Southeast Missouri State University
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Photo of Julia Townsend Albrecht

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 11, 2002 – For many, Homecoming is a time for Southeast Missouri State University alumni to return home and remember their glory days.

For Julia Townsend Albrecht of Long Beach, Calif., and others unable to attend Homecoming Oct. 18-20, the weekend sets the tone for wonderful memories of their collegiate experience in Cape Girardeau.

Julia Townsend Albrecht isn’t just any alumna, though. At age 108, she is the institution’s oldest-living alumna.

Townsend Albrecht turned 108 on May 20 of this year, celebrating her birthday with her son, Ivan, and friends in Long Beach, Calif., where she now resides.

Townsend Albrecht attended Southeast in 1916, when the University held the title of Southeast Missouri State Teacher’s College. She attended Southeast for one time period, taking courses in cooking, sewing and literature. Townsend Albrecht was the third sibling in her family to attend Southeast. Her two older sisters, Anna Townsend Schrader and Cynthia Townsend Hines, entered Southeast in 1909. They took courses in grammar, literature, civics, U.S. history, arithmetic and algebra.

Ivan Albrecht, son of Julia Townsend Albrecht and her only child, relayed information to the University about his mother.

“She feels very proud to have had a chance to go to Southeast,” said Ivan Albrecht. “Her father was a poor farmer and really sacrificed to send her and her sisters to college. Her favorite classes at Southeast were the home economics courses. I always said she was a good cook and homemaker, and I am sure this is a good reason why. Mother really enjoyed her time at Southeast.”

In the early 1900s, student life and studies at Southeast were different than today. Beginning in 1907, students must have completed the eighth grade in order to be admitted to Southeast. Once admitted, students could obtain an elementary certificate, an elementary diploma or bachelor’s degrees in pedagogy (instruction to teaching methods), arts, education, science or home economics.

“Mother began attending Southeast with intentions of obtaining a teaching degree,” said Ivan Albrecht. “Unfortunately, money was tight, and mother was unable to complete a degree. But mother says her experience at Southeast has, in many ways and times, helped her in her life’s journey.”

The president of Southeast in 1916 was Washington Strother Dearmont. Thirty-seven faculty and staff were employed by Southeast to run the Teacher’s College. Compared to the record-setting high enrollment this year of 9,534 students, only 310 students attended Southeast in 1916. Of these students, there were six seniors, 24 juniors, 68 sophomores, 109 freshman, 40 preparatory class sophomores and 63 preparatory class freshmen.

As a women, Townsend Albrecht had special requirements to follow while attending Southeast. If a female and male student wished to go out together for dinner, they were required to be accompanied by a chaperone. Regulations also stated that if a woman were to go to the movies or ride in an automobile after 5 p.m., she must be in a group of at least four or have a chaperone. The dean of women also declared smoking undesirable for women at Southeast.

Student activities at Southeast were prohibited until the late 1890s. The first student activity to be approved by faculty was a marshmallow roast. During this time period, the Board of Regents passed a $1.50 student activity fee, which allowed students into athletic games, all student entertainment and a subscription to the school’s newspaper, the Capaha Arrow, or the school yearbook, the Sagamore. Both of these publications also were established during this time period.

During the early 1900s, several changes occurred at Southeast, forming many traditions. In 1904, caps and gowns were approved for students to wear during commencement exercises. In 1909, the faculty approved such attire for themselves to wear at commencement. Textbook rental was established, charging $2 per term. A cooperative store also opened that, much like today’s Southeast Bookstore, sold school supplies for students.

Curriculum at Southeast also has changed over the past 86 years, but the fundamentals of home economics still exist at the University. Courses that relate to this area are now taught by the Department of Human Environmental Studies and are referred to as courses in Family and Consumer Science (FACS) Education. Examples of modern day home economics courses are nutrition, parenting, consumer issues, clothing and textiles, interior design and life skills. Southeast currently offers students a bachelor of science degree, majoring in human environmental studies with options in dietetics, child development, family life, fashion merchandising and housing and interior design.

“You must remember these were the times when women couldn’t vote or work after marriage,” said Dr. Georganne Syler, a professor in the Department of Human Environmental Studies. “Consequently, taking classes in home economics made perfect sense. At this time, all food was prepared in the home, from butchering the meat to making the bread; no food was bought ready to eat.”

English professor Dr. Dale Haskell agrees that the curriculum has changed. “In the early 1900s, there were only white, male writers. It was not until the mid 1900s that we began studying women, African American and European writers in literature,” he said.

Townsend Albrecht was born in 1894 in Caledonia, Mo., the youngest of 11 siblings. She is the daughter of Charles Samuel Townsend and granddaughter of Rev. George Miles Gibson. Townsend Albrecht grew up in Belgrade, Mo., on her father’s farm. After attending Southeast in 1916, she moved to St. Louis, Mo., where she met her husband, George W. Albrecht. They married in 1927. Townsend Albrecht moved to California in 1943 during World War II.

“After attending Southeast, mother wanted to go out into the business world,” said Ivan Albrecht. “She moved to St. Louis and began working for Famous Barr. Mother worked there until she met my father. Then she became a devoted housewife. My father worked for the Pacific Railroad.”

She has lived through three centuries, witnessing the Great Depression and several other life-changing events. Having her father fight in the Civil War, husband fight in World War II, and her son serve in the Korean War, Townsend Albrecht said she is very patriotic. Townsend Albrecht is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), with four ancestors serving in the American Revolution.

In her Long Beach, Calif., apartment, Townsend Albrecht enjoys reading her Bible every morning, watching the Pacific Ocean from her apartment, and using her walker for exercise, Ivan Albrecht said.

“To be 108, mother is still very alert, gets around alright with her walker and hears pretty well, but she is having some problems with her eye sight and short-term memory,” said Ivan Albrecht. “One of the things mother loved was going to church. Unfortunately, she is unable to attend now, but every week a lady from the church brings mother a homemade cake without icing. This is mother’s favorite, and she eats two pieces of cake a day.”

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, however, Albrecht is still young. The oldest living woman in the world, Kamato Hongo, is 114 years old. She was born in 1887 and currently resides in Japan. Jeanne Louise Calment, the oldest women ever, lived to be 122.


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