Starr Gift Completes Special Collections Endowment

Martha Jane Starr estate, National Endowment for the Humanities combine to build capacity for the rapidly growing UMKC Libraries’ Special Collections.

A $450,000 gift from the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Field of Interest Fund has completed a $2 million National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant. The gift will be used to partially endow the Assistant Dean of Special Collections position at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The Starr Field of Interest Fund was established at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation through the estate of local women’s rights pioneer and philanthropist Martha Jane Starr. The gift allowed UMKC Libraries to complete a $1.5 million match to leverage a $500,000 matching funds grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help pay for a relocation and major expansion of the UMKC Libraries Special Collections and to establish an endowment to fund the Assistant Dean of Special Collections.

“This gift is emblematic of a woman with an enormous legacy for women, for Kansas City and for UMKC,” said Curt Crespino, vice chancellor for advancement at the university. “Martha Jane Starr was a woman ahead of her time, someone who championed causes that were not popular to champion. Even after her death, she continues to provide vital support for this campus, this community and this region, and because of her generosity, this community will always have access to these invaluable records and materials.”

Martha Jane Phillips Starr was a Kansas City philanthropist and champion of women’s rights. Starr was one of the first women to become a member of the UMKC Board of Trustees. She also helped start the UMKC Women’s Council and their Graduate Assistance Fund, which provides financial assistance to female students. The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame at UMKC is dedicated in her honor. She also served as President of Planned Parenthood’s board and, with the help of several doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center, raised funds to endow the first Research Professorship in Human Reproduction in the U.S. She died in 2011.

The combined $2 million was used to renovate the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library while increasing space used for exhibits, research, instruction and preservation of Special Collections from 3,700 to 11,700 square feet. The Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation collectively contributed over $1 million towards the renovations for the Special Collections, and both have been instrumental in the dramatic transformation of the Miller Nichols Library. Starting with the building of an addition to house the automated book storage system to creating dynamic collaborative learning spaces to accommodate new teaching and learning styles, their vision has made a difference to students at UMKC. With these most recent contributions, their donations have made it possible to build a humanities center that engages humanities research at UMKC and by scholars from around the world.

The Starr funds along with the NEH funding have been used to partially endow the Assistant Dean of Special Collections position. Previously, the Starr Field of Interest Fund provided funding for a separate endowment, also part of this NEH Challenge Grant, to fund a new student research award program. The Martha Jane Starr Research Grant program will provide financial assistance to individuals using the Martha Jane Starr collection or any of the designated Women’s and Gender Studies holdings in Special Collections. The Assistant Dean of Special Collections will supervise the awardees in conjunction with their faculty advisor.

Dean Bonnie Postlethwaite says “This award enables Special Collections to expand its capacity to not only collect historical materials but to incorporate them into student and faculty research on a much broader scale. The Starr Field of Interest Fund and family have made a significant and long-term investment in the enhanced educational experience of our students and the preservation of our community’s history, for which we are indeed grateful.”

Special Collections at the UMKC Libraries serves as the humanities research lab and is home to millions of primary and secondary source materials, including manuscripts and personal papers; sheet music; photographs, postcards and other images; books, including rare and limited editions; historical periodicals; city directories; maps and atlases; historical documents and research files. Subject strengths include the Trans-Mississippi West experience, local and regional history, Native American history, the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Mid-America, women’s studies, music history (especially Jazz Age Kansas City), cultural and social history, local political and civic leaders.

The Marr Sound Archives is the audio division of Special Collections, an archive and research center serving scholars and organizations from around the world. Since 1999, the Sound Archives has partnered with Special Collections to preserve and provide access to unique research and digital resources. Today, the Sound Archives is home to over 360,000 sound recordings of jazz, blues, country, classical, opera and popular music; historic voices and authors reading their own works; and vintage radio programs.

The new Special Collections space opened in November 2015 and includes a reading room, listening stations, digitization studios, instructional rooms, staff offices, an exhibit hall, and the new Edgar Snow Reading Room.

The Starr Field of Interest Fund’s total contribution to the effort is $550,000, and completes the fund raising effort more than two years ahead of the July 31, 2017 deadline set by the NEH. Both the NEH and the Starr Field of Interest Fund have fulfilled their pledge commitments bringing a successful close to the fund-raising challenge. The UMKC University Libraries have also gratefully received numerous individual donations, and continue to actively fundraise to fully endow the Assistant Dean of Special Collections position.


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