Home of the Kewpie Doll Creator at Bonniebrook in Branson, MO
A little-known fact about the Branson area is that it is where an artist's dream of tiny cupids that would soon become a worldwide obsession was born. Originally born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Rose O'Neill's talent bloomed at an early age. By the time she was 14 her drawings were winning contests and only a few years later began to sell in New York City, making Rose the first published American woman cartoonist and the highest paid female illustrator in the country. Rose was able to sell her illustrations to a number of publishing houses and was commissioned to do more illustrations for others.
While Rose was working in New York, she sent a good portion of her paychecks to her family back in Taney County to assist in supporting them, as her father's salary as a bookseller was just not enough to uphold their needs.
Rose O'Neill was a huge advocate for women's rights in the early 19th century, involving herself in the 'New Woman' movement that would promote women's artwork and the image of women being educated and equal. O'Neill played a pivotal role in this movement by being vocal and confident in supporting women's work.
While Rose lived and worked in New York, her family relocated to Walnut Shade in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and, with money sent home by Rose, they built the 14 room mansion that became known as Bonniebrook. This family home in the Ozarks would become O'Neill's favorite place to be, being the place she would return to after divorcing her first husband.
It was here that Rose awoke from a dream of cupids dancing on her bed and drew the very first Kewpie character. By 1912 children all over the world had fallen in love with the Kewpies and Rose hired a German porcelain company to produce Kewpie dolls. Her success was unparalleled for her time and she soon owned homes all over the world and was welcomed into all of high society.
The Kewpie dolls that Rose became so well-known for were first featured in Ladies' Home Journal in 1909 in the form of a comic strip. Good Housekeeping and Woman's Home Companion also helped to launch the Kewpies into stardom. After about four years of the Kewpies being in comic form, Rose commissioned a German porcelain company to manufacture the dolls. The dolls gained her a fortune of 1.4 million dollars, which she used to purchase properties like the one her family built a homestead on, an apartment in Washington Square in Greenwich Village, Castle Carabas in Connecticut, and a converted convent on the Isle of Capri.
Kewpie dolls garnered Rose worldwide fame and made her the highest paid female illustrator in the entire world, making her mark on the women's suffrage movement for an eternity. After gaining such a height of fame, Rose began donating time and artwork to the School of the Ozarks, which later became the College of the Ozarks. The Ralph Foster Museum at College of the Ozarks now houses some of her illustrations and dolls on display.
In 1940, after two failed marriages and the death of her mother, Rose eventually settled for good in the place she 'loved better than any other place on earth,' and made her family home of Bonniebrook her own home until her passing in 1944.
A fire in 1947 reduced Rose's beloved Bonniebrook to rubble. In 1976, however, the Bonniebrook Historical Society began making plans for the construction of a Bonniebrook replica. Construction on the home began in 1984 and, after several phases, was completed in 1993 through donations from the community, local businesses, various fundraisers and the help of hundreds of volunteers. The entire home was built according to the memories of local residents and old photographs.
Inside the replica home, antique furniture and household items are found to represent the time in which Rose occupied the home. Thanks to generous donations from area residents and members of the Bonniebrook Historical Society, original drawings and copies of Rose's famous illustrations and Kewpies are found throughout the house as a tribute to Rose and her contributions to the community.
The Visitor Center
The Maggie Fisher Center is the Bonniebrook visitor center building and is home to the museum, gift shop and banquet facility. Maggie Fisher's extensive Kewpie collection is on display in the museum, along with more than fifty of Rose's original drawings which she had sold to magazines and publishers at the peak of her career. You'll also get a glimpse of letters she wrote to family and friends as well as books she wrote and illustrated. In the gift shop, you'll find current Kewpie items for sale along with postcards, charms, and other souvenirs.
Even after the loss of much of her fortune and subsequently her 'high society friends' due to the Great Depression and supporting her family, friends, and her first husband, Rose was a prominent member of Branson society. She donated time and money, as well as some of her artwork to schools in the area and devoted herself to the cause of women's rights. The Bonniebrook Historical Society keeps alive the memory of Rose O'Neill through the Home and Museum in appreciation for her contributions to the area and its resident.