Affectionately, Daddy: The Letters of L.E. Phillips to Martha Jane Starr

“You are just my idea of what a daughter and young woman should be.”
— L.E. Phillips to Martha Jane Starr

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest highlights of the Martha Jane Starr Collection is her correspondence with her father, L.E. Phillips (1876-1944), whom Martha Jane affectionately called “Daddy Lee.”

A co-founder of Phillips Petroleum, L.E. built wealth and opportunity for his family in business, but in his letters to Martha Jane, he exposed a sweetness, wit, and deep love for his daughter.

A letter from Daddy Lee to Martha Jane concerning his jealousy over the new family dog.

A letter from Daddy Lee to Martha Jane concerning his jealousy over the new family dog.

L.E. wrote the majority of the letters while Martha Jane attended boarding school in Boston. His letters are full of wisdom and advice for his daughter, and included frequent updates on the happenings around the house while Martha Jane is away. Daddy Lee’s sense of humor sings through in almost every letter, as well as his very deliberate encouragement and praise of his daughter.

One of the most moving letters of the collection is his letter to Martha Jane on the eve of her wedding. In his lengthy letter, L.E. offers his daughter his own philosophy of marriage: “The foundation is to be built and as individuals you should practice patience, forbearance, tolerance, charity and unselfishness, recognizing each other’s rights at all times. Doing this, you will gradually grow into each other’s ways so that a real partnership may be maintained.” It is perhaps from Daddy Lee’s philosophy of marriage that Martha Jane developed the idea to call her own husband her “life’s partner.”

Martha Jane Starr's parents, L.E. and Lenora Phillips, whom she affectionately called Daddy Lee and Miss Nonie.

Martha Jane Starr’s parents, L.E. and Lenora Phillips, whom she affectionately called Daddy Lee and Miss Nonie.

L.E. Phillips’ letters to his daughter offer a window into the past and into a truly loving father-daughter relationship. His encouragement of Martha Jane to develop her mind, her integrity, and her sense of culture clearly acted as a great influence on Martha Jane’s future successes.

The collected correspondence of L.E. Phillips and Martha Jane Starr is available for viewing at LaBudde Special Collections, and is recommended as highly entertaining reading.





Portrait of a Lady (On the Smallest Canvas You’ve Ever Seen)

While you may already know of Martha Jane Starr as a local philanthropist, advocate for women and families, and significant contributor to the development of UMKC from the 1950s-2000s (for more on that, see this), you may not have known that she and her husband, John W. Starr, were avid collectors of portrait miniatures.

Richard Cosway's "Portrait of a Lady," from the mid-18th- early 19th century. Part of The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, and currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Richard Cosway’s “Portrait of a Lady,” from the mid-18th- early 19th century. Part of The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, and currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The portrait miniature, developed in the 16th century, gained popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the days before photography, the portrait miniature served a similar function to the snapshot. Lovers carried portrait miniatures of their beloved; fathers sent portrait miniatures of their daughters to potential suitors; and mothers kept portrait miniatures of their children. Portrait miniatures were often affixed to jewelry, such as rings and lockets, or were used to decorate the tops of snuff boxes.

During their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Starr amassed The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures, a collection of over 250 portrait miniatures, which they donated to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through an initial gift in 1958, and subsequent donation in 1965. The collection represents portrait miniatures from the 16th through through the 19th centuries, and remains on rotating permanent display in gallery P27 at the museum.

Although easy to overlook, the portrait miniatures in the Starr Collection merit closer attention. (As in, you may want to bring your magnifying glass with you.) It’s easy to take the portraits for granted, until you begin to notice the tiny details within each one: a miniature pearl necklace, the ruffles on the front of a gentleman’s shirt, or the folds in a blue satin sash looped over a lady’s shoulder. (And, keep in mind that most of these miniatures are little more than 2”x2”.) Each individual face in the collection has a story and a history of its own. The collection even includes a series of “eye miniatures,” close-up miniature paintings of a beloved’s eye, which were popular tokens of affection in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


A letter to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from a Nelson-Atkins curator, written on behalf of Mrs. Starr.

To enrich a historical understanding of the Starrs’ collection of portrait miniatures, LaBudde Special Collections possesses a series of correspondence between the Starrs and the Nelson-Atkins (along with several other museums). The letters document the debut of the collection at the Nelson, as well as the Starrs’ correspondence, with the aid of the Nelson-Atkins’ curators, to organize donations and collections with other museums around the world. Correspondences include letters to and from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Huntington Gallery, and the Saint Louis Art Museum. The letters document not only the relationships that the Starrs built with museums and collectors around the world, but also serve as a testament to their desire to curate a life and legacy together.


A letter from a fan of the newly donated collection at the Nelson-Atkins, addressed to Mr. Starr.

When Are We Ready For Going Steady?

howdoyouknowitsloveHappy Valentine’s Day, folks! Do you know it’s love?

These late-1950s leaflets, many of which were produced by the Christian Education Service, can help you answer your  puzzling  love questions. Titles of pamphlets include “Going Steady: Pros and Cons,” “SEX In Your Life,”  “How Do I Know It’s Love?”  and “Now You are Engaged.”

The pamphlets were originally written to address teenagers’  questions about premarital sex, relationships, and marriage. What is most interesting about them is their  tone of relative openness, especially  considering the time period in which they were written.  While the leaflets  undeniably discourage premarital sex, the tone of the writing is not  damning or bombastic. Lines such as “There is no reason to have had these guilts if we properly understand that this discovery of sex and self is part of growing up” and “now is the time we should know the facts of life  very clearly and begin to call a spade a spade” show that the writers , and the Christian Education Service itself, maintained the stance that sex should be talked about instead of ignored.

