through the window of yeater HALL

Professor's Story Spans Women's Suffrage, World Wars

By Emily Kepley, Marketing Undergraduate Student

Yeater Hall

University of Central Missouri students across generations know Yeater Hall, the first residence hall on campus. Women who attended before 2015 may have called it home. Those who attended later know it as a building surrounded by local legends that earned it the designation of a national Folklore and Folk Tales marker this year. You know the place, but have you heard the stories of what took place there and the woman who made it her legacy?

Laura Jameson Yeater was born in 1865 in Sedalia, Missouri. She began teaching Latin at the high school level and earned an “artium magister,” a Master of Arts degree, from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She returned to Missouri and began teaching English at State Normal School No. 2 in Warrensburg in 1900. A year later she became the head of the Latin and Greek departments, a position she held for 15 years.

Laura J. Yeater was named “Most Ardent Supporter of Women’s Suffrage” in the 1914 Rhetor yearbook, seven years after this photo was taken.

Laura Yeater

Yeater was well-known and respected by students and colleagues alike. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement and in February 1913 established a suffrage club on campus alongside fellow faculty members Laura L. Runyon, UCM’s first female history professor and originator of the university’s “Education for Service” motto, and Lucy A. Ball, UCM’s first associate professor of English.

“I am for [women’s suffrage], yesterday, today and forever, and I am afraid we shall be forever waiting for it in Missouri,” Yeater proclaimed all those years ago.

Of course, Missourians didn’t have to wait forever, and the state ratified the 19th Amendment on July 3, 1919, granting women the right to vote. By that time, Yeater, who was a pacifist, had left her post at the college as the World War I “Home Guard” transformed campus.

Red Cross 1918

Over there and back again

More than 500 men at the college were called to service. Many of them went to Camp Funston near Junction City, Kansas, for training in the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic that hit hard in close quarters. Some never made it overseas.

At home, faculty and students formed the Ambulance Boys, a corps that later served in France, and a Red Cross unit, led by Runyon, that learned how to care for wounded soldiers and make surgical dressings. The Dockery Building was transformed into a barracks and armory and became home to one of the national Student Army Training Corps (SATC) groups, which consisted of male students not yet old enough to be drafted. The Normal campus corps, founded by C.H. McClure and President Eldo Hendricks, drilled with wooden rifles made by students in the Industrial Arts Education program. A Girl’s Military Drill was also created, practicing daily on the football field like the SATC, which later became the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

After the war ended, Yeater did not stay away long from the institution that was in 1919 renamed Central Missouri State Teachers College. Upon her return, she began to emphatically pursue her dream of providing a “home away from home” for female students. In those days, women attending the college were required to live in the homes of local families, often serving as nannies or tutors to their children. They were not allowed to commute, even if their own families lived in a nearby town. Yeater wanted to provide a safe living space at minimal cost, where women could be close to their classrooms and better focus on their studies.

The cost of building a residence hall was estimated at about $225,000. Yeater sought assistance from a private donor, Jay Gould, who was a railroad executive and the father of Helen Gould, a friend of Yeater’s from Wellesley College. Yeater promised to fundraise half of the cost herself, and her hard work eventually paid off. The cornerstone of the residence hall was ceremonially placed Nov. 18, 1940, and the Laura J. Yeater Hall for Women was finished and dedicated May 10, 1941. The groundbreaking was an exciting event, and many locals felt that the residence hall added elegance to their town.

Yeater Piano

Yeater served as the first house mother of the dorm and was fully invested in the lives of the women who lived there. Yeater Hall was a safe and well-kept environment, and living there was an experience. In the 1940s a double room cost $75 per student, per term.

“Giving my name to the residence hall for women on the Warrensburg campus is a touching tribute, and it is quite wonderful,” Yeater said as this dream became a reality for her at age 76.

The front doors of the hall opened to high ceilings and dark hardwood floors. Each of the building’s three stories had a lounge that was elegantly furnished and equipped with a fireplace. Residents had access to powdering rooms, pianos and a rooftop deck where they could lounge and sunbathe. The deck overlooked the courtyard and tennis courts.

