Where is Lizzie Bingham? by Prof. Mary Ellen McVicker


“Where is Lizzie Bingham” was the subject of Professor Mary Ellen McVicker’s presentation at the Boonville Library on Saturday, March 17.
Lizzie Bingham was the first of three wives of George Caleb Bingham who was one of the most important painters of the 19th century.
George Bingham was born in Virginia in 1811. The family soon moved west and settled in the Boonslick Country—Franklin, Mo. to be exact. His father was the first judge in Howard County. After the death of Bingham’s father, his mother, Mary, moved her family of three sons to Arrow Rock where she started a school for girls.
George started drawing as a small child and when he was old enough to work on the farm, it became apparent that he was unable to do so due to some breathing problems.  It was then that he was sent to Boonville to Justinian Williams. Williams painted signs and built furniture and it was hoped that George would learn enough between the two professions to support himself. It didn’t take long for Williams to inform Mary that George had learned everything he (Williams) knew and that George was so talented that he suggested he be sent to St. Louis to become a painter.
However, Bingham got very sick on the boat and was put off at Herman. His mother joined him and nursed him back to health, but not before Bingham was totally bald. He wore a wig for the rest of his life. Once he was well enough, he did make it to St. Louis and there, too, he learned all that art teacher could teach him.
Bingham returned to Boonville where he met Sarah Elizabeth Hutchinson. The couple were married and made their home in Arrow Rock with Bingham’s mother. In the twelve years of their life together, Lizzie, as he called her, bore him seven children, two of whom survived until adulthood.
According to a letter Mary wrote her son, Bingham was away when his beloved Lizzie took ill. She died before he returned.
In the Arrow Rock Cemetery, which was established on January 1, 1849, there is a stone that says S. E. Bingham, died September 1849. It had long been thought that Lizzie was buried there. But in another letter to her son, Mary said Lizzie had died November 24, 1848. As this was over a month before the Arrow Rock Cemetery was established, McVicker had doubts about that being Lizzie’s resting place. Hence the question “Where is Lizzie Bingham?”
After much research and, quite literally ‘tripping over Lizzie’s gravestone’, McVicker found Lizzie Bingham laid to rest at Sunset Hills in Boonville and has identified the S. E. Bingham in Arrow Rock as Lizzie’s niece who had the same name.
At the end of her presentation, McVicker pointed out that the large portrait hanging prominently near the front desks is of Mary Wyan Nelson, of the Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church founders, and was painted by George Caleb Bingham.
Refreshments were served by The Friends of the Library.