The ten leaflets (part of the Martha Jane Starr Collection, available at LaBudde Special Collections) serve as a testimonial to Mrs. Starr’s advocacy for women and families, and her attitude of open communication about issues such as sex and family planning. Mrs. Starr, who gifted her collection to LSC in 2010, dedicated her life to serving women and families in the Kansas City community.

Born on November 27, 1906, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, she was the daughter of L.E. Phillips, a co-founder of Phillips Petroleum. She moved to Kansas City soon after marrying John Wilbur “Twink” Starr in 1929. Mr. and Mrs. Starr worked as active community leaders in Kansas City. Mrs. Starr was the first woman to be elected to the UMKC Board of Trustees, after the University of Kansas City merged with the UM system in 1963. She was also on the board of the Kansas City Planned Parenthood chapter, and even served as the local organization’s president.

In addition to her many other philanthropic contributions, she founded the UMKC Women’s Council, was the first woman to be honored with the Chancellor’s Medal, and, in 1971, spearheaded the creation of the UMKC Graduate Assistance Fund , which continues to assist women graduate students at UMKC. Mrs. Starr passed away on November 14, 2011, just weeks before her 105th birthday.

Thanks to artifacts such as these historical leaflets, which represent a small fraction of her collection,  her message of open dialogue on issues affecting women and families continues to resonate with us today.

A Holiday Parcel c/o the Red-Headed Stranger

Staff Pick: Willie Nelson, Pretty Paper (1979), Columbia 36189


Even the most sentimental Christmas music afficionado (yours truly) tires of the same forty songs on the radio every December. My solution to Jose Feliciano overkill? Roll out the big guns, those Christmas albums that never get old. Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper (1979) is one of those standards.

In the early days of his career, Nelson wrote “Pretty Paper,” but Roy Orbison recorded it first,and made it a hit: “Pretty Paper” rose to #15 on the charts in 1963.

(Fun fact: Before Willie wore braids and bandanas, he was an awkward, anxious, often sweaty, suit-wearing, up-and-coming songwriter, trying to make it in Nashville. His original success was found in writing hits for others, most notably Patsy Cline’s classic “Crazy” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls.”)

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, and we have Pretty Paper rounding out the tail end of a successful stretch of albums, from Shotgun Willie (1973)– the album that redefined him as an outlaw– to Stardust (1978), my personal favorite. Pretty Paper has all the standards of a successful artist’s requisite Christmas album (“Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”), but for some reason the tracks sound sweeter when Willie’s laying them down. My personal favorites include his warbly versions of “Pretty Paper,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and the instrumental final track, “Christmas Blues.” But Willie’s bright spirit comes shining through in all twelve songs.

As an added bonus, the album cover is typically ridiculous, featuring a grinning Willie Nelson in a red beret on a postage stamp in the corner of a half-unwrapped package. Consider Pretty Paper Willie’s present to you: his gift of enduring sound.

[audio:|titles=Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper”]

Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper is available in the Marr Sound Archives for your listening pleasure.

Native Song

Staff Pick: Missouri Folk Songs sung by Loman D. Cansler (Folkways Records: FH5324, 1959)


Part regional history, and part family heirloom, Missouri Folk Songs is a rare collection of our state’s native songs, performed by Dallas County, Missouri-native Loman D. Cansler (1924-1992)[1]. Continue reading

She’s Like Elvis, But Hotter

Staff Pick: There’s A Party Going On, Wanda Jackson (Capitol, 1961)

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Although she’s still referred to as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” Wanda Jackson is not a household name. She’s an integral part of rockabilly and rock n’ roll history, however, and her gravely rasp and bold style is highly worth some overdue attention.

Born Wanda Lavonne Jackson in Maud, Oklahoma on October 20, 1937, Wanda’s father was the first to encourage her to play guitar, piano, and sing (he had also pursued a career as a country singer before the Depression). When she was a teenager, she performed regularly as a country artist on a local Oklahoma City radio show, where she was discovered by country superstar Hank Thompson. Wanda toured with Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys in 1954, and signed with Decca that same year.

During a 1955 package tour, Wanda was paired with the likes of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley. Wanda and Elvis dated briefly, but remained friends for long after; she largely credits Elvis for encouraging her to pursue a career in rockabilly music. In addition to being one of the first (and few) women to sing rockabilly, Wanda was also one of the first women to add glamour to the scene with her pencil dresses, heels, glitter, and fringe.

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In 1956, Wanda signed with Capitol Records, a relationship she would maintain into the early 70s. With Capitol, she cut her most successful singles, including “Fujiyama Mama,” “Mean Mean Man” and “Who Shot Sam,” which are still considered rockabilly classics today.

Her most popular single, “Let’s Have a Party,” released in 1960, was originally recorded by Elvis for the 1957 film Loving You. There’s a Party Going On, released on the heels of “Let’s Have a Party” in 1961, captures Wanda’s vibrant energy and raucous spirit. Must listens include Wanda’s rendition of “Kansas City,” and a silly number called “Tongue Tied,” a chronicle of Wanda’s lovestruck awkwardness. Her band on the album, dubbed The Party Timers, includes legendary country guitarist Roy Clark. To top it off, Marr’s copy of this album includes Wanda’s original signature on the cover with the note: Love you!

Although she gained fame for her rockabilly hits, Wanda eventually returned to her country roots, and even recorded gospel music in the 1970s after becoming a born-again Christian. Now 75, she continues to tour and record. In 2011 she put out the album, The Party Ain’t Over, which was produced by Jack White. Her latest album, Unfinished Business, released in 2012 and was produced by American singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. The Marr Sound Archives holds over a dozen of her records, including cuts from both the rockabilly and country genres.

[audio:|titles=Tongue Tied by Wanda Jackson]

Barbara Varanka, Graduate Assistant, Marr Sound Archives