Martha Jane Starr, Bibliographic Essay

Martha Jane Starr Collection. Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections. Miller Nichols Library. University of Missouri-Kansas City. Kansas City, MO.

When writing a biographic work, no source can compare to the voice of the subject themselves. Sometimes, however, this voice must be found in sources other than interviews. For Starr, her voice can still be found in the Martha Jane Starr Collection. Housed in the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Special Collection at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, this collection consists of 29 boxes worth of papers, photos, and ephemera concerning the lives of Martha Jane and John Starr. Martha Jane Starr donated the majority of the collection with an addendum donated by Mary Kay McPhee after Starr’s passing. This collection not only showcases the personal history of Starr but archives the organizations that she was part of and created, many of which no longer exist. Starr saved the internal documents of every organization she served in, resulting in a plethora of information on these groups and organizations. These documents, however, lack the perspective of the activist herself. Interviews, personal correspondence and writings, help to fill this gap, as they relate Starr’s life and work through her own eyes. While this short biography focuses on Starr’s time with the Family Study Center, her life was multi-faceted as is her collection. She was an exquisite needle pointer, wrote children’s books, hosted incredible parties, and funded a butterfly exhibit at Powell Gardens just to name a few. There is still much more to tell about Martha Jane Starr, and fortunately her archival collection is ready to share those stories.

Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States. By Kristin Celello. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Pp. 230. $22.95.)

There are many excellent sources that document the history of marriage going back to ancient civilizations. However, Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth Century, by Kristin Celello, presents an informative and especially pertinent exploration of marriage in modern America. Celello focuses on the changes that the institution of marriage has undergone and the ways in which Americans have viewed, participated, and valued it. The focus of this book is on the revolutionary idea of marriage as work, a response to the war marriages of the 1940s and 1950s. As modern American marriages were not created for utilitarian purposes but rather for personal fulfillment, this changed what a successful marriage meant. If the union was no longer fulfilling then there was no reason to stay married. Marriage, however, was more important than a union between two people. For many, marriage equated family, which was seen as the building block of American society. Thus increasing numbers of divorces signaled a crumbling nation, and with this came numerous “experts” who created the field of relationship counseling and marriage enrichment. The tendency to put the responsibility for the relationship on the woman’s shoulders was exposed by the feminists through the 1960s and 1970s who believed that equal responsibility should be given to both the man and woman. Evolving gender rolls through the 1980s and 1990s redefined how marriage operated. Celello concludes by positing that though marriage as an institution has changed, Americans continue to value it and strive more than ever to make marriage work.