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"MEH: Blazing trails in an era
when few women dared"


Return to the Margaret E. Haughawout Collection.

Pittsburg Morning Sun article, Saturday, March 24, 2001. v113(82)p1
By Nikki Patrick - Morning Sun Living Editor

Editor's note: They are our mothers, wives and friends, and they are also the roots that help a community to grow and remain healthy. March is National Women's History month, and the following is one in a series of articles recognizing local women who have contributed much to their communities.

Also, look on Pages 21 through 24 of today's edition for more articles on outstanding local women.


She wore pants long before they were considered acceptable attire for women and asked her students to read books that were considered controversial at best, pornographic at worst. She was Margaret Haughawout, an associate professor of English at Kansas State Teachers College from 1923 to 1934, and again from 1945 to 1951. Affectionately known as "MEH," she guided, inspired and prodded hundreds of students and would-be writers.

Margaret E. Haughawout (1874-1964)

She was born in 1874 in Fairmont, Neb., and earned a master of arts in 1903 from the University of Nebraska. She taught for three years as an English instructor at Alma College in Michigan. In 1911 she became dean of women for the Knox School for Girls in Tarry town, N .Y.

After nine years there, she returned to Nebraska and successfully ran for the position of Filmore County superintendent of schools in 1919.

She came to Pittsburg in 1923, teaching freshman English and various specialty courses, including creative writing and modern literature.

Haughawout devoted a great deal of time and effort to her creative writing students and organized her "Monday Nighters" group, which met at her home, 1916 S. Elm. Group members would read their latest poem, essay or short story, then brace for critical comments from the others, including MEH.

She was so fond of her "Monday Nighters" that she dedicated her 1929 collection of poetry, "Sheep's Clothing," to them.

Her choices for study in modem literature caused some concern - she asked students to read books such as "Ulysses" by James Joyce and "The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence. Though these works are regarded as classics today, in Haughawout's time they were considered indecent and pornographic because of their frank treatment of sexuality.

"I want to find the real and genuine in each writer and teach that," she said on one occasion.

In 1930, as part of research for an article she planned to write on men's clothing, MEH purchased a man's suit, tie and all. She had the suit altered to fit her, found that it was "comfortable, economical and practical," and began wearing the suit to her classes and various social functions. She was eventually called to the office of the KSTC president to explain why she chose to wear male clothing.

College administrators - some of whom were affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan - also became alarmed when they learned that Haughawout had joined a group that included African Americans and had entertained them in her home.

"I want to shun all prejudices that are too strong to let me grow," she said.

In 1933, Haughawout took a sabbatical leave, intending to put in a garden and spend more time on her own poems, stories and essays. Many of her writings incorporated Pittsburg residents as characters, though she always changed their names to protect the innocent and guilty alike.

MEH was not terribly surprised, when it was time for her to resume teaching, that her job was no longer available.

She lived on the income from her publications and the dividends from a few investments until 1946. There was a severe shortage of teachers that year, and Robertson Strawn, a professor who was a former Monday Nighter, was able to get her back on the college faculty.

In 1951, at the age of 75, she retired from teaching for good. However, until her death in 1964 she continued to write and to receive visits from students. "I began counting day by day," she wrote in her diaries. "I found I was receiving from three to 13 callers daily."

Among the callers was the late Gene DeGruson, noted southeast Kansas historian and longtime curator of Special Collections at Axe Library at Pittsburg State University. Haughawout's diaries and other papers are now preserved there.

In one diary entry, she speaks of a quality she greatly admired and exemplified in her own life - "The well-bred courage to stand on one's own feet, and look life in the eye, and take the consequences of one's act."

Last Modified: May 22, 2006 - 14:20
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