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Woman receives honor for orphanages

19 Sep

Springfield News-Leader, 11:00 PM, Sep. 18, 2011, by Claudette Riley

Historical marker will remember care of Civil War orphans.

The orphaned children of Civil War soldiers were fed, loved and looked after in a series of Springfield homes operated by Mary Whitney Phelps.

Mary Phelps

This month, the Civil War Orphans’ Home historical marker — honoring Phelps’ work — will be dedicated on the grounds of Sunshine Elementary.

“Mary Whitney Phelps was a true heroine of the Civil War,” said Sally Lyons McAlear, president of the Mary Whitney Phelps Tent No. 22, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “It is known that she took an interest — having been an orphan herself — in the Civil War orphans and half-orphans in Springfield.”

Phelps became deeply involved in the plight of children who lost one or both parents during the bloody battles in southwest Missouri and beyond.

“The Civil War did leave a large population of orphaned children,” McAlear said. “She used these different homes, throughout time, in downtown Springfield. We were in a dilemma about where to place it.”

Location of those orphans’ homes included:

» Home of John S. and Mary Whitney Phelps on the 1,050-acre Phelps Plantation, now the area of Phelps Grove Park.

» Home of Louisa Campbell, widow of Springfield’s founder, John Polk Campbell.

» Former Berry mansion, used as a government hospital during the war, now roughly the area of the John Q. Hammons fountain on Chestnut Expressway.

In 1866, the U.S. Congress recognized Phelps’ work on behalf of wounded soldiers and orphaned children with a $20,000 award, which she used to finance the expenses of the orphans’ home.

Two years later, the Mary Phelps Institute for Young Ladies opened in a two-story frame building near the northeast corner of Sunshine Street and Campbell Avenue.

McAlear said that institute served “orphans, half-orphans and indigent girls and operated until there was no longer a need.”

The decision to locate the historical marker, made of black granite, on the Sunshine Elementary campus — strategically located near several of the home locations — was enthusiastically supported.

“How appropriate to place it on the grounds of a school,” McAlear said. “It was the hope from the beginning that we involve the children at Sunshine in what the Civil War was all about.”

A ceremony to unveil the historical marker has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 30 at the school’s corner of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Sunshine Principal Rene Saner said teachers are exploring different ways to weave the lessons of the Civil War — and the lives of children living during that time — into classroom lessons.

“It’s a time that these kids can’t relate to and this will help them understand,” Saner said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for our kids to learn about our history.”

Students have been practicing the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” in music class and fifth-graders are writing essays about life during the Civil War.

Extra resources, including access to a trunk of artifacts used by soldiers during that war, will be made available to Sunshine teachers this month.

The event will also be a learning experience. Civil War bonnets, made by members of the Daughters of Union Veterans, will be presented to girls enrolled at Sunshine. The boys will receive Abraham Lincoln top hats.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Stephens, Presiding Commissioner Jim Viebrock, Rep. Sara Lampe and Associate Superintendent Ben Hackenwerth plan to speak during the event.

The Phelps Camp No. 66, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, will provide a color guard and musket volley. Others are expected to attend in Civil War era attire.

As students grow and move on to middle and high school, McAlear said she hopes they will pass the historical marker and remember they played a role in its unveiling.

“At long last, Mrs. Phelps’ contributions are being etched in stone,” McAlear said, in a written release. “It will be sitting there in a prominent place.”

The Mary Whitney Phelps Tent No. 22, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861-1865, will dedicate the Civil War Orphans’ Home historical marker this month. The ceremony is 1 p.m. Sept. 30 at Sunshine Elementary, the corner of Sunshine Street and Jefferson Avenue. Parking is available at the adjacent Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church.

Women’s History Month

9 Mar

Missouri Women's History Exhibit at MSU

It’s that time of year again!  There are so many great Women’s History Month activities– reading the 19th amendment aloud in front of a crackling fire, going to the mall to sit on Susan B. Anthony’s lap–  that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  It’s important to remember the true purpose of the season: coming out to support your local Women’s History blog!  So why not attend one of  our upcoming programs?

