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Southeast Missouri State University

Willard Duncan Vandiver

Fifth President (1893 - 1897)
Pres_WillardD.Vandiver_2005

The Third District Normal School's fifth president, Willard Duncan Vandiver, is probably most famous for coining the Show Me State phrase. But he also fought to keep open the doors of the school when declining student enrollment threatened to close them for good.

Vandiver was the first school president to be selected from the Normal school faculty. He served as president from 1893 to 1897. Prior to his appointment by the Board of Regents, Vandiver spent four years as head of the science department where he taught natural science.

Vandiver's main task, as emphasized by the board, was to recruit students. At the time of his appointment, the nation was suffering depression, and student enrollment for the Normal School was declining.

Vandiver spent his first two years addressing a number of teacher institutes, churches and civic groups, extolling the virtures of the Third District Normal School in an effort to recruit students. This gave him a lead in canvassing the 14th Congressional District when he later turned to politics.

While working to grow enrollment, Vandiver also fought to keep the Normal School system in operation. In 1895, the Senate of the Missouri General Assembly floated a bill to abolish the three state Normal schools. The bill did not pass, and Vandiver continued to push for enrollment increases.

Also while president, Vandiver approved spending measures to build two halls, one on either side of the Normal Building, for the literary societies.

During his campaign for increased enrollment, Vandiver found himself interested in pursuing a career in politics. In 1896, Vandiver's was the only name submitted for the Democratic nomination for Congress from the 14th District. His political campaigning often took him away from campus, and on Oct. 2, 1896, Board of Regents President Louis Houck authorized a one-month leave without pay. Vandiver was elected to Congress, and he resigned his position as president in March 1897.

In a letter to the Board of Regents, Vandiver wrote, "My interest in the Normal School shall not die with the severance of my connection with it, but shall continue and I shall be glad to render it any service in my power."

It was during his years in political office that Vandiver was credited for coining the Show Me State phrase.

Vandiver is quoted as once saying during political debate, "I am from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

Photo from Lueders' Collection. This information is excerpted from the article "Past and Present Presidents" appearing in The Southeast Missourian on April 4, 1999.

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