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"Dearmont Day" Protest

Student protestors in front of Academic Hall (June 8, 1921)
Southeast Missouri State University Archives
Student protestors in front of Academic Hall (June 8, 1921)

Campus protests are commonly associated with the Vietnam era and the 1960s, and while Southeast had one of those too, our university’s most spectacular disturbance unfolded years earlier on June 8, 1921, affectionally known as “Dearmont Day.”

The board of regent’s unceremonious dismissal of Washington Dearmont in June 1921 touched off a groundswell of support for the popular president. On the morning after the firing – June 8 - students expressed their displeasure by boycotting classes and shutting down the school. 

A group of students arriving on campus before daybreak forced janitor Charles Fricke to lock Academic Hall, and with the keys safely in Fricke’s pocket, tied him up under a tree on the terraces. Meanwhile, male students from Albert Hall hung effigies bearing the name of each Regent – fabricated the night before – between Academic’s stone columns. By the time a crowd of almost seven hundred students, faculty, and staff gathered on the stone steps, the effigies were set on fire under a large banner that read “Dearmont Day: in honor of our martyred president.”

Finding no humor in the spectacle, Head Regent Louis Houck put matters to rest, confirming Dearmont’s firing and strongly reprimanding protesters. When asked about the effigies, Houck is said to have growled, “Let ‘em burn.  I just hope the owners of those pants will need them.”

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.