Pioneering Missouri Women — Missouri State Museum (in the State Capitol), Jefferson City, March 12, 1:30 pm.  This tour of the capitol will leave from the tour desk.  Call 573-751-2854 for more information.

Women’s History Tour of MSU — Missouri State University, Springfield, March 15, 12:30 pm.  This tour of the MSU campus will begin in Craig Hall.  Call 417-380-8749 for more information.

You can also stop by the MSU Campus and see the Missouri women’s history exhibit we installed on the second floor of the Meyer library.  It’ll be up all March.  Or just check out the web version.  And if you’d like to see some of the other Women’s History Month activities going on throughout the state, visit our events page.

Top Ten Christmas gifts for the Missouri woman in your life

15 Dec

 1. Susan B. Anthony’s purse   Gift the gift of courage this Christmas with the “Ms. Anthony“, a purse inspired by Susan B. Anthony’s signature alligator purse she carried on her speaking engagements across the country. It’s likely she had it with her in 1875 during her Social Purity talk in Springfield. You can order the purse ($270) on the Susan B. Anthony House website, or if you can’t afford it, at least go to the site and watch the video about it, and be inspired.

2. Children’s books  Have kids on your shopping list this season? How about a children’s book by a Missouri woman? Stand Straight, Ella Kate ($11) by sisters Kate Klise & M. Sarah Klise encourages readers to embrace their differences through the story of Ella Ewing, giantess from La Grange, Missouri. And, elementary kids everywhere love the frontier adventures in the Little House on the Prairie ($15) , by Missourian Laura Ingalls Wilder.

3. Movies  Who doesn’t love curling up over the holiday break and watching old movies? Check out Missouri native Ginger Rogers in any of the 10 movies she did with Fred Astaire, or movies written by Missouri women (starting at $8) like: How to Marry a Millionaire (by Zoe Akins and starring Missouri native Betty Grable) or The Imitation of Life  (by Fannie Hurst).

4. Jane Ace’s Radio Show Listen to such gems as “Time wounds all heels” and “Home wasn’t built in a day” from Jane Ace on the Easy Aces radio show. You can get 234 episodes for $4.99 (plus shipping).

5. Josephine Baker Artwork Jazz up your walls with a print of an original French advertisement of Josephine Baker. The wrapped canvas prints are available for between $90-$150. If you’re buying for a crafter, there is also a quilt block  ($12) and for the serious hard-core crafter, a cross stitch pattern ($25) featuring Josephine Baker.

6. MOWIT Calendar At an affordable $14 (including shipping) the Missouri Women in Trades calendar makes a great gift for any man or woman in your life. Not only are you supporting a great cause (women working in the building trades), but it makes your workspace feel tough, too.

7. The Joy of Cooking  One of the most trusted cookbooks was written by a mother/daughter team from Missouri and is now in a 75th anniversary edition for around $20. Or pick up a cool vintage edition, which vary in prices.

8. A Weekend Hideaway A weekend getaway is always a great gift but even better is spending it in an awesome historic place like Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout. Rates start at $300 for the weekend, but you can’t really put a price on getting to stay in the exact place where Bonnie and Clyde fled police and were catapulted into fame.

9. Build-a-Bear  Support a company founded by a Missouri woman – Build-a-Bear, with stuffed animals starting at around $5.

10. Personalized Missouri Women Hoodie  If this were a paid gig, I’d buy each of you a personalized hoodie like this one. Feel free to make your own for around $40 at

Confederate Girlhoods

2 Nov

Students, History Museum publish women’s history of early Springfield

Book features women’s perspectives on slavery, the Civil War, pioneering

Friday, October 29, 2010

Students in the department of English at Missouri State University have partnered with The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County to publish “Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri.” With the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War approaching, this 480-page book is a timely piece that features the memoirs, creative writing and correspondence of four generations of Campbell women, one of Springfield’s founding families.

“‘Confederate Girlhoods’ began as a modest classroom project that grew steadily over four years,” said Dr. James Baumlin, professor of English and editor of Moon City Press, the publisher of the book. Distributed nationally in consortium with the University of Arkansas Press, Moon City is a collaboration of work from the Missouri State University departments of English and art and design.

