The Rose O’Neill Museum is located in the Ozarks Hills of Taney County near Branson, Missouri at 485 Rose O’Neill Road in the town of Walnut Shade. The museum is housed inside the Bonniebrook House, a recreation of the O’Neill family’s 14 room estate.
The museum contains hundreds of Kewpie ephemera (from dolls to door knockers) that showcase O’Neill’s successful life as an artist/sculptor/author/activist.
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 25, 1874, Rose Cecil O’Neill was an American artist who created a magical creature called a Kewpie who was modeled after Cupid, the Roman God of Love.
“Do good deeds in a funny way. The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does.” — Rose O’Neill
The Kewpies were fairy-like babies with a top-knot head, a wide smile, and sidelong eyes. They were both impish and kind and solved all kinds of problems in humorous ways. O’Neill described them as “a sort of little round fairy whose one idea is to teach people to be merry and kind at the same time.”
The idea for the Kewpies came to O’Neill in a dream. “They were all over my room, on my bed, and one perched on my hand. I awoke seeing them everywhere.”
At the turn of the century, O’Neill was in high demand as a talented illustrator and provided works for the magazines of the time, including the legendary humor magazine Puck, as well as Cosmopolitan and Ladies’ Home Journal. Her whimsical cartoons appeared regularly in the Woman’s Home Companion and Good Housekeeping for the next 25 years.
In 1909, her Kewpie illustrations in the Christmas issue of Ladies’ Home Journal led to the production of more than five million Kewpies in china, celluloid, chalk, chocolate and wood. The Kewpies were considered one of the first mass-marketed toys in America.
In 1913 the patent for Kewpie dolls and the KEWPIE trademark were registered.
Hickman High School in Missouri adopted O’Neill’s characters as their school mascot and the phrase “Kill ’em, Kewpies!” was their cry to victory.
Childrens’ books illustrated by Rose O’Neill include:
- The Kewpies and Dottie Darling , 1910.
- The Kewpies, Their Book, 1912.
- The Kewpie Primer, 1912.
- The Kewpie Kutouts, 1914.
- The Kewpies and the Runaway Baby, 1928.
Rose also published four adult novels – “The Loves of Edwy” (1904), “The Lady in the White Veil” (1909), “Garda” (1929), and “The Goblin Woman (1930)” – as well as and a book of poetry, “The Master Mistress” (1922).
In 1936, Rose left New York and returned to Bonniebrook to care for their sick mother who died a few years later. Rose died on April 6, 1944 after a series of strokes.
Rose O’Neill is buried on the grounds of Bonniebrook estate, along with other family members, including her mother, father and her sister, Callista.
In her heyday, Rose O’Neill was called “The Queen of Bohemian Society.” While living in Greenwich Village, Rose became the inspiration for the popular song “Rose of Washington Square.”
They call me Rose of Washington Square.
I’m withering there, in basement air I’m fading.
Pose in plain or fancy clothes?
They say my roman nose
It seems to please artistic people.
Beaus, I’ve plenty of those.
With second-hand clothes, and nice long hair!
I’ve got those Broadway vampires lashed to the mast.
I’ve got no future, but oh! What a past.
I’m Rose of Washington Square.
Visitors to the Bonniebrook Museum Gift Shop can purchase such items such as dolls, apparel, mugs, postcards, books, original magazine and newspaper pages containing Rose’s illustrations and cartoons, and other souvenirs.
A second museum honoring her life is the Rose O’Neill Museum in Galloway Village located at 4144 S. Lone Pine Avenue in Springfield, Missouri. The museum was opened in 2009 by David O’Neill. Rose O’Neill is his great aunt.
Since 1968, the nearby town of Branson, Missouri has hosted a festival dedicated to the Kewpie called Kewpiesta.
NOTE: The original Bonniebrook Estate was built around 1893 with funds sent home to Rose’s family. Unfortunately, in January, 1947, the old house burned to the ground. The ruins lay undisturbed until 1975 when The Bonniebrook Historical Society rebuilt the house.
Completed in 1993, the new Bonniebrook home is furnished in the style typical of the era in which the O’Neill’s occupied it. Rose O’Neill named the house after a small babbling brook found nearby.
In the 1920’s, O’Neill’s kewpie characters were chosen at the mascot for Kewpee Hamburgers, a chain of fast-food restaurants that spread throughout the Midwest from the 1920s to the 1940s. Today, only a few remain, including three in Ohio, and two in Wisconsin and Michigan.
For those interested in Rose O’Neill toys and collectibles, check out the book, “Kewpies Dolls & Art: With Value Guide” by Denise C. Jackson (2013).
Bonniebrook Home & Museum
485 Rose O’Neill Road
Walnut Shade, MO 65771
Rose O’Neill Museum in Walnut Shade, MO (Website)
Rose O’Neill and Bonniebrook Museum (Facebook)
Rose O’Neill Museum in Springfield, MO (Website)
International Rose O’Neill Club Foundation (Website)
Bonniebrook, Home of Rose O’Neill (Video)
Home of Rose O’Neill (Google Map)