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Sesquicentennial Moments: Black Mask Honorary Dramatic Society

Unidentified members of the Black Mask Honorary Dramatic Society appear in costume near Academic Hall, ca. 1921.
Special Collections & Archives, Southeast Missouri State University
Unidentified members of the Black Mask Honorary Dramatic Society appear in costume near Academic Hall, ca. 1921.

Formed on October 22, 1913, when we were still the Third District Normal School, the Black Mask Honorary Dramatic Society is thought to be the oldest student group at Southeast Missouri State University. From normal to teacher’s college to university; from Academic to Rose Theatre to the River Campus; Black Mask nourishes the dramatic arts by honoring outstanding achievement in theatre and dance.

To celebrate the university’s birthday, let’s talk about the Black Mask Society.

Organized originally as the “Dramatic Club” in the Fall of 1913, the Black Mask Society adopted its modern name during an officer’s meeting on October 5th, 1921. The organization’s origin story coincides with a period of significant university growth that proved advantageous to the performing arts. Albert and Leming residence halls had begun housing more perspective thespians.  The Sagamore yearbook published its first edition in 1914 and the Capaha Arrow student newspaper expanded coverage of campus events. Both publications raised the Black Mask Society’s profile while aiding recruitment, and promoting new productions, events, and social activities.

Their mission – then as now – seeks to cultivate an appreciation, and foster collaboration, between the campus and community for theatre and the dramatic arts. Toward that end the society staged various productions, often under the direction of Professor Grauel, and encouraged community involvement. Membership in the Black Mask Honorary Dramatic Society still requires students to demonstrate academic excellence, exceptional talent on the stage, as well as consistent and quality involvement in theatre and dance at Southeast.

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.