The book’s chief editor, Craig Meyer, is a recent graduate of the Missouri State English master’s program, as are fellow editors Amber Luce, Adam Veile and Casey White. Contributors include Missouri State graduates Janell Derryberry, Sarah Detzel, L. L. Fronterhouse, Duane Gilson, Justin Kingery, Annabeth Minx, Daniel Newell, Elspeth Rowley, Liam Watts, Priscilla Wilson and Leah Wright. The book’s layout-designer, Jesse Nickles, is a recent graduate of the Missouri State art and design program. He was assisted by fellow graduate, Ashley Kelsey.

“Moon City Press offers students opportunities to collaborate with faculty over all aspects of publication: research, writing, editing, layout/design, promotion and marketing,” said Baumlin. “This book shows the quality of work our students can produce.”

The book presents women’s experiences of early pioneering, slavery, the Civil War and the war’s aftermath. “‘Confederate Girlhoods’ gathers materials from the Campbell-McCammon Collection, one of the museum’s archival crown jewels,” said Joan Hampton-Porter, curator of The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County. More than a deepened understanding of local history, “readers will gain new insights,” said Hampton-Porter. “This book aims to raise questions and change people’s minds,” particularly regarding race relations and women’s roles in Springfield’s early history.

Hampton-Porter; Cynthia Moore; Jacqueline Bonsee; Robert Neumann, archives coordinator at Greene County Records and Archives; and John P. Campbell, a descendant of the Springfield Campbells, also contributed to the research.

“Confederate Girldhoods” will be featured in a series of public readings beginning Oct. 28. An author signing party will be held Dec. 7 at Missouri State, and a public reading at the Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave., is tentatively scheduled for December. The book is also recommended by the Springfield-Greene County Library District.

“Confederate Girlhoods” will be sold locally at the Missouri State University Bookstore, The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County, and Borders Books and Music. It is priced at $24.95 and will be available in mid-November.

For more information, contact Baumlin at (417) 569-0634 or More information is also available at

Mary Price Walls

2 Jul

From the Springfield News-Leader, June 28, 2010:

First Black Applicant Gets Degree from MSU: Son’s Curiosity Uncovers Walls’ Place in MSU History and Prompts Honorary Degree

by Didi Tang

Mary Price Walls

On July 30, Mary Price Walls, 78, will get an honorary degree from Missouri State University, 60 years after her hometown college refused to allow her on its campus.

In 1950, Walls (then Mary Jean Price) the salutatorian of her class at Lincoln High, sought admission to the white-only college.

“My plan was to go to college,” said Walls. “I worked really, really hard. And, of course, I loved school.”

That was four years before the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and the college — not ready to accept a black student — denied her request.

“I honestly thought people were crazy,” Walls said.

The denial was so painful that Walls completely buried it, not even discussing it with her own children.

It only came to light after her son, Terry Walls — curious to know if his mother was indeed the first black student to apply at the Springfield college, as his aunt had said — dug out correspondence between then President Roy Ellis and other college presidents in 1950.

“She was 18 years old. She loved to learn, but she was denied the opportunity to learn. It’s horrifying,” said Terry Walls, 54, who now studies criminology at Missouri State.

TV station KSPR did a story on Walls’ research. So did campus newspaper The Standard. An article ran in Unite. of Southwest Missouri’s newspaper, and the word spread.

“One of the faculty members (English instructor Carolyn Hembree) had suggested my mom be given an honorary degree,” Terry Walls said. “It just snowballed from there “This story touched a lot of people’s lives, and, as a result of that, Mike Nietzel decided it was time to acknowledge it.”

MSU officials plan to award Walls an honorary degree at the summer commencement.

Walls called the degree a nice gesture.

“It’ll be an inspiration for my children,” said Walls, who went on to become a mother of eight but never the schoolteacher she had aspired to be. “They have been raised into a better world.”

Walls’ History

Walls was born in 1932 in Nogo, a town on U.S. Route 66 that has since become part of Strafford.

