The Equal Suffrage League increased support for women's suffrage in three main ways: bringing speakers to the St. Louis area, organizing large demonstrations, and gaining the public's attention through newspaper articles. Barbara communicated with newspapers frequently to address current topics, which piqued the interest of women throughout the city. In addition to these publications, the Suffrage League also created multiple petitions for the Missouri General Assembly to push for a suffrage amendment to the State Constitution. One of the organization's major accomplishments was passing the Presidential Suffrage Bill, which passed in 1919. It afforded women in the state the right to vote for president and vice-president.
Following her husband's retirement in 1919, Barbara and her family left St. Louis for Europe, California, and eventually the East Coast. Despite this move, Barbara's work was acknowledged and commemorated in St. Louis where she had her most active role in the suffrage movement. Even after her death at age 82 on December 2, 1963, Blackman was still remembered for her involvement and dedication to the suffrage movement and the lasting legacy she left behind.
Portrait of Barbara Blackman O'Neil, commissioned by former Mayor of St. Louis, Rolla Wells. The painting remained in the mayor's office for several decades.
Photograph of Golden Lane demonstration
Photograph of Barbara Blackman O'Neil. St. Louis Dispatch, 10 June 1916, p.5.
St. Louis, Missouri newspapers, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Republic, and St. Louis Star and Times, featured Barbara Blackman O'Neil regularly, and she wrote her own plea for suffrage under the name Barbara Blackman: “The ‘Votes for Women' Contest.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO), Dec. 12, 1912. Her suffrage work is also explained by Katharine T. Corbett, In Her Place: A Guide to St. Louis Women's History (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press): p.195; John W. Leonard, Woman's Who's Who of America: a biographical dictionary of contemporary women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (New York City: American Commonwealth Co. Detroit, Gale Research Co., 1976): p.610 [LINK]; and, National Women Suffrage Association, The History of Women Suffrage (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922): p.342. [LINK]