Sunbathing at Yeater Crop

 

Off to War once more

As international tension rose prior to World War II, CMSTC again aided the war effort. In 1940 the college provided temporary shelter to six Jewish refugees. Among them was Alexander Beller, who became a renowned doctor. In 1941 the Civil Pilot Training program was established on campus.

Lila Hartley Farmer, ’46, now 100 years old, remembers being a student living in Yeater Hall and working in the dining facility when the war hit home. She wrote down her memories of the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941:

“Radios blared. America would be drawn to World War II. Dorm room doors were left open to the hallway at Yeater Hall. …

The country had not yet recovered from the Great Depression, and every student did not own a radio — a luxury item. Those who were more fortunate made it possible for everyone to hear the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hawaii.”

The following day President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave what is now known as the Infamy Speech, and less than 24 hours later Congress declared war against Japan. Many young men on campus would be leaving, and students gathered to hear the latest news in Yeater’s dining hall, where Fanita Houts, dean of women, had installed a radio.

Navy V-12 Football Field

Between the end of the Great Depression and the start of World War II, colleges and universities were suffering enrollment declines. When America joined the war, Central Missouri State Teachers College President George Diemer petitioned to host an Armed Forces educational unit.

Diemer asked Lieutenant Commander Irvin L. Peters, who had resigned as a school principal to join the war effort, to serve as commanding officer of the new training program. Patricia Smith, ’70, ’78, daughter of Peters and steward of the still-active UCM Navy V-12 Scholarship, wrote the following in her dissertation about Diemer:

“Central Missouri State Teachers College found itself in competition with other institutions. … However, in April of 1943, due to a continued persistent and conscientious effort on the part of President Diemer, Central Missouri State Teachers College was finally approved by the Joint Committee for a Navy V-12 Training Program. Four hundred cadets were to begin the program on July 1, 1943.”

The establishment of the V-12 program on campus allowed the college to maintain its full faculty and staff, continue serving its students and offer classes to more young people enlisted in the program. A 1971 book by English Professor Emeritus Robert C. Jones commemorating the college’s centennial year quotes Monia C. Morris, an assistant professor of social sciences in the ’40s. Morris states that Yeater Hall was “the deciding factor” in the institution being selected as the site for the V-12 unit.

Just three years after Yeater Hall opened, female occupants moved out as the V-12 men moved in. The women had to seek places of residence in homes throughout Warrensburg. The program remained on campus throughout the war and ended in October 1945.

Farmer had moved away from Warrensburg to look after her niece in California but moved back a few years later to continue her education, witnessing D-Day on June 6, 1944, and the final year of the war.

“Things had changed,” she wrote. “The girls were no longer served at Yeater Hall on linen-clad dining room tables but cafeteria style in a room that had once been the recreation room.”

When victory over Japan was announced in August 1945, Farmer said the dean of women immediately reached out to the director of the college swing band and “pulled out all the stops with a gala big band dance” for students and soldiers.

WWII V-12 Dance

During World War II was the only time men were allowed in Yeater Hall. A year after the war ended, an addition was built to house more female occupants. In 1966, South Yeater Hall was built next to Yeater Hall and remains open today as a coed dormitory.

Laura Yeater passed away March 21, 1954, at the age of 88, leaving much of her furniture, mirrors, pictures and other household items to the McClure Archives and University Museum. A wooden table from Yeater Hall is still in use in the Wood Building today.

For many alumni, living in Yeater Hall was a major influence in their college experience. The hall closed its doors completely in 2015. However, the building still stands as a reminder of Yeater’s legacy and the decades of history the university witnessed during her lifetime.

Navy V-12 Monument

The UCM Navy V-12 Scholarship is available through the UCM Alumni Foundation for a student who is pursuing a military career or who has a parent or relative associated with the military. Contributions are needed to keep the scholarship going. Make your donation at https://www.ucmfoundation.org/give/Navy-V12-scholarship.

Source of photos and info: The McClure Archives and University Museum

 

 

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