She began school around age 3 to 4 and moved to Springfield when the black school in Nogo was closed, Walls said.

She recalled the black students used hand-me-down books from white schools, but she didn’t feel she was different from anyone else.

“Prejudice was not taught in my school, and it was not taught in my home,” she said. “We have white friends and we have white neighbors.”

In May 1950, Walls graduated from Lincoln High, then a black school, as the salutatorian of her class, and delivered a speech titled, “My Privileges and Duties as an American” at the graduation ceremony.

That summer, she applied to Southwest Missouri State College, hoping to become a teacher.

“That was my only desire,” Walls said.

She had a scholarship to attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City, a black college, but her parents could not afford to send her.

Hoping to stay closer to home, Walls applied to the local college.

“My parents are not well-to-do and the opportunity to pursue supervised study here would mean much by enabling me to continue the advantage of family environment and avoiding the incurring of additional financial expenses, which we cannot afford,” Walls wrote in an Oct. 2, 1950, letter to Guy H. Thompson, the school’s administrative registrar.

The original letter is nowhere to be found at the university, but a transcription of that letter was attached to a letter by Ellis and is kept in the university archives.

This Oct. 2 letter was at least the second Walls sent to the university, but her original application letter also cannot be found. She had gotten no response and was getting frustrated.

A couple she worked for, Jerry and Tac Caplan of Springfield, got Walls a lawyer. Walls was helping them with house chores and looking after their baby daughter, Paula.

“She was smart, feeling, compassionate,” said Tac Caplan. “She had character. She was industrious and honest.”

Walls said Jerry Caplan suggested she apply to study library science at the local college, because Lincoln University was not offering library science courses then, to augment her case to attend the local college.

“We found a loophole,” Walls said. “You know, Jerry was smart.”

But the tactic would be of little help.


In July 1950, the University of Missouri board of curators decided to admit black students desiring to study courses not available at Lincoln University, after a decision by Circuit Judge Sam C. Blair of Jefferson City.

Blair’s decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a black student who sought admission to the University of Texas Law School, arguing a law school hastily established for black students would not provide an equal education.

The events apparently were of great concern to the presidents of the state’s teachers colleges, including Southwest Missouri State College.

“What are we going to do about this matter?” wrote J. W. Jones, then president of Northwest Missouri State College in Maryville, on July 5, 1950. “… What are you going to do if a negro student presents himself for registration in the fall quarter?”

W.W. Parker, then president of Southeast Missouri State College in Cape Girardeau, wrote he was prepared to publicly state its board of regents “has not considered the matter of admitting Negroes.”

“In so far as undergraduate liberal arts education and training to teachers are concerned, Lincoln University at Jefferson City provides facilities equal in scope and richness to facilities provided by the State Teachers Colleges of Missouri,” Parker wrote on July 6, 1950.

In a July 14, 1950, letter, Parker commented that the University of Missouri took the only action it could because “Lincoln does not offer certain courses such as engineering.”

Walter H. Ryle, then president of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College in Kirksville, wrote on July 24, 1950, that he believed integration would happen.

“The day is not far distant when there shall be no color line on the campus of any of our colleges, should I have said, on the campuses of any of the colleges and universities of the United States?

“… I am convinced of one thing, we should establish a common policy, that is, what are we going to do if a Negro asks admission to one of our colleges this fall? We should be prepared to give the same answer regardless what institution he attempts to enter,” Ryle wrote.

Dream Dashed

Back in Springfield, Walls had applied for admission, and the local college’s board of regents had to answer.

The earliest mention of Walls appeared in the board’s meeting minutes from Oct. 3, 1950, when they decided Frank C. Mann, the college attorney, should prepare an opinion.

In the official minutes, Walls was described as “a colored lady.”

On Oct. 11, 1950, Ellis shared Walls’ Oct. 2 letter with his fellow presidents.

“As you know, Lincoln University has no courses in Library Science. It is obviously a test case. This we had anticipated!” Ellis wrote. “I should appreciate any words of wisdom you may have on the subject.

