Clio Logo
Kansas City Missouri Women's Heritage Trail
Item 21 of 26

In recognition of the extraordinary life and contributions of Martha Jane Starr and many other women in Kansas City, the University of Missouri-Kansas City created the Starr Women's Hall of Fame in 2015. The third floor of the Miller Nichols Library includes a gallery that honors inductees and shares the history of the diverse women who have made a significant impact in Kansas City and beyond. The Hall's namesake, Martha Jane Starr, was a woman with a passion for education, advocacy for women, and helping the community as demonstrated by her support of numerous volunteer organizations. Among Starr's contributions are leadership in founding the Women's Council at the University of Missouri-Kanas City as well as the Graduate Assistance Fund for women in higher education. Her passion for promoting education on reproduction and support for programs that strengthen familial relationships and marriage allowed her and her programs to help families and couples in the area.

The Starr Women's Hall of Fame is on the Third Floor of UMKC's Miller-Nichols Library

Photo of the Starr Women's Hall of Fame

Martha Jane Starr delivering her Boy Scout needlepoint exhibit, June 1987

Car, Wheel, Tire, Vehicle

A photo of Martha Jane Starr

Plant, Smile, Sleeve, Dress

A photo of Martha Jane Starr and Hillary Clinton at the Women's Conference Circle on January 24, 1996

Smile, Picture frame, Facial expression, Coat

A photo of Martha Jane Starr

Blazer, Overcoat, Fashion design, Event

Dedication of Starr Women's Hall of Fame

Font, Poster, Art, Advertising

Martha Jane Starr was born Martha Jane Phillips on November 27, 1906, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Martha was born into a privileged family, with her father, L.E. Phillips, being one of the co-founders of the Phillips Petroleum Company. She attended Bartlesville High School, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and the State Honor Society. Martha graduated from high school in 1925. While her family upbringing offered her special advantages, such as world travels, she was not permitted the chance to attend University. Although her brothers received a university education, Martha attended the Erskine School for Girls, a finishing school in Boston, Massachusetts, from 1925 until 1927. Although she was not allowed the chance to receive a higher education, this would not hinder Martha from achieving her goals and helping those throughout the community. 

In 1929, Martha would marry John “Twink” Starr, who had been working for L.E. Phillips as a geologist in his petroleum company. The couple would move to Kansas City in 1932, where both Martha’s and John’s contributions to the community began. Martha entered the Kansas City Junior League the same year she moved to the city, and would be a member in various positions for decades. When World War II broke out, John was called to military service, while Martha was called to community service. She served at the Red Cross Blood Center from 1942 to 1944, and served as the Chairman of the Red Cross Nurse’s Aid Program from 1944 to 1946. After the War ended, John returned to Kansas City and both Starrs continued to contribute to Kansas City throughout their lives. 

Martha would move onto a wide array of public work through various volunteer organizations and community affiliations. One such organization, which was especially progressive for the time, was Planned Parenthood, which Martha began working with in 1947. Through her work with Planned Parenthood, whom she would work with for years and serve as a board member and president, she focused on biological aspects of reproduction. This focus, which was not a common research topic within the medical community at the time, would lead to the creation of the first Research Professorship in Human Reproduction, held at the University of Kansas Medical Center. While rallying the funds for this professorship was difficult, it would be successful. However, Martha would not end her quest for educating the community on reproduction and relationships with her time at Planned Parenthood. In fact, her work was only just beginning. 

Martha held the importance of family and marriage in high regard, and believed that marriage should be a partnership of equality between spouses. She wanted to provide education for such an interpersonal relationship, especially with the prevalence of military marriages after World War II and the subsequent challenges they were facing. Her passion for this topic led her to Dr. David Mace, who was a sociology expert focusing on marriage enrichment. With his expertise, and the combined work of Martha and other individuals and organizations, the Research Center on Family Development was born in 1959. While this was an exciting feat in itself, it was difficult to gain public backing without a more credible institution in the mix. That led to a partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1963. The University and Research Center merged together to form the Family Study Center. Although the Family Study Center closed in the 1990s, there were many programs that branched from the Center that are still in operation today, including the UMKC Women’s Center. While educating the public on family relationships was highly important to Martha, she was also passionate about women’s empowerment and development.  

This work led Martha to yet another creation: the Women’s Council at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She and a group of determined women formed the Women’s Council in 1967 to support women in the university system. Martha continued her work for women in the university system by creating the Graduate Assistance Fund. This fund provided women who were in need with scholarships for their education. Not long after the creation of the Women’s Council, Martha was recognized for her enduring service to the community. In 1968, she was awarded the UMKC Chancellor’s Medal, making Martha the first woman to receive the award. Her participation in community organizations is innumerable, including affiliations with: the Kansas City Council of Churches, the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Foundation Board, and the UMKC Board of Trustees. She would additionally provide donations and funds to multiple organizations and charities throughout her life. 

Martha Jane Starr would pass away on November 14, 2011, at her home, after a lifetime of philanthropy and community advocacy. The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame, named after Martha Jane Starr, started in 2015 and is housed on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library on the University of Missouri-Kanas City’s campus. It recognizes extraordinary women each year for their dedication to bettering the Kansas City area.

  1. About the Starr Women's Hall of Fame, Starr Women's Hall of Fame. Accessed November 7th 2021.
  2. Hartzler, Elizabeth. Making Family Work: The Activism of Martha Jane Starr, UMKC Kansas City Activism. Accessed November 7th 2021.
  3. MS-169, Box 1, Martha Jane Starr Starr Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Kansas City, MO.
  4. Resume of Martha Jane Starr, MS-169, Box 1, Folder 1, Martha Jane Starr Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries, Kansas City, MO.
  5. Stars of Kansas City Help Women Shine, UMKC Alumni Association. Accessed November 7th 2021.
Image Sources(Click to expand)

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Martha Jane Starr Collection

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Martha Jane Starr Collection

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Martha Jane Starr Collection

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Martha Jane Starr Collection