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Sesquicentennial Moments: President Joseph Serena

President Joseph Serena
Special Collections & Archives, Southeast Missouri State University
President Joseph Serena

On June 8, 1921, Southeast welcomed our eighth president, Joseph Serena. And while his twelve-year administration is highlighted by increased enrollment, national accreditation, and rural educational outreach, perhaps his greatest challenge was maintaining traditional morality on campus during the roaring twenties.

“This college is a college for Southeast Missourians,” Joseph Serena observed, “in which the teachers who must be responsible for the education of the children of Southeast Missouri are to be trained. I realize the responsibility that lies upon this institution and hope that it will in every sense live up to it.”

Toward that end, Serena oversaw construction of the original Houck Stadium and Field House, today’s Crisp Hall, the President’s home Wildwood, and the College Demonstration Farm. For these accomplishments, Serena Hall bears his name.

Yet, Serena – an ordained minister - thanklessly handed down strict, Victorian codes of conduct to protect Southeast from Jazz Age vices. Dancing was forbidden and students were required to attend chapel three times a week. The official “Don’t List” for young ladies prohibited “attending moving picture shows on Sunday… going to moving picture shows unchaperoned… automobile riding after 5 o’clock in the afternoon… dining in public restaurants or hotels as guests of young men without approved chaperones and special permission from the dean of women… making engagements with young men except on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night… Or leaving the dormitory without registering.”

Joel P. Rhodes is a Professor in the History Department of Southeast Missouri State University. Raised in Kansas, he earned a B.S. in Education from the University of Kansas before earning his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.