Texas Women's History Month: The Circus Queen of the Southwest

Mar 2, 2017

It might be difficult to find a life as colorful as Mollie Bailey’s. Known as “the Circus Queen of the Southwest,” she worked as a nurse during the Civil War, but it’s rumored she may have also been a spy for the Confederacy. 

Mollie Bailey's traveling circus, advertised as "A Texas Show for Texas People," won her the title "Circus Queen of the Southwest."

Some sources say she smuggled quinine across enemy lines by hiding it in her hair and dressed up like an old woman selling cookies to overhear Union army plans.

In the 1880s, Bailey opened a traveling circus that would grow to showcase hundreds of animals, calling it “A Texas Show for Texas People.” She offered free tickets to poor children and war veterans and donated her land holdings for the circus to local church and camp meetings. Distinguished Texas governors and senators gathered in Bailey’s parlor car for entertainment, and some say the first motion pictures in Texas were shown in one of her circus tents.

This month, KUT is partnering with the Ruthe Winegarten Foundation to celebrate Women's History Month. Every day, we'll bring you a short feature spotlighting a historic woman, movement, or group of women in Texas.