LaBudde | Martha Jane Starr Collection



Related Resources

- MJS Library Research Award
- Promotional Video: "Legacy of a Community Visionary"

Related Collections By Topic

- History
- Kansas City
- Women & Gender


Related UMKC Resources

- Family Studies Program
- Starr Symposium
- Women's Center
- Women's Council
- Women's & Gender Studies Program

Scope and Content of Collection

The Martha Jane Starr Collection was gifted to the LaBudde Special Collections by Martha Jane Starr in March of 2010. Due to the nature of Mrs. Starr’s strong connections to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and her deep rooted involvement with the Women’s Council and Family Life Education, the Starr Collection is rich in documentation and showcases the breadth of her devotion to education.

Her dedication to the importance of marriage and family enrichment led to the founding of the Family Study Center which branched off into a plethora of family development programs. The Starr Collection includes materials related to those projects and the Women’s Council, including correspondence; committee minutes; budgets; endowments; promotional materials and journals.

The jewel of the collection lies within its historical significance. Owing to the fact that many of the original family programs are no longer in existence, the importance of the background in the countless manuscripts would be a bounty to any researcher focused on this field of study. In regard to the Women’s Council, there is much to be derived from documents which archive back to the inception of the program.

Moreover, the Starr Collection recounts a story of a lifetime of boundless construction to build tools and grow programs that would enrich the lives of all families and the community as a whole.

The addendum to the Martha Jane Starr Collection was gifted to the LaBudde Special Collections in June 2012 by Mary Kay McPhee, longtime friend and confidant to Martha Jane Starr. Unlike the original acquisition, which contains materials focused on Mrs. Starr’s civic and philanthropic endeavors, this addition to the collection takes the researcher through an up close and personal view of Martha Jane Starr herself. Inclusive dates are 1901 through 2003. There is biographical data on both Martha Jane Starr & her husband John Wilbur Starr. It is difficult to extract a single “stand-out” from this assemblage, but it leads off with the correspondence. We are able to follow Martha Jane Phillips as her childhood begins in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Heir to the co-founder of Phillips Petroleum, her father L.E. Phillips instilled in Martha Jane and her two brothers moral and civic awareness and the importance of paying forward the good fortune with which they had been blessed. In reading correspondence from L.E. Phillips to his daughter while she was attending boarding school in Boston, Massachusetts, it is clear that there was a strong bond amongst the Phillips family as a whole. Each letter from her father, without fail, contained sage advice for Miss Martha Jane Phillips. His words were warm; inspirational and brimming with fatherly love and concern. There also is correspondence from John W. “Twink” Starr from 1922, during the time she was on a post-graduation world cruise with some girlfriends. Mr. and Mrs. Starr also corresponded during the mid-1940s while he was serving in the Naval Reserves during World War II. She would always refer to Twink as her “Life’s Partner” rather than her husband.

To follow Martha Jane Starr through her adult daily life, one can peruse her calendars and travel logs from 1949-2002. Of particular interest would be Martha Jane’s “Party Books”. Being given to frequent entertaining, she would write down menus; decorations; table service, etc. Other gems in this collection would certainly be Mrs. Starr’s publications, which she began writing while in her early 90s. The formatting of text is composed in a journalistic form as she inserts dates and times of day. The stories are a reflection of her personal experiences, both past and present. The content is whimsical and sentimental as she narrates her childhood in Bartlesville and her later years in Kansas City. She speaks of all things nature, and her special outdoor friends who come to visit with her.

It is difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend the breadth of Mrs. Starr’s extraordinary contributions to society in her nearly 105 years on this earth. It is abundantly clear from the host of accolades; testimonials and correspondence held within, that to know Martha Jane Phillips Starr was to love her. She never wavered from her mission to educate and enhance the quality of life for so many souls. Well into her 90s and beyond Martha Jane continued to be involved with civic programs, championing family life and values. She remained connected to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and its cultural growth, continuing the Phillip’s legacy of giving back to the community and citizens who contributed so much to the success of Phillips Petroleum.

Biographical Sketch

Martha Jane Phillips was born November 27, 1906, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the daughter of L.E. Phillips, a co-founder of Phillips Petroleum. In 1929 Martha Jane married John Wilbur “Twinks” Starr, a University of Kansas-educated geologist who was her brother’s classmate. Soon after the couple’s move to Kansas City, Starr got involved in the community – at first through her sons and then through home front efforts during World War II.

Martha Jane Starr’s resolve sometimes led her in directions that were not always popular. In the late 1940s through the 1950s, divorce and abortion were among the most taboo subjects. Family planning was also high on the list of hushed subjects, even for a woman consulting her physician.

Although Starr may have been raised in an almost Victorian culture, she did not believe that silence or ignorance made for a strong and fulfilling family life. She was invited to join Planned Parenthood’s board and eventually served as president. With the help of several doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Starr and other Planned Parenthood volunteers eventually raised funds to endow a Research Professorship in Human Reproduction, the first of its kind in the country.

But biological education was not enough to build solid families and Starr turned her attention to marriage. Her belief was that men and women should form a partnership. In the mid 1950s, a group led by Starr began a pilot project on marriage enrichment. Gradually the project developed into UMKC’s Family Studies Center. Starr also led efforts to start the UMKC Women’s Council and their Graduate Assistance Fund, which assists female students with research projects and presentations at national conferences.

Starr’s projects simply led into one another, following her deep interests in women, marriage, children and education. “I didn’t do these things because they were controversial,” she said. “I did them because they were right.”

Starr died at the home on November 14, 2011, just shy of her 105th birthday.


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