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UMKC remembers Martha Jane Phillips Starr

UMKC remembers Martha Jane Phillips Starr, who passed away in mid-November. Her 105th birthday would have been Nov. 22. Mrs. Starr and her late husband, John, were active community leaders and avid supporters of the University.

In 1963, when the University joined the UM System, Mrs. Starr became the first woman elected to serve as a Trustee. Legend has it that she was encouraged to host teas for the faculty wives and to concentrate on campus gardens and beautification projects. “We were going to do more than plant flowers,” she is quoted as saying. “What we really needed to do was create opportunities for women.”

In her leadership role with the Trustees, she championed the University as a place to conduct research and discuss and solve issues confronting women and their families. She established the Family Study Center Endowment, which would later evolve into the endowment that funds the UMKC Starr Symposium, a campus community forum for women’s and family issues.

Mrs. Starr’s commitment to those issues has continued to bear fruit for UMKC. She also founded the UMKC Women’s Council, serving as its president from 1967-68. She was recognized for her contributions in 1968, when she became the first woman to receive the Chancellor’s Medal.

In 1971, she pioneered the establishment of the UMKC Graduate Assistance Fund (GAF), recruiting a grassroots donor pool to support one of the country’s oldest philanthropic initiatives by women for women. Today, the GAF has an endowment of more than $1 million. More than 1,500 women have received graduate fellowships from the Women’s Council’s efforts. She also endowed the Martha Jane Starr Missouri Distinguished Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at UMKC.

Mrs. Starr received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from UMKC.

“Mrs. Starr was a forward-thinking philanthropist who also had a gift for recruiting volunteers and mobilizing advocates for higher education,” said Curt Crespino, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement. “She left an indelible mark on our campus. Few institutions are so fortunate to have such a dedicated, loyal volunteer and donor as Mrs. Starr was for us. Her legacy will continue to benefit us all for generations to come.”


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