Carolyn Benton Cockefair was in love with education.  Although married to a farmer and the mother of three, she taught in Missouri high schools and colleges in the early 1900s, sharing her enormous passion for learning.

In 1922, the University of Missouri hired her to teach Extension Service courses.  There she discovered her people – adults who had not continued their formal education but who loved learning for its own sake. She came to the University of Kansas City in 1947, despite strong objections to her lack of a Ph.D. and her advanced age, 63.

Black and white photo of Carolyn Benton Cockefair

Alarmed by the public perception of the school as elitist and aloof, she set about to demystify UKC. By bringing Greek, Roman and English classics to life, Carolyn Benton Cockefair inspired her students to relate the lessons of history to their daily lives.

She retired from UMKC at age 80, in 1964. Cockefair’s former students raised money and petitioned the University of Kansas City to establish a chair in her name.

The Cockefair Chair continues to bring the best minds of the day to give free presentations to all those interested. A brief sampling of outstanding scholars brought by the Cockefair Chair to UMKC include Norman Cousins, Jeffrey Toobin, Carlos Fuentes, Molly Ivins, Tony Kushner, Rick Steves, Judith Martin (“Ms. Manners”), John Updike and Robert Massie.