On Oct. 14, 1950, Jones of Maryville wrote it was likely each of the teachers colleges had a course that Lincoln did not offer.

Impressed with Walls’ writing, Jones suggested the Springfield college seriously consider her case.

“… I should like to suggest to President Ellis that if the students in his freshman class who have graduated from the high schools of Southwest Missouri can write as good a letter as Miss Price did he has an outstanding freshman class, but if they are like a good many freshmen that I have known they cannot write as well organized a letter and as convincing a letter as Miss Price has written,” Jones wrote.

“Therefore, it might be to the quality advantage to seriously consider her application,” he wrote.

On Nov. 8, 1950, the board of regents of the Springfield school met again.

Official minutes stated the matter was discussed with Mann and would be continued at a special meeting on Nov. 20.

In a Nov. 13, 1950, letter, Ellis provided some insight into the thoughts of the college leaders.

“The drift of opinion in the Board at its recent meeting, was that the College should ask a local Circuit Court for a declaratory judgment …,” he wrote. “There was some discussion as to carrying the matter on to the Supreme Court in case the local Court decided the girl could be admitted.

“… From our standpoint, it is an uncomfortable situation for this College to be made the guinea pig in this matter,” Ellis wrote. “… I have felt all along that this College was probably the chosen spot because of the number of Negroes living in Springfield, and also because of some of their leadership here.

“We do not wish to take action which may determine the policy for the other colleges, unless obligated to do so,” Ellis wrote.

In that letter, Ellis also said Mann, the college attorney, “is of the opinion that the requirements for library training (at Lincoln University), … constitute a curriculum in a legal sense.”

On Nov. 20, 1950, the board of regents turned down Walls’ application, “because we are advised that comparable courses in Library Science, as offered by this institution, are also offered by Lincoln University,'” according to official minutes.

In a news article published in Missouri papers the following day, Ellis told the board the local college had one library science course but “not every term,” and that Lincoln was setting up a library science course.

Serving on the board of regents were:

• Roger H. Taylor of Springfield;
• Ben F. Weir of Nevada;
• R.W. Anderson of Neosho;
• T.H. Douglas of Bolivar;
• Ralph E. Burley of Lebanon; and
• Seth V. Conrad of Marshfield.

Douglas made the motion to deny Walls admission, and Anderson seconded it.

Today, Missouri State says the Nov. 20 decision was based on a Greene County Circuit Court’s decision, as the college then sought a declaratory judgment from the local court on Walls’ petition.

The court denied her petition, according to “Daring to Excel, The First 100 Years of Southwest Missouri State University.”

Greene County Archives and Records Center, however, has found no such decision, and the Nov. 20 minutes mentioned no court decision.

Walls said she gave up the fight and did not take her case to court because of her father’s health.

“My father was more important than going to school,” Walls said. “So I took a job.”

Walls said she was never notified of the board’s decision to deny her admission.

“They never gave me a formal letter,” Walls said, her voice calm but with a hint of disapproval. “They didn’t give me any response.”

With her college dream dashed, Walls said she began to take odd jobs and was once an elevator operator.

In 1954, when the racial barrier came down, Walls was already married and had young children to look after.

She moved out of the Ozarks but returned to Springfield in 1976 when her mother became ill.

Last year, Walls retired from the Discovery Center of Springfield after eight years, where she worked as a custodian.


Last summer, Terry Walls became curious about his mother’s past.

He had heard from an aunt that his mother was the first black to apply at the local college, and he wanted to know more. He went from the Greene County Archives to the local history museum, but it was in the Special Collections and Archives at MSU’s Meyer Library where Terry Walls found the transcription of his mother’s application letter on tissue-thin paper.

“When I saw the letter, it allowed me to see my mother in a whole different perspective,” Terry Walls said. “It’s my history. It’s part of our history.”
On the day of the discovery, Terry Walls asked his mother about it. Walls was almost nonchalant.

“I knew it was there,” she said, months later. “It was sort of amusing.”
Mary Price Walls said an apology from the school’s administration is not necessary. Those in charge now are not responsible for what happened six decades ago.

“She (Walls) is a very humble lady,” said Earle Doman, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Missouri State. “But she said she would do this, accept this honor, for her children and for the community.”

And the college has progressed.

In fall 1954, Rose Payton, Betty Thompson, Elizabeth Payton and Freda Thompson — all graduates of Lincoln High — became the first black students to enroll at the college.

Today, Missouri State has 616 black students with a total enrollment of about 21,000.

Paula Caplan, the baby girl Walls once looked after, would become a Harvard University professor who returned to Springfield last year to give Missouri State high marks for its diversity efforts.

At her Springfield home, Walls, a petite woman with curly silver hair, joked about her honorary degree.

“What am I going to do with it? I’m 78 years old. Maybe I will use it to stop the oil there,” Walls said, referring to the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it would surely please her late parents, Oscar and Ethel, Walls said.

“A smile on their face,” Walls said.

"It just doesn’t do to wear skirts in these." – Amelia in Springfield –

18 Nov

Amelia Earhart brought her controversial self to Springfield, Missouri in June of 1931 … which begs the question, where was the municipal airport in 1931???

“Not rebuked, Amelia says,” Springfield (Mo.) Press, June 20, 1931, page 1.
A slim sunburned girl Saturday landed her yellow auto-giro at Municipal airport and chatted in a friendly manner with attendants while her plane was being refueled.

The girl was Amelia Earhart Putnam, one of America’s most famous women fliers, who was on her way to St. Louis in a cross-country experimental autogiro flight. Looking even more like her famous colleague, Charles Lindbergh, than her pictures indicate, she spoke of the “wonderful trip” Lindy is planning and said she has no immediate plans for the future except for more experimental autogiros.

“They are interesting machines,” she said, “and we are expecting great things of them. Of course, they are just in an experimental stage. There really is no comparison between giros and planes. These land easily. I dropped down like a bird here this morning without a bit of roll. They won’t go into a dive and they won’t roll in air. [Illegible passage]

The autogiros are in too much of an experimental stage to say much about what they will do, she said. She was flying an autogiro loaned her and said she “must hurry back with it.” Rumors that she had been reprimanded and even grounded by aviation officials because of alleged carelessness in handling her autogiro in Texas were branded as false by the aviatrix. “As soon as I heard the report I wired aviation department officials about it,” she said, “and they hadn’t heard it. Of course they don’t ground you suddenly. They have a hearing and you are allowed to state your side of the case. I don’t know where the report came from — department officials didn’t give it out.”

This was Mrs. Putnam’s first landing in Springfield, she said, but she has flown over here several times. “I think you can get the character of a city better by flying over it,” she said, “they stand out quite distinctly.” [Illegible passage]
Her windblown hair, tousled in attractive disarray about her freckled, tanned face, she looked more like a laughing youth than the famous woman she is. She was wearing jodhpurs, polished tan boots, a leather jacket, and a shirt open at the throat. Her head was bare until she climbed into the cockpit, when she pulled a helmet over her head.

“It just doesn’t do to wear skirts in these,” she explained as she climbed over the side of the cockpit. Besides flying she likes to go horseback riding and swimming. She is unusually healthy she said, but has no special set of exercises. She never drinks tea or coffee–doesn’t know why–but never has learned to like them. She doesn’t smoke and her “strongest drink” is buttermilk, she said.

She jockeyed her autogiro into position and the crowd, warned that it would be dusty, stood back while the revolving blades of the “windmill” gathered speed. The plane roared down the field a few yards and rose abruptly into air.

An Appropriate Beginning

20 Jul

Women’s Rights Activist Susan B. Anthony came to Springfield in April 1875 and gave a lecture on Social Purity in the theater of the Rogers & Baldwin Hardware Co. at 225-227 South Ave. Anthony argued that women were victims of men’s intemperance, forced into poverty and prostitution because of their constant dependence on men. The only way to make change was for women to be allowed to vote and hold office, women being the keepers of the moral fiber of the human race.

The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places and the last I saw it, was being operated as an art gallery and furniture store.


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